Weekly Dose of Health News

In this week’s summary, you’ll find new rules and regs on mental health and addiction parity insurance, FDA proposal to ban trans fats, a look at retail health clinics, and more!

State Health/Medicaid News

The New York State Department of Health is hosting a webinar on Friday, November 15 at 10 am to provide an update on the Medicaid Redesign Waiver amendment that is before CMS.  Go to this webpage and scroll down to receive MRT Waiver updates and go here to sign up for next week’s webinar.

Affordable Care Act/Health Insurance Exchanges

Up to seven million people will qualify for free health insurance under Obamacare, a little known fact that the Administration is not pushing, since there are drawbacks to the zero-premium coverage.  For the most part, the free or nearly free coverage will be in the bronze category, which means higher co-pays for enrollees when accessing care, such as doctor visits and hospitalizations.  These plans should be especially attractive to young, healthy people.  It is uncertain how many people will sign up for the zero-premium plans.  An upgrade to the silver level will cost slightly more per month and provide more comprehensive coverage.

Mental Health and Addiction Insurance Parity

The Obama Administration is set to release rules and regulations on mental health and addiction insurance parity this week, which will require parity with coverage for physical illnesses and will apply to all forms of insurance.  This initiative is viewed by the White House as critical to preventing gun violence by making treatment more available to persons with mental illness.  Steps toward insurance parity began in 1996.  The Administration considers the new rules as implementing full parity and they will extend to persons enrolled in insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.  The new rules will require that insurers charge the same co-pays and deductibles across the board, as well as the same visitation limits imposed on coverage for physical illness.  The rules will also clarify how parity will apply to outpatient and residential settings, which is where the majority of persons with mental and addiction illness receive their care.


The Kaiser Health News blog ran this piece on use of retail health care clinics, which is on the rise.  Consumers appreciate the greater accessibility these clinics afford, such as evening and weekend hours.  Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are the primary providers of care in these clinics.  But there are drawbacks, such as lack of access to a regular provider.  This may explain that while use of retail clinics is on the rise, the growth has been so far, modest.

The Food and Drug Administration is proposing the elimination of trans fats in the public food supply through rules issues this week.  Trans fats have been reduced significantly in recent years, but they remain in foods such as microwave popcorn, frostings, frozen pizzas, coffee creamers and margarine.  The FDA estimates that the new measures could reduce annual heart attacks by 20,000 and deaths from heart disease by 7,000.  The FDA is focusing on the elimination of partially hydrogenated oils, which the Institute of Health has concluded are unsafe at any level.  Scientific evidence has concluded that these oils reduce good cholesterol and increase bad cholesterol.  Interestingly, Denmark was the first country to eliminate trans fats in 2003.  Austria, Switzerland and Iceland have followed suit.  Food processors do not seem especially alarmed at the FDA’s proposal, since many have already taken steps to reduce trans fats.

-Jaime Venditti, 11/8/13