Congress Looks to Revamp Mental Health System

Soon, Congress will hear testimony concerning the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. Republican representative, Tim Murphy, from Pennsylvania, sponsored the bill, and, though many agree that the mental health care system requires revamping, some provisions in the bill have sparked controversy. Among the more controversial provisions is one that supports the increased use of involuntary outpatient treatment—via court-ordered therapy for “certain mentally ill people with a history of legal or other problems.” Detractors of this provision claim that it will erode trust in doctor-patient relationships, and that it presents a civil rights issue. However, 45 states have compelled treatment programs already, one of which is New York.

New York’s compelled treatment program, Kendra’s Law, was passed in 1999. Since the implementation of Kendra’s Law, studies show that the percentage of patients returning to the hospital or getting arrested has greatly decreased. The statistic is significant, as “about 350,000 Americans with a diagnosis of severe mental illness…are in state jails and prisons” and the availability of psychiatric beds meets only 10 percent of that need. 

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Potentially Dangerous Precedent Possible in Mississippi

Anti-fetal homicide laws were enacted originally to protect mothers of unborn children against violent acts. Yet, in reality, “they’ve led to disproportionate prosecution against African American women who suffer miscarriages.” An ongoing case in Mississippi could set a dangerous precedent with regard to the criminalization of pregnant women for their purportedly reckless acts.  Rennie Gibbs was charged with the murder of her unborn child after it was stillborn when she was 16 years old. Gibbs is being prosecuted for “depraved heart murder” because the autopsy showed that Gibbs had used cocaine during her pregnancy—but the cause of death was originally attributed to the umbilical cord being wrapped around the infant’s neck. That cause of death was never ruled out.

Read more here and here.

Integrated Health Care Delivery Systems: “The Wave of the Future?”

Health care delivery is undergoing a major change in the United States, and it is happening with little fanfare, due to the fervent debate over the viability of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Hospital systems, such as Mt. Sinai in New York, are cutting out the middle man when it comes to insurance coverage, in order to retain more profits from services provided. Mt. Sinai, located in New York, is an example of a hospital system that is providing its own insurance options to patients who receive treatment within the system.

Both non-profit and for-profit hospitals can benefit from implementing such programs, as there are certain services that are not economically sustainable, but must be accessible to the public. For example, psychiatric care does not generate a lot of revenue, but is a necessary and important service. Ezekiel Emanuel was one of the creators of the ACA, and is chairman of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. He states that “the wave of the future is integrated delivery systems—integrating insurance with the delivery function.”

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Iowa Reconsiders HIV-Specific Laws; Growing National Trend

In 1990, Congress approved the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act. The CARE Act funds support and medical treatment for individuals with HIV. However, under the Act every state had to certify that it had criminal laws that would prosecute individuals with HIV who knowingly exposed others to the disease, even if those exposed did not contract HIV. Individuals who are successfully prosecuted under these laws are listed as sex offenders. In one case in Iowa, a woman was prosecuted successfully even though she claimed that she informed the man that she was HIV positive. He claimed she did not tell him; however, two weeks prior to filing his complaint against her, he was convicted of domestic abuse for hitting her. She is now listed as a sex offender.

Currently, the federal government and advocates consider these HIV-specific laws to be draconian in light of modern scientific knowledge regarding HIV, which is “no longer the death sentence it once was.” Many of these HIV-specific laws do not require exposure in the form of sexual contact, and some even include exposure in the form of something as innocuous as spitting. HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva. Some states, including Iowa, are reconsidering and changing their HIV-specific laws in response to this change in public opinion.

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Medicare Part D in Good Health per CMS

The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) administrator, Marilyn Tavenner, stated in a letter to Congress that Medicare Part D is working well, and a proposed rule change, which would have “substantially reduced patient choice,” is unnecessary. The Senate Finance Committee stated that, at present, the cost of the program is 45% below the projections of the Congressional Budget Office. In addition, Part D enjoys a 90% satisfaction rate by its beneficiaries. Under the Affordable Care Act the cost of Medicare Part D premiums has remained low, but the quality of care has improved. However, Ms. Tavenner wrote also that opportunities exist to improve the program, and CMS will continue to review Part D policies periodically.

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Bitter Battle Rages over Continuing Life Support for Brooklyn Woman

A bitter court battle is raging over whether an elderly Brooklyn woman should continue to be kept alive. Sylvia Sodden, 78, is still on life support, even though her original health care proxy agreed to its removal. In 2011, Sodden appointed her godson, Joe Arrigo, as her health care proxy. Arrigo is Catholic, and states that Sodden converted from Orthodox Judaism to Catholicism when she was 20 years old. He states also that Sodden did not want to be on life support, and that “she didn’t want to end up like this.” He consulted with two priests prior to making the decision to remove life support.

 However, on March 18, 2014 a Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge determined that Esther Feigenbaum, Sodden’s sister, would replace Arrigo as Sodden’s health care proxy. Feigenbaum claims that Sodden never converted, and that shutting down life support is “anathema to Orthodox Jewish belief.” The Court indicated that part of its decision to divest Arrigo of his role as health care proxy rested on the fact that Arrigo was absent from Court on the day of the proceedings. Arrigo maintains that he did not know he was supposed to appear.

Read more here.

Approximately 50% of Americans Believe Health Conspiracy Theories

JAMA Internal Medicine published a research letter by authors J. Eric Oliver, PhD and Thomas Wood, MA, which indicates that almost half of the nation believes in at least one health conspiracy. For example, thirty-seven percent of Americans believe that the Food and Drug Administration is concealing natural cures for cancer in response to industry pressure from pharmaceutical companies. The authors conducted an online survey of 1,351 adults; the survey posited four health conspiracy theories. Forty-nine percent of those polled indicated that they believe at least one of the proposed theories, and eighteen percent believe in at least three. According to Oliver, the takeaway from the survey “is that people who embrace these conspiracies are very suspicious of traditional evidence-based medicine.

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Women Can Transmit HIV to Other Women via Intercourse per CDC

Recently, the CDC confirmed that females are capable of transmitting HIV to their female sex partners. Female to female transmission of HIV has been difficult to prove, though there have been reports of its occurrence in the past. Most often, this mode of transmission is difficult to substantiate because researchers are unable to rule out other risk factors, such as intravenous drug use or sexual contact with males. However, a recent case study of two women in a monogamous relationship, who did not have a history of intravenous drug use, allowed the researchers to rule out the more common risk factors. The CDC states that though this mode of transmission is rare, everyone should take appropriate preventative measures to guard against HIV.

Read more here.

D.C. Instructs Insurance Companies to Cover Gender Reassignment Surgery

Mayor Vincent Gray of Washington D.C. announced that D.C. will now require insurance companies to provide full coverage to transgender residents, which includes gender reassignment surgery. The D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking stated its official position that treatment and gender reassignment surgery for gender dysphoria are covered benefits. The Mayor stated that transgender people should not be required to pay extensive out-of-pocket fees for treatment.

Read more here.

Health Care Debate in Florida Veers Off the Beaten Path

Florida is one of the twenty-four states that declined to expand their Medicaid programs.  As a result, approximately 760,000 Florida residents who would qualify for Medicaid under an expanded Medicaid program do not qualify so qualify. In addition, these residents do not qualify for federal subsidies to help them purchase health insurance. Recently, some Florida legislators honed in on an obscure provision in the Affordable Care Act, which allows low-income documented immigrants to qualify for federal subsidies in order to buy health insurance. The legislators intend to publicize this information in an effort to get the Medicaid expansion approved during the next legislative session. Republican state Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah stated that the issue is one of “fairness,” and not immigration.

Read more here.