Archive for September 24th, 2008

Good Luck Finding Bay State PCPs

September 24th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Boston Globe

Thanks to an acclaimed state initiative, 439,000 more Massachusetts residents have health insurance now than in 2006. Ironically however, many of them cannot find a doctor.

Massachusetts didn’t have enough primary care doctors to begin with, but the flood of newly insured people means that Bay Staters have to wait as long as 100 days to see a PCP. Those who have urgent problems or who are OK seeing a nurse practitioner can get seen sooner, but others have resorted to ER visits, which is what they did before they obtained insurance in the first place.

Legislators have approved many new laws to alleviate the problem. One allows UMass Medical School students to waive tuition in return for a promise to work as a PCP in the state for four years. The state has also agreed to repay medical school loans for PCPs who work in underserved areas for two years. Inexpensive housing loans are also available for PCPs in the state.

Unfortunately, these “initiatives have a long lag time,” says Bruce Auerbach, President of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Auerbach believes that increased payment and reduced administrative burdens would more effectively address the state’s PCP shortage.

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Congress May Pass Mental Health Bill

September 24th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Washington Post

In a move lauded by advocates as a major step in the country’s understanding of mental health, the House and Senate approved bills yesterday requiring private insurers to provide mental health benefits equivalent to those for physical illness.

Currently, private insurers can limit mental health coverage to 30 doctor visits and 30 hospital days per year. The new law prohibits insurers from setting such limits if they don’t set limits for medical conditions like heart disease.

The house version of the bill was sponsored by Jim Ramstad (R-Minn), a recovering alcoholic, and Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), who has faced drug and alcohol problems.

The bill has bipartisan support in Congress. It is backed by the medical community, insurance companies, the private sector and the White House.

Still, it’s not clear the bill will become law. The House and Senate versions differ in their financing mechanisms. As well, the House version is a standalone bill, while the Senate rolled the legislation into a bill that includes $150 billion in tax cuts. Congress adjourns in a few days.

“We’ve come so…far,” noted Andrew Sperling, director of legislative affairs for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “We are in a…world of trouble if we don’t get this done (now).”

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Rocket Fuel in Tap Water

September 24th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Washington Post

The EPA will not set safety standards for perchlorate in drinking water after all.

White House and Pentagon officials have pressured the EPA for years to refrain from establishing safe allowable levels of the chemical in tap water. Recently, these officials deleted sections of a report by EPA scientists that underscored the dangers of perchlorate and advocated for its regulation.

The report estimates that 16 million Americans are exposed to unsafe levels of the chemical. Independent scientists using state and federal data suggest the number is twice as high.

Perchlorate is a rocket fuel additive that causes thyroid abnormalities in newborns and children. Redacted from the EPA report were results from research by UMass professor Robert Zoeller, who found that even tiny amounts of perchlorate can impair thyroid hormone production. This can cause irreversible loss of IQ and a host of perception and behavioral problems in children.

Nearly all perchlorate in drinking water results from lax disposal methods at chemical plants, rocket test sites and military installations. A national cleanup would cost several hundred million dollars.

The Bush administration has “distorted the science,” Zoeller said. “Infants and children will continue to be damaged, and that damage is significant.”

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