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Health Care

Utah Man Doing Well After Historic Transplant

May 30, 2013
Andrea Smardon

A Utah man is doing well after surgeons at Intermountain Medical Center performed the first combined heart-liver transplant in an adult patient in the Intermountain West. 

Dressed up in a shirt and tie, you would never know 31-year-old Michael Mader is a transplant patient.  The surgery was completed on April 23rd. Mader, who has suffered from 18 heart attacks, says he could feel the difference right away.

“I feel better than I did at 22, when I had my first heart attack,” Mader says. “So it’s been a night and day difference.”

The Utah Department of Health has launched a new ad campaign for people who want to quit smoking. The effort focuses on people trying to kick the habit one day at a time.

The “Quitting For Real” campaign showcases television commercials that portray former smokers going through every day struggles as they fight the urge to light up again. Adam Bramwell of the Utah Department of Health says that after several failed attempts, many smokers get into the mindset that no matter what they do, they’ll never break their habit.  

Andrea Smardon

Utah could save millions of dollars and provide health insurance to about 123,000 people if the state expands Medicaid. That was the conclusion of an independent cost-benefit analysis commissioned by the state. 

Many Utahns with preexisting medical conditions will see their health insurance shifted from state to federal oversight in July. After federal funding ran short for the “high-risk” insurance pool, state officials have refused to take on any additional costs. And federal health officials have refused to allow Select Health, the insurer that administers the program for Utah, to take responsibility. 

The University of Utah has received a 1.9 million dollar research grant to study asthma in children and how better monitoring of the disease could improve health.  The award comes from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. 

Flory Nkoy is Research Director for the Inpatient Division at Primary Children’s Medical Center, and is leading the study which will involve 10 Utah health clinics and hundreds of local families. Nkoy says this project puts parents in the driver’s seat, so they can control their child’s asthma symptoms rather than the other way around.

Utah lawmakers are considering a bill that would encourage citizens to buy private long-term care insurance. More than 35 states already have this type of public-private partnership.   

Utah insurance broker Craig Oberle told the state Health and Human Services committee that people don’t like to think about long term care, and how much it might cost.

“We all know the baby boom generation and what’s happening, it’s an absolute tsunami that’s coming,” Oberle said.

Utah has come to an agreement with the US Department of Health and Human Services on how it will run its exchange – or health insurance marketplace. HHS has approved Utah’s first-of-its-kind proposal to split state and federal responsibilities. Under the agreement, Utah will continue running the state exchange known as Avenue H for small businesses. The federal government will run a separate exchange for individual consumers. 

Utah is telling the federal government it’s not willing to take on more of the risk and the cost of insuring people with pre-existing health conditions. The US Department of Health and Human Services wants to cap federal spending on state-run high-risk pools because they are running out of funding. The Utah Governor’s office has until Friday to decide whether to absorb those costs in the state, or transition enrollees into a federal program – which they say will cost more out of pocket.

Andrea Smardon

The University of Utah expects to lose 19 million dollars of its medical research budget as a result of sequestration. KUER looks at how that loss will impact the research, industry, and health of the state. 

In the Genetics building, on the wall of cardiologist Dean Li’s lab is a map of North and South Korea. He uses it as inspiration for a pair of graduate students. North Korea, in this case, represents cancer. 

Report Estimates Data Breach Will Cost $406 Million

May 6, 2013
Andrea Smardon

A new report shows that last year’s data breach of Utah health records was a costly mistake with far-reaching consequences. An independent analysis by Javelin Strategy & Research predicts that the total amount of fraud perpetrated could approach $406 million in costs. 

Andrea Smardon

A select group of healthcare providers, advocates, and community leaders met at the State Capitol Tuesday to discuss Medicaid, and the state’s pending decision on whether to expand the program to include more uninsured, low-income Utahns. Utah Department of Health Executive Director David Patton brought together about 20 people for the Medicaid workgroup.

The Utah Department of Health announced that it will allow open enrollment for its health coverage plan known as Primary Care Network or PCN.  The plan is designed to provide low income people and families with preventative care options, but there are many services it does not cover.

PCN has been closed to enrollment since March 2012, but enough funding currently exists to allow for open enrollment over the next three to four weeks.  Kolbi Young is a spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health.

The emergency medical and public safety communities in Salt Lake City are welcoming a new traffic system that allows faster, safety patient transport to trauma centers.

Troy Madsen is an emergency physician at the University of Utah. He says in a crisis situation, saving minutes and even seconds can be the difference between life and death.

Suicide is on the rise in Utah; and mental health professionals are at the Salt Palace Convention Center this week talking about how to improve prevention efforts. 

Utah had the 10th highest suicide rate in the nation in 2010 according to the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

Division Assistant Director Doug Thomas says suicide is too often a permanent solution for a temporary problem. 

Lawmakers Set Course for Medicaid Decision

Mar 14, 2013

Wednesday night, the Utah Senate guaranteed that Governor Gary Herbert will play a key role in deciding if the state will expand its Medicaid program. Lawmakers in both chambers approved  a substitute bill that now sets guidelines for how the Governor will make his decision.

Clearing the Air: Health Consequences

Mar 13, 2013
Andrea Smardon

Utah physicians declared a public health emergency in the middle of a particularly bad air pollution season this year, pointing to spikes in ER visits, respiratory and cardiovascular episodes, and even deaths.  Governor Gary Herbert declined to declare an emergency and says that some activists are exaggerating the problem. In the final story in our series of reports on Clearing the Air, KUER looks at what we know and don’t know about the health effects of Utah’s air pollution. 

The Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act permits states to opt out of the law's Medicaid expansion, and that’s what Utah House lawmakers aim to do with House Bill 391. The bill would ban Utah’s governor and the Department of Health from expanding the Medicaid program. It passed the Utah House of Representatives this morning and now heads to the Senate where it faces opposition from leadership. 

Bill Advances to Stop Medicaid Expansion

Mar 7, 2013

A bill that would stop the state of Utah from expanding its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act passed a committee vote Wednesday evening.

Supporters Rally for Medicaid Expansion

Mar 1, 2013
Dan Bammes

  Supporters of expanding Utah’s Medicaid program under the President’s health care plan don’t expect to see a decision during the legislative session.   But they came to Utah's state capitol Friday to make their point anyway.  

There were about a hundred people on the capitol steps for a rally in support of Medicaid expansion, but many more links in the paper chains they brought along.  Each of the 150-thousand links represents a Medicaid client in Utah – somebody like Stacey Stanford, who’s been in a wheelchair since a car accident in 2010.

UDOH Cost/Benefit Report on Medicaid Expansion Delayed

Feb 18, 2013

The Utah Department of Health says that the privately contracted cost/benefit analysis of the optional Medicaid expansion is still not complete. The Social Services joint appropriations committee had planned to hear the report Tuesday morning.

A new report shows that Utah’s economy would benefit from an expansion of Medicaid, creating thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity. 

The report comes from the national nonprofit organization Families USA and Utah Health Policy Project.  UHPP Director Judi Hilman told KUER an expansion of Medicaid will allow millions of federal dollars to flow into Utah, stimulating the economy.

Andrea Smardon

A bill that would mandate insurance coverage of autism testing and treatment in Utah will advance to the floor of the state Senate.  The Senate Business and Labor Committee approved the bill 5-2 Thursday, despite lawmakers concerns that the bill would not only cost taxpayer money, but would also drive up health insurance premiums. 

University Health Care

  The Utah Senate is ready to spend ten million dollars to expand the number of medical students at the University of Utah.  Senate Bill 42 would let the University of Utah medical school add 40 slots for new students -- with the condition that the new applicants have a significant connection to Utah.  The bill has bipartisan support.  Democrat Luz Robles argued the shortage of doctors is worse in rural parts of the state.

Andrea Smardon

Healthcare advocates converged on the Capitol Friday to encourage lawmakers to expand Medicaid to more low income residents, but state lawmakers held off on debate for now, and said the Governor will have to make the decision. 

Family physician Ray Ward kicked off the meeting of the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee with an impassioned plea for the expansion of Medicaid to cover an estimated 145,000 more low-income Utahns.

Andrea Smardon

The Utah Department of Health says human error caused the most recent data breach, where the personal information of 6000 Medicaid clients was lost on a thumb drive. 

The mistake was made by an employee of a third-party contractor, Goold Health Systems, which processes pharmacy claims for Utah’s Medicaid program. State Health Department spokesman Tom Hudachko said the employee should never have downloaded data onto an unencrypted thumb drive. 

Federal officials have given preliminary approval for Utah to run its own health insurance exchange marketplace, but some state lawmakers say they don’t want to run the exchange under the feds’ rules. 

Earlier this week, US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Utah officials that the state’s Avenue H exchange could be approved by the federal government if it meets certain requirements by October.  Republican Representative Jim Dunnigan is chair of Utah’s Health System Reform Task Force.  He says the feds are not giving Utah the flexibility that it requested.

Utah's Avenue H Gets Conditional Approval from Feds

Jan 3, 2013

The federal government has conditionally approved Utah’s health insurance exchange known as Avenue H.  But the feds say more work needs to be done for the state-based exchange to be compliant with the Affordable Care Act. 

US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius praised Utah for making "significant progress" with its online insurance marketplace.  She says she’s confident Avenue H will be federally compliant by the deadline of October this year.  In a conference call, federal health administrator Gary Cohen essentially put the ball in Utah’s court.

Utah Democrats Recommend Expanding Medicaid... and Soon

Dec 18, 2012

Democrats in the Utah Legislature submitted a letter to colleagues in the Health System Reform Task Force Monday, recommending that the state expand Medicaid.  And they say the sooner it happens the better.  

The legislature’s new Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis of Salt Lake City told KUER that expanding Medicaid eligibility can help improve access to health insurance for Utahns and can save the state money.

The state’s Health System Reform Task Force had its final meeting Monday before the legislative session, but questions remain about health reform  - in particular, who will run Utah’s health insurance exchange.

The Utah Department of Health has hired an outside firm to study the costs and benefits of expanding Medicaid in the state.  The department has been gathering feedback from the public on what should be considered in the study. 

Christina Osburn has a brain tumor and epilepsy.  She’s been on Medicaid for more than 10 years, but she expects to lose that coverage because her income will soon exceed the threshold to qualify.   

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