January 28, 2015

Measles case in Omaha, another in Lincoln raises concerns

Medical LogoState health officials express concern that a measles outbreak that began in Disneyland could spread throughout the country.

The outbreak has grown to 87 cases; one in Nebraska.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Tom Safranek says one of the 87 cases was discovered in the Omaha area. Another unrelated case has been reported in Lincoln.

Safranek says that’s enough to raise concern.

“If you’re in a room or in an environment where a person has had measles, that virus can remain there airborne for a period of time,” Safranek tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “It may be two or three hours after they have been there. If a non-immune person gets in to that environment, it just seems like there’s a very high attack rate for the not immune.”

Safranek says health officials have yet to pinpoint the origin of the Lincoln area measles case. The two cases in Nebraska are the first reported in the state since the 1990s.

Safranek says most of the measles cases can be traced back to a lack of immunizations, which he says has grown out of a misrepresentation of vaccinations. He says that isn’t as much of a problem here.

“And we’ve been able to overcome some of the false, negative stories about vaccines. So, we’re good in that regard,” according to Safranek. “I would feel a lot worse if I were in a lot of other jurisdictions, where their vaccine rates are a lot lower. But, we still have a problem here and it is incredibly disruptive to people’s lives, to health-care providers.”

Children can be protected by vaccination for the measles, mumps and rubella two-shot series.

CoOportunity Health faces liquidation; customers scramble to find coverage

thTPGSZHQEA little more than 40,000 Nebraskans are looking for new health insurance with the announcement that CoOportunity Health will be liquidated.

The Iowa Insurance Commissioner has determined CoOportunity cannot be saved and must be liquidated.

Senior Vice President Sarah Waldman of Nebraska Blue Cross/Blue Shield says the company has been swamped with former CoOportunity customers seeking new health policies.

“We’ve been extremely busy in both our call center and in our enrollment area that takes the online applications through the federal facilitated marketplace or other online channels that we have,” Waldman tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “We’ve certainly been extremely busy. I know we’ve been helping thousands of customers’ transition.”

A court appointed the Iowa Insurance Commissioner as the rehabilitator for CoOportunity Health, trying to coax it back to financial health. The commissioner has determined CoOportunity cannot cover the medical claims made by its clients and must be liquidated.

A hearing on the matter is expected to take place in Iowa next month. Liquidation could take effect as early as February 28th.

CoOportunity is a health insurance cooperative created under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. It mostly serves Iowa, but has a little more than 40,000 customers in Nebraska as well.

Nebraska State Insurance Director Bruce Ramge suspended CoOportunity Health in Nebraska after the Iowa Department of Insurance took it over. He ordered the co-op to not write policies in Nebraska.

CoOportunity Health formed as a nonprofit insurance cooperative under rules established by the Affordable Care Act. Not as much federal funding flowed to the cooperative as expected and its assets plummeted from $121.5 million to $17 million, according to court documents filed in Polk County, Iowa.

An Iowa judge appointed the Iowa Insurance Commissioner to assume management of the company.

Medical claims being filed by CoOportunity clients are being paid by the state Guaranty Associations in Iowa and Nebraska.

Open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act ends February 15th.

Flu cases still spreading in Nebraska, tips for avoiding the bug

fluState health officials say flu cases are still “widespread” in Nebraska this winter while federal officals say influenza is at “epidemic” proportions nationwide.

This season, at least 20 Nebraskans have died from influenza-related illnesses and many hundreds have gotten sick.

Nebraska Extension Educator LaDonna Werth says one of the keys to preventing the flu and other winter bugs is maintaining a healthy diet.

“It’s extremely important to eat correctly,” Werth says. “Also, think about the things we usually think about in the summer, such as getting plenty of liquids. The mucus in our nose is actually one of the key physical barriers that keep germs out of our body.”

Werth says adding more Vitamin C and zinc can help boost the body’s immune system and she suggests increasing your protein intake.

“Protein is a building block for healthy immune systems,” Werth says. “Choosing lean red meats, poultry, fish, dried beans and soy is an excellent source.”

Other tips to avoiding the flu include:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Heart failure hospitalizations spike after Super Bowl

Nebraska hospitals and those around the country are bracing for “blitz” of heart failure patients shortly after Super Bowl Sunday. Dr. Marc Silver is a cardiologist and says that big game can cause big problems for diagnosed with heart problems.

Dr. Silver says, “Heart failure hospitalizations in heart failure patients go up about 10% after major events. The ones we studied were Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and the Super Bowl. So, the first four days after the Super Bowl, February 2nd through the 5th, we are going to see a jump in emergency room visits and hospitalizations of heart failure patients.”

Dr. Silva says the number one cause is excitement or stress associated with those events. He says it is also likely that these patients overindulged in rich and salty foods causing the retention of fluids. Another issue is that some delay seeking medical care, especially on a holiday because they don’t want to spoil the event for others.

Dr. Silva says the best defense is watching the diet and alcohol consumption carefully, remember it is just a game and don’t forget to take required medication.

Nebraska gets failing grades on smoking prevention report card

cigaretteA new report card on Nebraska’s efforts to cut the use of tobacco products gives the state an A and three Fs.

Nebraska received failing grades for its funding for cessation programs, funding for prevention and control and for its cigarette tax of 64-cents a pack.

James Martinez, spokesman for the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, says Nebraska’s grade point average of just one on a four-point scale is “unacceptable.”

“When we’re looking at access to cessation services, in other words, if someone wants to quit smoking, we do believe the state should help them,” Martinez says. “It saves health care costs across the state as well as it helps people make that decision and take that important step in their lives.”

Nebraska’s only passing grade came for its statewide smoking ban which covers virtually all public places and workplaces. Still, he says the state doesn’t make nearly enough of an effort to fund its cessation and prevention programs.

“When you get an F in something like that, it’s alarming,” Martinez says, “and it really calls attention to our leadership in the state to do something about it.”

Nebraska’s cigarette tax of 64-cents a pack is very low. Iowa, for example, charges a state tax of a $1.36 per pack. A bill to more than double the Nebraska cigarette tax, by 72-cents, failed in the 2013 legislature.

Nebraska gets many millions of dollars every year in tobacco settlement money as well as federal dollars, but only spends a small fraction of it on programs that help people quit smoking or programs to keep them from starting.

“It’s unfortunate that when they allocate the funding for something like tobacco prevention and control programs, they’re not using all of those funds,” Martinez says. “They’re not even using half of what they should be using that funding for. It’s unfortunate.”

The report says nearly 2,300 Nebraskans die every year from smoking-related causes, while 18.5% of Nebraska adults smoke along with almost 11% of high schoolers.

See the full “State of Tobacco Control 2015″ report at the website: www.lung.org.