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CT Healthcare Exchange Launches App

HARTFORD– After what it deemed a successful initial enrollment period, Access Health CT  has launched the nation’s first mobile application for a state health care exchange.

Officials said this mobile app is “another way for consumers to connect and enroll” in the affordable healthcare. It also aims to provide consumers with a new, easy way to compare health care coverage options access information and enroll in quality, affordable plans. The free application offers nearly all the functionality of the website, in an easy-to-use mobile format.

The app was designed for the most commonly used mobile platforms, including iPhone and Android devices. It is currently available for free from the Apple iTunes App Store for iPhone operating iOS 6 or later, and will be available for download beginning on June 6 from theGoogle Play Store for Android devices running Android 2.3 or later.

During the 2014 open enrollment period, 25 percent of consumers accessed our website from a mobile device, officials said. This app “will make it much easier for consumers to compare and shop on-the-go and will be another tool for our residents, brokers and outreach workers to assist people in their communities.”

Additionally, the app allows consumers to browse anonymously, determine potential eligibility for financial assistance, and view plan information, including all of the plan details and documents that are available on the website.

Until open enrollment begins for 2015, residents will only be able to shop for coverage through Access Health CT under special circumstances, such as marriage, divorce, birth, adoption or loss of insurance coverage from an employer and Medicaid enrollment which is open all year.

For more information about special enrollment, please visit www.accesshealthct.com.



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Officials Urge Sign Ups for Insurance

HARTFORD — Gov.  Dannel P. Malloy and L.t Gov. Nancy Wyman on Thursday made a final push to get more Connecticut residents signed up for health insurance.

Both Malloy and Wyman asked leaders of Connecticut’s faith community to talk with their congregants this weekend, in advance of the final week of open enrollment for Access Health CT.

“Connecticut is leading the nation when it comes to providing residents with affordable health care.  In fact, other states are now beginning conversations on how to adopt our model because of the tremendous work being done by Access Health CT,” Malloy said in a release to the press.  “With the final weekend approaching, I am asking leaders of our faith community to talk with their members about not letting this opportunity pass them by.  Obtaining health care is too important, and the more people that sign up, the better off all of us will be.”

Wyman, who heads the AccessCT Health Commission said signing up for health insurance is easy on the state’s website.

To date, Access Health has enrolled 165,091 residents since its launch on October 1, 2013.

In a letter to the faith community send in February, Chief Executive Officer of Access Health CT Kevin Counihan said, “With the end of the open enrollment session fast approaching, we want to make sure that every Connecticut resident in need of health care coverage is aware that the deadline to enroll is March 31, 2014. I hope that you will take advantage of one of the many options available to you, such as enrollment fairs and retail stores.”

All consumer support is free, and provided by people who have been trained and certified by Access Health CT.

For a listing of these fairs click here: http://learn.accesshealthct.com/events/

Residents can continue to compare plans and shop for coverage online at:www.accesshealthct.com or call 1‐855‐805-HEALTH (4325) to speak with an AHCT representative.

A list of upcoming enrollment fairs and a link to locate an in-person assister are available at http://learn.accesshealthct.com.


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Connecticut Awarded ‘Performance Bonus’ For Improving Children’s Health Coverage

WASHINGTON — Connecticut was one of 23 states awarded performance bonuses for improving access to children’s health coverage and successfully enrolling eligible children in Medicaid, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner announced on Monday that the state  in 2013 received more than $1.7 million of that $307 million in performance bonuses. This is the fifth and final year of performance bonus awards.

The performance bonuses were authorized under the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 , one of the first pieces of legislation signed into law by President Obama.

States could qualify for a bonus by implementing procedures to simplify Medicaid and CHIP enrollment and renewal processes to improve eligible children’s access to coverage. The amount of a state’s bonus corresponds to the increase in children’s Medicaid enrollment over a specified target.

“States are working hard to ensure children get access to the health coverage they need,” Tavenner said. “We are pleased to provide financial support to reward states that are reducing enrollment barriers and are connecting kids to coverage.”

Such efforts have been paying off.  Recent Census data show that uninsurance rates for children declined from 8.6 percent in 2009 to 7.5 percent in 2011.  In addition, an analysis by the Urban Institute found that participation rates in Medicaid and CHIP have continued to improve over time.  In 2011, 87.2 percent of eligible children were enrolled, a 5.5 percentage point increase from 81.7 percent in 2008.

Officials said that the bonuses help states by offsetting the costs of insuring the lowest income children and encouraging them to adopt sustainable improvements in their children’s health coverage programs.

Many of the simplifications that states adopted to qualify for performance bonuses  will be in place in all states in 2014 and applied consistently across Medicaid, CHIP, and the Marketplace.  These simplifications have led to improved coverage for children and have helped lay the groundwork for outreach efforts aimed at enrolling people now eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The 23 states awarded performance bonuses include:  Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

For more information on today’s CHIPRA performance bonus awards, visit http://www.insurekidsnow.gov/professionals/eligibility/performance_bonuses.html.


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TB Test Reveals 28 Hartford Residents Infected

HARTFORD —  Hartford officials on Thursday announced the results of  its tuberculosis investigation at Charter Oak Health Center.

Having tested more than 300 members of the public, employees, patients, emergency medical services personnel, the Health and Human Services Department has concluded that there is no need for alarm, officials said.

That’s because the initial screening revealed that 28 individuals required further testing; that testing is currently in process, officials said.

“We are not in the presence of a TB outbreak and there is no reason to be alarmed,” said Dr. Raul Pino, Acting Health and Human Services Director. “The City of Hartford has taken all precautionary measures and is systematically following protocols.”

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria. TB, which usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body, is spread through the air by individuals with an active infection. Most infections result in an asymptomatic, latent infection, and only one in 10 latent infections result in active disease. Latent infections can be diagnosed through a tuberculin skin test.

The screenings were conducted following the TB diagnosis of a Hartford resident who was known to frequent the Charter Oak Health Center.


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Komen Reversal a Victory for Latina Fight Against Breast Cancer

By Jessica González-Rojas, New America Media Commentary

NEW YORK–When I was 16, a health educator came to my high-school gym class, corralled the girls in the locker room and talked about breast health.

My experience that day proved fateful for me, and those memories came back this week with the unsettling news that the Susan G. Komen Foundation would end its support of Planned Parenthood clinics. The foundation then recanted that decision on Friday, a victory for thousands of women who rely on Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings.

The news of the Komen Foundation’s reversal draws attention to the underlying issue—the need for widespread access to breast cancer screening, especially by low-income women.

“My Heart Sank”

That day in school, we learned how to do a breast self-exam, and the health educator made us practice on the spot. When I asked about a hard knot I found in my right breast, she examined it briefly and said, “You should see a doctor.” My heart sank—could this be breast cancer? I am too young!

As a young Latina whose mother was a secretary with union benefits at a New York City hospital, I had access to premier health care. I quickly saw a doctor who was alarmed by the size of the lump, and before I knew it, I was laying on an operating table.

The surgeon removed a fibrocystic nodule from my right breast and, after a biopsy, I was relieved to learn it was benign. Thanks to very early detection, my breasts are healthy, and I am cancer-free.

As I look down on the scar on my right breast every day, I am thankful I had the education and the access to health care to remove the lump before it was too late. However, this is not the reality for most Latinas.

Latinas face some of the most serious challenges to accessing preventative health care, with potentially deadly results. Research conducted at the University of Louisville revealed that they are 20 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, illustrating the dismaying health disparities that continue to plague Latinas.

Breast exams are therefore a particularly important aspect of preventative care for Latina women.

That’s why we at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) were so alarmed to learn early this week that the Susan G. Komen Foundation had succumbed to anti-choice pressure and halted funding of Planned Parenthood’s breast-cancer prevention programs.

Free or low-cost clinical breast exams offered by providers such as Planned Parenthood are often the only health care services available to Latinas, and to low-income and ethnic women in general.

Latinas Twice as Likely to Die

Not only are Latinas more likely to die from breast cancer, but they are also twice as likely to be without health insurance. Nearly 40 percent of Latinas have no health insurance, while nearly 17 percent of white women are uninsured.

Breast-cancer screening rates for Hispanic women are also lower than for whites—69.7 percent compared to 72.7 percent—according to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That difference may seem small, but each percentage point represents many lives.
On Friday, the Komen Foundation rightly reversed course and announced it would continue to provide funds to Planned Parenthood health centers.

With Komen funds, those centers have provided more than 170,000 breast-cancer screenings in the past five years. These funds will continue to support preventative care for thousands of the most vulnerable women across the United States, offered through the health centers they trust.

While the rate of breast cancer among Latinas is alarming, we are not sitting idly by. NLIRH recently launched its “¡Soy Poderosa!/I am Powerful!” campaign, which provides opportunities for the Latina community to organize and amplify our voices through nationwide civic engagement in 2012.

All women deserve access to breast-cancer screening services, and collectively we must be proactive in tearing down the barriers to care.

NLIRH continues to encourage Latinas to be powerful, as well as to seek preventative care and regular cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood or other health centers. Taking those steps could be lifesaving–I can personally attest to that.

Jessica González-Rojas is the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, based in New York City, the only national organization working on behalf of the reproductive health and justice of the 20 million Latinas, their families and communities in the United States.

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Hartford Health Network Receives $13.5 Million

HARTFORD — Joining with a national and statewide push to infuse the medical industry with money,  the state Bond Commission approved $13.5 million for improvement of six hospital and health centers in Hartford.

Hartford houses most of the medical centers in the Greater Hartford region and state law makers and investors are looking to “increase the city’s growing stature in medical education, as that sector becomes an increasingly important component of Connecticut’s economy.”

On Friday  Senator John Fonfara (D-Hartford), Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and Senator Eric Coleman (D-Bloomfield) praised Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Bond Commission for approving the funds.

“These funds will make a multitude of improvements at the hospitals and health centers which serve the daily needs of Hartford residents and others in the region,” said Fonfara.

Coleman gave an explanation of how the funding would actually benefit city residents instead of just developers.

“The current round of bonding allocations is very consistent with the state interest in expanding health care coverage and making advancements in the way of health care is delivered, with a view toward reducing the cost of health care,” he said.

Hartford Hospital will receive a $5 million allocation for the expansion of a simulation and conference center on its campus in Hartford, which will add significantly to the hospital’s tools for medical education, officials said.

St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center was also awarded $5 million, to develop the Connecticut Institute for Primary Care Innovation at its Hartford location. The institute will provide opportunities for innovative models of medical training, and will serve as a laboratory for improving patient care through applied research, according to officials.

The Charter Oak Health Center and Community Health Services, Inc., the medical home for economically disadvantaged members of the North End of Hartford, will each receive $1 million for equipment to provide electronic medical records and access to remote treatment and training centers at their Harford facilities.

In addition, the Hispanic Health Council was granted $1 million for renovations and repairs at their Hartford facilities.

Saint Joseph College will receive $500,000 to assist with expansion of its School of Pharmacy in Hartford. 16,000 square feet will be added to the school’s leased space, including a third classroom, a library addition, student lounge and a faculty board room.


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How to Take Your Blood Pressure at Home

New America Media, Dr. Erin Marcus
Sometimes, the simplest tools in medicine are the ones that give us the most useful information.

Take the humble blood pressure machine, for example. It’s been around for years, and it’s cheap, compared to a lot of other medical devices. It’s simple to use and doesn’t require a medical or a nursing degree to operate, but the numbers it reports are valuable in helping predict a person’s risk of a host of medical problems, including heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure. It can also help doctors determine whether a person really needs to take medicine to control his or her high blood pressure.

In recent years, many physicians have concluded that just checking blood pressure in the doctor’s office or clinic isn’t sufficient.

A “Call to Action” from the American Heart Association (AHA), the American Society of Hypertension (ASH), and the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA) recommends that most people who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, as well as people whose blood pressure is slightly elevated but not yet in the “high blood pressure” range, get a monitor and check their blood pressure regularly at home.

Because they’re taken in a familiar environment, home blood pressure readings tend to be lower than the measurements taken in a doctor’s office or clinic, and better reflect a person’s true blood pressure. They give doctors and nurses a better sense of how well a person’s treatment is working, compared to sporadic readings taken in the office, and may enable some people to avoid medication entirely.

In a few cases, they also help detect the opposite: blood pressure that’s in an abnormally high range at home, even though it seems normal during visits to the office. Home blood pressure monitoring can also help people save money and avoid missing work time, by reducing the number of visits they have to make to the doctor’s office or clinic.

“There’s emerging evidence that home blood pressure readings are good predictors of cardiovascular outcomes for most people,” said Dr. Mahboob Rahman, an associate professor and hypertension researcher at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. “Patients are probably further along [in the habit of checking home blood pressure] than physicians, but we need to provide them with guidance.”

Don Wiggins, a 60 year old radio host and sales manager, uses a $50, battery-powered machine to check his blood pressure, and says it’s an important part of his daily routine. He began recording his blood pressure three years ago, after he underwent emergency heart bypass surgery.

A home nurse showed him how to use his blood pressure monitor. “At that point, I was ready to listen to anybody,” he recalled recently. “But the machines are so easy. There’s really no excuse for anyone not to check his or her blood pressure,” he added.

“High blood pressure is very prevalent, especially among African-American men,” he said. “It’s a silent killer, and it’s important to keep it under check.”

How to Take Your Own Blood Pressure

Below are some suggestions from Dr. Rahman, as well as from the AHA/ASH/PCNA “Call to Action” statement, regarding the best way to check your blood pressure accurately:

1. Pick a blood pressure machine that gives automatic readings and that’s been “validated,” meaning it’s been tested for accuracy according to a widely accepted set of standards.

Dr. Rahman recommends a nonprofit website, Dableducational.org, which lists monitors that have been tested according to the standards of the European Society of Hypertension. It’s also helpful to get a machine that will keep a log of your readings so that you’ll have something to show your doctor or nurse practitioner.

2. Use arm monitors rather than wrist monitors.

Arm monitors, meaning machines with a “cuff,” or sleeve that fits on the upper arm – tend to be more accurate than wrist monitors, according to the “call to action” statement, and finger monitors should generally be avoided. Wrist monitor readings can change with the position of the wrist. The wrist needs to be held at the level of the heart to get the most accurate reading.

3. Make sure the cuff is the correct size.

The cuff, or sleeve of the machine that fits around your arm needs to be the correct size for your arm. The inflatable part of the sleeve should fit around 80 percent of your upper arm. If your arms are large, you may need to buy a separate large cuff.

4. Follow the basic rules.

The basic rules, whether in the clinic or the home, start with sitting in a chair that supports the back, with both feet in a comfortable position on the ground, for five minutes before taking the measurement.

Smoking, exercising, and drinking coffee should be avoided for half an hour prior to the reading, since these can make blood pressure levels rise transiently. If you need to use the toilet, do so before you check your blood pressure – don’t take a reading when your bladder is full. Try to relax.

5. Check your blood pressure two to three times a week, at times when you are relatively calm.

The “Call to Action” statement recommends that doctors review at least 12 recordings prior to making any decisions about beginning, stopping, or adjusting medication. The statement also says that a home value of 135/85 or above is high, as opposed to the 140/90 level that’s usually considered elevated. For people with diabetes and other conditions that increase their risk of heart disease, the goal blood pressure is 130/80 or lower.

6. The goal is keeping an overall record.

Remember, the goal of checking your blood pressure at home is to keep an overall record that will help your doctor or nurse decide on what treatment to recommend.

Home monitoring is not meant to figure out why you might feel ill at any one particular moment. “Some people get in the habit of ‘I’m not feeling well, so I’ll check to see if my blood pressure is high or low,” Dr. Rahman said. “That’s not the best use of the blood pressure machine.” If you’re not feeling well, call your doctor or nurse so that they can diagnose the reason why.

7. Don’t panic if the levels fluctuate.

In most people, blood pressure tends to be a bit higher in the morning and at work, and it’s normal for it to ebb and flow. “The variability of readings is high,” the joint statement explains. “Individual high or low readings have little, if any, significance.”

8. Get your machine regularly checked.

Remember to bring your machine back to your doctor’s office every year, so that the staff can make sure it’s still working accurately.

Before using the machine, bring it to your clinic or doctor’s office so that the staff can check its accuracy and make sure you know how to operate it correctly. The American Academy of Family Physicians and British Hypertension Society also post online instructions that can help orient you when you begin using your machine.

9. Pharmacy and grocery store monitors aren’t best.

Don’t rely on the blood pressure monitors available at the grocery store or pharmacy, as they aren’t always accurate. If you can’t afford to buy your own machine, check with your local fire department to see if they offer “drop-in” times when you can get your blood pressure checked.

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Healthcare Company Holds Job Fair in CT

Medical practitioners will have a chance to meet face to face with potential employers at the ADVANCE Healthcare Job Fair next month in Hartford.

The Pennsylvania-based medical company will be making its stop in Hartford, at the Connecticut Convention Center on March 4.

Organizers said that thier job fairs offer a large number of jobs in a number of different healthcare fields – from nursing and radiology to respiratory care, rehab and the medical lab. Students and professionals have the chance to meet and greet representatives from a variety of hiring facilities.

Attendees can distribute their resume, collect information, interview and apply for jobs on the spot. With so many employers present who are looking to find qualified staff now and for the future, organizers said.

Attendees can also take part in five hours of free Educational Sessions on vital healthcare topics. Free refreshments are served and attendees are eligible for free games and prizes. Some of the prizes include a Visa gift card, cash and a portable DVD player.

For more information, please call 800-546-4987, email jobfair@advanceweb.com, or visit www.advanceweb.com/jobfairs.

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State’s Hotline Addresses Swine Flu Concerns

HARTFORD — The state now has a special hotline to address questions and concerns about the H1N1 flu virus.

 The hotline is staffed by the state Department of Public Health  from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, state officials said.

The H1N1 hotline is: 1-800-830-9426.
According the officials, the public can now get the most up-to-date information this flu season on the swine flu, including vaccine availability, clinics and recommendations for staying healthy and keeping your family healthy.

Novel H1N1 influenza, or swine flu, is a respiratory infection caused by a virus. The virus can spread likes seasonal flu, especially through coughs and sneezes. Novel H1N1 influenza symptoms are similar to symptoms of seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, lethargy, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting with novel H1N1 influenza.

Gov. Jodi Rell’s office said Connecticut is expected to begin receiving about 20,000 doses of the intranasal H1N1 vaccine this week for use in children 2 to 4 years of age.

The intranasal vaccine has received federal approval for use in healthy persons 2-49 years of age, who are not pregnant. DPH, in accordance with the state H1N1 vaccination distribution plan, advises that the initial shipments of the intranasal vaccine be used for healthy children 2-4, who are at greater risk for severe illness if they contract the H1N1 or the so-called swine flu.

The first round of vaccine is also being made available to vaccinate caregivers and household contacts of children younger than 6 months of age and hospital healthcare workers and Emergency Medical Services personnel with direct patient contact, officials said.

After the initial shipment of intranasal vaccine, the state is expected to receive more than 500,000 doses of both the injectable and intranasal H1N1 vaccines by mid-October and then several thousand more in weekly shipments thereafter.

More than 1,500 doctors and other health care providers have registered with DPH to administer the H1N1 vaccine this flu season.

Prevention is the key to staying healthy this flu season. The Department of Public Health offers the following recommendations:

* Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If soap and water are not nearby, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

* Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or the crook of your elbow when you cough or sneeze.

* Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs often spread this way.

* Stay away from people who are sick.

* If you get sick, limit contact with others to avoid infecting them.
For more information on the H1N1 virus or the seasonal flu in Connecticut visit: http://www.ct.gov/ctfluwatch

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