Tag Archives: health

Many face hazards of lead as Trump eyes massive budget cuts

Laicie Manzella lived in a rundown house on Buffalo’s east side when three of her children tested with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood. Her oldest son suffered nosebleeds, body rashes and a developmental disorder requiring speech therapy.

Checking her apartment, county health inspectors found 15 lead violations, all linked to old paint in this blue collar city plagued by lead poisoning.

A Reuters investigation found at least four city zip codes here where 40 percent of children tested from 2006 to 2014 had high lead levels, making Buffalo among the most dangerous lead hotspots in America. The rate of high lead tests in these areas was far worse — eight times greater — than that found among children across Flint, Michigan, during that city’s recent water crisis.

Federal support has helped Manzella and other families in Buffalo and beyond. This month, her family moved into a gleaming, lead-free apartment renovated by a local nonprofit with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This type of assistance may not last much longer.

President Donald Trump is advocating deep federal budget cuts that would sap billions from programs used by state and local governments to protect children from the lifelong health impacts of lead exposure.

“If they go and snatch these funds away, where are we going to get help from?” Manzella said.

It’s a question being asked in cities across the United States bracing for cuts in programs that identify and eradicate lead poisoning hazards. Awareness of lead poisoning escalated following Flint’s crisis, and more recently from Reuters reporting that has identified more than 3,300 areas with childhood lead poisoning rates at least double those found in the Michigan city.

Some of the areas slated to be hit hardest supported Trump in November’s election, though he lost Erie County, where Buffalo is the county seat.

At least eight of the nine federal agencies sharing responsibility for lead poisoning prevention face potential budget cuts. But the heaviest lifting falls to HUD, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump’s budget would cut at least $4.7 billion from programs at HUD and the EPA that support healthy housing and lead pollution cleanup efforts, a Reuters analysis found. Funding for a CDC program that assists states with poisoning prevention is uncertain.

Cuts would be felt across the country. The Trump administration would eliminate a $27 million program that trains private contractors on lead removal, and a $21 million program that funds lead abatement projects in Alaska, Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma and California. It would kill a program that provided funds to a Rhode Island nonprofit to upgrade housing, and end a $970 million affordable-housing program that has fixed up dilapidated homes in hundreds of U.S. cities, including Flint.

If the cuts clear Congress, some experts fear the fight against lead could stall out for years.

“We are dooming future generations,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, health commissioner in Erie County. “Exposure to high lead levels causes brain damage to kids, learning disabilities and behavioral challenges.”

Instead of saving money, the cost of inaction could spiral, Burstein said. More children would be afflicted by learning disabilities and other neurological problems, leaving localities to foot the bill for treatment programs.

White House officials declined to comment.

Decades of lead abatement have sharply curbed childhood lead levels across the United States. But studies have shown no level of lead in the blood is safe, and poisoning persists in thousands of locales.

PINPOINTING HOTSPOTS

In December, Reuters used previously undisclosed data obtained from 21 states to pinpoint nearly 3,000 U.S. neighborhoods where poisoning rates among tested children were at least twice as high as in Flint.

Reporters have since obtained testing results covering eight additional states and expanded data from two more, including New York, Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia, New Hampshire and California. The new data reveal another 449 neighborhoods with rates that high.

The communities stretch from affluent neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area to an impoverished quarter of Shreveport, Louisiana, to a rural town in Salem County, New Jersey, where Trump won 56 percent of the vote in November.

The data paints a partial picture. Reuters has not obtained neighborhood-level testing results for 21 states and the District of Columbia. These areas cited privacy concerns or said they do not have the data.

Still, the available results show the toxic metal remains a threat to millions of children.

Federal programs fund testing for children, cleanup of industrial lead hazards and poisoning-awareness efforts. Other programs require inspections or abatement in housing built before 1978, when lead was banned from residential paint.

The few planned funding increases under Trump may not be as beneficial as they appear. HUD’s Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control Program is slated to receive a $20 million boost, but the agency has proposed eliminating $4.1 billion worth of grant programs local officials say play a bigger role in reducing risks.

“I think you’re going to see more children, not fewer children, exposed to lead,” said Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat who has sought more funding for lead-abatement programs on the Senate subcommittee that funds HUD.

Congress, which controls federal spending, may not go along. A spokeswoman for Senator Susan Collins described lead-based hazards as “one of the most prevalent health issues facing children today.” She said the Maine Republican would use her position as head of the subcommittee that controls HUD’s budget to oppose cuts.

BUFFALO A HOTBED FOR LEAD

Buffalo has long fought a legacy of lead contamination. Blood data shows 17 city zip codes where the rate of tested children with high lead levels was at least double that of Flint – about 8,000 children over nine years.

“Nobody’s talking about Buffalo as ground zero for the lead problem, but when it comes to the levels of lead that’s been identified in children, it’s higher than what you see in Flint,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Buffalo’s problem stems from a simple equation: Old houses plus high poverty equal lead poisoning. Older homes are often blanketed with lead paint, and the water pipes and fixtures typically contain lead. In poorer neighborhoods, homes are frequently neglected, leading to exposure from peeling paint or dust. Fifty-eight percent of the city’s housing was built before 1940; nearly 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line.

Still, Buffalo and Erie County have made progress. In 2007, three city zip codes had 50 percent of tested children with high lead levels. By 2014, the prevalence in those zip codes dropped to an improved, but still worrisome, 30 percent.

Progress came thanks to millions of dollars in federal assistance flowing to local programs.

From 2012 through 2016, Buffalo was granted $27.7 million from the now-threatened HUD HOME Investment and Partnerships Program. HUD’s blessing brought far greater resources to bear, with city, county and nonprofits using the grant to attract another $200 million to revitalize or replace 1,125 housing units, making them all lead-safe.

Among those helped: The Chowdhurys, a family of five who moved to the east side of Buffalo in 2010, settling in a neighborhood with one of the highest lead poisoning rates in the country.

Within two months, their one-year-old daughter, Nabiha, was found to have a lead level about twice that of the elevated threshold set by the CDC, five micrograms per deciliter. Any child at or above CDC’s threshold warrants a public health response, the agency says.

MD Chowdhury, a restaurant waiter, and his wife, Nazneen Fatema, didn’t know how their daughter was poisoned or how to help her, but Buffalo and Erie County did.

Local officials dispatched housing inspectors, nurses and contractors to identify and repair the lead hazards in the family’s home. Replacing the lead-paint coated windows and siding and installing a new roof cost about $40,000. Federal grant programs footed the bill.

Erie County’s Health Department receives $244,000 a year from the CDC to help fund five full-time employees and three part-time employees who refer at-risk children for testing, investigate the causes of lead poisoning and conduct educational home visits. Those staffers helped the family.

Chowdhury also took EPA-funded classes on how to safely remove lead-based-paint so he could do additional work himself.

Two years ago, the couple had another daughter. She has never tested high.

“Without these programs, it’s hard to know about lead, and my income is not enough to do all of the work we needed,” Chowdhury said.

Trump’s budget proposal would kill much of the funding that helped the family through its ordeal.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said the case illustrates the larger peril of potential funding cuts. “There would be people who would fall through the cracks,” he said.

CARSON’S MIXED MESSAGE

While working as a pediatric neurosurgeon in Baltimore, Dr. Benjamin Carson saw the irreversible damage lead can cause in the brains of children living in substandard housing.

At his confirmation hearing in February to serve as Trump’s secretary of HUD, Carson told the Senate Banking Committee he would be “vigorous” in his efforts to reduce the tally of hundreds of thousands of poisoned children across the country.

“I’m looking forward to, you know, the Safe and Healthy Homes Program at HUD and enhancing that program very significantly,” Carson said.

But even Carson’s requested $20 million increase for HUD’s lead removal program falls short of the $29 million his agency says is needed to comply with a new policy that requires lead remediation of HUD properties where children have tested above the CDC threshold.

Other housing programs that play a bigger, if more indirect, role in protecting children’s health would be eliminated altogether.

Among them: the $125 million Choice Neighborhoods program, which provided funding to remove lead paint from New Orleans’ aging Iberville housing project, and the $970 million HOME Partnerships program, which helped the Chowdhurys clean up their house in Buffalo.

The biggest casualty could be HUD’s $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program.

Local officials use CDBG grants to fund projects from curb construction to rehabilitating old housing, with only a small portion, $10 million, directly used for lead safety standards in the most recent fiscal year.

But CDGB is crucial to poisoning prevention, since housing-related projects it helps are required to meet HUD guidelines for lead safety, said Marion McFadden, who oversaw HUD’s grant programs under President Barack Obama.

“If (cuts are) enacted, it would be a huge step backward,” McFadden said.

CDBG funds went toward lead-paint removal in cities including Milwaukee, Syracuse and Shreveport, Louisiana. All three had neighborhoods with documented lead poisoning rates at least twice Flint’s.

BUDGET CUTS IN AMISH COUNTRY

Health officials in the small city of York, Pennsylvania, two hours west of Philadelphia in Amish country, know how budget cuts like this can play out.

The city and surrounding York County, where Trump won 70 percent of the vote in November, have a serious lead poisoning problem. From 2005 through 2014, at least 30 percent of children tested in all but one of York’s census tracts had elevated lead exposure, according to CDC data. In one census tract, more than half of all tested children had high lead levels.

Nabiha A Chowdhury, 7, demonstrates her process for removing potential lead from her hands by washing them at her home in Buffalo, New York March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Lindsay DeDario

Trump lost the city of York, but other patches of the county hit hard by lead poisoning, including the borough of Red Lion, where 21 percent of children tested had high levels, overwhelmingly supported him.

In the mid 1990s, York had seven full-time and part-time employees working in the city’s lead prevention program who conducted screening and investigated lead exposure sources. Since then, CDC cuts have left the program with one part-time employee and no ability to conduct screening.

The results are telling. In 2005, 1,641 city children were screened for lead. In 2014, 169 kids received a lead test.

Trump’s plan to eliminate the $375,000 in Home Partnership funds the city uses to develop lead-safe housing would have dire consequences, said James Crosby, deputy director of the city’s Bureau of Housing Services.

“It would mean we would be out of business,” Crosby said. “If he eliminates the home program, we would have absolutely nothing.”

A HUD spokesman declined to comment on the impact the cuts would have. “HUD will continue to work very closely with state and local health and housing officials through targeted investments in specific programs to reduce childhood lead poisoning,” he said.

CUTS AT THE EPA

A similar pattern is emerging at the EPA, where Administrator Scott Pruitt is highlighting some lead remediation efforts while pushing to gut funding to enforce pollution laws and clean up contaminated sites.

During the confirmation process, Pruitt told lawmakers he would work to reduce exposure to lead. On Wednesday he visited East Chicago, Indiana, where the EPA has secured $42 million from chemical companies to remove contaminated soil from neighborhoods near a former lead-smelting plant. In one neighborhood, up to 20 percent of tested children had elevated lead-blood levels.

Trump’s budget proposal would preserve funding for the EPA program that helps cities like Flint buy new water pipes.

But Pruitt would slash other federal efforts, including a one-third cut of EPA’s Superfund and Brownfield programs, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars less to clean up areas contaminated by lead mining in southeast Missouri, tainted yards and parks in Omaha and old school buildings on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota.

Pruitt would also eliminate a $27 million program that trains private contractors on safe lead removal from buildings, internal documents show.

An EPA spokesman said the agency is weighing strategies to save taxpayers money while protecting the environment. “We’re trying to restore some accountability to these and other programs so that we can examine what has worked – and most especially, what hasn’t,” wrote spokesman J.P. Freire.

Funding levels for the CDC, which spent $17 million last year through the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program to help state and local governments, have been the subject of great uncertainty.

Earlier this year Trump lobbied for a Republican health-care bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act. In the process, the bill would have eliminated the pool of public-health money that funds the CDC’s lead program. In March, the bill collapsed in the House of Representatives.

Last week, a White House official told Reuters the administration intends to keep funds flowing to the CDC program. By Monday, however, the official had backed away from that commitment and said the program’s fate is uncertain until the administration produces a more detailed budget proposal in May.

The last round of cuts to the CDC’s lead budget in 2011 slashed assistance to many state poisoning prevention programs.

Those cuts were a reason why Flint’s problems didn’t come to light sooner, said Mary Jean Brown, a public health specialist at Harvard University who directed CDC’s lead program at the time. Without the CDC lead program, Michigan conducted less monitoring of childhood blood levels from 2011 to 2014, and stopped reporting test results to the CDC.

This created “a big gap in data,” Brown said, contributing to Flint’s crisis going unchecked or being ignored by Michigan officials until a pediatrician, scientists and activists presented proof children had been sickened.

MD Chowdhury (R) stands with Tom Muscarella of the Erie County Health Department and points to improvements made to his lead contaminated home during an interview in Buffalo, New York March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Lindsay DeDario

Trump signs measure reversing Obama era rule protecting women’s access to basic health care

President Donald Trump on April 13  signed a resolution allowing states to restrict how federal funds for contraception and reproductive health are spent.

“This is a major pro-life victory,” said the House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Abortion rights advocates had an opposite reaction.

Under the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to repeal newly minted rules, both the House and Senate had passed a resolution killing Obama’s regulation that had protected federal grants for clinics in states wanting to block the funding.

States such as Texas in recent years have kept the grants from going to clinics as part of the country’s longstanding fight over abortion. Broadly, many Republicans seek to restrict abortion or make it illegal while Democrats have fought to keep abortion legal.

The resolution had narrowly passed the U.S. Congress, with Vice President Mike Pence called to the Senate on March 30 to break a tie vote in the chamber, where Republicans hold a slim majority.

The grants, known as “Title X” funds, were already barred from going directly to abortion services but under the now-null regulation family planning clinics had been assured they could receive money even in the face of state objections.

“Allowing states to withhold Title X funding from family planning clinics won’t make anyone safer or healthier — it will instead place essential services out of reach,” said Diane Horvath-Cosper, a medical doctor and fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health.

She said for many people the clinics are the only place where they can receive affordable health services such as disease testing.

Planned Parenthood issued a statement that denounced the signing of the resolution. The statement said the bill Trump signed does not “defund” Planned Parenthood, but this “latest move could embolden states to try to block access to health care through Title X, both at Planned Parenthood health centers and independent clinics. These types of actions are already illegal, as a court in Florida found just this past summer.”

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, “People are sick and tired of politicians making it even harder for them to access health care and this bill is just the latest example. Planned Parenthood strongly opposes President Trump’s willingness to undermine millions of women’s access to birth control through the Title X family planning program. Four million people depend on the Title X family planning program, and by signing this bill, President Trump disregards their health and well-being.”

Consider actions in the past three months by the Trump administration and anti-women’s health members of Congress:

• Trump reinstated and expanded the global gag rule, meaning a range of health organizations combating HIV or the spread of Zika will be banned from all U.S. global health funding if they also happen to provide counseling, referrals, or services for safe and legal abortion.

• The House considered a bill to repeal the ACA that would have prohibited women from getting care at Planned Parenthood through the Medicaid program, ended maternity coverage for millions of women and imposed a ban on insurance coverage for abortion.

• Extremists in Congress attempted to revive the failed ACA repeal bill by trading away women’s health and proposing to gut the essential health benefits provision, which would roll back maternity care, raise insurance rates for women and reduce access to birth control and other reproductive health care.

• The Senate confirmed anti-women’s health nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch, to the Supreme Court.

• The Trump administration eliminated U.S. funding for UNFPA, an organization whose mission is to champion maternal and child health across the globe.

Laguens said, “Women marched in historic numbers the day after the inauguration because they feared the worst. Their worst fears are now coming true. We are facing the worst political attack on women’s health in a generation as lawmakers have spent the past three months trading away women’s health and rights at every turn. That’s why women are the core of the resistance and have have been organizing and speaking out since the day after the election. They know speaking up and speaking out can change the direction of this government.”

Death by 1,000 cuts: How Republicans can still alter your health coverage

The Affordable Care Act’s worst enemies are now in charge of the vast range of health coverage it created. They’re also discussing changes that could affect a wider net of employment-based policies and Medicare coverage for seniors.

Republicans failed last month in their first attempt to repeal and replace the ACA. But President Donald Trump vows the effort will continue. Even if Congress does nothing, Trump has suggested he might sit by and “let Obamacare explode.”

Health insurance for the 20 million who benefited from the ACA’s expanded coverage is especially at risk. But they’re not the only ones potentially affected. Here’s how what’s going on in Washington might touch you.

A 3-year-old lawsuit threatens many plans. A suit by the Republican-led House challenges some subsidies supporting private plans sold to individuals and families through the ACA’s online marketplaces, also called exchanges. It has already gained one court victory. By many accounts, it would wreck the market if successful, stranding up to 12 million without coverage.

“It’s the single-biggest problem facing the exchanges,” said Rachel Sachs, a health law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “That would make insurers not only exit tomorrow but also not want to offer plans in 2018.”

The litigation involves lesser-known ACA subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket costs such as copayments and deductibles for lower-income consumers. These are different from the law’s income-linked tax credits, which help pay for premiums.

Filed in 2014, when Barack Obama was president, the suit could backfire by politically harming the Republicans now in charge. House leaders have delayed the litigation and said they won’t drop the lawsuit but will continue the subsidies while it gets considered. The administration has not said how it plans to handle the lawsuit.

Policy confusion undermines coverage.

Even if Congress doesn’t repeal the ACA, the continuing battle makes insurance companies think twice about offering marketplace policies for next year. The less clarity carriers have about subsidies and whether the administration will promote 2018 enrollment, the likelier they are to bail or jack up premiums to cover themselves.

Preserving the subsidies, which limit out-of-pocket costs for lower-income consumers, “is essential,” said Kevin Lewis, CEO of Community Health Options, a nonprofit Maine insurer. “Markets don’t like uncertainty. The ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over our collective heads is unsettling, to say the least.”

Democrats say Republicans are sabotaging Obamacare.

Shortly after taking power, Trump officials yanked advertising designed to maximize enrollment in marketplace plans just before a Jan. 31 deadline. It was partly restored after an outcry.

Then the administration said it would scrap an Obama-regime plan of rejecting tax returns from individuals who decline to say whether they had health insurance — weakening the requirement to be covered.

Trump aide Kellyanne Conway suggested in January the administration might entirely stop enforcing that requirement — the part of the law most hated by Republicans. If officials persist with that message, plans could attract even fewer of the young and healthy members whose premiums are needed to support the ill. That would cause more rising premiums and insurer exits.

“More mischief can be done,” said Dr. Peter Kongstvedt, a health industry consultant and senior faculty member at George Mason University. “It is absolutely possible that some markets will end up with no carriers unless a combination of state and federal government act to preserve the market” with taxpayer money.

Trump officials will move to roll back ACA coverage even if Congress doesn’t repeal.

Tom Price, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, has signaled his intent to reverse parts of the ACA through regulation even if Congress doesn’t repeal the law.

For example, Price couldn’t unilaterally eliminate coverage for birth control or maternity care, both of which many Republicans object to on moral grounds or because of cost. But birth control might no longer be free as a preventive benefit. Maybe the administration would let states limit the number of prenatal visits in maternity coverage. Perhaps more employers could gain religious exemption from providing birth control.

Medicaid coverage for low-income people could shrink.

Obamacare’s coverage expansion included government Medicaid coverage for folks with lower incomes. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia expanded Medicaid to most adults with incomes below about $16,000 for singles and $28,000 for a family of three — although eligibility varies.

Republicans want to reduce the growth of Medicaid spending and give more control over the program to states. Discussions for a Medicaid overhaul focus on replacing ACA provisions with fixed, less-generous federal grants to states.

But even if the ACA survives, it’s likely the administration will give states more say in who gets Medicaid coverage and how much. Many Republicans favor work requirements for Medicaid recipients and raising out-of-pocket payments for patients.

Under the failed House replacement bill, the American Health Care Act, 9 million people in those states would have lost Medicaid coverage in 2020, estimated the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

At the same time, however, Republican support for the ACA’s Medicaid expansion is growing, which might mean overall cutbacks would be less severe or Medicaid coverage could increase among the 19 states that didn’t expand the program under the ACA.

Some Republicans want to overhaul Medicare for seniors.

House Speaker Paul Ryan wants to restrain Medicare growth by giving members fixed, “premium support” payments to buy plans and possibly raise the age of eligibility. Both could lead to less coverage or greater out-of-pocket expense.

But the proposal wasn’t part of the Republicans’ replacement bill. Changing Medicare likely would trigger loud objections from AARP and other powerful lobbies. And Trump doesn’t seem inclined to back a change.

“I don’t think … Trump wants to meddle with Medicare or Social Security,” White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said in January.

Job-based coverage could become less generous.

Although ditching Obamacare would end the requirement for large employers to offer health insurance, most companies would keep their plans as a way to attract workers, analysts say.

But that coverage could become less generous. The ACA limits employer-plan members’ annual out-of-pocket cost and also prohibits caps on annual and lifetime benefits. At the same time, it prohibits waiting periods for covering a new worker’s preexisting illness.

Any replacement law signed by Trump might not include those protections.

Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Mayo Clinic faces questions over CEO’s ‘prioritized’ patients remark

Mayo Clinic is facing questions from the state of Minnesota after its CEO told employees that if patient conditions are equal, its hospitals should prioritize privately insured patients over those under government-subsidized programs such as Medicaid.

John Noseworthy’s comments were made late last year in a videotaped speech to staff but surfaced only this week after a transcript of his speech was obtained by the Star Tribune newspaper.

The Mayo Clinic has verified the transcript is accurate.

Noseworthy said in a statement that medical need will always be the top factor in scheduling an appointment.

“In an internal discussion I used the word ‘prioritized’ and I regret this has caused concerns that Mayo Clinic will not serve patients with government insurance. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said, adding that the hospital is committed to serving patients with government insurance.

“Changing demographics, aging of Americans and budgetary pressures at state and federal government pose challenges to the fiscal sustainability in healthcare today,” he said. “While these discussions are uncomfortable, they are critical for us to be able to meet the needs of all of our patients.”

Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said she was surprised and concerned by Noseworthy’s earlier comments and has questions about what they really mean and how Noseworthy’s directive would be carried out.

The department is looking into whether there are possible violations of civil and human rights laws.

The agency also is reviewing its contracts with Mayo Clinic to ensure the hospital is meeting its obligations to serve patients in public programs.

Last year, Noseworthy told staff that when Mayo Clinic has expertise that can’t be found elsewhere, it will always take patients, regardless of how they are paying for care.

“We’re asking. if the patient has commercial insurance, or they’re Medicaid or Medicare patients and they’re equal, that we prioritize the commercial insured patients enough so . we can be financially strong at the end of the year to continue to advance our mission,” Noseworthy said in the transcript.

Mayo Clinic spokeswoman Duska Anastasijevic said the speech stressed the need to increase privately insured patients, but not at the expense of government insured patients.

Mayo Clinic said about half of the services it provides go toward those enrolled in government programs. The clinic said it provided $629.7 million in care to people in need in 2016, including $546.4 million that wasn’t covered by Medicaid or other programs for the uninsured or underinsured.

The statement said that as Mayo’s percentage of publicly funded patients has grown, to now roughly 50 percent, the health system is working to increase commercially insured patients.

“To fund its research and education mission, Mayo needs to support its commercial insurance patient numbers in order to continue to subsidize the care of patients whose insurance does not cover the cost of their care,” the statement said.

Piper said Noseworthy’s statements do not reflect routine hospital practices and she found them to be troubling.

As Human Services commissioner, Piper is focused on ensuring access to health care for those enrolled in public programs. She said providers have to follow the law and uphold agreements to provide such care. She said that in her view, nothing that is happening with the health care law on the federal level changes those requirements.

“Health insurance coverage for health insurance coverage’s sake is not the end goal,” she said. “It’s access _ that’s what’s important.”

Anastasijevic said Minnesota Medicaid patients are and will continue to be scheduled the same as patients with commercial insurance.

WalletHub: Milwaukee in top 10 cities most affected by ‘Trumpcare’

Source: WalletHub

With the average health-insurance premium estimated to rise 15-20 percent in the next two years and federal tax credits expected to decrease under the recently proposed American Health Care Act, the personal-finance website WalletHub conducted an in-depth analysis of cities most affected by the GOP health plan, which it referred to as “TrumpCare.”

To gauge the impact of the Republican-proposed health plan on people who buy their own insurance, WalletHub’s analysts compared 457 U.S. cities based on the differences in premium subsidies that the average household would receive under “Obamacare” and “Trumpcare.”

The impact on Milwaukee:
 

  • Average Obamacare Premium Subsidy: $5,707
  • Average Trumpcare Premium Subsidy: $5,000
  • Subsidy Difference: -$707
  • Milwaukee ranks 78th most affected overall and 10th most affected among large cities.

On the web

https://wallethub.com/edu/cities-most-affected-by-trumpcare/33588/

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters: Leading on Lead testimony

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters offered testimony in support of Senate Bill 48, or the “Leading on Lead” bill, at a public hearing in front of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

The bill, introduced by Committee Chair Sen. Rob Cowles, aims to provide communities new tools to assist homeowners in replacing lead pipes.

League legislative director Jennifer Giegerich issued the following testimony to the committee:

We know at least 81 water systems in Wisconsin have tested for unsafe levels of lead. We also know that between 1996 and 2016 more than 200,000 children were diagnosed as being lead-poisoned.

The threat is real and it can be devastating. Lead – even in the smallest amounts – interferes with the synapses in a child’s brain. This damage manifests as decreased IQ, learning disability, and behavior dysfunction.

Lead leaches into water via lead water mains, lead laterals, old pipes, solder, and fixtures. The threat increases when municipalities replace pipes on public property and homeowners don’t replace them on their property. That’s because more lead is released into the drinking water supply when new lead-free pipes are soldered onto older lead pipes. Currently, water utilities have little flexibility to help homeowners replace lead pipes in their homes and on their property.

This bill would give communities the tools necessary to help get rid of these toxic lead pipes, allowing them to provide greater financial assistance to homeowners replacing them.

We again thank Sen. Cowles for his leadership on this issue and urge members of the committee to support SB 48.

CDC: Number of new HIV infections falls in United States

The United States is seeing a strong and steady decline in the number of new HIV infections.

However, there was a 35 percent increase among gay and bisexual men ages 25-34.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which uses blood test results to help date infections, says new HIV infections dropped by nearly 18 percent over six years.

The trend suggests stepped-up efforts to diagnose and treat infections are paying off.

The CDC found that between 2008 and 2014, new infections fell:

  • 18 percent in the overall population, from 45,700 to 37,600.
  • 36 percent among heterosexuals.
  • 56 percent among people who inject drugs.

Two-thirds of the people diagnosed with HIV each year are gay and bisexual men. The CDC saw substantial declines in new infections in very young and in middle-aged men in this group.

However, there was a 35 percent increase in men ages 25 to 34.

The CDC also estimated annual HIV infections in 35 states and reported no state saw an increase.

Seven states showed significant decreases — Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina and Texas.

Reducing food waste is good for the Earth AND your wallet

Remember how it was when you were a kid sitting at the kitchen table and your mother served up a healthy helping of rutabagas? Gross, right?

You slipped them to the family dog or spooned them into a napkin to get them out of sight. But there was no fooling Mom. Your failed sleight-of-hand resulted in a guilt trip and membership in the Clean Your Plate Club.

Fast-forward to today and you’ll find that wasting food has costly consequences extending well beyond your plate.

“Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The environmental advocacy group says that cutting food waste by just 15 percent would help feed more than 25 million people a year “at a time when 1 in 6 Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.”

Alice Henneman, an extension educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, puts it another way: “Food tossed is money lost.”

Food rots when dumped in a landfill, and produces methane, a greenhouse gas said to contribute to climate change. Food wasted in stores and restaurants cuts into profits.

But incentives have been introduced to reduce food waste, many of them financial.

“Tax benefits are available for restaurants and stores for donating food,” Henneman said. “People are buying ‘ugly food and vegetables,’ or produce that is misshapen in appearance, in stores because stores are offering them at a discount.”

Michigan State University has been aggressive about fighting food waste in its 10 dining halls, where more than 30,000 meals are served daily.

“Food is expensive,” said Carla Iansiti, sustainability projects manager for MSU’s Culinary Services. “We train our staff members to get the most volume out of their product, only cut what you need for a recipe and be creative about using all the products.”

The university remodeled several of its dining halls to be trayless and stocked them with smaller dishes. “It makes a difference with smaller plates and fewer plates, and people always have the option to come back for more,” Iansiti said.

Additional tips for minimizing food waste:

• Think landfill diversion. Compost your leftovers for better crop or garden production, or mix them with animal feed. Freeze or can surplus garden produce or donate it to a food bank.

• There is value in sizing. Buy things that won’t spoil in quantity.

• Check your garbage. Cook dishes that have proven popular and don’t end up being thrown out.

• Buy often and buy fresh, eating as much as you can before it goes bad. Shop your refrigerator before purchasing more.

• Practice portion control. Share rather than discard leftovers. Ask for a sample when dining out if you’re uncertain about ordering something. Don’t rush through meals.

• Plan “cook-it-up” menus. Check expiration dates and move older food products toward the front of your shelves so they can be used first.

On the Web

For more about reducing food waste, see this Natural Resources Defense Council issue paper.

Deadly backstreet abortions to rise with Trump restrictions

Thousands of women will die from unsafe abortions and millions will have unwanted pregnancies following President Donald Trump’s decision to ban U.S.-funded groups from discussing abortion, activists said this week.

Trump reinstated the so-called global gag rule, affecting U.S. non-governmental organizations working abroad, to signal his opposition to abortion, which is difficult to access legally in many developing countries due to restrictive laws, stigma and poverty.

“Women will go back to unsafe abortion again,” said Kenyan campaigner Rosemary Olale, who teaches teenage girls in Nairobi slums about reproductive health. “You will increase the deaths.”

The East African nation has one of world’s highest abortion rates and most abortions are unsafe and a leading cause of preventable injury and death among women, government data shows.

Globally, 21.6 million women have unsafe abortions each year, nine out of 10 of which take place in developing countries, according the World Health Organization.

The gag rule, formally known as the Mexico City Policy, prevents charities receiving U.S. funding from performing or telling women about legal options for abortion, even if they use separate money for abortion services, counseling or referrals.

It will hit major reproductive health charities, such as International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International, as the United States is the world’s largest bilateral family planning donor.

Unless it receives alternative funding to support its services, MSI estimates there will be 2.1 million unsafe abortions and 21,700 maternal deaths during Trump’s first term that could have been prevented.

“Abortion is a fundamental right for women and also very necessary public health intervention,” said Maaike van Min, MSI’s London-based strategy director.

MSI has been receiving $30 million per year in U.S. Agency for International Development funding to provide 1.5 million women in more than a dozen countries with family planning services.

It will have to cut these services unless it finds other donors, the charity said.

“Women won’t be able to finish their education (or) pursue the career that they might have, because they don’t have control over their fertility,” said van Min.

“Aid is under pressure everywhere in the world and so finding donors who have the ability to fund this gap is going to be challenging.”

INHUMAN

Women who live in remote areas without government services will suffer most, van Min said, highlighting mothers in Nigeria and Madagascar where MIS has large programs.

“If they don’t now control their fertility, they are at high risk for maternal mortality,” she said. “I remember this lady who had had too many pregnancies and she came up to me … in this village and she was like: ‘Can you make it stop?'”

Other important health services are also likely to be cut, said Evelyne Opondo, Africa director for the Center for Reproductive Rights advocacy group, recalling the large number of facilities that closed down in Kenya after President George W. Bush came to power in 2001 and reinstated the gag rule.

“They refused to adhere to the global gag rule so they lost quite a substantial amount of funding,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

“They were also forced to drastically reduce other services that they were providing, including for survivors of sexual violence (and) for HIV.”

Abortion rates across sub-Saharan Africa increased during the Bush administration, according to a WHO study.

“It’s really unfortunate that the lives and the health of so many women are subject to the whims of American politics,” Opondo said. “This is really unethical, if not inhuman.”

Reporting by Neha Wadekar; Editing by Katy Migiro and Ros Russell. This report is from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.

Consumer groups petition fast-food chains to reduce antibiotic use

Consumer health and food safety groups this week called on 16 fast-food restaurants to stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supply.

Medical experts say the overuse of antibiotics in livestock poses a public health threat by increasing the spread of deadly drug-resistant bacteria.

The 16 restaurants petitioned by the organizations received “F” grades for failing to take steps to end the misuse of medical important antibiotics in the Chain Reaction scorecard, a report published by the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, NRDC and Food Animals Concerns Trust.

A statement from the coalition this week says Burger King received an F and, despite an announcement in December to make certain changes regarding antibiotics in the chicken supply chain, still lags far behind McDonald’s.

McDonald’s has removed medically important antibiotics from its chicken supply chain, but Burger King has committed to removing only limited group of antibiotics classified as “critically important” to human medicine, by the end of 2017.

“The global increase in antibiotic-resistant infections is a public health disaster, and it is essential that our biggest restaurant chains do their part to address this growing problem right away,” said Cameron Harsh of the Center for Food Safety.

The petition effort is the latest in a series of campaigns intended to pressure such companies as KFC, Olive Garden, Chili’s and Starbucks to help protect public health and animal welfare by committing to meat and poultry raised without routine antibiotics.

The performance of these companies contrasts sharply with nine of the largest chains — including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle and Panera, which received passing grades in the report.

“KFC and the other restaurants that received failing grades are making our antibiotics crisis worse,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports. “Antibiotics should only be used to treat disease, not wasted on healthy animals or to compensate for filthy conditions on factory farms. It’s time for restaurants to help protect public health by demanding that their suppliers end the irresponsible use of these important medications.”

“When consumers eat a chicken sandwich they shouldn’t have to worry that doing so is potentially undermining antibiotics. They should just enjoy the sandwich,” said Matthew Wellington, field director of the antibiotics program for U.S. PIRG. “More major chains like KFC need to act on antibiotics. We simply cannot afford to lose the foundations of modern medicine.”

Consumer advocacy and food safety groups say that in the absence of mandatory government regulations on agricultural uses of antibiotics in the United States, restaurants should demonstrate their commitment to public health by ending the misuse of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supply chains.

Some background on the issue…

Most meat served by U.S. chain restaurants comes from animals raised in factory farms. The animals often are fed antibiotics to prevent diseases that occur in crowded, unsanitary living conditions and also to promote faster growth.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regularly dosing animals with antibiotics contributes to rising cases of infections in humans that are resistant to important medicines.

The spread of resistant pathogens means that infections are harder to treat, require longer hospitalizations, and pose greater risk of death. World Health Organization reports that “antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today.”