Health news from 90.5 WESA.

National Healthcare Decision Day

Apr 16, 2013
Paul Moody / Flickr

  The only sure things in life are death and taxes. Now that tax day has passed its time to consider advance care planning and health care decisions. We'll begin the dialogue with Nancy Zionts, chief operating officer and chief program officer for the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. Have you mapped out your end of life plans? How do you talk about it with your loved ones?

Visit for information about Living Wills

The Allegheny County Health Department says one person has been treated for Legionnaire's disease-related pneumonia at a Pittsburgh senior-citizens apartment building.

Officials at York Commons say crews have flushed water lines, shower head and faucets with hot water meant to kill the bacteria that health department officials have determined sickened an unidentified female resident last month.

A new insurance plan from Highmark allows employers to nudge their employees toward particular hospitals when they need risky surgeries.

Employers using the "Blue Distinction" program can give incentives, such as waived deductibles and co-pays, to employees who choose hospitals that have proven track records for certain surgeries.

The company can also choose to increase co-pays or even “carve out” coverage for any other hospital when the specialty surgery is needed, according to Highmark Vice President of Regional Sales Eric Hays.

State administrators, health care providers and researchers gathered in Pittsburgh Thursday to work on building a comprehensive plan to do battle with cancer in Pennsylvania. 

The five-year plan is required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Director Nancy Davidson said the plan is being built with the center’s input. 

Davidson said the group is using the standards put forward by the CDC to set the tone, but she stressed that it is Pennsylvania’s plan, not the CDC’s plan.

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department has unveiled a new website aimed at helping Pennsylvanians with questions about their health insurance.

Department spokeswoman Rosanne Placey said the site was born out of questions being asked by callers.

“We were getting considerable calls on health insurance,” Placey said. “And so what we did is we recapped every question that we got from consumers and basically answered via this website.”

A study completed at Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville could lead to physical therapy sessions being replaced with a device you would use in your home.

The study was done to see if electrical muscle stimulation, or EMS, is as effective as standard physical therapy in helping patients recover from joint replacement surgery.

Dr. Michael Levine, the principal investigator, said he wanted to have an alternative treatment for patients.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

There is a house inside a building at the Pittsburgh Veterans Affair’s Aspinwall campus.

The house has everything one would expect – a doorbell, cable, flatware, a bedroom. There’s even a garage (but with half of a car).

The 1,100 square foot house, called MyHome, is a part of the VA’s Community Living Center, and it's designed to help patients recovering from physical or mental injuries transition safely back to their homes.

But that transition takes practice, according to VA Pittsburgh Rehab Site Supervisor Jason Fay.

Some patients prefer a certain type of doctor. Others don’t understand how to find their medical information via the internet.

Advances in medical technology, specifically in how medical information is given to patients, create a new medical disparity, especially for the elderly, according to Candi Castleberry-Singleton, the chief inclusion and diversity officer at UPMC.

Castleberry-Singleton, who spoke at the University of Pittsburgh today, doesn’t see new technology as a problem, but as an opportunity to be proactive. 

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have discovered a new biological pathway, or protein, that ramps up inflammation. They also have identified agents that can block it.

This could be effective in fighting the damaging inflammation that results from conditions such and pneumonia.

Labor and healthcare advocacy groups are using this April Fool's Day to make a point: that Gov. Tom Corbett's decision to forego a federally funded expansion of Medicaid in Pennsylvania is, well, foolish.

Members of three groups — Working America, the Pennsylvania Health Access Network and the Consumer Health Coalition — plan to deliver 9,000 petitions to Corbett's office urging the administration to lower eligibility requirements for the federal program.

Wednesday is National Walking Day, and organizers in Pittsburgh are hoping to get people in the good habit of taking a daily constitutional as warmer spring weather begins in the region.

Sandy McCurdy, board member of the American Heart Association, said walking is the easiest way to reduce one's risk for heart disease and stroke — two diseases that account for a combined 870,000 deaths in the United States each year.

Starting April 1, Medicare payments to hospitals, doctors and other health care providers will be reduced by 2 percent as sequestration cuts kick in.

These cuts come after a slew of other cuts and subsidy reductions for under- and un-compensated care in preparation for the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will implement the cut, reimbursing Medicare claims at 98 cents on the dollar. Medicare already reimburses less than most private health insurance plans.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

When Sarah Murphy found out she was pregnant, she was initially shocked.

"I didn’t think I would have kids, and then I ended up having him when I was 39," she said. 

Her advanced age led to a medically complicated pregnancy. Her income wasn’t as high as she thought it should be to cover the associated costs.

And as the child of a black woman living in Allegheny County, Murphy’s baby was three times more likely than a white woman’s child to die before reaching his first birthday.

A new report from Families USA, a nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of health care consumers, says that 896,000 Pennsylvanians will be eligible for new health insurance premium tax credits in 2014.

These tax credits will pay for health coverage under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Families will no longer have to pay for more than a set percentage of their income for health coverage.

“The lower your income, the higher your tax credit subsidy,” said Ron Pollack, Director of Families USA, “so it's tailored to help the people who need it the most.”

Many organizations say to accomplish their goals they take it one step at a time. The American Lung Association (ALA) means that literally.

This Saturday in downtown Pittsburgh 478 participants are expected to climb 897 steps to raise $120,000 for the ALA in the organization’s second annual "Fight For Air Climb."

The numbers don’t stop there.

The newly announced Community Paramedic Program, from Pitt’s Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT), retools the image of emergency medical service personnel.

Instead of racing through city streets, sirens screaming, EMTs participating in the pilot initiative will provide regular in-home care for area residents with chronic conditions.

CONNECT is part of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs’ Center for Metropolitan Studies and represents the City of Pittsburgh and 37 contiguous communities.

Could Pennsylvania Become a Single Payer State?

Mar 19, 2013

State Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) is once again trying to convert Pennsylvania’s healthcare system to a single payer one. Ferlo said he will reintroduce legislation that failed to come up for a vote in 2009.

Titled the Pennsylvania Family and Business Healthcare Security Act of 2013, the legislation was drawn up with the help of the non-profit single payer advocacy group Healthcare 4 All PA.

A new report out this week says Pennsylvania fails when it comes to making hospital fees transparent, resulting in patients not knowing what their hospital fees are until they are billed.

Pennsylvania, along with 28 other states, got an "F." Seven states got a "D." Only 2 states got an "A."

The report was compiled and released by The Catalyst for Payment Reform, a consortium of health care providers and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute, a nonprofit that works to improve the affordability and quality of health care.

PA Task Force Looks to Update Child Abuse Laws

Mar 18, 2013

Sixteen new pieces of legislation are being introduced in the Pennsylvania State Senate this week in an effort to update and improve the state's child abuse laws.

The bills, sponsored by a bipartisan mix of 24 senators, come as a response to recommendations made by the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection in its November 30th report.  

State Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) said the effort was born out of a 2011 Senate Aging and Youth Committee meeting where members were informed that current laws are vague, confusing and focus on perpetrators rather than victims.

A study released today by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare PA found that Pennsylvania nursing homes generated $511 million in net income for 2011, but one in three failed to fully spend state funds on direct resident care.

State Senators Matt Smith (D-Allegheny / Washington) and Sean Wiley (D-Erie) proposed three bills that would mandate minimum spending levels of state appropriations as well as require nursing homes to meet and report on staffing levels.

A nationwide shortage of a product used for tuberculosis (TB) screenings is forcing the Allegheny County Health Department to limit the skin test to only those at high-risk for contracting the disease.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed that there is a shortage of Tubersol across the country.  The company that manufactures the product, Sanofi Pasteur Limited, did not immediately return requests for comment.

As state lawmakers wrap up three weeks of budget hearings in Harrisburg, the issue of a possible Medicaid expansion has come up framed as a matter of dollars and cents. But the possible political ramifications also loom over the issue.

Democrats have been hammering the governor on the issue of a Medicaid expansion. They support it and, in recent weeks, it looks like Corbett could be swayed. He is expected to meet with federal authorities to go over what an expansion could mean for Pennsylvania.

Medicaid Expansion & Women in PA

Mar 7, 2013
Ben Ostrowsky / Flickr

As more Republican governor's adopt the Medicaid Expansion, Governor Corbett is under more pressure to adopt the program. We'll discuss the impact of the Medicaid Expansion program on Pennsylvania women and low-income families with Judy Waxman, Vice President for Health Policy and Reproductive Rights for the National Women's Law Center.

A day after a Commonwealth Court judge ruled that the Corbett administration has to spend tobacco settlement proceeds on health care programs such as adultBasic, plantiffs celebrated what they call a victory for the working poor.

AdultBasic, a health insurance plan, launched in 2002 for low-income people earning too much to qualify for Medicaid.  Two years ago, when the Corbett administration cancelled the program, 41,000 people lost their health insurance coverage.

As part of Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed 2013-2014 budget, about half of the state’s sixty health centers will be shuttering, consolidating or morphing. Lay-offs of personnel are also part of the proposal; which state officials say is an effort to modernize Pennsylvania’s public health services and save money.

Michael Wolf, Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health says this move would be a way to deliver services to people who can’t get to the health centers.

Lawyers Say Court Ruling Gives adultBasic New Life

Mar 5, 2013

A portion of Pennsylvania's tobacco settlement proceeds must fund the defunct adultBasic health insurance program for lower-income adults or a similar plan, rather than be used to help balance the government budget or pay for teacher pensions, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini, applying a previous and related court ruling, declared unconstitutional two state laws that siphoned the money away from adultBasic and Medicaid for disabled workers.

In its first year, a program at Allegheny Valley Hospital in Natrona Heights has substantially reduced readmission rates for its sickest patients.

Allegheny Valley Chief Medical Officer Dr. Thomas McClure said the High-Risk Care Team (HRCT), created February 2012, singles out the patients who have the highest risk of returning to the hospital. McClure said the five team members do everything they can to ensure those high-risk patients don't have to come back for more treatment.

Energy Drinks

Mar 4, 2013
Matteo Paciotti / Flickr

You can’t help but notice the amount of products on the market to help you fight that tired feeling. Drinks like Red Bull, Monster and five-hour energy shots are supposed to give you a much-needed jolt. But, how safe are these products? We’ll find out from Leslie Bonci director of sports nutrition at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.

Lessons for Living Well

Mar 4, 2013
Meg Hourihan / Flickr

Do we learn all we ever really need to know in kindergarten? We’ll discuss five principles for living, loving and playing well with others with psychologist Robert Schwartz, President of Cognitive Dynamic Therapy Associates.

Act 13 Debated at Pitt Symposium

Feb 28, 2013

Pennsylvania's law governing Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania, has made headlines because of its zoning rules, how it treats municipalities, and whether it is constitutional.