August 30, 2015

Insurance commissioner approves rate increases for 3 companies

Nick Gerhart

Nick Gerhart

Three health insurance companies have received the green light to increase rates affecting thousands of Iowans. Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Coventry Health Care and Gundersen Health Insurance requested the premium rate increases due to rising health care costs.

On Wednesday, Iowa Insurance Division Commissioner Nick Gerhart approved rate increases of 17.6 to 28.7 percent on average for different insurance plans operated by Wellmark. Around 137,000 Wellmark policyholders are impacted. Coventry is the largest carrier in the state selling insurance policies that qualify for Affordable Care Act subsidies.

Coventry rates on January 1st will rise 19.8 percent, affecting up to 47,000 policyholders. Around 60 policyholders will see a 9.4 percent rate increase approved for Gundersen plans.


First case of Jamestown Canyon virus confirmed in Iowa

MosquitoThe Iowa Department of Public Health reports the first confirmed case of a disease known as Jamestown Canyon virus (JCV). Public Health Veterinarian Ann Garvey says it is delivered by mosquitoes, and the case was confirmed in Clayton County in eastern Iowa.

“We don’t get a lot of reports of this virus because there’s not a commercial test available to detect it. And so we think that infections are probably unrecognized and under-reported,” Garvey says.

Doctor Garvey says JCV is prevalent in other states around Iowa. “This virus is in the same family as the Lacrosse virus, which may be more familiar to people, and it causes pretty similar illness as the West Nile Virus infection,” according to Garvey. There have been two confirmed cases of West Nile this year and one that is still in the process. Garvey says the victims of West Nile and the JCV are all recovering. She says the cases are a reminder to everyone across Iowa that mosquitoes are still active and pose a disease threat.

“It’s really important that people are still taking measures to protect themselves. Some of the most important things people can do are wearing mosquito repellent — that’s especially important during the peak hours of mosquito activity between dusk and dawn. Other things that people can do is continue to get rid of standing water. That standing water really just creates a place for mosquitoes to breed and increase in numbers,” Harvey explains.

She says people can let their guard down as summer changes to fall. “It’s easy to forget in the fall, I think we kind of get out of the summer mode and we think the risk has gone away and it really hasn’t, “Harvey says. “So, when we are out at those ballgames, or hiking now that the temperatures are cooling off — it’s important to still take those measures to protect ourself.”

Harvey says the days can stay warm and mosquitoes can remain active well into October. It takes the first frost to remove the threat. “That really is when we stop seeing mosquito activity. And usually it has to be a hard frost,” Harvey says. Harvey says West Nile is far more prevalent than JCV in Iowa, and both are easily prevented if you take the precautions to avoid mosquito bites.


Meals from the Heartland begins another food project

Volunteers package Meals from the Heartland

Volunteers at a previous event package Meals from the Heartland

A volunteer effort billed as “the nation’s largest food packaging event” kicks-off today in the state’s capital city.

Susan Bunz, executive director of Meals from the Heartland, says thousands of Iowans from schools, churches, businesses and other organizations will work in two-hour shifts placing several ingredients in bags to create meals that’ll be distributed to starving children and families around the world.

“Our hope is to package 5 million of those meals during this four-day event,” Bunz said. Organizers of the event are still seeking out more volunteers. “That’s in a variety of capacities. It’s packaging, it’s floor volunteers…so, it takes about 15,000 people to package 5 million meals,” Bunz said.

The meals created in Iowa today through Saturday will also go to local food banks and pantries. This marks the 8th year for the “hunger fight” taking place at Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines.



Study seeks caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients

Dr. Steve Bonsera.

Dr. Steve Bonsera.

Hundreds of Iowans who care for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease are being sought for a study that aims to improve the lives of those caregivers — and the patients.

Dr. Steve Bonasera, a geriatrician in Omaha-Council Bluffs, says 62,000 Iowans now have Alzheimer’s and the number is expected to grow to 73,000 in just over a decade.

“Medicare is looking at the future and they realize that they’re going to be spending a lot of money on caregiving and on Alzheimer’s disease in the next 50 years,” Bonasera says. “They want to be able to spend this money as efficiently as possible and at the same time, get people the best sorts of outcomes they can.” Dr. Bonasera is a researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which is among two hospitals in the nation splitting a ten-million dollar grant from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.

Most family members who care for Alzheimer’s patients do so with little or no resources or training. The goal of the study is to help caregivers by lowering stress levels and providing tools needed to provide the necessary care. “Our hope is that in doing this, we will allow caregivers to feel more self-confidence, more competence in their ability to take care of their loved ones, more resilience, and to help the caregivers take better care of themselves,” Bonasera says.

As many as 900 families in Iowa and Nebraska will be enrolled in the research project. “We have very, very broad eligibility rules,” he says, “so almost all families are going to be able to probably participate.” He says if caregivers learn to cope better, patients can stay in their homes longer before moving into skilled care. As part of the study, the Dementia Care Ecosystem is a family-centered model that provides around-the-clock, online education and consultation for patients and their families.

“We’re giving them some very inexpensive off-the-shelf technology, Android watches and cell phones,” Bonasera says. “We’ve programmed them to basically measure people’s functional status.” One goal is to create a virtual care system that is supportive enough to protect the mental and physical health of caregivers.

For more information about the study, call (402) 559-6117. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts by 2050, nearly 14-million Americans over 65 will have Alzheimer’s.



Mumps cases prompt University of Iowa to ask students to check immunizations

The Old Capitol on the University of Iowa campus.

The Old Capitol on the University of Iowa campus.

The University of Iowa is asking students to be sure their vaccinations are all up-to-date after six cases of the mumps have been reported among students in the last couple of weeks.

The majority of students will return to campus next week for the state of classes, and university spokesman, Tom More, says they want them to be prepared.

“If they have not had two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR vaccine, it’s a good idea that they get those two doses before they show up on campus. That’ll maximize their protection,” Moore says. Moore says the mumps are another reason for students to get the vaccinations now instead of waiting. “The students have essentially until the end of the first semester to provide proof of their immunization status,” Moore says. “So, it is something that we do require, but they do have a little bit of a time frame here to do it. But, we recommend that they do it as soon as possible that they are protected.”

Many students returning to campus will be living in dorms with a lot of new people, and lots of daily contact. The mumps virus is spread through contact with saliva or mucous from the mouth, nose, or throat.

“That’s always a concern in close living quarters — is that when you have a contagious disease it can spread from person to person with relatively ease. And so we are trying to do everything we can to help protect the safety, health and well-being of our students,” Moore says.

Mumps cases have been reported on other campuses in the midwest, but Moore hasn’t heard of any in Iowa. “We’ve shared this information with our sister institutions at Iowa State and Northern Iowa, but have not heard any reports that they have seen anything similar,” Moore says. The university says it has also alerted area health care professionals and has provided additional training for resident hall staff and resident assistants in the wake of the six reported cases of mumps. U-I classes start on August 24th.


Sleep expert says prepare kids for school hours

Dr. Stephen Grant.

Dr. Stephen Grant.

Most Iowa children will be heading back to school in a week or two, and a sleep medicine physician recommends parents start preparing their kids now to get the proper amount of shut-eye.

Doctor Stephen Grant, at the Iowa Sleep Disorders Center in West Des Moines, says it’s a lot easier to adjust to a new sleep schedule when it’s done over several days or a few weeks, especially after a summer of late nights.

“Kids can have what’s called a physiologic delay, in other words, the bright light they receive later in the day makes sleep onset more difficult,” Dr. Grant says. “One of the countermeasures we have for that is trying to get the kids up earlier and have the sunlight on them earlier in the day so they’ll be able to fall asleep quicker earlier in the evening.”

Moving up bedtimes and wake-up times by 15 minutes a day over the next week or so works well to help many young people adjust. Electronics should be switched off an hour before bedtime because smartphones, tablets and TVs stimulate the brain.

“We know this can certainly cause a delay in a child’s ability to fall asleep at night,” Grant says. “Children that watch TV or entertain a lot of electronic media at night have a higher point prevalence of sleep-talking as well as nightmares.” Eliminating that blue light from gadgets close to bedtime will help the body produce melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy. Bedrooms should be cool, dark and comfortable, he says, and not a place for anything besides rest.

“What I’d prefer is for patients to cue themselves that the bed itself is actually for sleeping and that if they’re going to be doing other activities, like reading or watching TV — and that is absolutely something I do not recommend, having a TV in the bedroom — that any activities aside from sleep happen outside of the bedroom.” Even on the weekends, it’s important to stick to your set sleep schedule, Grant says, as doing so will reduce the chance of feeling groggy when Monday morning rolls around. He says most children are “greatly sleep-deprived,” as are many adults.

The average child through middle school age needs nine to 11 hours of sleep a night to feel and perform at their best. For mid-to-late teens, eight to ten hours is usually ideal.



Walking tour of historic sites to kickoff State Fair

Healthiest-StatethmbA 1-K walk is planned for the opening day of the Iowa State Fair Thursday in Des Moines. Jami Haberl, executive director of the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, says the event also involves the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. “We’ll have fans available that have information about cultural sites, as well as promoting the Healthiest State Walk on October 7 throughout the state of Iowa,” Haberl says. “We’re encouraging people to register their walk on our website.”

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and other state officials plan to take part in the walking tour of historic sites at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. It’s open to the public and will begin at 8 a.m. near the DNR Pavilion on the Grand Concourse.

Haberl says other exercise activities are planned for all 11 days of the fair. “Everyday from 9:30 to 10 a.m., we’ll be hosting different instructors to do fitness-type activities with all fairgoers,” Haberl says. “They’ll be held on Expo Hill. It’s going to be just kind of a fun, interactive way to get people to kickstart their day by doing some different types of activities before they go out and enjoy the fair.”

The Iowa Healthiest State Initiative is a privately led, public initiative with a goal of making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016. According to last year’s Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Iowa was ranked 16th in the nation.