Health issues addressed

Published 8:54 am Thursday, February 19, 2009

WINTON – Unrelenting health care costs are burdening businesses, state governments and the economy.

Millions of people have lost their jobs and, in the process, lost their health insurance.

However, help is on its way for these health-related issues and others after Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA).

Included in the $787 million package is much-needed help in the realm of providing better health care services and making health insurance more affordable for all Americans.

While the fine print is still being studied by those within the healthcare industry, local officials are preparing for a meeting today (Thursday) in Raleigh that will explain what lies ahead as far as how the ARRA will trickle down to the local level.

Contacted Wednesday by telephone, Hertford County Public Health Authority co-interim directors Ramona Bowser and Diane McLawhorn said they didn’t know all the details of the federal package at this time.

“The meeting in Raleigh will hopefully provide us with the information we all want to know,” Bowser said. “We do not have any details on how these federal dollars will trickle down to the state or to us here in Hertford County. Hopefully we’ll learn more during the meeting of all health directors who have been asked to come to Raleigh on Thursday.”

All that is known at the present time is what was sent by an e-mail to this newspaper on Tuesday from the White House. It included the following points of interest regarding AARA funds earmarked for healthcare:

N Will modernize the health care system by catalyzing the adoption of health information technology by 2014. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill reduces health costs for the federal government by over $12 billion over 10 years.

N Provides $87 billion in the form of a temporary increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage so that no state has to cut eligibility for Medicaid and SCHIP because of budget shortfalls. This investment will protect roughly 20 million people whose eligibility might otherwise be at risk. It will also generate considerable state economic activity, jobs and wages.

N The bill will provide Americans who lose their jobs a new 65% tax credit to keep their health insurance through COBRA. This provision will help provide coverage for 7 million Americans.

N The bill will provide $1 billion for proven clinical preventive services and community-based prevention programs. Because more than half of Americans—156 million—go without the flu vaccine every year, this plan makes a significant investment in immunizations to remove the cost barrier. Further, given that 1 in 3 adults have a chronic disease, this plan tackles obesity, smoking and other health risks by expanding prevention programs that operate in communities across the nation.

N The President believes that a strong health workforce, including doctors, nurses, community health workers and public health practitioners, are the lynchpin to an effective health care system. The bill provides $500 million to support programs like the National Health Services Corps which place providers in underserved communities. Further, it will fund existing workforce programs (Title VII and VIII) which are critical for the education and training of the next generation of doctors and nurses.

N The bill invests $10 billion in the National Institutes of Health. This funding will end the backlog of valid research projects that have been on hold due to inadequate budgets. According to Research America, this investment could create 70,000 jobs and stimulate the economy of every state because 90 percent of NIH funding is distributed to colleges, universities and research institutions across the country.

N The bill invests $1.1 billion in comparative effectiveness research. This provides patients and providers with better information on the relative merits of different treatment options.

N The bill invests $2 billion in community health centers to support renovations and repairs, investments in health information technology, and critically needed health care services.

N The bill provides $500 million to modernize health clinics and hospitals, support investment in health information technology, and allow for contract health services for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.

N The bill provides $50 million to the Department of Health and Human Services for information technology security.