Health

News and information about health, health care, health care policy from Charlotte and the Carolinas. 

Medicare Turns 50 But Big Challenges Await

Jul 27, 2015
Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, has come a long way since its creation in 1965 when nearly half of all seniors were uninsured. Now the program covers 55 million people, providing insurance to one in six Americans. With that in mind, Medicare faces a host of challenges in the decades to come. Here’s a look at some of them.

Michael Tomsic

Roughly half a million North Carolinians could soon lose money they depend on for health insurance. The U.S. Supreme Court will rule as soon as next week on a key part of the Affordable Care Act. It governs federal subsidies for states like North Carolina that did not set up their own exchange or marketplace. It may sound wonky, but the result could be disastrous for many low-income Americans and insurance markets.

Leaders on health policy in the North Carolina House are pushing their version of a bill to overhaul the state's most expensive health care program: Medicaid. The lawmakers rolled out the bill in committee Wednesday.

House leaders want to overhaul Medicaid by putting groups of doctors and hospitals in charge of managing the program. The state would give them a set amount of money based on who they treat, and the doctors would face financial penalties or rewards based on how they do. 

Republican Representative Nelson Dollar is one of the bill's sponsors. 

Alan Cleaver/Flickr
Alan Cleaver / Flickr/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In North Carolina, health insurance companies are planning to raise average premiums between 11 and 26 percent next year on the Affordable Care Act exchange or marketplace.

The state's dominant insurance company, BlueCross BlueShield, wants to raise average premiums about 26 percent – almost twice as much as last year's increase.   

Kaiser Health News

On Monday morning, a mayor in eastern North Carolina will begin walking to Washington, D.C, to highlight the challenges facing rural hospitals. Adam O'Neal is mayor of the small town of Belhaven, where the only hospital closed about a year ago.

After a heart attack or other health care emergency, the time it takes to get to a hospital can mean the difference between life and death.

Mayor Adam O'Neal says for the roughly 1,600 residents of Belhaven, "you have to go 30 miles on country roads for emergency care."

NC, Other States Suing 'Phony' Cancer Charities

May 19, 2015

North Carolina leaders are calling out several cancer charities that barely used any of the money they raised to actually benefit cancer victims. Attorney General Roy Cooper and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall announced Tuesday they're part of a lawsuit against what they call "phony" charities. 

Secretary Marshall says government leaders "are sending the message to those trying to rip-off the giving public that we can find you, shut you down, and take you to court."

Michael Tomsic

In Charlotte and across the country, there’s a growing need at community health centers. They treat patients regardless of their ability to pay. And the increased need is a surprising result to some clinic leaders, who thought the Affordable Care Act would mean fewer people needing charity care.

NC Nursing Homes Rate Poorly

May 14, 2015
kff.org

North Carolina has some of the worst rated nursing homes in the country. A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation released Thursday shows the federal government gave more than 40 percent of the state's nursing homes one or two star ratings.

Nine nursing homes in the Charlotte area received the lowest possible rating, one star:

Carolinas Healthcare System and UnitedHealthcare have come to terms on a new contract. The agreement means that most UnitedHealthcare customers in the Charlotte metro area will continue to receive “in-network” coverage for services provided at CHS facilities.

Michael Tomsic / WFAE

One of the nation's most respected cancer hospitals for children is establishing an affiliate clinic in Charlotte. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital announced Tuesday it's partnering with Novant Health on the clinic.

National Conference of State Legislatures

Some North Carolina lawmakers want to roll back or repeal a law that regulates the building of new health care facilities. It's called a Certificate of Need law, and North Carolina has used it since the 1970s.

About three dozen states have Certificate of Need laws. They set up a review process through which states can determine when certain areas need new hospitals, surgical centers or even high-tech equipment.

High Percentage Of NC, SC Hospitals Get Four Stars

Apr 16, 2015
Kaiser Health News

Patients rate hospitals in the Carolinas as good but not great. That's according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of the federal government's new star ratings based on patient surveys.

Medicare didn't give a single hospital in North Carolina or South Carolina the lowest rating (one star), and there weren't a lot of five-star hospitals, either.

www.carolinashealthcare.org

Carolinas HealthCare System is eliminating its number two executive's job as part of cost-cutting measures. The Charlotte-based system announced Tuesday that Chief Operating Officer Joe Piemont will lose his job at the end of May.

Michael Tomsic

Some hospital systems are using a sort of virtual command center to monitor their sickest patients from dozens or even hundreds of miles away. Virtual intensive care units, also called eICUs, are a way to bring the expertise of a major medical center to remote hospitals in rural areas.

Alan Cleaver/Flickr
Alan Cleaver / Flickr/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In the Charlotte area, BlueCross BlueShield and Novant Health are setting up a new payment program for knee replacements that they say will save patients money. It's called a bundled payment program, and you could be hearing that phrase a lot more in the future.

NC Lawmakers Behind Vaccine Bill Announce It's Dead

Apr 2, 2015
National Conference of State Legislatures

A bill that would've made it tougher for parents to avoid vaccinating their children is dead. Fierce opposition from some parents prompted the two Republicans and one Democrat who sponsored it to back down.

National Conference of State Legislatures

Three state senators filed a bill Thursday to make it tougher for parents to avoid vaccinating their children. The bill would eliminate North Carolina's religious exemption for vaccines.

Michael Tomsic

Advances in technology are changing some of the basic questions doctors ask when treating cancer.

“Does it matter if it's breast or lung or colon or leukemia - should we be treating tumors based on their mutations and not on their tissue of origin?” says Dr. Stan Lipkowitz of the National Cancer Institute.

Doctors in Charlotte and across the country are in the early stages of answering those questions. They’re focusing on the genetic mutations thought to be driving someone’s cancer, rather than the place it started.

For some patients in Charlotte, the results of this treatment have been remarkable.

Novant Health

This story is the result of a partnership between WFAE, Kaiser Health News and NPR. You can find another story from our partnership here.   

In Medical Park Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C., Angela Koons is still a little loopy and uncomfortable after wrist surgery. Nurse Suzanne Cammer gently jokes with her. When Koons says she's itchy under her cast, Cammer warns, "Do not stick anything down there to scratch it!" Koons smiles and says, "I know."

Koons tells me Cammer's kind attention and enthusiasm for nursing has helped make the hospital stay more comfortable.

This story is the result of a partnership between WFAE, Kaiser Health News and NPR. You can find another story from our partnership here. 

SALISBURY, N.C. — Lillie Robinson came to Rowan Medical Center for surgery on her left foot. She expected to be in and out in a day, returning weeks later for her surgeon to operate on the other foot.

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