Health

Tuesday, May 27 2014 06:23 PM

THE PULSE: Keeping tabs on health & wellness issues

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    Courtenay Edelhart covers health care for The Californian. Reach her at cedelhart@bakersfield.com, at Facebook.com/TBCHealth or on Twitter@TBCHealth.

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By COURTENAY EDELHART, Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

PAIN GRANTS, RESEARCH: There's a new, central location where people can look at the latest research on pain, regardless of what's causing it.

Six federal agencies have jointly formed the Interagency Pain Research Portfolio, a database that provides information about pain research and training activities supported by the federal government.

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ABOUT YOUR REPORTER

Courtenay Edelhart covers health care for The Californian. She writes in this spot every Wednesday. Contact her at cedelhart@ bakersfield.com, at Facebook.com /TBCHealth or on Twitter @TBCHealth.

"This database will provide the public and the research community with an important tool to learn more about the breadth and details of pain research supported across the federal government," said Linda Porter, policy advisor for pain at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Users of the database can search for individual research projects or sets of projects grouped by themes uniquely relevant to pain, Porter said.

"It also can be helpful in identifying potential collaborators by searching for topic areas of interest or for investigators," she said.

The database contains more than 1,200 research projects.

The Office of Pain Policy at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke manages the database.

To access it, visit: http://paindatabase.nih.gov.

For general information about pain, visit: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/ChronicPain.

HEALTH BILL STALLED

A bill that would have made Affordable Care Act health coverage available to undocumented immigrants has been held up in a committee of the California State Senate.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, sponsored SB 1005, or the Health for All Act to provide health care for undocumented immigrants now excluded from expanded Medi-Cal and Covered California plans.

The bill would have made low-income undocumented immigrants eligible for expanded Medi-Cal and would have created a California Health Exchange Program for the undocumented.

The Senate Health Committee approved the bill, but it was held in Senate Appropriations Committee on Friday.

"The effort to cover all Californians is delayed, but not defeated," said Anthony Wright, executive director of the advocacy group Health Access.

"With all the progress California has made under the Affordable Care Act to expand coverage, the next crucial step is to include all Californians, regardless of immigration status," he vowed. "The urgency of covering everyone, for those families and for the health system we all rely on, isn't going away."

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the UC Berkeley Labor Center last week released a study that found the net increase in state spending for expanding Medi-Cal was equal to about 2 percent of current Medi-Cal spending.

Specifically, state spending would rise somewhere between $353 million and $369 million in 2015, and grow to between $424 million and $436 million in 2019.

That's assuming a hike in enrollment of up to 730,000 people next year, and up to 790,000 in five years.

It's hard to quantify the local impact of illegal immigrants who lack health insurance.

Kern County does not cover undocumented immigrants under the County Resolution for Indigent Care, but Kern Medical Center sees a large number of undocumented immigrants at the hospital and its clinics, said Jacey Cooper, vice president of administrative services at KMC.

"Unfortunately, since these patients are not eligible for other coverage or the county indigent program, they are registered as self-pay and billed for their services," Cooper said. "Often those services go unpaid, but we don't have a way of separating out undocumented immigrants with other self-pay patients."

FREE VACCINATIONS

San Joaquin Community Hospital will provide free childhood immunization next month.

The available shots include the human papillomavirus vaccine, which protects against most cervical cancers among sexually active adults. Because of a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the hospital can offer the HPV series of three shots free to patients with private insurance. Such patients previously were ineligible for the state-funded free vaccine program.

The HPV vaccine is recommended for female and male children ages 11 and 12.

Vaccinations against HPV and numerous childhood diseases are available from:

* 9 a.m.-2 p.m., June 2, at Walgreens, 4306 Ming Ave., Bakersfield;

* 9 a.m.-2 p.m., June 3, at The Park at Riverwalk, 11298 Stockdale Hwy., Bakersfield;

* 9 a.m.-2 p.m. June 4, Walgreens, 40 Chester Ave., Bakersfield;

* 9 a.m.-2 p.m., June 5, Walgreens, 3301 Panama Lane, Bakersfield;

* 9 a.m.-2 p.m., June 6, Mercado Latino Tianguis, 2105 Edison Hwy., Bakersfield; and

* 9 a.m.-2 p.m., June 9, at Benton Park Center/Dollar Tree, 2705 S. H St., Bakersfield.

An immunization card is required.

EMPLOYER HEALTH INSURANCE

A new study from the Urban Institute questions whether the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act is necessary.

Under the terms of the law, employers of 50 or more workers are required to provide health insurance or pay a penalty.

This requirement has been delayed until 2015 for employers with 100 and more workers and until 2016 for those with 50 to 99 workers.

The study by the nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank found that 251.1 million people would have insurance if the employer mandate is fully implemented, and 250.9 million would be covered if it is repealed.

Over time, employers are likely to pass their health care costs back to their employees in the form of reduced wages and hours, according to the study, and some complain the mandate deters hiring.

Most employers would not drop coverage if the penalties were eliminated, according to the study, because workers often accept lower salaries in exchange for the tax benefits of buying insurance on the individual market.

Most firms that don't offer health insurance today will not be subject to penalties because they have fewer than 50 workers, the study said.

To read the institute's policy brief, visit: http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/413117-Why-Not-Just-Eliminate-the-Employer-Mandate.pdf.

DIET SOFT DRINK STUDY

A study paid for by the American Beverage Association has found that dieters who drank artificially sweetened drinks lost more weight than a group that cut out soft drinks entirely.

The study divided 300 adults into two groups. One was allowed to drink diet sodas, and the so-called water group was not. Both were asked to cut calories and to exercise.

The typical diet soda participant lost 13 pounds over 12 weeks, compared with 9 pounds over the same period for the other group.

Researchers at the University of Colorado's Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, which conducted the study, speculated the difference came down to a finite amount of willpower. Those denied soft drinks probably ate or drank more calories elsewhere.

But don't get too excited. A previous study at Purdue University found that long-term, diet soda drinkers have as many health problems as those who drink regular soda.

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