Saturday, April 25, 2009

Health Insurance For Graduates

By Torie Wells

No Job=No Insurance:

Erin Parks is a graduating senior. She’s a biology major, excited to get her first job. But at the beginning of this semester, she knew something was wrong.

"I lost about twenty pounds in two weeks. I was very fatigued. I couldn't muster the strength to get up and go to class. I was very thirsty all the time couldn't get enough water," she said

Erin was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes. Now, her blood sugar is under control. But the cost of her medical supplies makes having health insurance a necessity.

"It’s not just about finding a job now. It's about finding a job that has good health care," she said.

It's the story of hundreds of graduates who are looking for a job, in a failing economy. No job means no health insurance. And come graduation they're off mom and dad's plan. Stephaine Berzenski is a healthy graduate student. But she's worried too.

"Under my dad's prescription we only have to pay a co-pay of 5 dollars each for each prescription. But with the regular price, one would cost me $153.75 a month and the other would cost $322.62," she said.

But, it's not just expensive. We spoke with a representative from Families USA who said people without coverage can even be turned away from health care.

There is Help:

But, there are options. The first step is to jump online and see what your state offers. Often there are inexpensive options. In New York, there are a couple.

“Healthy NY is one program. And there's another, family health plus, it's almost like a Medicaid type program," said John Catanzarita Jr. He’s the President of Benefit Consulting Group in Syracuse.

Both programs are determined based on income, and cost about $250 a month. They're usually cheaper than the alternatives, like COBRA, or buying insurance on your own. COBRA’s a program where you to continue to pay into your parent's plan, but your costs double. So, if you pay $100 a month under the family plan, you'd pay about $200 as an individual. Take that route and you could be paying up to $400 a month. But that's cheaper than private insurance which can cost between $600 and $1200.

Playing with Fate?

Another option is not having insurance.

“As much as someone doesn't have income, it’s way better, I think, than rolling the dice," said Catanzarita.

He said that one accident, sudden illness, or trip to the hospital without coverage, and you could lose everything. The best plan is to sit down with your parents and compare the options. That's exactly what Erin's doing. Her life depends on it.

"I check my blood sugar 4-5 times a day to make sure it's ok. That's how I keep myself healthy and feeling good," she said.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

One Star Care

Growing old is not always easy, and for Betty and William Dwight who are in their early eighties, it only got harder as their health got worse.

"I just pass out on the floor and don't even know it" says Betty.

Betty went to the hospital, but the insurance stopped paying. William couldn't take care of her anymore. He says "They brought me in because I was so exhausted from taking care of her."

She had to be moved to a nursing home. Rosewood Heights Health Center was their only option.

"There was no other place. This was the only bed open at the time she had to leave the hospital," says William Dwight.

The Dwights were not able to choose their nursing home. Many have the same experience. But for those who can choose, the Federal Government is looking to make that decision easier.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid, Kerry Weems, says the rating system is used to "provide families a straightfoward assessment of nursing home quality, with meaningful distinctions between high and low performing homes."

Rosewood Heights Health Center is one of thirteen nursing homes in the Syracuse area that were rated.

"What you'll find is that maybe with the exception of one or two, everybody is one out of five stars," says Rosewood Heights Director, Paul Scarpinato.

In fact five were rated higher. But Rosewood Heights is among the eight that got the lowest rating. To determine the overall rating, surveyors look at three areas: Health Inspections, Staffing and Quality Measures.

Scarpinato says it's difficult to compare nursing homes.

"You're going to find that you're not comparing apples to apples. The size of the facility, the complexity of folks they take in, do play into the information that shows up in the Quality Measures as well as staffing."

Scarpinato says there's more to choosing a nursing home than just looking at a star system."Rely on your five senses, which means you gotta go visit. You need to go take a look a walk through, go see what's going on for yourself. Go look at the condition of the building, the rooms, see the interaction of the staff and the residents," says Scarpinato.

Even the best ranked five star facilities, like the Nottingham says families do have several things to consider when choosing. Tracy Engle is the director of the Nottingham, she says "I'd walk into the facility, what does it look like, what does it smell like? I would look at the activities calendar."

"Yes we are a five star facility, some of the other facilities, that didn't get five stars, I don't think it's an accurate representation of the care they provide," says Engle.

And the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Kerry Weems agreed with that in his news release, saying "this system is not intended to be the only tool families use in selecting the right nursing facility for a loved one."

But it is a tool that's available, not only to choose, but to know one measure of the facility you or your loved one has already been placed in.

William and Betty Dwight agree that no place is perfect.

"You got some good help, and you got some mediocre help," says William.

In their short time at Rosewood Heights, they say they have experienced both.

"We were all night without an aid or anybody. And we need to ring the bell usually to go to the John, because we need help," says Betty Dwight.

"From eleven o'clock to 8 o'clock this morning, nobody," says William.

"Yeah, we had to hold it or foget it," added Betty.

But they say overall they are treated well and taken care of. Still, the had no choice but to go to a place that has the lowest rating, one star.

Scarpinato says he wants to improve Rosewood Heights, but it's not the number of stars he's interested in. "I'm going to focus in on our day to day operations. The residents that we have, the systems that we have, the financial reimbursements that we have, and make the best shot at improving our health inspections and quality measures," says Scarpinato.

To compare nursing homes in your area, or to find out more information please visit

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stuck at Home

Two-hundred and eighty-five people last year relied on the Homebound Transportation Program to help get of their house during the day to go to places such as the grocery store, doctor’s appointments or the mall. On February 23, 2009, homebound patients received a letter in the mail saying the transportation program will no longer be in service because of budget cuts.

Lou Anne Hadley used Homebound Transportation because she is unable to drive. She has a condition called CPOD, which causes her to get sleepy unexpectedly. She is also, in a wheel chair because she has arthritis in her legs. For only 20 dollars a month she was able to go to her doctor’s appointments, make trips to the MOST museum and the mall with her daughter.

“We joined the MOST because wow it is a great way to spend weekends sometimes you can go down there she can go run around and I can run around in my wheel chair and its only twenty dollars round trip which I can afford. “ said Lou Anne Hadley.

Lou Anne Hadley and other homebound patients contacted ARISE an advocacy organization for the disabled to see if they can help get the program restored.

“We have asked the county legislators to put this issue on the agenda of the legislative committee and we are very fortunate to get a lot of support from legislators,” said Beata Karpinska Prehn Director of Advocacy

Legislators and the health department plan to have more meetings to see what they can do to restore the program.

“It was never our intention to say to people we are going to ignore you and you are going to have to figure this out on your own. But, looking at the current economic environment we need to look at the best way to look at our community,” said Amanda Nestor Public Health Administrator.

For Lou Anne and other homebound patients they will have to wait at home until next month for a decision to be made.

Monday, April 13, 2009

New York gets larger; follows national trend

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

To put it bluntly, people are getting fat.

In New York, 56% of adults are considered either overweight or obese, with that number rising to 60% in Syracuse.

“Whenever you have a community at large that’s overweight, the community at large has got a tendency to have too many calories in and not enough calories burned," says Rachael Murphy, registered dietician with the Onondaga County Health Department.

Murphy says even worse is that fact that overweight and obesity is largely preventable.

But New Yorkers aren't alone. Studies from the CDC show a troubling trend across the United States. From 1985-2007, obesity rates have skyrocketed across the country. In 2007, only Colorado had an obesity rate below 20%, while 30 states had an obesity rate between 20 and 25%t. Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee all had obesity rates over 30%.

The news is especially troubling to Annette Marchbanks, SCSD Assistant Director of Food Services. She's well aware that one in four children are overweight or obese in New York State and says you have to get to them early.

“If you get them in kindergarten, first, second, third grade...anything you say to them they truly listen and they take it to heart. Once you get into high school, they are not nearly as receptive as our younger children are,” she says.

And you may want to take it to heart.

Of the children who are currently overweight in New York, statistics say 70% of them will become overweight or obese adults. That number rises to 80% if at least one parent is overweight or obese as well.

"Once you are obese as a child it is much, much, much harder to lose that weight as an adult," Marchbanks says.

Tackling the Obesity Epidemic

You’ve heard the advice numerous times before; eat your fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and limit your daily intake of fats and sugars. Doctors say these are the keys to maintaining a healthy body weight. Yet individuals all across the country seem to be overweight and obese. It has become much more than just a problem and the outlook is worse for our children.

The Centers for Disease Control reports a dramatic increase in obesity rates across the country in the past 20 years. To be obese means your body mass index (BMI) is greater than 30 percent. BMI measures the amount of fat in your body.

To calculate:

In Onondaga County, 60 percent of adults are overweight or obese. And nearly 1 in 7 children are overweight.

Psychologist Tony McCormick says the first step to helping kids is to help their families by educating them on how to encourage healthier choices. But Annette Marchbanks of the Syracuse City School District says the obesity issue is one our entire community needs to be willing to fight; from the schools, to the government, parents and kids.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tobacco 19: Taking Youth Smoking On

By Torie Wells (Good Medicine)
April 2, 2009 1:45 pm

Statistics show that 90% of adult smokers started before the age of 18. In an effort to fight youth smoking, and decrease tobacco use overall, Onondaga County is making it harder for teenagers to get a hold of it.

Ryan DeOrdio will soon turn 18. He's looking forward to legal adulthood, including the right to vote.

"I like writing and talking about my political views," he said.

But there's one right he's willing to give up, buying tobacco.

"When people smoke it's hurting more than themselves, obviously with secondhand smoke, but also the Medicare costs," he said.

Ryan took this issue on. First, he wrote an essay for the "Voices" section of the "Post Standard" in October. Then, he spoke to the County Legislature shortly after. Now, here in Onondaga County-18-year-olds can't legally purchase tobacco products. And it's because of Tobacco 19, a new law enacted March 1st, raising the purchase age.

"The thought behind Tobacco 19 is just to get tobacco out of the schools. There aren't a lot of 19, 20-year-olds in school still," said Jenny Dickinson from Tobacco Free Onondaga County.

It was first introduced in 2006 but was vetoed twice, first by former County Executive Nicholas Pirro and then by current Executive Joanie Mahoney. The legislature over-rode that veto this past December, adding Onondaga County to two others in the state, taking action against youth smoking.

"We do know that making cigarettes harder to obtain will affect youth smoking. In 2006, there was a study of 7th graders. Thirty percent got cigarettes through friends, so we know it's a problem with youth obtaining cigarettes in schools," Dickinson said.

Because this law is so new in Onondaga County, Dickinson said there is no real data yet. Local retailers are the only ones who can really tell if it’s working.

"The age thing happened when the cost increased about 75 cents every time that happens, we see a decrease in sales," said Jack Glisson, owner of Glisson’s Mobil.

But that doesn't necessarily mean Tobacco 19 is working. Glisson says it might deter some teenagers, but even with his employees enforcing the law, there are loopholes.

"They'll find a way to get it. I'm sure they have friends who are older, and it's happened for years, you always find someone older to buy you the drinks or cigarettes so it's still going to happen," he said.

Dickinson says statistics from other states with similar laws show there is a positive effect. She said even a small impact is worth it in the long run.

"The harder you can make it for older youth to obtain cigarettes in order to pass down to 11 to 12-year-olds, it's a good measure," she said.