Author: Amanda Whelan

Plan B May Be Over the Counter Now

A US federal judge ruled on April 5th that Plan B and emergency contraceptives be made available to minors without the need of a prescription.

Prior to the Obama Administration’s 2011 decision to restrict access for anyone under the age of 17, the Food and Drug Administration recommended that Plan B be made available without a prescription for all women of any age. Judge Edward R. Korman determined that there was no reason to restrict access, even to minors, because Plan B is “among the safest drugs sold over the counter.”

Although the decision to restrict access was likely an attempt to avoid angering religious groups who claim the drug is an abortifacient, science shows that the drug prevents implantation on the uterine wall. A woman is not considered pregnant until the fertilized egg has implanted itself in her uterus’ wall.

Women still face the common problems of buying the drug: Pharmacists sometimes lie and claim even adults need a prescription, refuse to sell to men, or refuse to sell at all.

Komen’s decision will appeal to the Second Circuit, which is one of the most liberal in the country.

NYC Ban on Soda Won’t Happen After All

Justice Milton Tingling struck down Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on large soda drinks, calling it “arbitrary and capricious”.

The ban was an attempt to improve the health of NYC citizens, after seeing obesity rates rise from 18% of adults in 2002 to 24%. The ban was championed by Bloomberg and approved by the Board of Health in September, 2012. Justice Tingling wrote that the power to create the ban belonged to the elected City Council, and not the Board of Health appointed by the mayor.

According to city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, obesity-related illnesses cost the city about $2.8 billion a year.

Businesses faced costs associated with the change that they would not be compensated for – reprinting menus, changing bottles and labels, and movie theaters in particular were concerned about losing soda sales that account for 20% of their profits.

Breast Pumps For All, But Not Necessarily The Best

The ACA requires insurance companies to provide new mothers with breast pumps and other equipment that is necessary to help them breast feed.

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t specify the type or quality of the breast pumps to be provided, so the companies (with doctors’ recommendations) get to decide. This issue leads to whether a company will provide a manual or an electric pump.

The benefits of an electric pump over a manual pump are several: they’re high-powered and can simulate a nursing child, while manual pumps can be weak, clumsy, and cumbersome for a working mother to use. They take more time to pump than an electrical pump.

The costs are also considerably different, when a high-end electric pump coming in at around $300, and a manual pump costing as little as $35.

Surprise Benefit of Obamacare: Less Spending

On March 7th, Kathleen Sebelius of Health and Human Services announced that there has been a slowdown in medical spending since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Obamacare, Sebelius said, is due the credit for increased efficiency and slowed medical spending growth.

“The health care law’s push for coordinated care and paying for quality rather than quantity is putting downward pressure on medical costs, the article reports,” Sebelius wrote in a blog post. “It’s improving the way health care providers do business, and that’s good news for patients.”

Sebelius cited a USA Today study that found the ACA’s cost-control measures are working.

Colorado Suffers From Huge Health Gap

In Colorado, a Latino baby is 63% more likely to die in the first year of life than a white baby.

The mortality rate for black babies is more than 3 times the rate of white babies. The mortality rate for white babies in Colorado is lower than the national average, and yet the mortality rates for Latino and black babies is higher than the national average.

Not only that, but while the mortality rates for white babies improves, the rates for minority babies worsens.

Black adults are more likely to suffer from asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, prostate cancer and obesity in Colorado. Latino adults are more likely to die from the flu or pneumonia.

Infant mortality – the tragic occurrence when a baby dies within its first year of life – is often use an indicator of a nation’s overall health. It’s also used to distinguish between developed and developing countries.

Not only does access to healthcare affect these differences, but many social determinants are in play. Poverty, education, the food one eats, whether one wears a seatbelt, exercise. The list covers many and most aspects of life. The biggest in play seems to be poverty, especially when combined with race or ethnicity. A study conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital found that black and Latino children reported significantly lower levels of physical activity, and were much less likely than white children to wear seat belts or bike helmets.

One way to improve life expectancy is to educate those who have a harder time gaining access to information, traditionally the poor. The Center for African American Health in Denver offers courses in diabetes management and screenings for various types of cancer. However, health is also determined by individual choices and there are those who refuse information when offered. Debates exist on the level of compulsion governments can induce with regards to personal health decisions. In general, the ideal is to strike a balance between being overly coercive and letting people die. So instead of outlawing cigarettes, for example, smoking in restaurants is outlawed.

The people of Colorado are currently trying to address these issues, many through non-profit and non-governmental organizations. Organizations like the Center for African American Health have been cropping up, to mild success.

Connecticut To Improve Mental Health Support in Public Schools

Since the Newtown shooting, the national discourse on mental health and treatment has been at the forefront of political interest. Connecticut is currently reviewing a chance to improve mental health policies in public schools.

While President Obama is developing a plan to provide $15 million for training school teachers and officials to recognize and deal with students with mental health issues, Connecticut is looking towards supplementing that plan with more social workers in schools.

Senator Beth Bye points out, “We need people in the schools to be more aware of kids who are dealing with social and emotional issues. Early intervention does make a difference.”

Connecticut does not currently allow involuntary outpatient treatment, but change is in the air. It is only one of six states that prohibits this type of treatment.

Some advocates are concerned that improvement to the mental health industry is coming on the heels of a violent tragedy. Those with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crimes, they warn, more than they are likely to be the perpetrators. Conflating mental health with violence does more harm than good, to the detriment of all.

As Victoria Veltri, the state’s healthcare advocate, says, “The system needs a lot of work but it’s not because of what happened on Dec. 14… People may be unintentionally equating gun violence with having a mental health diagnosis. Gun violence is its own public health crisis.”