Archive for July 20, 2013

Can Sports Teams Help Inform the Public About Health Exchanges?

It’s a Wednesday night in Boston, and Amy O’Leary is out at Fenway enjoying a Red Sox game and hoping for another year like 2007. That’s when the team won the World Series, sweeping the Colorado Rockies in four games.

It’s also the year that Massachusetts started requiring nearly all residents to have health insurance — and the Red Sox helped to get the word out about it. They let the state set up booths at games to explain the new law to fans, and the Massachusetts Health Connector ran ads on Red Sox broadcast networks.

O’Leary remembers it well. “I think it made sense. People feel like they know the players,” she says. “I think that sports teams in general can be messengers of good information to a wide variety of people.”

Now that other states are opening health insurance marketplaces, they’re trying the same strategy. Myung Kim is outreach director for Colorado’s new health insurance marketplace, Connect for Health Colorado.

“People who care about being healthy, our young adult population, are big watchers of the sports shows, and we know are going to be an important population for us to reach,” Kim says.

Colorado is targeting young people — many of whom are uninsured — to help balance the insurance pool under the Affordable Care Act. Young people generally use fewer health services so their premiums will help the insurance companies cover the medical needs of older, sicker beneficiaries.

So the state is running television ads during Rockies baseball games that show people buying a health policy and then celebrating as if they’d just won sporting event. The voiceover in the ads says, “Connect for Health Colorado, because when health insurance companies compete, there’s only one winner: You.”

But while Colorado follows Massachusetts’ lead on advertising its new insurance marketplace, it is one of only 15 states independently setting up its own exchange. The federal government is fully or partially at the helm of the insurance exchanges in all the other states.

Mandy Cohen, with the federal Department of Health and Human Services, says it can be tough to reach young people who may not currently value having health insurance.

“We also know that they’re most heavily marketed to, so it’s really hard to break through to this group,” Cohen says. “We know we had to put an extra emphasis on the 18-to-35 year old cohort.”

But when the White House reached out to pro baseball, NASCAR and other sports organizations to discuss marketing partnerships, some Republicans called a foul. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sent the leagues a letter saying they, “risk damaging (their) inclusive and apolitical brand(s)” by promoting the federal health care law.

That didn’t happen in Boston, says Red Sox Vice President Charles Steinberg.

“We didn’t have negative feedback,” says Steinberg. “In American democracy we debate issues and we come to resolution and we pass laws. And those laws are designed to benefit the people. So when you can be a communicator of the laws of the land, you believe that you’re helping people.”

Still, the White House as of now has cancelled at least some of its meetings with sports leagues about potential partnerships.

In Colorado, the ads running during Rockies TV broadcasts haven’t stirred up any controversy. But they might not be home runs either.

The same night O’Leary was in Boston, Joan Ringel was at the Rockies game. She’s seen the ads on TV and says it’s kind of hard to even tell what they are selling.

“You wouldn’t know that that is Colorado’s exchange for the Affordable [Care] Act,” Ringel says. “I didn’t think they explained clearly that people need to pay attention to the exchange when it’s time to sign up.”

Open enrollment for Obamacare insurance starts in October — World Series time. The White House is hoping sports fans will also think of it as a chance to benefit from the Affordable Care Act.

This story was originally published by Kaiser Health News.

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Maryland Registry Links AEDs to Emergency Responders

In 2008, when NBC journalist and Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert died as a result of cardiac arrest inside an NBC office, questions emerged about the location and use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). The office building had an AED inside; however, it is unknown how soon after the collapse it was retrieved.

When defibrillation is provided within 5 to 7 minutes of cardiac arrest, the survival rate is 30 to 45 percent, according to the American Heart Association. A victim’s chances of survival are reduced by 7 to 10 percent with every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation.

Instances like Russert’s have prompted private organizations and state agencies to provide support to individuals and businesses that choose to purchase and maintain AEDs.

“The Achilles’ heel of these devices is that people buy the devices and they may not follow up on maintenance,” said Elliot Fisch, president and CEO of Atrus, which specializes in information technology and public access defibrillation. “They set it, and they forget it. An AED doesn’t do anyone any good if no one knows where it is in the time needed.”

The state of Maryland is working with Atrus to launch an AED registry on Sept. 1. The registry will generate email reminders for users to check the device to ensure it is functioning properly. Registered users will also receive prompts to replace electrode pads and batteries that are nearing their expiration date. Additionally, the state will use Atrus’ software AED Link, which will provide registered AED information to 911 dispatchers so they can guide a caller to the nearest device in the event of an emergency.

“We want to work with these good citizens so they can use AEDs successfully,” said Dr. Robert R. Bass, Executive Director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS). “We want to partner with you. We want to know where you are. And we want to pass this info on to the local folks so they know where the AED is.”

There are 4,165 active AED program sites in the state. Prior to the new system, each of these sites would receive a maintenance reminder by mail every few years. The database was limited, however, and communication was not automated.

Today, when individuals obtain an AED, they notify MIEMSS and fill out a registration form. In Maryland, someone at each program site is designated responsible for AED maintenance, and receives the email reminders. MIEMSS will also make registration information available to local jurisdictions. In a couple of years, the registrant will receive a reminder to re-register.

The registry is free to users. Should a business or an individual choose to purchase an AED, it is a state mandate to register the device; however, the operator does not have to make the AED available to another facility in the event of an emergency. If the owner makes the device available to others, Maryland’s 911 dispatchers will receive location data in real-time, thus enabling dispatchers to communicate AED location information to callers reporting potential cardiac arrest incidents.

Another benefit to Maryland is that registration information is automatically uploaded to the National AED Registry, created and managed by Atrus.

“Even if we don’t look at the issue of improved health outcomes, simply from the standpoint of agency workload, this is a great labor saver,” Bass said. “This will streamline a process and get more reminders out. It improves the accuracy and efficiency of the registration process. And we’re going to look for cases in which this registry is facilitating access to these AEDs. So, we’ll be able to measure the health outcomes of this investment.”

Controlled areas, such as Las Vegas casinos, report a survival rate of 70 percent from sudden cardiac arrest by making AEDs available and retrieving them in a timely manner. Chicago O’Hare Airport reports a survival rate of more than 60 percent. The national average for survival is about 5 percent. Maryland is taking a proactive step towards increasing its survival rates by adopting a system that encourages people to register and maintain devices.

“We don’t fine them if they do not re-register,” Bass said. “It’s not a driver’s license. But it’s something that we encourage them to do. It’s really to create a system where these AEDs are able to be used if they need to be.”

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California’s Gregory Franklin to Retire from State Service

Gregory Franklin

Gregory Franklin, California’s assistant secretary of health information technology, will retire from state service in September. Jessica Mulholland

Gregory Franklin, the assistant secretary of health information technology in the California Technology Agency, will be retiring from state service in September.

Franklin has served in the California Technology Agency since June 2011, providing oversight in California’s health IT infrastructure.

Prior to the CTA, Franklin worked as the deputy director of health care operations for the California Department of Health Care Services from October 2009 to June 2011, in which he directed Medi-Cal program administration. He also worked as assistant executive officer in CalPERS from February 2007 to October 2009 as the executive of health care services purchases.

His first high-profile state government position was as the deputy director of health information and strategic planning in the California Department of Public Health from June 2002 to February 2007.

Franklin has long served as the senior health administrator for the United States Air Force Reserves, from January 1996 to the present day, where he ensures medical services for 3000 military personnel.

In 2012, Franklin told Government Technology that when California entered discussions on health-care reform in 2007, an electronic health records system also was being developed in the military, giving him valuable experience — even if the approach is different because of the setting.

“From purchasing health care to IT to project management, all of the political and administrative pieces are pretty much the same in the reserves, but [they’re] at a Department of Defense and federal level,” Franklin said. “A lot of the training and necessary skill sets that you need to be successful in both environments are the same.”

The majority of this story was originally published by Photo of Gregory Franklin by Jessica Mulholland.

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Making Obamacare Work: California’s Encouraging Start

June 14, 2013 By Robert K. Ross, president and CEO, California Endowment

Put aside, for just a few minutes, whatever political rhetoric has infiltrated your airspace about the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). Whatever you think of the health-reform law, it’s coming, and with the clock ticking toward an Oct. 13, 2013, pre-enrollment deadline, some of the most important work for implementing “Obamacare” is going on now in the states.

As a member of the California Health Benefit Exchange Board, I’ve had a front-row seat for our state’s efforts, and we’re off to an encouraging start with our state exchange, branded as Covered California.

These state-level health benefit exchanges are the central, essential structural element of the ACA — an effort to create a competitive, transparent health insurance marketplace for individual consumers in which price and quality for comparable products drive the purchase of those products. As of this writing, more than half of the states have opted to pass up on creating their own health exchanges, deferring their operation to the federal government. In my view, every state that relegates this decision to Washington reduces our chances of finding innovative solutions to controlling costs while improving health.

That’s certainly what we’ve been trying to do in California. Our five-member health-exchange board adopted the ACA’s mission of expanding health-insurance coverage, improving health-care quality, improving choice and value, and controlling rising costs. We’ve known from the start that the keys to our success would be contracting with affordable health plans, embarking on an effective outreach and marketing strategy, and executing a smooth, user-friendly enrollment process.

We issued a request for proposals statewide, inviting health plans to compete in one or more of 18 geographic regions across our sizable state. Thirty-three health plans responded. In an evaluation process driven by price, value, quality and provider-network adequacy, we selected 13 health plans to be on the selection panel for Covered California consumers. Moreover, four of the health plans were newcomers to the individual health-insurance market, one that suffers in choice and affordability compared to plans based on large- and small-group rates.

The most encouraging news: the rates we were able to negotiate. The prices that came in were far lower than the most dire, doomsday predictions, and even lower than actuarial and Government Accountability Office projections. In the most populous California regions, our 2014 individual market rates will be equal to or cheaper than 2013 small-group rates.

So we now have health-plan partners and provider networks that are ready, willing and able to provide a reasonably affordable product, and in a new, online, transparent marketplace for consumers. But with that Oct. 13 deadline approaching and the Jan. 1, 2014, open-enrollment and coverage start date not far behind, we still have much wood to chop. Over the next few years, we need to find and enroll as many as 5 million uninsured Californians who stand to benefit from Obamacare.

Our outreach and enrollment will be both “high tech” and “high-touch.” Some Californians will choose the technology-friendly online shopping and enrollment route. Others will need more human, hands-on assistance to enroll. We are building infrastructure and readying ourselves for either approach.

This story was originally published by Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Enhancing the Tablet Experience in Federal Government

Tablets have become a key component of operational reform at the federal level, enabling increased productivity for field workers, reduced facilities costs and greater flexibility in service delivery, among other benefits. However, there is even more untapped potential when it comes to adopting tablets in the federal space. Tablets are highly functional and versatile devices by themselves, but outfitting a tablet with an appropriate peripheral device, like a keyboard, can improve its performance significantly. This Center for Digital Government issue brief describes how peripheral keyboards can bring added functionality to tablet operations at minimal extra cost, helping federal government users operate more efficiently and productively than ever before.

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