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VNA of Care New England

Health Highlights: June 19, 2014

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
U.S. Asthma Rates Drop: Study
Asthma in the United States appears to be declining, a new study suggests.
It found that 7.4 percent of Americans said they had asthma in 2013, compared with 8.6 percent in preceding years. The 2013 rate was the lowest in a decade and equals a decline of more than 3 million people, the Associated Press reported.
The survey of more than 47,000 adults and children also found that the number who said they'd had an asthma attack or episode in the past year fells from 4.4 percent in 2012 to 3.8 percent in 2013, the lowest rate in more than 15 years.
However, the researchers were cautious about saying the study findings are proof of a decline in asthma.
"I wouldn't say it's good news -- yet," lead author, Jeannine Schiller of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the AP.
She said the findings could be an unexplained statistical blip, and wants to wait for this year's data before concluding that asthma decreasing.
Many Americans Still Struggle to Afford Health Insurance Premiums: Pol
Many previously uninsured Americans signed up for coverage under the new health care law, but a large number are having difficulty affording their plans, a new poll finds.
Of the 8 million people who purchased a plan through the new insurance exchanges, 57 percent were previously uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 742 adults ages 18-64.
And while significant subsidies are available, 40 percent of people who bought coverage that meets the law's specifications said it's difficult for them to pay their monthly premiums, the Associated Press reported.
Sixty-eight percent of people who bought their own coverage are enrolled in plans that comply with the law's standards. Of those, 34 percent say they have benefited from the law and 29 percent say the impact on them has been negative.
Seventy percent of people with new individual plans rate their coverage as good or excellent, compared with 85 percent of those with employer plans and 85 percent of those who kept their previous individual coverage, the AP reported.
The poll also found that 63 percent of those with health law plans are confident they will be able to afford routine medical care. When asked about their ability to pay for major illnesses or an accident, 52 percent said they were confident they could, while 46 percent had little or no confidence.
Among people who chose or were forced to switch plans, 46 percent said their premiums were lower now, while 39 percent said they had higher premiums, the AP reported.
The survey showed that people who purchased plans through the insurance exchanges were more likely to be in poor health. Twenty percent of them reported poor health, compared with six percent of those who kept their old plans.
"The critics' view of the law as an unmitigated disaster is far from true, but it's not what advocates might have hoped for either because many people still have concerns about affordability," Drew Altman, CEO of the foundation, told the AP.
Woman Uses Smartphone to Record Stroke
A Canadian woman used her smartphone to record her stroke in order to convince doctors that her symptoms weren't caused by stress.
Stacey Yepes, 49, experienced numbness and slurring of words in April, but tests showed no sign of stroke and doctors told her the symptoms were linked to stress, USA Today reported.
When she recently experienced the same symptoms while driving, she used her smartphone to record a 90-second video, which shows that the left side of her face is droopy and that she can't perform a simple task such as touching her nose.
Doctors watched the video and diagnosed Yepes with what was believed to be a mini stroke (transient ischemic attack), USA Today reported.
Many Americans Paying Less Than $100 Monthly for Health Coverage: Government Study
Nearly 70 percent of Americans who bought insurance in federally run marketplaces and who receive tax credits are paying premiums of less than $100 a month, according to a federal government study.
The numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services suggest that insurance purchased under the new government program is affordable for many people, CBS News reported.
The agency's figures don't include data from the 14 states that operate their own insurance marketplaces.
The main way the federal government helps people afford health insurance is through tax credits based on income. The average credit is $264 a month, and the average monthly premium is $82. The study said the tax credits reduce the average per-person premium by 75 percent, CBS News reported.
Overall, 69 percent of people purchasing coverage with tax credits pay less than $100 a month. Average monthly premiums ranged from a low of $15 per month for Mississippi residents to a high of $127 per month for people in New Jersey.
So far, about 5.4 million people have bought insurance through a federally run marketplace. The percentage of Americans without health insurance is at its lowest since 2008, according to Gallup.
The study found that consumers have an average of five issuers and 47 marketplace plans to choose from, but access for 18 percent of people was limited to one or two issuers, CBS News reported.
Having more issuers could lead to lower premiums, according to the HHS.
"The marketplace represents a new market environment that will evolve over time and there are different theories on how competition will work in this setting," the study said. "The simplest view of competition suggests that as the number of issuers increase in a market, premium rates should decline."
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