Weekly Dose of Health News

In this week’s summary: New York City is looking to increase the minimum age for cigarette purchases; more scrutiny for New York’s Medicaid program; technology is having a positive on caregivers; and much more!

Affordable Care Act

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) signed an $8 million dollar contract with a public relations firm to support the federal government’s efforts to promote the new health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. An HHS official said the public relations agency will raise the profile of the exchanges through a range of media and digital mechanisms and that the firm’s work is only a component of the larger campaign by HHS to raise awareness about the Affordable Care Act’s provisions (The Hill, 4/19).

Anti-smoking Initiatives

The New York Times reported on a new proposal announced by New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley that would raise the age to legally buy cigarettes in the city from 18 to 21. The proposal would make the age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products the same as for purchasing liquor, but it would not prohibit people under 21 from possessing or even smoking cigarettes.  Four other states and some communities have raised the age to 19, and at least two towns have agreed to raise it to 21 (Hartocollis, 4/23).

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a tobacco-industry challenge to a 2009 federal law that requires graphic warning labels on cigarettes and expanded marketing restrictions on tobacco products. The law mandated that tobacco manufacturers allot half the space on the front and back of cigarette packages for graphic health warnings. It also barred marketing practices such as cigarette-brand sponsorships of sporting or cultural events. The companies said the provisions burdened their protected right to communicate with adults about their products. The Supreme Court, in a short written order, let that ruling stand, denying the industry appeal without comment (Wall Street Journal, 4/22).


New York’s Medicaid program is under scrutiny again this week following an article in the New York Times alleging improprieties in the operation of some social adult day care centers in New York City. The article highlighted incidents where seniors who did not seemingly meet the eligibility requirements for social adult day center services received services. The cost of services provided by these social adult day care centers are paid by New York’s Medicaid program through agreements with managed care plans. The services at social adult day centers are supposed to provide high quality but less costly long-term care to the impaired elderly or those with disabilities.  Since the rollout of the new Medicaid initiative, the number of social adult day centers has grown significantly (Bernstein, 4/22).

Reports & Technology

A new report from the American Heart Association  found that the costs linked to heart failure in the United States are expected to more than double within the next two decades as the population ages and treatments help patients with the disease live longer. The American Heart Association predicted that the number of Americans with the fatal condition will grow to 8 million in 2030 from about 5 million in 2012. The costs to treat them will rise to $53 billion from $21 billion. If indirect costs related to heart failure are included, such as lost productivity and wages when patients become too sick to work, the total costs jump to $70 billion from $31 billion over the 18-year period, its study showed.

The New York Times reports that a number of major academic medical centers in New York and around the country are spending and recruiting heavily in a battle to win the war on cancer. The investments are based on the belief that the medical establishment is moving toward the routine sequencing of every patient’s genome in the quest for “precision medicine,” a course for prevention and treatment based unique characteristics of the patient’s genes (Hartocollis, 4/21).

The Washington Post highlights the benefits new online tools have for individuals caring for a family member or patient.  From GPS devices and computer programs that help relatives track a wandering Alzheimer’s patient to iPad apps that help an autistic child communicate, a growing number of tools for the smartphone, the tablet and the laptop are catering to beleaguered caregivers. With the baby boom generation getting older, the market for such technology is expected to increase (AP, 4/21).