Health News Roundup

The real health care crisis no one is solving, new medical codes to document social needs, and more in this week’s roundup


Doctors, insurer propose tracking patients’ ‘social conditions’ for referrals
John Tozzi, Insurance Journal, April 2
If you get struck by lightning, a physician can record that information with a code shorter than your phone number. But if you can’t afford your bills, doctors and health plans have no consistent way to document that. Now the biggest U.S. insurance company and the country’s most influential association of doctors want to create new ways to better capture information about patients’ social conditions — such as whether they are worried about losing housing, unable to pay for prescriptions, or feeling unsafe in their current environment. These could help clinicians refer patients to assistance.

Finding homeless patients a place to heal
Ana B. Ibarra, Kaiser Health News, April 2
In California, a new state law requires hospitals to provide homeless patients a meal, clothes and vaccine screenings before discharging them. Hospitals also must try to find the patients a bed at a safe destination and offer transportation there. Some hospitals now reserve beds at a Los Angeles facility for discharged hospital patients who need less intensive medical oversight than a nursing home provides, and at least one health plan also leases beds there for its enrollees. Patients at the facility have access to case managers who arrange for transportation and food, and try to find them permanent housing.


Obamacare fight obscures America’s real health care crisis: Money
Joanne Kenen, Politico, April 3
Medical costs are decimating family budgets and turning the U.S. health system into a runaway $3.7 trillion behemoth. That leaves American health care consumers with high premiums, big deductibles and skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs for drugs and other services. Neither party has a long-term solution — and the renewed fight over Obamacare that burst out over the past 10 days has made compromise even more elusive.


Community health workers fill gaps in Connecticut and look to solidify their roles
Nicole Leonard, WNPR, April 3
As people waited at a downtown New Haven food pantry, Katia Astudillo went from person to person in line, making sure they got what they needed — and that went far beyond food. Astudillo is a community health worker with Project Access New Haven, an organization that connects residents to health providers and social services. Community health workers often work alongside social workers, doctors, nurses, mental health experts and addiction treatment providers at health care offices or medical centers, community health centers and other outreach programs. Research has shown they can help reduce health disparities and help underserved, high-risk patients overcome barriers to care, but they do not have a way to get certified by the state. That’s why lawmakers are looking into creating a program to better support the profession.

Blacks dying from fentanyl at same rate as whites for first time
Jenna Carlesso and Jake Kara, Connecticut Mirror, April 4
Fentanyl is killing black people in Connecticut at the same rate as whites for the first time since state officials began tracking the epidemic around 2012, a CT Mirror analysis has found. The opioid crisis, once associated with predominantly white small towns and suburbs, has been moving to cities and claiming the lives of African Americans at unprecedented rates. A 2018 Washington Post investigation found that, unlike the white overdose victims who have been the focus of the national debate, the epidemic’s new casualties are seldom young and were not first hooked by doctors prescribing pain pills.