Health News Roundup

How a closer look at data revealed major health disparities, and more in this week’s roundup

Rebecca Tan, The Washington Post, December 25
Montgomery, Maryland recently released its first report on health inequities, tracking disparities in health indicators among racial groups from 2008 to 2017. Some gaps, such as the rate of deaths by diabetes for black and white residents, have narrowed. But other key indicators — including infant mortality and heart diseases — increasingly affect poor and minority residents more than their affluent neighbors. Montgomery’s strong overall numbers have disqualified the county from various state and federal grants and have disguised the need to address problems in specific neighborhoods and communities. “When your overall numbers are strong, you mask and hide pockets of need,” said county health officer Travis Gayles. “The gap between black infants and everyone else — it’s significant, and it’s growing.”
Sam Whitefield, NPR, January 2
An estimated 100,000 people in the U.S. live with sickle cell disease. The genetic disease — which primarily affects African Americans — causes chronic pain that lands many in the ER for pain management. The national opioid crisis has prompted some emergency room leaders to rethink how they administer opioid medications, including how they treat people who suffer from episodes of severe pain.
Jaqueline Rabe Thomas, The Connecticut Mirror, January 9
Crystal Carter, a single mother living in Hartford, desperately wanted to find a nice place for her and her five children to live. She toured more than 50 places since her landlord sold her last apartment and evicted her. Nearly all of them were in poor areas. They had holes in the wall, uncovered electrical outlets, even roaches and mice. When she found something clean, she tried not to get her hopes up. The second she mentioned that she would need to pay rent using a Section 8 voucher, she was turned away. Officially called Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 rent subsidies were supposed to help low-income people find decent housing outside poor communities. But for many, this is not the case.
Drew Altman, Axios, January 6 
With legislation in Congress likely to be blocked by partisan division and interest group opposition, much of the real action in health care this year will be in the states.
Dan Gorenstein and Leslie Walker, Tradeoffs, January 8
Improving health and lowering costs for the sickest and most expensive patients in America is a dream harder to realize than many health care leaders had hoped, according to a study published recently by the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers tested whether pairing frequently hospitalized patients in Camden, New Jersey, with nurses and social workers could stop that costly cycle of readmissions. The study into what is known as “hot spotting” found no effect: Patients receiving extra support were just as likely to return to the hospital within 180 days as those not receiving that help. The study serves as a reminder that so much about lowering health care costs remains unknown. There are many factors that go into improving patient care and reducing costs and the study should act as a point of reflection for continued work in addressing this complex and important issue.