Health News Roundup

How health care algorithms can amplify racial disparities, and more in this week’s roundup

Carolyn Y. Johnson, The Washington Post, October 24 
A widely used algorithm that predicts which patients will benefit from extra medical care dramatically underestimates the health needs of the sickest black patients, amplifying long-standing racial disparities in medicine, researchers have found. Bias occurs because the algorithm uses health costs as a proxy for health needs. Less money is spent on black patients who have the same level of need, and the algorithm thus falsely concludes that black patients are healthier than equally sick white patients.
Lylla Younes, ProPublica, and Tristan Baurick and Joan Meiners, The Times-Picayune and The Advocate, October 30
Not only is toxic air pollution in Louisiana’s industrial belt rising in absolute terms, the estimated air quality relative to its peers is getting worse, an analysis by ProPublica, The Times-Picayune and The Advocate found. And the burden is not being shared evenly. Many of the new plants planned in Louisiana’s petrochemical heart are being built in or near communities that EPA models estimate already have some of the most dangerous air in America. The problems are especially acute in predominantly black and poor communities.
Jenna Carlesso, The Connecticut Mirror, October 29 
With open enrollment for 2020 health plans set to begin November 1, employees at Access Health CT, the state’s insurance exchange, are exploring new ways to reach people who don’t have coverage. To reach residents, officials at the exchange analyzed census tracts and focused on areas with high rates of uninsured people. They began in Hartford, targeting some of the city’s most impoverished North End, South End and central neighborhoods. As one of the newest outreach methods, Access Health hired workers to “canvass” homes in those areas – knocking on doors to chat with people about the range of health plans, subsidies and other available services.
Michelle Andrews, Kaiser Health News, October 29
As open enrollment gets underway for next year’s job-based health insurance coverage, some employees are seeing traditional plans offered alongside or instead of the plans with sky-high deductibles that may have been their only choice in the past. Some employers say that, in a tight labor market, offering a more generous plan with a deductible that’s less than four figures can be an attractive recruitment tool. Plus, a more traditional plan may appeal to workers who want more predictable out-of-pocket costs, even if the premium is a bit higher.
Rebecca Robbins, STAT, October 28
Facebook took a step into preventive medicine, rolling out a new tool to encourage users to get flu shots as well as appropriate cancer screenings and heart health tests. But the success of the new product may depend on whether they can regain consumers’ trust. The preventive health tool is the latest in a series of efforts by Facebook to push into health and medicine — even as its handling of health data has come under scrutiny.