Health

Fitness, well-being, disease, medical research and issues related to Seton and St. David's Healthcare, Austin Regional Clinic and other health care providers in Austin and Central Texas

Slowing the rising rates of obesity in this country by just 1 percent a year over the next two decades would slice the costs of health care by $85 billion.

Keep obesity rates where they are now — well below a 33 percent increase that's been expected by some — and the savings would hit nearly $550 billion over the same 20 years.

KUT News

This morning, the University of Texas Board of Regents proposed approximately $25 million in annual funding for an Austin medical school, plus an extra $5 million for the first eight years, dependent on matching operational funds.

The move is a sign of rising momentum for a local medical school. The announcement comes soon after Seton Hospital announced a $250 million investment in the project.  

Austin state Senator Kirk Watson has lead the governmental push for a medical school. “The estimates have been up to two billion dollars in economic activity by having a medical school and affiliated activity around that,” he told the regents today. “We will expand access and options for treating the uninsured, and we’ll provide new therapies that are designed to improve the health of everyone in this region.” 

Photo by Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune

A district judge in Austin has ordered Texas to temporarily stop its enforcement of a rule that would have removed 49 Planned Parenthood clinics from the state’s Medicaid Women’s Health Program starting May 1.

In a 25-page opinion, United States District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the Planned Parenthood organizations that filed the lawsuit proved there could be irreparable harm to their clinics that rely on Women’s Health Program funding to help uninsured Texans access cervical and breast cancer screenings, birth control and STD testing. Yeakel also expressed doubt that the state could find enough providers by Tuesday to replace the Planned Parenthood clinics with other health providers.

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

The boards of three regional Planned Parenthood branches — North TexasCentral Texas and the Capital Region — will vote today on a proposed merger designed to form a $29 million-per-year mega-organization with 26 clinics up and down the Interstate 35 corridor.

Texas is asking for federal assistance transitioning to its own women's health care program.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/dennissylvesterhurd

Today, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission delivered a proposal to the Obama administration outlining plans for transitioning the state's Women’s Health Program from a mostly federally funded program to one that runs on state money.

In it, the state has asked that the federal government pay for the program through October. Federal funds were initially supposed to be phased out by April 30.

Thanh Tan is a reporter with KUT’s political reporting partner The Texas Tribune. Expanding on a report the Tribune published today, Tan says the plan outlined today still doesn’t account for where Texas is going to get the money to fund the Women’s Health Program.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/bwjones

The Texas Medical Board has approved guidelines for the use of adult stem cells.

The new rules say that the procedure must be part of a clinical trial and have the approval of the Food and Drug Administration or an institutional review board. Leigh Hopper, a spokesperson for the Texas Medical Board says these institutions will make sure the use of adult stem cells is safe, ethical and that patients give informed consent.

Hopper says board members felt that since patients already have access to adult stem cells, the procedure needs to be regulated.

“Since this is occurring right now, the majority of the board felt that it was important to put some sort of framework in place to protect patients,” said Hopper.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/perspective

The University of Texas at Austin has kicked the smoking habit.

The UT System Board of Regents approved the policy this week. So while there are no signs up yet – and ashtrays can still readily be found around the 40-acres – smoking is no longer allowed. UT-Austin Human Resource Services director Adrienne Howarth-Moore says those no-smoking signs will be up soon.

"We have already received an order of our tobacco free campus signs,” Howarth-Moore says. “And so we are developing a plan for implementing those exterior signs, so that they will be prominently displayed for not just our campus community but for the variety of visitors and the general public that come to our campus on a daily basis."

The fallout from the consumer backlash to so-called "pink slime" continues to hurt meat sales. Now, some companies are taking steps to label the product they call "lean, finely textured beef" in hopes that they can earn back consumer trust.

Tyson and Cargill, two multinational firms that sell ground beef containing the processed trimmings, say they have submitted labeling requests to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in hopes that some customers will feel better about buying ground beef containing LFTB if it's labeled.

Photo courtesy Liz Davenport via Flickr

The rate of teen pregnancies in Texas fell by 15 percent from 2007 to 2010.

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the number of 15 to 19 year-old girls having babies in Texas dropped from nearly 62 in every 1,000 to about 52 per 1,000.

54,281 Texas teens gave birth in 2007. That number went down by 6,530 to 47,751 in 2010.

The last argument on the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court could have consequences far beyond health care.

The key issue is whether the health law's expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor unfairly compels the participation of states. Many considered this to be the weakest part of the states' challenge to the health law, and during Wednesday afternoon's arguments, that seemed to be the case.

Photo courtesy wallyg, flickr.com/70323761@N00

The U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s set of signature health care reforms, has broad implications for the nation and Texas.

This morning’s hearing on the reforms’ effects has Texas ties. State Attorney General Greg Abbott has argued the national expansion of Medicaid coerces states into compliance, an issue the court is taking up today.  

KUT News’ reporting partner, The Texas Tribune, has created a Storify timeline detailing how yesterday’s discussion of the constitutionality of an individual insurance mandate – which was widely seen as critical of the requirement – reverberated in Texas. 

After Tuesday's judicial fireworks, the Supreme Court wraps up arguments on the new health care law Wednesday by focusing on two questions. The first involves what would happen if the "individual mandate" — the core of the law that requires most people to have health insurance — is struck down. Would the rest of the law fall, too, or could some provisions stay?

Here's some of the early word about today's Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of the nation's new health care overhaul law:

-- Five Justices Were Tough: Five members of the court "beat him up pretty hard," NPR's Nina Totenberg says of how the justices treated the counsel representing the government. But she also says, "I don't think you can call this," when asked about whether the court will or won't strike down the so-called individual mandate in the law. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy "seem to be in play," Nina reports.

The U.S. Supreme Court gets to the heart of the health care arguments Tuesday. Almost exactly two years after Congress passed the Obama health care overhaul, the justices are hearing legal arguments testing the constitutionality of the so-called health care mandate — so-called because those words actually do not appear in the law.

Image courtesy flickr.com/hapal

The Texas House Committee on Human Services will meet this morning to discuss how the state can best support the needs of the elderly.


Does a federal law stretching back to 1867 bar the Supreme Court from deciding on the merits of the administration's health law right now?

The court on Monday heard the first arguments in a historic three-day session that could decide the fate of the Obama administration's signature domestic achievement.

It's the hottest ticket in Washington, D.C. Even the flossiest lawyers in town can't get a seat. Senators, congressmen, Cabinet and White House officials are all vying for a place.

At the U.S. Supreme Court, people have been lining up for days, waiting to hear this week's historic oral arguments on President Obama's health care law. The arguments will last for six hours over a three-day period, the longest argument in more than 40 years.

Photo by Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune

In the battle between state leaders and the Obama administration over Texas’ decision to oust health care providers affiliated with abortion clinics from a five-year-old contraception and cancer-screening program, both sides believe they are the victims.

The Obama administration says Texas is violating federal law by limiting where poor women can seek health care, and it announced last week that it was cutting off financing for the Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program, which does not pay for abortions and received $9 in federal financing for every $1 the state contributed.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison broke ranks from her party on Thursday to urge Gov. Rick Perry — her opponent in the 2010 Texas governor's race — to re-negotiate with the Obama administration to keep federal funding for the Medicaid Women's Health Program.

There has been a lot of talk about what's wrong with food deserts. First lady Michelle Obama, for one, says far too many people can't access the fruits and vegetables they need to be healthy.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/cbroders

A new farmers’ market opens on Austin's eastside tomorrow. And aside from offering fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses, the market offers a special incentive for families needing food assistance.  

The market, located at the YMCA East Communities Branch will be run by the Sustainable Food Center (SFC). It’s the fourth farmer’s market the SFC operated in Austin.

But SFC community relations director Susan Leibrock notes that this center is different: shoppers using a SNAP, Lone Star or WIC benefits card will have their fruit and vegetable purchases matched, up to $10 each week, by the market.

The U.S. spent $2.6 trillion on health care in 2010 — more than the entire economy of France or Britain. But the amount spent and how it's used varies from state to state.

And no two states are more different than Texas and Massachusetts. At 25 percent, Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the nation. Massachusetts, where a 2006 law made coverage mandatory, has the lowest rate — fewer than 2 percent of people are uninsured.

courtesy flickr.com/comedynose

Texas Governor Rick Perry has vowed that the Texas Women’s Health Program will continue – but questions persist as to where the state will find the money to do so without Washington.

Gov. Perry has tasked the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to work with state legislators to come up with the 30 million dollars needed to fund the program, which provides cancer screenings, health examinations and contraception to tens of thousands of low-income Texas women.

The funds are needed to replace federal Medicaid money that has been pulled out of the program due to a new Texas law that bars clinics that provide abortions or are affiliated with clinics that provide abortions from receiving funding. The federal funds have been pulled because Washington argues the law – designed to keep Planned Parenthood from participating in the program – is illegal.

Sherri Greenberg is a Professor at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. She told KUT News it’s not going to be easy to find the money, given the cuts that were made to the health department in the last legislative session.

Daylight saving time goes into effect at 2 a.m. tomorrow. Remember the adage, "Spring forward, fall back," and set your clock ahead by one hour before you go to bed tonight.

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

The state's health commissioner is blasting the Obama administration's argument that it can't renew a joint state-federal health program because Republican lawmakers have banned Planned Parenthood from participating in it. 

In an uncharacteristically angry letter sent to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs argues that if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) won't let Texas exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program, "then no state can ever confidently apply policies and requirements that advance important and legitimate state interests to regulate providers' participation in Medicaid." 

The Senate has turned back an attempt to kill President Obama's new rules requiring most health insurance plans to provide contraceptives without additional cost.

The 51-48 vote against an amendment to an unrelated highway bill (Yes, that's just how the Senate works) was mostly along party lines.

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Two of the Legislature's top public health leaders are defending Republican lawmakers’ pledge to end the entire Women's Health Program rather than allow Planned Parenthood to participate. The joint state-federal reproductive health program provides contraception and cancer screenings — but not abortions — to 130,000 poor Texans, many of them at Planned Parenthood clinics.

"I guess we all need to see what it looks like when we don’t have it, and then we may need to regroup at that point," said state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the chairwoman of the House Public Health Committee. "If we lose the Women’s Health Program, obviously, it’s got to be the top of our list in 2013 to look at and open up the conversation again and move forward because it is a safety net for so many women."

The leading group of U.S. pediatricians says it's now time for boys, as well as girls, to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its guidance to parents and doctors in favor of routine immunization for boys against the virus.

Scientists can spend years working on problems that at first may seem esoteric and rather pointless. For example, there's a scientist in Arizona who's trying to find a way to measure the age of wild mosquitoes.

As weird as that sounds, the work is important for what it will tell scientists about the natural history of mosquitoes. It also could have major implications for human health.

A high-ranking official at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation has resigned amid fallout from the charity's move, since reversed, to halt funding for breast cancer screening by Planned Parenthood.

Karen Handel, a former Republican candidate for governor in Georgia, resigned her job, effective immediately, as senior vice president for public policy. The Associated Press first reported the move. The Komen foundation confirmed the report in an email to Shots.

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