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Alexander Makes First Move to Repeal Individual Mandate

Lamar Alexander has filed a bill to repeal the portions of President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation that require all Americans purchase health insurance or pay a fine.

Tennessee’s senior U.S. senator, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, joined Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and 20 other Republican senators in filing the “American Liberty Restoration Act” on Wednesday.

In a press release, Alexander questioned how the federal government can “continue to enforce the individual mandate” when “the law doesn’t clearly ensure that millions of Americans are allowed to receive subsidies to help cover the cost.” He added that the ACA “outlaws plans that fit family budgets.”

“Millions more Americans are in for sticker shock when they see how much they owe the IRS in April because of Obamacare. We need to focus on making health care plans affordable to Americans,” Alexander said in the release.

For 2014, the first tax year affected by the individual mandate, individuals without health insurance will have to pay a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their income — whichever is more. In 2015, the fine will go up to $325 or 2 percent of their income.

In his State of the Union speech this week, Obama appeared to double-down on statements made in the wake of the Republican takeover of the Senate in November when he vowed to veto any attempt to undo key pillars of the Affordable Care Act.

“We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto,” Obama said Tuesday night.

Back in November, the president told reporters he would “draw some lines” when it came to future legislation dealing with Obamacare passed by the GOP-controlled Congress. He said he would not sign a repeal of the law or support any other “efforts that would take away health care from the 10 million people who now have it and the millions more who are eligible to get it.”

“In some cases there may be recommendations that Republicans have for changes that would undermine the structure of the law, and I’ll be very honest with them about that and say, look, the law doesn’t work if you pull out that piece or that piece,” he said.

One of the areas of the law Obama vowed to stand firm on was the mandate that all Americans purchase health insurance. While the president said he understood that even with provided federal subsidies some Americans may still not be able to afford their insurance, the mandate is “a central component of the law.”

“The individual mandate is a line I can’t cross because the concept, borrowed from Massachusetts, from a law instituted by a former opponent of mine, Mitt Romney, understood that if you’re providing health insurance to people through the private marketplace, then you’ve got to make sure that people can’t game the system and just wait until they get sick before they go try to buy health insurance,” Obama said in November.

The concept of the individual mandate was first discussed in the late 1980s by conservative economists and pushed by Republican-leaning groups — including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. It was supported by GOP congressmen in the early 1990s as “a less dangerous future than what Hillary [Clinton] was trying to do [with ‘Hillarycare’],” said former U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich in December 2011.

The mandate was in part conceived of in response to the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which required any hospital accepting Medicare funding to provide emergency care for anyone in need, regardless of ability to pay. Thus were created concerns of a “free-rider” problem in which medical-industry experts and economists worried people would intentionally go without insurance, knowing that a hospital had to provide them free care.

But just as conservatives haven’t always opposed the individual-mandate concept, liberals haven’t always been on board with it.

As recently as 2008, Obama criticized Hillary Clinton over her support of the mandate. “If things were that easy, I could mandate everybody to buy a house, and that would solve the problem of homelessness. It doesn’t,” he said at the time.

In 2011, Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill passed by the Tennessee Legislature in response to the ACA which declared Tennesseans should “be free to choose or to decline to choose any mode of securing health care services without penalty or threat of penalty.”

The General Assembly will convene an “extraordinary session” of the legislature on Feb. 2, to discuss Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” proposal to expand health insurance coverage for low-income Tennesseans.  Next Tuesday, Jan. 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on “the legal issues raised by the governor’s proposed Obamacare Medicaid expansion plan.”

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also filed legislation earlier this month to prevent the IRS from assessing any fines on Tennesseans who haven’t signed up for health insurance. The bill would also prevent the state from operating any healthcare exchange.

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Press Releases

Haslam Launches Statewide Healthier Living Intiative

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; August 9, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the launch of “Healthier Tennessee,” an initiative to encourage Tennesseans to be more physically active, to eat nutritious foods in healthy portions, and not to use tobacco products.

“Tennessee is one of the best places there is to live, work and raise a family, but we also are one of the least healthy states in the nation,” Haslam said. “Our citizens have high rates of behavior-related diseases such as hypertension and stroke, Type II diabetes, heart disease, and several types of cancer.”

“This initiative is bringing employers, healthcare providers, health insurance companies, schools, and community organizations together in a coordinated way to encourage and promote healthier behaviors,” he continued. “I believe that through this statewide effort, we can leverage health and wellness programs that are already happening in Tennessee communities, which will not only improve our quality of life but can reduce the cost of health care and the cost of doing business in Tennessee.”

Haslam also announced the creation of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness, a non-profit corporation based in Nashville that will direct and lead the initiative over the long term. The governor introduced Rick Johnson as president and chief executive officer of the foundation.

Johnson, 61, most recently served as special assistant to the governor after being executive vice president of a healthcare provider in Knoxville, president of a management consulting firm, and a senior executive at two publicly-owned corporations based in Tennessee.

“The governor’s creation and leadership of Healthier Tennessee and the fact that he has made health and wellness priorities are major steps to moving our state from among the least healthy to one of the healthiest places to live,” Johnson said. “Our goal is for this campaign to become a movement, with renewed pride and positive attitudes that will lead to positive results.”

The foundation has a board of directors including top executives from the private and public sectors including:

  • William Gracey, Chief Executive Officer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee
  • R. Clayton McWhorter, Founder and Chairman, Clayton Associates
  • Perry Stuckey III, Senior Vice President/Chief Human Resources Officer, Eastman Chemical Company
  • Judith Edge, Corporate Vice President of Human Resources, FedEx Corporation
  • Richard Johnson, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness
  • William E. Carpenter, President and Chief Executive Officer, LifePoint Hospitals
  • Jamie Woodson, President and Chief Executive Officer, State Collaborative on Reforming Education (S.C.O.R.E.)
  • Reginald Coopwood, MD, Chief Executive Officer, The Regional Medical Center at Memphis
  • Mark Cate, Chief of Staff, Governor’s Office, State of Tennessee
  • Larry Martin, Interim Commissioner of Finance and Administration, State of Tennessee
  • Wright Pinson, MD, Chief Executive Officer, Vanderbilt Health System

The governor and Johnson were joined for the announcement held at the Nashville Farmer’s Market by key stakeholders including representatives from United Way of Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt Medical Center, St. Thomas Health System, HCA Tri-Star, LifePoint Hospitals, United Healthcare, Nissan USA, YMCA of Middle Tennessee, Clayton Associates, Ingram Industries, Memorial Foundation, Corrections Corporation of America, along with state legislators and Mayor Karl Dean.

The Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness represents a statewide coalition made up of major employers, hospital systems, health insurers, YMCAs, local governments, school systems, and several healthcare-focused foundations and civic organizations. The Healthier Tennessee initiative will encourage support of common goals; consistent measurement and reporting of results; and the use of proven, best-practice programs and tools in workplaces, schools, places of worship, and neighborhoods throughout the state.

“These efforts have to be locally owned and implemented, and that success won’t happen overnight,” Haslam said. “If ever the phrase ‘this is a marathon, not a sprint’ fits a situation, it sure does here – in more ways than one.

“We hope to see more and more people being physically active for at least 30 minutes five times a week, eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and less sugar, salt, and processed foods, and to either never use or quit using tobacco products,” the governor said. “We know from clinical research and real-world experience that there are effective ways to change behaviors and create healthy habits, and we believe programs and tools to do that have to be evidence-based, so we will be very focused on measuring results and reporting them regularly,” he added.

Healthier Tennessee will include a rewards-and-recognition program for participation and achievement, including awards from the governor, a certification program for schools, workplaces, communities, and faith-based organizations, and opportunities for competition among them.

The creation of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness and the launch of the Healthier Tennessee initiative are results of the work started by the Governor’s Health and Wellness Task Force that was appointed in 2011.

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Featured Health Care

Long Shadow of TennCare Cuts Creeps into Medicaid Expansion Debate

There’s worry among critics of Obamacare that the federal government can’t be trusted long-term to faithfully fund its share of expanding state-run medical insurance programs for the poor, as presently advocated by the president.

This concern perhaps looms larger in Tennessee than in other states. It was not that long ago that Gov. Phil Bredesen, faced with ballooning health care costs, starting cutting Tennesseans from TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

In the first wave, 170,000 people were cut from the rolls. Over the course of Bredesen’s administration, the state eliminated coverage for another 100,000 people with disabilities. When you add the state’s eligibility restrictions that were put into place, ultimately 350,000 people in Tennessee were cut from TennCare.

Some state elected officials, such as House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, have said that embracing President Obama’s call to expand the TennCare/Medicaid program is the moral thing to do.

“It would be frankly nearly irresponsible — certainly, morally irresponsible — not to expand the Medicaid population, especially because it is in fact going to be cost effective to Tennessee and Tennesseans,” Fitzhugh said recently.

But others remember the long shadow of cutting so many people from TennCare. If Medicaid is expanded in Tennessee and, once again, the program becomes unaffordable, will state officials have to rip hundreds of thousands of people off the rolls again?

“We believe it’s immoral to expand,” said Justin Owen, president of the free-market Beacon Center of Tennessee. “If history is any indication, TennCare will become so bloated, people will have to be cut from the program.”

Owen fears making so many Tennesseans dependent on a program and then “pull the rug out from under them when they can least afford it,” he said. “Go talk to the several hundred thousand people who had to be removed, about the strife they went through. It’s not like we’re speaking about a theoretical.”

And even with the federal government footing the bill with the taxpayer dollars it collects, costs still may be an issue.

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters last week that despite those who argue that expanding Medicaid seems like a “no brainer” given that the federal government is currently promising to to fund the lion’s share of the expansion costs, there is still the issue of how the state will pay its share.

“The problem is that our budget is slowly getting eaten up by TennCare,” said Haslam. “Prior to (Gov. Phil Bredesen) cutting the rolls, the TennCare budget was about 30 percent (of the state budget.) He did everything he could to try and reform the program, couldn’t, so he just had to cut the rolls. That process took it down to about 24 percent of the budget.”

“We’ve already crept back up to where it is 26 or 27 percent of the budget,” Haslam added. “When you do that, things get squeezed out.”

Haslam said $900 million to $1 billion the state will have to dig up for its share of of Medicaid expansion to match the federal government’s $10 billion will result in belt-tightening in other areas of state government, such as higher education, prisons and childrens’ services.

“I want to find out how much it’s going to cost the state,” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga told TNReport. “I know for the first three years the federal government is supposed to pay for it all and if we can trust them to do that, that would be helpful.”

And President Obama’s expansion plan may not be the last.

History shows that Congress has expanded Medicaid in ways large and small since 1967 that required states to broaden and deepen coverage.

For example, in the 1980s, expansions included:

+ Medicaid covering children whose low-income families did not receive direct federal cash assistance. Pregnant women and their infants would get covered.

+ Undocumented immigrants and the homeless getting emergency care through Medicaid.

+ The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, an expansion of Medicaid to cover long-term care for the elderly and disabled not already covered by Medicare.

Some expansions in the 1990s included:

+ Making it easier for nursing homes to recover payments from the estates of Medicaid beneficiary’s estates.

+ Requiring states to cover families under higher eligibility thresholds.

+ Allowing states to cover working disabled individuals with incomes above 250 percent of federal poverty level.

But it will be rural hospitals that will likely on the front line in the 2013 debate over Tennessee Medicaid expansion.

A University of Memphis health care study released last winter argued that Obamacare will produce an economic windfall to the state. Medicaid expansion advocates like Fitzhugh say more federal Medicaid dollars are needed to help financially sustain health care facilities outside urban population hubs.

“You’re talking about rural hospitals,” said Fitzhugh. “An expansion of Medicaid will allow people to have insurance, will allow them to know that if they get sick, they have some kind of coverage.

Haslam said he’s asking hospitals in Tennessee to estimate the costs and benefits of expansion — and of sticking with the status quo — to the operation of their facilities.

“Right now, if somebody walks into a hospital and they don’t have TennCare and the hospital takes care of them, they get reimbursed to a degree for that uninsured person,” said the governor.

Haslam said he isn’t likely to make a decision on whether support expanding the state’s low-income health insurance program, TennCare, until after his administration has more thoroughly investigated the pros and cons of the matter — and that decision may come after the legislative session.

“One of things that we want to do is make a thoughtful decision about the impacts,” Haslam said.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter (@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.

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Press Releases

FDA Admits Disseminating ‘Incorrect Data’ on Meningitis-Linked Facilities

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; October 23, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – The Food and Drug Administration has posted a message to its website citing some technical problems and incorrect data with a list of facilities earlier believed to have received suspect medication from the New England Compounding Center.

That list had been used by the Tennessee Department of Health and other state health departments to notify health care facilities they had received potentially unsafe injectable medications used in some eye and heart surgeries.

The FDA said it is working to correct the list and will repost it to the FDA website when staff members are sure it is accurate. The Tennessee Department of Health used the FDA-supplied information to identify 74 facilities in the state receiving suspect materials. TDH withdrew that information from its website today, and is now waiting to receive corrected information. If corrected information reveals facilities in Tennessee need to be notified, TDH will do so promptly. TDH believes the corrected list will identify significantly fewer Tennessee facilities affected by the recall.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit http://health.state.tn.us/.

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Press Releases

TN Health Dept., CDC Investigating ‘Meningitis Outbreak’ Responsible for 2 Deaths

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; October 1, 2012: 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are investigating cases of meningitis involving 11 patients treated at one outpatient surgical center/pain management clinic in Nashville and one patient treated at a facility in another state. The form of meningitis in these patients is not transmitted from person to person and the cause for the cluster of cases is not known. Two patients related to this cluster of meningitis have died.

All patients at Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center who had lumbar epidural steroid injections between July 30, 2012 and September 20, 2012 have been notified. The facility was closed Sept. 20 and will not reopen until TDH, CDC and the center are confident the current concerns have been resolved. No cases involving other medical facilities in Tennessee have been identified.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the facility itself, other hospitals providing follow-up care and many members of the TDH team are involved in the ongoing investigation, studying all factors that could cause meningitis.

“We are extremely saddened by the impact this tragic situation has had on patients and their loved ones and we are working quickly to get answers,” says TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “As we continue our investigation, we will remain as transparent as possible, providing information to the people of Tennessee, and to our partners and allies in the health and medical communities. It’s important to note the astute reporting of the initial case by a local clinician and the excellent cooperation we received from the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center and other medical professionals in Nashville allowed us to quickly begin a thorough investigation with our partners at the CDC and FDA. Everyone involved has been fully cooperative and helpful.”

There are many different types of meningitis, a general term for an infection or inflammatory process involving the lining of the brain and central nervous system. The cluster of infections under investigation has no relation to the much more common form of bacterial meningitis recently reported by Tennessee media impacting the educational community.

The TDH and the Tennessee Poison Control Center have partnered to answer questions from the public about meningitis. The number is 1-800-222-1222.

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Press Releases

Gov’t: Monitoring Cholesterol Important for All Ages

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; September 18, 2012: 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Whether you’re in your twenties or your sixties, you can reduce your chances of having a stroke or developing heart disease by learning about “bad” and “good” cholesterol. This knowledge isn’t just for “old people;” strokes and heart disease happen to people of all ages.

In Tennessee from 2007 to 2011, some 16,241 people died from stroke; of these, 1,307 or eight percent were under the age of 55. Similarly, from 2007 to 2011 there were 71,625 Tennesseans who died from heart disease; of these, 8,226 or 11.5 percent were under the age of 55. Many of these deaths may have been prevented with more aggressive efforts to maintain the balance between “good” and “bad” cholesterol.

“We all have two types of cholesterol in our bodies,” said TDH Commissioner John J. Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Some comes from animal products we eat and some is produced by our liver and other cells. Too much or not enough of one type or the other can put you at a greater risk for fatal or crippling conditions. If we understand the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol and get regular checkups to monitor levels, we have a better chance of living longer, healthier lives.”

The two different types of cholesterol travel through our veins and arteries on carriers similar to trucks delivering supplies on roads and highways. These carriers are called low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, or high-density lipoproteins or HDL. The LDL carriers can build up on artery walls helping to form plaque. This narrows the arteries and makes them less flexible. The phrase “hardening of the arteries” is the familiar term for this condition; atherosclerosis is the medical term. It’s when bleeding occurs or a tiny blood clot forms in one these narrowed arteries that a heart attack or stroke can happen.

About one-quarter of blood cholesterol is moved by the “good” carrier, HDL. High levels of HDL can help protect against heart disease, while low levels can have the reverse effect. HDL helps carry cholesterol away from the arteries and to the liver, where it is shipped out of the body as waste material and doesn’t stay to form plaque. HDL may also earn its “good” status by actually removing extra cholesterol from the plaque in arteries.

Eating foods high in saturated fat and trans fats can increase the “bad” LDL levels in your blood. Some people also inherit genes from their parents or grandparents that cause them to have high or low LDL levels. Conversely, some people inherit genes that allow their bodies to produce just the right amount of LDL and HDL levels to be healthy for years, but not always.

“Our bodies change as we age, and how we manufacture or use cholesterol can change too,” Dreyzehner said. “That’s why it’s important to have regular screenings to see how the cholesterol carriers in your bloodstream are behaving. After seeing the results of your tests, your doctor can recommend a strategy personalized to you, including exercises to help you improve the balance between good and bad cholesterol.”

“The Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability has long recognized the importance of cholesterol screenings,” says TCAD Executive Director Jim Shulman. “The testing is simple and allows people to take the right steps to live better and longer lives. For some folks, modifying what they eat or how much they exercise is sufficient; for others, medications can be the answer. You won’t know what you need, though, until you have a cholesterol screening and talk with your doctor.”

For more information about cholesterol and how it affects your heart, visit www.heart.org and learn more from the American Heart Association.

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Press Releases

State Suspends Admissions to Center for Aging & Health

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; August 24, 2012: 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH, has suspended new admissions of residents to the Center for Aging and Health effective Aug. 16, 2012, and imposed a one-time state civil monetary penalty of $5,000. A federal civil penalty has also been imposed at $3,050 a day until the violations are corrected. A special monitor has been appointed to review the facility’s operations.

Center for Aging and Health, a 120-bed licensed nursing home located at 880 South Mohawk Drive in Erwin, was ordered not to admit any new residents based on conditions found during a complaint investigation conducted July 16 through Aug. 6, 2012. The investigation was completed Aug. 16. During the inspection, surveyors found violations of the following standards: administration, performance improvement and nursing services.

The Commissioner of Health may suspend admissions to a nursing home when conditions are determined to be, or are likely to be, detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the residents. The order to suspend admissions remains effective until conditions have been and continue to remain corrected. A copy of the order must be posted at the public entrance where it can be plainly seen.

The nursing home has the right to a hearing regarding the suspension of admissions before the Board for Licensing Health Care Facilities or an administrative judge.

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Press Releases

Government’s Tips for County Fair Safety

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; August 14, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Thousands of Tennesseans will be enjoying the sights, sounds and foods of county fairs in the upcoming weeks. The Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture remind visitors and exhibitors to prepare for a healthy trip to the fairgrounds by remembering the following tips:

  • Wear a hat and sunscreen, preferably a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays. Apply liberally and often. Sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection should also be worn during daylight hours.
  • Wear long, loose and light-colored clothing to protect against insects and sun. Also remember to wear insect repellants that contain 20-50 percent or more of DEET on exposed skin.
  • Drink water to avoid heat-related illnesses and limit sugary beverages with caffeine.
  • Be thoughtful in choosing foods. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure or weight-related health issues, remember to enjoy foods in moderation.
  • If you feel weak or light-headed, find a cool place to sit and rest. If there is an air-conditioned building on the property, go there, and don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Most fairs have emergency medical personnel to provide aid.
  • If you take medications, be sure to have them with you in case you need them and make sure you carry emergency contact information in case you become ill.
  • Be aware of noise levels if you bring small children to the fair. Some loudspeakers and other sound-carrying devices can damage developing ears. An inexpensive set of earplugs is a convenient way to protect hearing.
  • Wash hands well with soap and running water before and after exposure to animals. Don’t eat, drink or allow children to put things in their mouths while in animal areas.

Livestock exhibits are also popular attractions at fairs, and the Tennessee Department of Health is working cooperatively with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to help safeguard the health of people and animals. Some states have reported cases of a strain of influenza that has thus far been mild, known as H3N2v, that has infected pigs and, in some cases, humans in close contact with them. No cases of H3N2v have been reported in Tennessee.

Whenever individuals visit a petting zoo or livestock exhibit they should avoid eating and drinking around animals and wash their hands carefully with warm soapy water afterward. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers alone may not be effective. Parents should avoid taking strollers into areas where livestock are kept, and children should not take toys, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, baby bottles or similar items into animal barns.

“We want the public to enjoy and support their local fair but to also observe good health practices while around livestock for their own protection and that of the animals,” says State Veterinarian Charles Hatcher, DVM.

TDA and TDH are monitoring the situation closely and want the public to have increased awareness about precautions. Officials also note there is no risk in eating properly cooked pork products.

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Press Releases

Gov’t: Prevention Best Defense Against Medi-Resistant Germs

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; August 6, 2012: 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Thanks to modern antibiotics, many infections are treated with relative ease with an injection or other form of these medications. But some germs have become resistant to these remedies and are harder to fight. MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, is one of these.

MRSA may cause skin infections that can appear as raised bumps or boils which are often red, swollen, painful or have pus or other drainage. These infections are often mistaken for spider bites. More advanced MRSA cases can include wounds that don’t heal, pneumonia and blood infections.

“MRSA infections, as with other types of staph, are usually spread by having contact with someone else’s skin infection or personal items like towels, bandages or razors that have touched infected skin,” said State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD. “These infections are likely to be spread in places where people are in close contact with others, such as schools and locker rooms where athletes might share razors or towels.”

MRSA does not go away with first-line antibiotics normally used to cure staph infections; it requires stronger antibiotics and some patients have severe conditions requiring hospitalization. While many believe healthcare institutions are the most common places for MRSA to spread, the infection can be found any place where there are people.

“While the development of antibiotic-resistant germs is always of concern, there are still effective ways to treat and prevent MRSA,” Jones said. “As school resumes and students get back to sports and other group activities, this is a good time to educate children about good hygiene and common-sense prevention measures. An additional benefit is that many of these measures will also help prevent colds and other common infections easily spread in a school setting.”

The best defense against MRSA is prevention. There are easy ways to decrease your risk of getting MRSA:

  1. Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  2. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
  3. Avoid contact with other people’s wounds or bandages.
  4. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.
  5. Shower immediately after activities that involve direct skin contact with others, and use a clean towel.

“When MRSA skin infections occur, surfaces that are likely to contact uncovered or poorly covered infections should be disinfected,” Jones said. “Cleaning surfaces with readily available detergent-based cleaners or Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants is effective at removing MRSA from the environment. If you work out in a gym, we suggest carrying a towel with you to remove all sweat from equipment before you use it.”

When a doctor suspects an MRSA infection, he or she may order a sample of pus, blood, urine or sputum for testing. This is necessary to diagnose the type of infection and the appropriate course of antibiotics and other treatment required. In some cases, a patient may need to take an extended course of antibiotics to ensure the infection has been stopped.

Those who have had an MRSA infection at any time should tell any healthcare providers who treat them for any condition. There are ways to protect people that carry staph/MRSA from getting an infection or spreading it to others when they are in the hospital or have surgery.

“Healthy people can have staph in their noses or on their skin and it does not always cause disease,” Jones continued. “Even if surfaces have MRSA on them, this does not mean you’ll get an infection by touching those surfaces. MRSA is most likely to cause problems when you have a cut or scrape that is not covered. That’s why it’s important to use bandages.”

TDH has an online toolkit available to assist school officials and the general public in learning about and preventing MRSA. The toolkit is available at http://health.state.tn.us/MRSA/index.htm.

For more information about MRSA, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website www.cdc.gov/mrsa/.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit http://health.state.tn.us/.

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Press Releases

State Seeking Input on Affordable Care Act Health Coverage Mandates

Press release from the Department of Commerce & Insurance; July 26, 2012:

NASHVILLE, TN – This is a reminder that Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak will be conducting outreach meetings across the state to gather input about the health conditions that should be covered under essential health benefit categories.

These public meetings are geared toward gathering public opinion on the determination of an essential health benefits package for health insurance coverage under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or PPACA. For more information, visit http://tn.gov/commerce/insurance/ehb/health_essentials.shtml.

The July 17 Nashville meeting yielded informative questions and comments from residents and advocates alike. Infertility, hearing aids, HIV/AIDS testing and counseling – these were but a few of the topics raised. A list to sign up as a speaker at the meetings is at http://tn.gov/commerce/insurance/ehb/ehb-hearings-signup.shtml. The remaining dates are:

  • July 31, 2012, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. – Kingsport Renaissance Center, 1200 E. Center Street, Kingsport, TN 37660
  • July 31, 2012, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. – UT-Knoxville Conference Center Building, 600 Henley Street, Knoxville, TN 37902
  • August 1, 2012, 10 a.m. to noon – Lee University Dixon Center, 1053 Church Street NE, Cleveland, TN 37311
  • August 3, 2012, 10 a.m. to noon – Hamilton Eye Institute, Freeman Auditorium, 930 Madison, 3rd Floor, Memphis, TN 38103
  • August 3, 2012, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. – Jackson State Community College’s McWherter Center: Ayers Auditorium, 2046 North Parkway, Jackson, TN 38301

All interested parties are invited to indicate which of 10 potential benchmark plans designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should be selected by the state as a benchmark or reference plan. Interested parties may also indicate how any of the plans might be modified, either to ensure the benchmark covers each of the 10 PPACA-required benefit categories, or for other reasons.

After she considers the public input provided at the meetings and through written comments,

Commissioner McPeak will recommend an essential health benefits benchmark to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. Within 30 days of an approval by the Governor, the Insurance Commissioner will enact an administrative rule, based on his recommendation, that will designate the benchmark plan and the essential health benefit package to be included in individual and small-employer group health insurance plans offered on or after January 1, 2014.

At the meetings, following brief introductory comments reviewing the purpose of the hearing, interested parties will be invited to take up to five minutes to offer comments. Written comments and related materials may also be submitted by email both during the meeting and through August 10, 2012, at PubComm.HRF@tn.gov, or by mailing them to:

Chlora A. Lindley-Myers
Tenn. Dept. of Commerce and Insurance
500 James Robertson Parkway, 12th Floor
Nashville, TN 37243.

Public comments on Essential Health Benefits that are recorded at the meetings or are sent in to Commerce and Insurance may be viewed and/or left at http://tn.gov/commerce/insurance/ehb/ehb-public-comments-form.shtml. Posted on the Commerce and Insurance Essential Health Benefits page are documents related to the discussion of an essential health benefits package:

  1. Slides summarizing the determination of an essential health benefits package, including:
    • required coverage categories and allowed variations;
    • what the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services intends to propose as federal rules; and
    • related matters.
  2. Slides outlining the benefits covered by the nine Tennessee essential health benefit benchmark options.
  3. A bulletin by a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agency on how it proposes to define essential health benefits.
  4. Frequently Asked Questions related to the bulletin.
  5. A related list produced by HHS identifying the three federal employee plans that may qualify as benchmark options and the three largest, small-employer group products from which a benchmark may be selected. The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance is in the process of confirming the accuracy of the small employer product designations.