Tag Archive: Blue Cross Plan Offerings


 

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A new study finds that roughly half of all U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t get the mental healthcare they need. According to the congressionally mandated report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, while many veterans receive good mental health care through the VA, it’s inconsistent across the system. The report recommends changes to improve the care offered by the Veterans Affairs health system.
Roughly half of those veterans surveyed who showed a need for mental health care said they do not currently receive any such care, either through VA or private physicians. That group includes many veterans with prior diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or related challenges.
The assessment, which was ordered by Congress in 2013 found that veterans who seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, depression and other mental health conditions are unable to find treatment because of the VA’s bureaucracy or staffing shortages at clinics and hospitals. The report shows that other factors such as lack of social support, distance and fear of revealing a mental health issue may discourage veterans from seeking care at all.
According to the report, the majority of those who could use these services don’t know whether they are eligible, don’t know how to get the services and don’t even know that the VA provides mental health care while others- frustrated with red tape or long waits-stop pursuing care. The study found that those who do get care encounter “tremendous mental health care expertise” and that the system can deliver care in a “truly integrated and strategic manner.” But the report added that chronic staffing challenges and confusing procedures and policies continue to be a challenge. Researchers said more work needs to be done to improve outreach to veterans in need and public awareness of resources available.
Veterans are often confused as to how to get benefits, unsure of eligibility or frustrated by the red tape and long waits. The VA has had consistent problems with providing care for the more than 4 million service members who have left active duty since the start of the 16 year war in Afghanistan. The report shows that many who served in Iraq and Afghanistan often did multiple tours, served longer deployments and had less time at home compared with earlier conflicts.
In 2014, the stresses of such deployments became hard to ignore when the suicide rate among veterans rose 22% higher than those who had not served in the military. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently reported about 20 U.S. veterans commit suicide each day. An estimated 265,000 service members transition out each year, adding to the pool of veterans who may need mental health care.
The report recommends that the VA develop a plan to deliver quality mental health care throughout its system in three to five years. On Jan. 9th, an executive order was signed, giving military and VA officials 60 days to develop a plan to give people leaving military service seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention in the year following their service. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has pledged to seek major reform of the VA.

 

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opioid epidemic.jpgNew York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced the city is suing major pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors over their role in the opioid crisis.   The lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court seeks $500 million in damages for current and future costs from what the mayor described as “corporate drug pushers.”  Among the companies being sued are Purdue Pharma, which is the maker of OxyContin, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., Johnson & Johnson, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

The lawsuit alleges opioid manufacturers used deceptive marketing to flood the city with prescription painkillers, creating “a substantial burden on the city through increased substance use treatment services, ambulatory services, emergency department services, inpatient hospital services, medical examiner costs, criminal justice costs and law enforcement costs.”

John Puskar, director of public affairs at Purdue, issued a statement saying the company “vigorously” denies the charges leveled by the city.  “We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge. Although our products account for approximately 2% of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”

The opioid crisis killed nearly 64,000 Americans in 2016 and provisional data for 2017 from the CDC show no signs of the epidemic abating, with an estimate of more than 66,000 overdose deaths for the year.   While overdose rates increased in all age groups, rises were most significant in those between the ages of 25 and 54.  Overdoses are now the leading cause of death of Americans under the age of 50.  “Based on what we’re seeing, it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better,” said Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics.

 

 

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Alaskans were left panicked after they were jolted awake overnight Tuesday by a powerful earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska – then by sirens that warned of a possible tsunami.  A magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck at 12:32 a.m. off the Alaska coast. The quake itself was far enough away not to cause major damage but occurred in an area that triggered a potential tsunami.

Evacuation sirens blared “Attention, a tsunami warning has been issued for this area,” officials warned over loudspeakers.  “The National Weather Service’s Tsunami Warning Center has advised that widespread hazardous tsunami waves are possible.”  That warning covered not only most of coastal Alaska, but also the entire coast of British Columbia. Tsunami watches were posted from Washington state to California — and even Hawaii and as far away as American Samoa.

Within minutes, the roads in the seaside town of Kodiak, Alaska, were filled cars heading to higher ground.  Residents of Kodiak were asked by police to move at least 100 feet above ground as a precaution.  For two hours, many braced for the worst but by 4 a.m. — less than four hours after the quake hit — all warnings were lifted. The only tsunami was an 8-inch wave in Kodiak.

Around 4 a.m. local time, officials canceled tsunami warnings for coastal areas of South Alaska, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. Warnings were also called off for Hawaii and the Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and California coasts.  Tsunami warnings were later canceled in other parts of South Alaska and the Alaska Peninsula, specifically the coastal areas from Hinchinbrook Island, about 90 miles east of Seward, to Chignik, Alaska.

The US Geological Survey (USGA) said the earthquake was located in an area south of where the Pacific tectonic plate converges with the North America plate and at a depth of about 12 miles.  Research geophysicist for USGA Will Yeck said the quake occurred on a fault within the Pacific plate that had not been previously charted and the area that ruptured is approximately 140-by-30 miles.  Yeck said there have been at least 30 aftershocks from the initial quake, the largest being a magnitude 5.3.

From Indonesia, to Japan, to Hawaii and Alaska, the entire region sits in what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire – an extremely volatile chain of active volcanoes, tectonic plates and earthquake zones. Most of the world’s earthquakes happen in this region.  That’s the same spot which saw the second largest earthquake ever recorded: A 9.2 magnitude in March 1964 that caused widespread destruction and death in Alaska.  That earthquake occurred over an area measuring 155 miles wide by 500 miles long. The epicenter was about 12 miles north of Prince William Sound, and 75 miles from Anchorage, the state’s largest city.

 

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The Pentagon is quietly preparing for a potential war with North Korea, with The U.S. military is launching a series of war games and exercises across the US and a planned deployment of additional special operations troops to the Korean Peninsula during the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month. The ongoing tensions between the US and North Korea have spurred precautionary planning for a potential nuclear war.

News outlets have reported that there are also plans to develop two new sea-based nuclear weapons. The new Defense Department nuclear strategy review says the proposed new nuclear weapons would be to counter Russia and China. Widening the permissible use of nuclear weapons to include responding to cyberattacks and other non-nuclear attacks to U.S. infrastructure has also been proposed.

The Pentagon has already outlined this expanded nuclear strategy in a draft document sent to the president for approval.  Current US policy requires a lawful order by the President to use nuclear weapons.  A lawful order is generally understood by the US military to mean any counterattack would have to be proportional to the threat in terms of damage and casualties of that attack against the US.

US Defense officials have said that the final draft is expected to be unveiled just after Trump’s State of the Union address on January 30.  They said it will likely focus on deterrence and reflect the greater threat from North Korea, which has stepped up its testing of missiles and nuclear devices over the last year.

The review is looking at current needs and capabilities across the US nuclear enterprise, including nuclear laboratories, stockpiles and manufacturing facilities. It is also studying future needs for modernizing aging nuclear weapons, including missiles, submarines and bomber aircraft.  The review will require increased spending or the government will be unable to produce and maintain a stockpile for land, sea, and air-launched nuclear weapons. Operations, interim upgrades and full modernization could cost $1.2 trillion, according the Congressional Budget Office report.

Defense officials have said the president is not expected to call for increases or modernization of the nuclear arsenal that would take the US beyond current arms control agreements.  Many worry that if the review recommends deployment of small nuclear bombs abroad closer to anticipated conflict or the development of lower-yield nuclear weapons-that could lead to it being easier for the president to use nuclear weapons.

 

 

 

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A middle school English teacher in Louisiana was arrested after asking a question at a Vermillion Parish school board meeting.  Deyshia Hargrave was arrested in a now-viral video, after she stood up at a school board meeting and questioned why the superintendent was getting a $30,000 raise, when the teachers hadn’t gotten a raise in nearly a decade.  During the meeting, Hargrave addressed the superintendent directly after the school board allowed the audience to comment on a vote to grant his raise.

Deyshia Hargrave: “Superintendent, how are you going to take a raise when there’s ELA—when I first started teaching ELA, there was like 20, 21 kids in a class, and now there’s 29 kids in a class that we are now having. And we have not gotten raises. How are you going to take that money? Because it’s basically taking out of the pockets of teachers.”

Anthony Fontana: “All right, stop. Stop right now. That’s not germane to what’s on the agenda tonight. Deyshia Hargrave: “Yes, it is!”

Woman: “Come on now!”

Deyshia Hargrave: “How are you going to take”—

Anthony Fontana: “What’s on the agenda is the superintendent’s contract.”

Crowd: “With a raise!”

She was ruled out of order by Board President Anthony Fontana for asking a question when board policy said only comments were allowed.  After her questioning, the teacher voluntarily left the room after being asked to leave and was then forcibly arrested in the hallway by a marshal. Hargrave was charged with remaining after being forbidden and resisting an officer, but they were later dropped after the school board declined to press charges.

The school district says they do not plan to discipline her.  Vermilion Parish superintendent Jerome Puyau, who now makes about $140,000 annually with his new raise said of the incident “I don’t support our people getting arrested. I do not. However, a person has to follow the rules.”  Puyau said the pay bump boosts his salary to the level of what his counterparts make. He also pointed out that his school district ranks sixth in performance while his salary is 57th.

Puyau said that his family has been bombarded with death threats since the video of the incident went viral.  “My sisters, my family — we’re all educators,” he said. “It is not fair to our families, anyone’s families, anyone in Vermilion Parish.”

Hargrave said she would like to receive an apology from both the superintendent and the marshal who arrested her. She also would like to see other people to speak out for what they believe.  “I’m hoping for teachers, people outside of education, to have a voice,” she said. “Show up. You don’t have to say anything, just show up. Just do something.”

 

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A fire at an underground electrical facility caused an 11 hour blackout that brought the world’s busiest airport to a standstill.  The blackout at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport led to the cancellation of more than 1,500 flights and stranding tens of thousands of people in darkened terminals or on the tarmac, where some passengers sat for more than five hours on grounded planes.

The power outage began shortly after 1 p.m. leaving passengers in dim and overcrowded terminals as afternoon turned to evening.  Frustrated travelers lighted their way through smoky corridors with cellphones.  On Twitter, passengers reported waiting on the tarmac for more than five hours as the lack of power at the terminals made it hard to de-plane.  Getting out of the terminals quickly became difficult as traffic snarled access roads and MARTA trains ran at capacity to downtown.

The train between terminals was shut down and elevators, escalators, automatic doors and baggage carousels stood still.   Screens went black and the intercom for flight updates was silent.  No one could get reliable phone or internet service to access texts, email, flight apps or social media.  With a lack of information, travelers were too nervous to leave their spots, fearing the power might soon return at any moment and they’d lose their place in the line they were in.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed later said the fire was so intense that it damaged two substations serving the airport, including the airport’s back-up power system and prevented emergency crews from accessing the site for two to three hours.  Paul Bowers, Georgia Power’s president and CEO said there was a failure in the switchgear that caused the fire and the fire was contained by 3:30pm.  An estimated 30,000 people were affected by the power outage.

Delta bore the brunt of the impact, cancelling approximately 900 flights and diverting 48 more. The carrier said about 300 flights would also be cancelled on Monday, as the chaos spilled into one of the busiest air travel weeks of the year.  The blackout led the Federal Aviation Administration to declare a ground stop at the airport, preventing Atlanta-bound flights in other airports from taking off and causing inbound flights to be diverted. The ground stop in Atlanta disrupted air travel across the United States.

Some power was restored just before midnight but stranded travelers were still sleeping on the floor the day after the outage.  Long ticket and security lines were moving slowly as normalcy began returning to the airport Monday.  Volunteers in shirts that said, “Ask Me,” tried to allay concerns and passed out doughnuts to those in line, many of whom shared horror stories about the night before.

Some travelers said airline and airport employees did their best to take care of stranded passengers, handing out blankets, beverages, even slices of pizza.  Others reported a lack of communication, widespread rumors, the strong smell of fire near baggage claim and a taxi line that amounted to “pandemonium.”  While some fortunate passengers were able to board the flights departing Atlanta the day after the outage, other passengers were being told they’d have to wait hours or days.  One airline was telling passengers it would be five days before they could get a flight out.

New York Bombing Attack

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New York City police have identified the suspect in the bombing attack in a Midtown Manhattan subway station that took place during the busy Monday morning commute.  The accused attacker was identified as 27-year-old Brooklyn resident and Bangladeshi immigrant Akayed Ullah.  Ullah was carrying a pipe bomb strapped to his body with Velcro and zip ties whe he detonated it in a tunnel connecting the busy Port Authority and Times Square terminals.   Five people were treated for minor injuries at area hospitals, while the suspect was said to be seriously injured.

Investigators have been pouring over surveillance footage of the area.  Ullah was first spotted on a security camera as he climbed the subway station stairs to the 18th Avenue F. train platform in Brooklyn at 6:25 a.m.  He then switched to the A train at Jay St./MetroTech stop in Brooklyn before exiting the train at the Port Authority Bus Terminal stop in Manhattan.

The blast detonated around 7:20 a.m. in an underground walkway connecting two subway lines beneath the Port Authority Bus Terminal, near Times Square, which accommodates 220,000 passenger trips a day.  Surveillance footage shows commuters walking through a tunnel when a burst of smoke erupts into the hallway, quickly filling it.  Commuters flinch and take cover, and when the smoke clears, an injured man, Ullah, can be seen lying on the ground in the hallway.

Law enforcement officials say Ullah was inspired to set off a bomb in retaliation for U.S. attacks against ISIS in Syria.  He faces five federal terrorism-related charges and three state terrorism-related charges after he allegedly detonated the homemade device made of a battery, wires, metal screws and a Christmas tree lightbulb during the busy morning commute.  According to Department of Homeland Security, Ullah is a Bangladeshi immigrant who has been living in the United States since 2011 on an F43 family immigrant visa.  He is a legal permanent resident living in Brooklyn and has no criminal record in the United States.

According to a federal complaint, Ullah admitted to investigators that he built and detonated the device and said he was inspired to do so by ISIS.  He said that he was prepared to die and told investigators he was motivated in part by pro-ISIS Christmas attack propaganda circulated about a month ago online with an image of Santa Claus over Times Square.  Investigators recovered a passport in his name with a handwritten message: “O America, die in your rage.”  Investigators say Ullah’s ISIS radicalization began in 2014 and he began researching how to build improvised explosive devices about a year ago.  He began collecting the necessary items to make the device two to three weeks ago, and built the bomb in his home a week ago.

According to law enforcement officials, Ullah had two homemade devices with him but they did not elaborate on the second device.  Andrew Cuomo said in an interview that the device was an amateur, “effectively low-tech device” that partially detonated.  The explosive chemical ignited, but the pipe itself did not explode, lessening its impact.  Cuomo added “Fortunately for us, the bomb partially detonated, he did detonate it, but it did not fully have the effect that he was hoping for.”

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An investigation by the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico has revealed that nearly 1,000 more people died in the 40-day period after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico compared to that same time period last year. These findings sharply contradict the storm’s “official” death toll of 62.   The government allowed 911 bodies to be cremated without being physically examined by a government medical officer to determine if they should be included in the official death toll from the storm.  Each cause of death was listed as being of “natural causes.”

The revelation of the new data also coincides with accounts from relatives’ reports of victims that point to problems with essential health services such as dialysis, ventilators, oxygen, and other critical circumstances caused by the lack of electricity in homes and hospitals throughout Puerto Rico.

The majority of the deaths were men and women over 50 who died in hospitals and nursing homes from conditions such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease, hypertension, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. When compared to the same time period from 2016, there was a significant increase in deaths, especially in hospitals and nursing homes.

Some have said they considered heart attacks and people who died of lack of oxygen because of lack of power as hurricane-related deaths, while others said they considered those “natural causes.”  Accurate information about the death toll is important because it allows victims’ families to claim federal relief aid.  It has also been used as a measure of how effective relief efforts have been.  The official death toll likely fails to take account of all those who died as a result of the deadly hurricane.

Demographer José A. López, the only person at the registry in charge of analyzing this data, has said that the increase in deaths in the first two post-Maria months is significant and the government’s inability to link more deaths to the hurricane shows that the current process of documenting causes of death in a disaster is not working and must be reformed.  López and the Department of Health appeared before Puerto Rico’s Senate to request that a dialogue begin about the issue and that they lead to changing the system.

Currently, linking a death to a disaster depends almost exclusively on a physician making an annotation related to the hurricane in the death certificate and listing the clinical cause of death, but both doctors and hospitals maintain that their responsibility and knowledge are strictly tied to the clinical cause of death.  In most cases, the doctor who certifies the death may not be the same doctor who was in charge of the patient.   Because of this, most death certificates do not include additional information about the other circumstances that could lead to death — such as the stress caused by an emergency; lack of power, transportation services or medications; lack of access to health services; changes in diet; and increases in ambient temperatures, among others.

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Former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager, 36, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for the deadly shooting of unarmed motorist Walter Scott-who was pulled over for a broken tail-light.  U.S. District Judge David Norton ruled that Slager committed second-degree murder and obstruction of justice, when he shot and killed 50-year-old Scott on April 4, 2015. The second-degree murder ruling came with a recommended 19 to 24 year sentence.  Slager has 14 days to appeal.

Slager initially claimed self-defense, but witness cellphone video that surfaced shortly after the encounter showed the officer fatally shooting Walter Scott five times in the back as he ran away. He was fired from the force after the shooting.  Slager was charged in South Carolina with murder and pleaded not guilty. During the state murder trial, Slager’s attorney said his client shot Walter Scott because he was in fear for his life.

Federal prosecutors sought a life sentence, arguing Slater, had committed second-degree murder and also should be punished for obstructing justice by providing the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division with false statements.  In 2016, the case ended in a mistrial. The state retrial and federal trial were expected to take place this year, but in May, Michael Slager pleaded guilty to violating Walter Scott’s civil rights in federal court, ending the federal case against him and also resolving the state charges that were pending after the mistrial.

Before the sentence was announced, Scott’s family addressed the court and gave the judge their victim impact statements.  Judy Scott broke down in tears as she recalled the memory of her son.  Speaking to Slager, Scott also said she forgave the former officer, a sentiment echoed by Walter Scott’s brother, Anthony Scott.  Scott’s family has repeatedly expressed forgiveness to Slager, saying they needed to in order to let go of the pain of losing Walter.

Before hearing his sentence in federal court, Michael Slager called each family member out by name and apologized, thanking them for forgiving him. “I wish this never would have happened,” he said. “I wish I could go back to the day and change the events, but I can’t.”  For the past 31 months, he said, he had thought about the moment he opened fire.  “Walter Scott is no longer with his family, and I’m responsible for that,” Slager said, adding the Scott family would be forever changed without Walter.

The Scott family said at the subsequent press conference that Slager had sought to make amends with them.  “He apologized to the family,” said Rodney Scott, one of Walter’s brothers. “He called each and every last one of our names in court today and apologized. So who are we not to forgive?”

He said his family is “thankful for the justice system that worked on our behalf,” but added that “a lot of work” still needs to be done in the justice system.  Another one of Walter Scott’s brothers, Anthony Scott, thanked Feiden Santana, the witness who filmed the shooting, for being “brave” enough to film what he saw that day.

 

 

 

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South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeals has more than doubled the prison sentence for Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius, who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013.  The sentence has now been increased from six years to 15 years, with time served.  Under that initial sentence, which the court called “shockingly lenient,” Pistorius could have been released on parole in mid-2019. Now, the earliest he’ll be eligible for parole is 2023.  Supreme Court judges are generally reluctant to change sentences handed down by trial courts, and it’s rare for them to change one so dramatically.

Pistorius killed Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 by shooting four times through a closed toilet cubicle door with his 9 mm pistol. He claimed he mistook the 29-year-old model and reality TV star for an intruder.  Throughout the trial, the prosecution had been looking to prove that the couple had gotten into an argument, and Pistorius intentionally murdered his girlfriend.  A few of Pistorius’s neighbors testified to hearing an argument that lasted nearly an hour, followed by a woman screaming before and during the shots being fired.

A police ballistics expert concluded that the first shot fired through the bathroom door hit Steenkamp in the hip and caused her to collapse.  The second shot missed.  Prosecutors tried to prove that Steenkamp screamed while she was hit by two more shots as she covered her head with her arms in a desperate attempt to protect herself.

Pistorius was initially convicted of manslaughter by trial Judge Thokozile Masipa.  That conviction was overturned and replaced with a murder conviction by the Supreme Court in 2015.  Masipa then sentenced Pistorius to six years for murder, which prosecutors called much too lenient.

Supreme Court Justice Willie Seriti said a panel of judges unanimously upheld an appeal by prosecutors against Pistorius’ original six-year sentence for shooting Steenkamp.   The Supreme Court agreed that the sentencing was too leniant, saying in a full written ruling released later that “the sentence of six years’ imprisonment is shockingly lenient to a point where it has the effect of trivializing this serious offence.”  The Supreme Court said Pistorius “displays a lack of remorse, and does not appreciate the gravity of his actions.”  As Seriti delivered the verdict he said “Pistorius should have been sentenced to the prescribed minimum of 15 years for murder.”

The new sentence of 13 years and five months took into account the one year and seven months Pistorius served in prison and under house arrest after his manslaughter conviction.  The new sentence was backdated to start on the day he began his murder sentence, on July 6 last year.  Pistorius must serve at least half of the 13 years and five months — nearly seven years — before he can be considered for parole. He has served a year and five months of his murder sentence.