Waitlist for child mental health services doubles under Ford government: report | CP24.com

TORONTO — Wait times for children and youth mental health services have more than doubled in two years, according to a report from care providers who are urging Premier Doug Ford’s government to increase spending to address the delays.

The report from Children’s Mental Health Ontario, released Monday by the association representing Ontario’s publicly funded child and youth mental health centres, says 28,000 children and youth are currently on wait lists for treatment across the province. The number is up from approximately 12,000 in 2017.

Chief Executive Officer Kimberly Moran said rising rates of depression and anxiety among children and youth and years of under-funding have contributed to the rise in wait times.

“It’s frustrating from a service provider’s perspective,” Moran said. “They understand that when we wait, kids can get more ill and they watch that happen … and I think families are just outraged that they have to wait this long.”

The report shows wait times for service can vary dramatically depending where in the province a child seeks treatment and on the care required. Waits can range from just days for mild issues to nearly two and a half years for more complex behavioural interventions, the report said.

The group calls on the government to live up to its spending commitments on mental health services, asking it to direct $150 million towards hiring front-line clinicians in the spring budget.

If the province spent that money, it could quickly ramp up hiring for over 14,000 workers and that would cut the average wait for care to around 30 days, the report said.

“The government hasn’t kept their promise about reducing wait times,” Moran said. “We want to hold them to account for that.”

Ford has promised to spend $1.9 billion on mental health care over the next decade, a commitment that would include bolstering addictions and housing supports across the province. He has also said the money will help cut wait times for youth who need treatment.

The $1.9 billion pledge will be matched by the federal government, bringing the total commitment to $3.8 billion.

Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office did not immediately provide comment on the latest report.

Meanwhile on Friday, Sarah Cannon told a legislative finance committee holding pre-budget consultations in Niagara Falls, Ont., that spending on the mental health services should be needs-based. The mother of two girls who have made multiple suicide attempts after struggling with anxiety and depression said treatment is still not given priority in the health-care system.

“If I took my daughter to the hospital tomorrow and she was diagnosed with cancer, treatment would be immediate,” she said. “When I took my daughter to the hospital after she almost died (by suicide) … they needed us to wait.”

Cannon said increased funding would bolster treatment capacity in the system and could have a profound impact on the lives of children and their families.

“We are fighting for our children’s lives,” she said. “That’s what it comes down to.”

The executive director of mental health programs at SickKids and the SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health told pre-budget consultations at the legislature last week about increases in demand for that hospital’s services.

Christina Bartha said because of the strain on front-line service providers, families from well outside Toronto are seeking care in hospital because they don’t know where else to turn.

“Many families drive to SickKids seeking help, and when we try to refer them back to their home community, we see the long wait times that they are facing.”

Bhutila Karpoche, NDP critic for Mental Health and Addictions, said Friday that the report offers a snapshot of a youth “mental health crisis” and underscores the urgent need for investment.

Karpoche has tabled a private members’ bill that, if passed, would cap wait times for children and youth mental health services at 30 days.

“When I tabled the bill the wait list was up to 12,000 children waiting on average 18 months,” she said. “In the year since the government has let the bill languish … we’re now seeing how much worse it’s gotten.”

This content was originally published here.

Killing a Baby Isn’t Health Care, It’s a Slap in the Face of God

On Friday, Donald John Trump became the only sitting president to personally address the 47-year old March for Life in Washington, D.C.

Not George W. Bush, nor Ronald Reagan.

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Donald John Trump!

On the day of the march, Bernie Sanders tweeted, “abortion is health care.”

Abortion is health care.

No, Bernie, it’s not. It is killing babies — the exact opposite of healthcare.

Getting pregnant takes an overt act. It’s not accidental. Babies are a gift from God. Killing a baby — especially for your convenience — is slapping God in the face.

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Now I don’t know about you, but whatever my flaws, I can read odds and count. French mathematician Blaise Pascal posited from a philosophical point of view that humans bet with their lives that God either exists or does not.

Or, put into the terms of a Vegas sportsbook, if you believe in God in this life, and find in the next that there is no God, no harm no foul. But if you don’t believe in God and find out there is a God, you’re screwed. And, by the way, Pascal thought of this in the 17th century, well before the Westgate Superbook was built — and well before Elvis played the theater there.

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Now, I live in the front range of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I can see them out my back door.

I used to live on Mount Charleston over Las Vegas.

Even if you can convince me that these works of natural art were indeed caused by a “big bang” which had no actual cause, I’d still make even money bets on God. So would most people.

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So, Bernie: Do you really think that God would want you to destroy one of his creations? If you do, you are even more warped than I originally thought.

Doctors take an oath to “first, do no harm.”

How can killing a baby in (or out) of the womb possibly be “no harm”?

When I hear someone from NARAL bleating about choices, what I’m hearing is pure selfishness. OK, I’d be willing to listen to those who bring up rape, incest or — if it were not a fig leaf — the health of the mother. Perhaps an ethics committee of real doctors.

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But destroying one of God’s gifts for the mere convenience of a woman who just doesn’t want a baby? Nonstarter. They call it pro-choice. Right. The choice between murder and not killing a baby.

You don’t like it?

Then get sterilized or be careful.

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As far as the murdering Democrats go, remember Pascal’s wager.

What position would you like to be in when you meet God? Would you like to be in the position to say you have never been a party to a murder?

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

This content was originally published here.

The World Health Organization just declared the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency

Doctors and public-health experts at the World Health Organization in Geneva have declared the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak a “public-health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC).

The virus has so far sickened at least 8,100 people and killed 170 in China, where it originated. Cases have been reported in 19 other countries.

“Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen, which has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday when he announced the emergency declaration. “We don’t know what sort of damage this virus could do if it were spread in a country with a weaker health system. We must act now to help countries prepare for that possibility.”

The PHEIC designation is reserved by the WHO for the most serious, sudden, unexpected outbreaks that cross international borders. These diseases pose a public-health risk without bounds and may “require a coordinated international response,” the WHO said on its website.

The global health-emergency declaration has been around since 2005, and it’s been used only five times before.

A global emergency was declared for two Ebola outbreaks, one that started in 2013 in West Africa and another that’s been ongoing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2018. Other emergency alerts were used for the 2016 Zika epidemic, polio emerging in war zones in 2014, and for the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009.

The emergency designation puts the 196 member countries of the WHO on alert that they should step up precautions, such as screening travelers and monitoring international trade in hopes of preventing the outbreak from spreading out of control.

Last week, the WHO committee was split about whether to declare the new coronavirus outbreak — which experts suspect originated at an animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan — an international emergency. Members delayed their final decision by a day, saying they needed more time to gather information about the virus’s severity and transmissibility.

“This declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China,” Ghebreyesus said on Thursday.

Symptoms of the coronavirus — which is in the same family as the common cold, pneumonia, MERS, and SARS — can range from mild to deadly. Most of the fatalities so far have been among the elderly and patients with preexisting conditions. Only a laboratory test can confirm that a virus is the novel coronavirus.

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Many health care workers are refusing flu shots, endangering patients, regulators say – The Boston Globe

In response, Massachusetts regulators are now intensifying efforts to improve vaccination rates — sending reminder letters to dozens of facilities that failed to report their numbers, visiting dialysis centers to review their process for vaccinating workers, and even offering cash to nursing homes as an incentive to improve their rates.

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“First and foremost, health care personnel are directly interacting with residents and patients. They could be transmitting influenza to them and we want to prevent that from happening,” said Katherine Fillo, director of clinical quality improvement at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

High vaccination rates also help ensure that a large number of caregivers don’t fall ill during a flu outbreak, Fillo said.

State regulations require all health care facilities, as a condition of receiving a license, to provide free flu shots each year to all employees. Yet workers are allowed to decline the shot. Facilities must report to the state how many declined and how many cited medical reasons for opting out. They must also report how many workers had an unknown vaccination status.

A recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that health care workers in the Northeast had the lowest flu vaccination rates in the United States. It also found that rates nationwide were lowest among those who worked in long-term care, such as in nursing homes.

In Massachusetts, among the 315 nursing homes that reported data to the state health department, roughly 16 percent of workers declined to be vaccinated. That’s down slightly from 18 percent in 2017.

Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, a trade association, said nursing home administrators are working diligently to increase rates but often encounter barriers.

“Some of our staff decline vaccination for religious or health reasons and others are concerned that the vaccine is ineffective or dangerous,” she said in a statement. “Our efforts to educate everyone in our facilities on the benefits of the flu vaccine are ongoing and a top priority.”

For nursing and rest homes that achieve at least a 90 percent vaccination rate this flu season, the state will reimburse the cost of renewing their license, which can run up to $1,000.

Among the 61 dialysis centers that reported vaccination rates, 83 percent of workers got a flu shot and roughly 9 percent declined. The rest cited medical reasons or their status was unknown.

Dr. Holly Kramer, president of the National Kidney Foundation and a professor of medicine at Loyola University Chicago, said patients receiving dialysis are at particular risk for serious complications from the flu because they often have a greatly weakened immune system.

“The health care workers need to be vaccinated because dialysis patients are more likely to develop severe influenza and need to be hospitalized and can die from influenza,” Kramer said.

Fresenius Medical Care North America, the largest dialysis center chain in Massachusetts with more than 35 centers, said in a statement that it has worked hard to educate patients and employees about the benefits of receiving a flu shot.

Fresenius said that about 86 percent of its workers in Massachusetts were vaccinated last flu season, higher than the industry average here of 83 percent.

“Our policy mandates that any health care provider working with patients in our dialysis centers receive a flu vaccine each season, and if an employee refuses, requires that employee to wear a face mask when near patients,” said Fresenius spokesman Brad Puffer.

“We continue to invest significant resources in reminding both employees and patients about the dangers of flu for people living with kidney failure, and we are committed to further improving these efforts,” he said.

For years, regulators focused on boosting flu vaccinations among hospital workers, which as recently as a decade ago was mired below 70 percent. The state health department started publishing a list of vaccination rates at each facility, and many hospitals started cracking down on workers who declined shots, making them wear masks for the entire flu season. A number of hospitals required caregivers to receive a flu shot each year as a condition of employment.

Rates slowly but steadily climbed, and for the last several years have been above 90 percent.

“Some health care providers use creative ways to ensure vaccination compliance, such as offering vaccinations on-site around the clock and allowing employees to use work time to be inoculated,” said Patricia Noga, vice president for clinical affairs at the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association.

She said the association strongly supports new policies to improve statewide rates, including requiring the entire health care workforce be vaccinated.

For now, regulators are turning their attention to the rest of the state’s health facilities with a goal of matching the success it had with hospitals.

“We hope and anticipate we will see this same trajectory in these other types of healthcare facilities,” Fillo said.

Kay Lazar can be reached at kay.lazar@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.

This content was originally published here.

Health minister says NHI ‘will make public and private hospitals the same’

This probably didn’t come out as the compliment Health Minister Zweli Mkhize was hoping for. The ANC cabinet member triumphantly announced on Wednesday that there would be “no distinction” between public and private hospitals once the National Health Insurance (NHI) is rolled out.

The much-maligned plans would ensure that all citizens received free healthcare upon entering any hospital in South Africa. While the intentions are good, the execution may be lacking. Critics have slammed NHI for threatening to cripple private health programmes, and point to its enormous costing and logistical challenges.

‘We’re going to see improvements’

However, Mkhize and his team remain undeterred. Speaking during a visit to a hospital in KwaZulu-Natal on New Year’s Day, the minister said that NHI would “bridge the gap” between public and private care.

“We are starting a new decade in which we will be instituting decisive actions in implementation of NHI. When it is fully implemented, there will be no distinction between public and private hospitals. We believe we are going to be seeing changes and improvements in the quality.”

“Our message to South Africans is to encourage good healthy living, particularly now when non-communicable diseases are on the rise. Individuals and communities are encouraged to take full responsibility of their health in partnership with the healthcare.”

Zweli Mkhize

When will NHI happen, and how much will it cost?

The rollout of the much-anticipated National Health Insurance (NHI) will require an additional R33-billion annually. This was revealed in the National Treasury’s adjusted estimates of the national expenditure document released at the tabling of the 2019 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) in October.

Furthermore, the controversial plan to nationalise healthcare won’t come into effect until the 2025/26 financial year. Provinces will receive a direct grant to contract health professionals in pilot NHI districts. This is currently funded through the NHI indirect grant.

Three regions in KZN – Ugu, uMzinyathi and uMkhanyakude – have all achieved this feat 90% of all people living with HIV know their status, 90% receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and and 90% are virally suppressed.

— Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize) January 1, 2020

This content was originally published here.

This Was The Decade That Changed The Way We Think About Mental Health | HuffPost Life

When I first started writing about mental health in 2013, the landscape was also different. There was a glaring lack of coverage about these issues across the media, or worse, news outlets would prominently cover a celebrity’s or citizen’s “erratic behavior” as something that was “bizarre” or “entertaining.” A lot of suicide reporting was insensitive, glamorizing, salacious ― or all three.

A lot that can be attributed to both tragic and affirming events that have occurred since 2010. Below are just a few defining moments from the past decade, all of which influenced the way we talk about and view mental health today:

The public nature of celebrity deaths by suicide yielded to a more monumental conversation about mental health, according to Gregory Dalack, chair of the Michigan Medicine Department of Psychiatry and treasurer of the American Psychiatric Association. The tragedies “triggered greater awareness about the stigma around mental health and the importance of seeking help,” he told HuffPost.

Some of those tragedies can even be attributed to celebrity deaths, thanks to a phenomenon called suicide contagion, when media coverage and details about a prominent person’s death can lead others to take their own life.

“Despite all of the tragic deaths, the suicide numbers have increased each of the last 10 years,” Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, told HuffPost. “One would like to believe if this was really important to the public and the government, far more would have been done about it ― not just because of the large number of celebrities but the people that were connected to them.”

We can’t talk about the last decade without acknowledging the political chaos we’ve all experienced. The 2016 election, the barrage of negative news and the constant cultural turmoil have all had massive repercussions on how we think and feel.

In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan found that three political events (including the 2016 election and the 2017 inauguration) affected the mood of medical interns just as much as the strenuous first weeks of medical training. “This research reflects an overall trend showing that politics is in fact affecting people in both their personal and professional lives,” Dalack explained.

“At the same time, social media has some significant benefits such as it provides a wealth of resources and access to information that didn’t exist before. Social media can also provide huge numbers of connections to people who in turn can provide support, reassurance, help and care in times of crisis or need,” he added.

The rise of celebrity candor about their personal experiences has arguably been one of the most positive advances in mental health in the last decade. Public figures ― from the British royals to musicians to actors ― were more outspoken than ever about their mental health conditions, therapy, self-care and more.

“There have been tons of celebrities that have come forward, been brave and spoken about their own journey,” Leigh told HuffPost. “That is incredibly inspiring on my behalf because I can see people who have been willing to put themselves out there and ― judged or not judged ― just be open enough to share their struggles.”

There is still progress to be made, and experts hope to see more strides in the coming 10 years. The priority for both Dalack and Reidenberg is getting people the mental health treatment that they need.

“Over the next decade, I’d love to see improved access to mental health care across the nation,” Dalack said. “This will require efforts from insurance companies, physicians, as well as politicians. Those of us working in the field will need to continue to innovate new, cost-effective treatments that leverage technology and reach folks in remote and rural communities. We all need to be held accountable.

“In the most broad sense, I hope that in 10 years people will live understanding that mental health-related issues are no different than any other body or brain-related issues,” Reidenberg said. “If you aren’t feeling well, you have to talk to someone, regardless of the origin of the illness.”

As for me, I hope the landscape is once again different in a decade. I want to one day stop writing about suicide and stigma. Not because I’m not passionate about my job, but because the outcome has improved so much that there isn’t anything to write. That’s a 10-year challenge worth fighting for.

This content was originally published here.

Elizabeth Warren: ‘Trans Youth Are More Likely…to Experience Mental Health Problems’

(Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass.) sent out a tweet on Thursday evening saying that transgender young people are “more likely” to have mental health problems.

“Trans youth are more likely to feel unsafe at school and to experience mental health problems,” Warren said in her tweet.

“They need and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, not to be attacked by their state legislators,” she said. “As president, I’ll fight to ensure they have every opportunity to thrive.”

On her campaign website, Warren has posted a detailed plan for “Securing LGBTQ+ Rights and Equality” if she is elected president. The plan includes many provision for transgender youth.

“We need a president who will life up the voices of every gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, queer, Two-Spirt and intersex person,” Warren says in her plan.

“We need a president who has the courage to stand up to discrimination, and fight back,” she says.

Warren vows that she will immediately use unilaterally presidential action—not congressionally enacted legislation—to advance LGBTQ+ rights.

“We can’t wait for Congress to act on LGBTQ+ rights,” she says. “In my first 100 days as president, I will use every legal tool we have to make sure that LGBTQ+ people can live and thrive free from discrimination.”

Warren also vowed to bring her battle for the rights of transgenders into schools—where it will effect such things as “dress codes” and “brining same-sex partners to school events.”

 “As president, I’ll fight to make sure every LGBTQ+ student has an equal opportunity to thrive,” she says. “I’ll start by amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require school districts to adopt codes of conduct that specifically prohibit bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. I’ll also direct the Education Department to reinstate guidance – revoked by the Trump Administration– on transgender students’ rights under federal law. And I’ll make clear that federal civil rights laws prohibit anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination like discriminatory dress codes, banning students from writing or discussing LGBTQ+ topics in class, or punishing students for bringing same-sex partners to school events.”

This content was originally published here.

‘I’m slowly dying here’: ‘Sedated’ Assange tells friend during Christmas Eve call from UK prison as health concerns mount

Julian Assange sounded like a shell of the man he once was during a Christmas Eve phone call, British journalist Vaughan Smith told RT, noting the WikiLeaks founder had trouble speaking and appeared to be drugged.

Assange was allowed to make just a single call from the maximum security Belmarsh prison in southeast London for the Christmas holiday, hoping for a reminder of the world beyond his drab confines of steel and concrete.

“I think he simply wanted a few minutes of escape” and to revive “happy memories,” Smith told RT, adding that Assange had spent the holiday at his home in 2010. The brief conversation was far from cheerful, however, with Assange’s deteriorating condition increasingly apparent throughout the call.

He said to me that: ‘I’m slowly dying here.’

“His speech was slurred. He was speaking slowly,” the journalist continued. “Now, Julian is highly articulate, a very clear person when he speaks. And he sounded awful… it was very upsetting to hear him”

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Assange CANNOT be extradited because of treaty between US-UK argues legal team

Though Assange didn’t say it out loud during the call, Smith said he believes the anti-secrecy activist is being sedated, noting that “It seemed pretty obvious that he was,” and said others who visited Assange were of the same opinion.

Smith isn’t the first to raise this issue, but British authorities have so far refused to divulge whether Assange has been given psychotropic drugs in prison, insisting only that they aren’t “mistreating” him. But given that he is “being kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day,” with requests by numerous doctors to examine his physical condition denied, Smith said he has a hard time taking the officials at their word.

“Julian was extremely good company over Christmas in 2010,” the journalist said, but the man he talked to on the phone last week sounded like a different person. “I just don’t understand… why he’s in Belmarsh Prison in the first place. He’s a remand prisoner. He’s not a danger to the public.”

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FILE PHOTO: Supporters of  Julian Assange protest outside Westminster Magistrates Court in London © Reuters / Henry Nicholls
Julian Assange will ‘disappear for the rest of his life’ inside ‘inhumane’ US prison, UN envoy warns… if he makes it that far

Belmarsh is a Category A prison – the highest level in the UK penal system – intended for “highly dangerous” convicts and those likely to attempt escape, typically befitting murderers and terrorists. While Assange meets none of those criteria and was initially locked up for a minor offense of skipping bail, he was nonetheless thrown in Belmarsh and punished as if he were a violent, hardened criminal. He now awaits proceedings for extradition to the US.

The explanation may be as simple as taking revenge against somebody who dared to speak truth to power, Smith believes, and to make an example for anyone who might follow Assange’s lead in fighting state and corporate secrecy.

“What is clear that what is happening to Julian is much more about vengeance and setting an example to dissuade other people from holding American power to account in this way,” he said.

[Assange] delivered a discussion, a debate about what transparency should look like in the digital age… The debate got quashed it never really happened, instead he’s being victimized… That’s’ why he’s in Belmarsh.

Going forward, Smith said it will be important to continue pressuring the British government to answer a litany of questions about Assange, his treatment in prison and his health, as well as to push for an “independent assessment” of the situation. Confined in one form or another since taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 and now denied the ability to defend himself in court, Assange should finally receive a fair hearing.

“This whole thing, really we need to be asking more questions. This needs to be held much more in the open… Julian has had his freedom compromised for nearly a decade now,” Smith said. “It’s completely disgraceful. This is bullying. He deserves better.”

This content was originally published here.

Health care in America is dysfunctional — but its lack of transparency is downright dangerous

Wow, you survived cancer? What’s your secret to health care?

As absurd as that sounds, it’s a question many Americans who get sick are still asking as we ring in the year 2020. Getting health care in this country is still so circuitous it often does feel like a secret — a maze deciphered in private that’s never quite mastered. The reward for solving it? Perhaps your life; perhaps the loss of your life savings. And that’s if you’re lucky.

Even with the Affordable Care Act, almost 30 million are without health insurance in the U.S. And if you’ve perused plans on the ACA marketplace, you’ll know why. They’re pricey, and a new year brings fears that insurance premiums are once again rising. (Who knew the inflation rates on a pap smear were that high?!) Meanwhile, 14 Republican-led states are still refusing to expand Medicaid as stipulated in the ACA, even though the federal government would pay for 90 percent of the cost. Why? Something about “repeal and replace” or “socialism.” It’s hard to keep track.

Even with the Affordable Care Act, almost 30 million are without health insurance in the U.S. And if you’ve perused plans on the ACA marketplace, you’ll know why.

I traveled to three states, each with their own unique health care access challenges, for my new MSNBC special “Red, White, and Who?” Between Texas, New York and Utah there are major differences in how easy it is to see a doctor without going bankrupt. But every single person I spoke with — regardless of job, socioeconomic status or even political affiliation — had one identical anxiety: healthcare in one of the most advanced countries in the world is ridiculously, hopelessly complicated.

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“I’m retired, but I feel like a have a job,” Larry Chiuppi told me sitting outside at an RV park in Houston, blocks from one of the top cancer treatment hospitals in the country. Larry has been caring for his wife Nancy Raimondi, who has blood cancer, for over a year. During that time, he himself was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Even with her Medicare and his private health plan under the ACA, navigating the billing systems for the endless hospital visits, specialists and tests — each with their own separate charges — requires a huge amount of time and vigilance. He tells me they once got a $14,000 bill for a stem cell transplant because someone forgot to link Nancy’s Medicare. Larry imagined many people would’ve just tried to pay it. And most Americans don’t have a retiree’s free time and Larry’s persistence to help them through the bureaucracy, an added burden of getting well.

When the political gets personal

We also don’t all have a mother like Sandra Stein. She and her family live in New York, a state where the uninsured population is less than five percent, and 6.5 million are on Medicaid. I met Sandra on a street corner in upper Manhattan, where activists were flyering for the New York Health Act, a bill that would give every New Yorker state-funded care. Sandra believes in single-payer healthcare because she has experienced the mind-numbing labyrinth that is the private insurance system firsthand.

When her son was nearly three, he developed a rare neurological disease that left him unable to walk or speak. At the time, she and her husband had private insurance, which was “relatively good insurance,” according to Sandra. But that didn’t make things easier. When they first went to the hospital in an ambulance, the doctors there didn’t take their insurance even though the hospital did. Her son ultimately stayed in three different hospitals over the course of 15 months.

“When we got home it was my job to figure out the pile of bills and the collections threats,” she told me. It’s been eight years, but Sandra’s voice cracked like the memory happened yesterday. I couldn’t imagine how hard it must’ve been to be afraid for your child’s life while collections agents breathed down your neck. Sandra says the billing department sought her out even while her son was in the ICU, and that there were so many billing errors that she ultimately asked for an audit.

And yet, Sandra, Larry and Nancy are the lucky ones. They have health insurance, and they have the time and resources to be able to make their way through the bureaucratic hall of mirrors and toward a fighting chance at getting well.

It’s this cruel opacity of the private insurance system, on top of the rising monthly costs of just having a plan, that can be the difference between life and death. And it keeps a surprising number of Americans away from the system altogether. Like a rodeo cowboy I met in Texas, whose story you’ll just have to watch (I’m not spoiling it all!). It’s also led Americans like Sandra to believe that a massive simplification of our health care system is far overdue.

For many, that simplification comes in the form of cutting out the profit motive and moving toward government-funded insurance, like Medicare for All, which Big Pharma’s enemy number one Sen. Bernie Sanders and I hashed out over bagels in a New York City deli.

Medicare for All and private insurance for none

Ultimately what became clear through my travels is that healthcare in America is often overpriced and even dysfunctional, but it’s the lack of transparency that can be the most insidious. You pretty much have to be a health care policy expert, or have a loved one who can quit their job to become one, in order to ensure proper help.

It’s also strange that in a country that loves the free market as much as we do, we the consumer have no idea how much anything costs when we walk into a hospital. Why would we? Our health is priceless, so we are simply at the mercy of an ineffective system. That is, unless we fight for something different.

“Red, White, and Who” premieres on MSNBC on Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. E.T.

This content was originally published here.

Christian health cost sharing ministries offer no guarantees

Eight-year-old Blake Collie was at the swimming pool when he got a frightening headache. His parents rushed him to the emergency room only to learn he had a brain aneurysm. Blake spent nearly two months in the hospital.

His family did not have traditional health insurance. “We could not afford it,” said his father, Mark Collie, a freelance photographer in Washington, North Carolina.

Instead, they pay about $530 a month through a Christian health care sharing organization to pay members’ medical bills. But the group capped payments for members at $250,000, almost certainly far less than the final tally of Blake’s mounting medical bills.

“Just trust God,” the nonprofit group, Samaritan Ministries, in Peoria, Illinois, said in a statement about its coverage, and advises its members that “there is no coverage, no guarantee of payment.”

More than 1 million Americans, struggling to cope with the rising cost of health insurance, have joined such groups, attracted by prices that are far lower than the premiums for policies that must meet strict requirements, like guaranteed coverage for preexisting conditions, established by the Affordable Care Act. The groups say they permit people of a common religious or ethical belief to share medical costs, and many were grandfathered in under the federal health care law mainly through a religious exemption.

These Christian nonprofit groups offer far lower rates because they are not classified as insurance and are under no legal obligation to pay medical claims. They generally decline to cover people with preexisting illnesses. They can set limits on how much their members will pay, and they can legally refuse to cover treatments for specialties like mental health.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” said Dr. Carolyn McClanahan, a physician who is also a financial planner in Jacksonville, Florida. “You have to depend on the largess of the program.”

The main requirement for membership is adherence to a Christian lifestyle. And the alternative sharing plans keep flourishing, especially now that the Trump administration has relaxed rules to permit alternatives to the ACA that don’t provide such generous coverage.

But state regulators in New Hampshire, Colorado and Texas are beginning to question some of the ministries’ aggressive marketing tactics, often using call centers, and said in some cases people who joined them were misled or did not understand how little coverage they would receive if they or a family member had a catastrophic illness.

On Monday, Washington state fined one of the larger health-sharing ministries, Trinity Healthshare, $150,000 and banned it from offering its product to state residents because it was operating as an unauthorized insurer.

In December, Nevada insurance regulators warned consumers to beware of these plans. “They may seem enticing because they may be cheap, look and sound like they are in compliance with the Affordable Care Act (‘ACA’), when in reality these plans are not even insurance products,” the department said.

The Texas attorney general brought a lawsuit last summer against Aliera Healthcare, which marketed Trinity’s ministry program, to stop it from offering “unregulated insurance products to the public.” The Houston Chronicle featured one couple who was left with more than $100,000 in unpaid medical bills. Trinity said most members are satisfied with its services.

Aliera, which says it has stopped offering its plans in Texas, said it is working with regulators to resolve their concerns. The company says it has taken steps to make sure its customers are not confused about what they are buying.

Because the groups are not technically considered insurance, they operate with no government oversight. “Regulators haven’t been willing to assert any control or regulatory authority over these plans,” said Katie Keith, who serves as a consumer representative to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and teaches health law at Georgetown University. “They feel their hands are tied. At the end of the day, it’s not insurance.”

Families who have joined the groups recount winding up with medical bills not covered by the ministries, with no legal way to appeal decisions to reject coverage for care. Some groups ask their members to push hospitals and doctors to write off their bills rather than use members’ money to pay their expenses.

“These plans offer a false sense of security,” said Jenny Chumbley Hogue, who runs an insurance agency in north Dallas. She refuses to offer them to her clients.

Several states have taken action against one ministry they say has deceived people about what they are buying. “The nature of what we’re hearing from consumers around the state is absolutely heart breaking,” said Kate Harris, chief deputy insurance commissioner in Colorado, one of the states that is trying to prevent the ministry from operating there.

But health share ministries have become particularly attractive to people like the Collie family who don’t qualify for a federal subsidy and can’t afford an ACA plan. Even though premiums in the ACA market have stabilized, critics of the law insist people need alternatives. “That’s the real driver behind the growth,” said Dr. Dave Weldon, a former Republican congressman from Florida who is president of the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries, which represents the two largest groups.

When Dan Plato left his job to become self-employed as a consultant, he discovered that an ACA policy for 2018 would cost his family around $1,300 a month. “It was very expensive and beyond our needs,” he said. Membership in Liberty Healthshare, a ministry established by Mennonites in Canton, Ohio, was less than half the price, according to Plato, who blogged about his experience.

But some Liberty members reported trouble getting their medical bills covered. Plato says a small bill for flu shots went unpaid and ended up in collection. At the end of the year, he was left wondering if Liberty would be able to cover the family in the event of a serious medical emergency. “It’s not something we could trust in that situation,” said Plato, who switched to one of the plans offered by United Healthcare also exempt from the ACA rules for 2019.

Robyn Lytle, who works as an event planner in Chicago, joined Liberty for 2018, only to find that her daughter’s medical tests were never paid for. “It’s been a year and half, and I’ve been sent to collection,” said Lytle, who says Liberty had covered some of her family’s other expenses. She switched to an ACA plan for 2019.

Liberty Healthshare declined to comment.

Other people complain that the ministries can be vague about coverage. Greg Snider and his wife joined Medi-Share, the program offered by Christian Care Ministry. Based in West Melbourne, Florida. Medi-Share says it has more than 400,000 members across the country.

Snider said he had just dropped traditional coverage when his wife was diagnosed with a heart condition, but he says he was assured by Medi-Share that her care could still be covered. She underwent surgery last year to address an abnormal heart rhythm. “After the procedure, the bills start rolling in,” Snider said, including $177,000 for the surgery alone.

Snider says Medi-Share urged him to plead with the hospital after determining he would owe more than $100,000. He said he had assumed the $800 a month he paid into a pool would help cover the expenses. After he tweeted his frustrations, the ministry told him that he would owe only $1,500 for the surgery because the hospital had forgiven the rest, he said. He now owes thousands of dollars in related medical bills and is unsure of their status.

If Medi-Share decides not to pay, Snider knows he has little recourse: “It is completely and solely up to them.” He has since gotten a job where he is covered under his employer.

Medi-Share says that more than 80% of the $774 million it collected last year went to members’ medical bills. “We take great care to ensure prospective members understand what is considered a preexisting condition and what is eligible for sharing,” it said.

It does its part to reduce medical spending, it says, through negotiating with doctors and hospitals and claims it saved members more than $500 million last year. “We consider this process to be one way in which we contribute to the overall objective of reducing medical costs,” the ministry said in a statement.

Medi-Share says it has an extensive network of more than 700,000 providers. But even if a member goes to an in-network provider, the ministry may still decide not to pay the bill. “Fundamentally, we have found that there is often a lack of understanding of what is covered,” said Brendan Miller, an executive with MultiPlan, which arranges networks for Medi-Share as well as insurers.

That uncertainty has led some hospitals and doctors in the MultiPlan network to refuse to treat ministry patients rather than absorb unpaid costs.

Colorado is one of several states, including Washington, Texas and New Hampshire, that are trying to stop Trinity Healthshare, and its administrator, Aliera Healthcare, from operating in their states because they say the ministry is misleading its residents.

In a statement, Aliera said “it’s deeply disappointing to see state regulators working to deny their residents access to more affordable alternatives offered by health care sharing ministries.”

Trinity says its website makes clear that the ministry does not offer health insurance.

Regulators also worry about these plans siphoning off healthy individuals from the ACA marketplaces, leading to higher premiums for Obamacare policies.

“The ministries have been very concerned about bad actors invading this space,” said Weldon, the alliance president, who says his members are very clear that they are not insurance companies. “They all operate call centers, and they all bend over backward to inform people inquiring that it is not insurance,” he said.

In the case of Samaritan, which says it covers 271,000 people, the ministry pointed to its Save to Share program, where members can contribute extra to cover more of their bills.

With Blake’s bills likely to far exceed the cap — Collie has not yet tallied them yet — he created a GoFundMe account to help pay for his son’s care.

Collie says the ministry remains a viable alternative, noting it paid for numerous medical bills before his son’s hospitalization. “Every single person has prayed for me and my family,” he said. But he was enormously relieved when he found out recently his son qualified for Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program, and will cover the boy’s full medical care.

In some states, officials are starting to consider requiring the groups to register, to obtain more information for consumers.

Peter V. Lee, a former Obama administration official who now runs the California ACA marketplace, said ministries should be subject to some oversight, including disclosure of how much of the money collected is spent on care.

“There should not be a religious exemption for transparency — where the money goes and if it will be there if consumers need it,” he said.

California is also requiring brokers, who are paid hefty commissions by some of the ministries to enroll members, to make sure their clients understand they are not buying insurance.

Some ministries, like Samaritan, say they do not use brokers or agents. “We also have never, nor will we ever, use insurance agents or brokers to sell Samaritan because we don’t want people to confuse us with insurance,” it said.

This content was originally published here.