Know the questions. Questions, answers and health tips for the Hispanic community

Imagine buying a new product. You look for the clerk at the store and ask all kinds of questions. However, when seeing the doctor, you don’t ask questions because you’re not sure what to ask, or you’re too embarrassed to ask. Sounds familiar? Let’s face it, many in our Hispanic community prefer to ask a coworker, friend or even a family member about health concerns or treatment advice rather than going to the doctor.

A Spanish Web site by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) can help the Hispanic community ask the right questions and improve communication with their doctors. Conozca las preguntas (Know the questions. Questions, answers and health tips for the Hispanic community) offers tips and sample questions to help prepare patients for their medical appointments. Patients can get biweekly tips on how to talk to their doctor. There’s also a Web site available for smart phones.

When you ask questions and talk openly with your doctor, you can improve not only your health, but your quality of care.

Energized by the SHIP Conference!

By Gretchen Lopez, Ohio SHIP Director

Imagine gracious Texas hospitality, great technical information, a new training tool called a “wafer” (no, it’s not a snack – it’s the new USB flash drive that looks like a credit card and holds 2 GB’s worth of training materials), informative updates on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) national initiatives, personal access to national partners and lively peer sharing.

Then add sizzling temperatures, mouth-watering barbeque and grazing longhorns near the outer belt, and you’ve visualized the 17th Annual State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) Directors’ Conference.

I had the pleasure of exploring the diversity of SHIP programs via breakout sessions. Over lunch, we talked about the important work we do, the growing demands for detailed reporting, and our aging population.

I came home energized and ready to implement some of the ideas that were shared, such as working with city mayors, using the Open Enrollment toolkit over the next several months to ramp up our volunteer involvement, and providing performance “dashboards” to our County Coordinators.

Thanks Patsy for being the perfect Dallas hostess, and CMS for providing a great conference!

Note: If you missed it, check out the presentation materials available online.

Helping Parents Quit Smoking

By Donald Berwick, M.D., Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Cross post from

As a pediatrician, I’ve seen too many children whose health problems could have been avoided if they hadn’t been exposed to cigarette smoke. And when parents smoke, it’s especially dangerous to their children.

Exposed to smoke, children are at greater risk of serious lower respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. They are more prone to ear infections. If they have asthma, they have more frequent and severe attacks.

In pregnant women, smoking can cause serious complications. Babies born to mothers who smoke are more likely to be lower birth weight, have lung problems, and other health problems. They’re more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome.

But it’s not easy for a person with a tobacco addiction to quit. That’s why it’s so important to reach pregnant smokers, with services like face-to-face counseling, telephone quit-lines staffed by specially-trained coaches, and—in very limited cases—medication, if a woman and her doctor determine that it’s necessary.

It’s why the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) sent a letter to all state Medicaid directors today, reminding them that state Medicaid programs now must fully cover tobacco cessation services for pregnant women, as a result of the Affordable Care Act. In addition, CMS is making it easier for states to fund tobacco use treatment for all Medicaid beneficiaries by making funding available for quit-lines.

And smoking adults model unhealthy behavior for children. Every day, an estimated 4,000 children try their first cigarette; 1,000 of those kids become daily smokers. Helping the adults in their lives to quit is a powerful message to them not to start.

The State Medicaid Director letter was issued in conjunction with National Prevention and Wellness Month, to bring attention to the power of prevention to improve health and quality of life for millions of Americans. It’s just one way we’re making access to preventive services easier.

The Affordable Care Act also eliminated the Medicare Part B deductible and copayments for a host of preventive tests and screenings for seniors. We’re working on closing the Medicare Part D donut hole, since we know that making prescription drugs more affordable increases the chance they’ll be taken as needed to stay well.
If we’re successful at preventing disease and promoting health we might also bring down the high cost of health care. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the reduction in preventable health problems resulting from an investment in tobacco cessation services would create savings for states and the federal government. According to the American Legacy Foundation, we could save $9.7 billion over five years if every Medicaid beneficiary stopped smoking.

If you add in the intangible costs of pain and suffering, the costs of chronic illness are simply unacceptable. Everyone in the community—including parents and children—benefits when essential services that people need to stay healthy are within their reach.

Better health care for individuals living with HIV

By Don Berwick, M.D., Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

In 1981, when AIDS first emerged in the US, the disease was equivalent to a death sentence. At present, this epidemic has claimed the lives of 600,000 Americans and has deeply hurt many more, including family members and friends of those it has struck. Now, thirty years later, through major advances in science and medicine, people with HIV who receive medication and proper care live longer, healthier lives — just as they could with any other chronic illness, such as diabetes or hypertension.

Changing that prognosis has been an ongoing battle, and one where each day individuals living with HIV, health care professionals, advocates, scientists and many others wake up to fight the disease with every weapon we have: research, treatment, quality medical care and education. Although we have made tremendous progress and slowed the transmission of the disease through using these advancements, more than 56,000 people continue to become infected with HIV in the U.S. each year.

And despite the powerful arsenal at our disposal, some of our best defenses remain out of reach for a significant proportion of the more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV. An estimated 30 percent of this group does not have health coverage of any kind. As a result, they have no way to cover the cost of medications and treatment that we know are life-preserving.

Today, we are taking an important step to remove this barrier. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in collaboration with the White House, HRSA, and the CDC, is releasing new guidance that encourages States to take advantage of six important Medicaid options that will help improve care for individuals living with HIV. These options can make it easier for States to prevent or delay the institutionalization of people with HIV and can help people living in nursing homes or other institutions transition back home when they are able. States can expand Medicaid access to individuals with HIV, enabling them to become eligible for services without having to be considered permanently disabled due to an AIDS diagnosis. States can provide more effective, earlier treatment of HIV by making available a limited or comprehensive package of services, which may include anti-retroviral therapies or case management to ensure adherence to treatment. Early treatment and case management services are not only cost-effective but promote better health outcomes for people with HIV, helping them lead longer and healthier lives. I am hopeful of the positive quality of life effects that these options will make for the countless Medicaid beneficiaries living with and fighting through HIV/AIDS everyday.

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