Monday, January 31, 2011

Meditation, Memory, & Stress

According to a study published yesterday in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, meditation might alter your brain for the better.

A group of participants who underwent mindfulness meditation had increased gray matter in the hippocampus, which is where your learning and memory takes place, when compared to a control group.   They also had reduced gray matter in the amygdala, or the area where stress and anxiety occur.

The meditation was called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and has origins in Buddhism, where one is supposed to focus on the here and now, being conscious of their breathing, body, and the here and now.  Basically, it involves getting to a place where you are not thinking of the past or the future (e.g. to-do list etc), but being completely focused on yourself in the present.  The lead author of the paper, Britta Holzel, discusses it in the NYTimes article on the topic.

This meditation has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve your attention span.  Although more research is needed to understand the mechanisms by which meditation impacts the brain (and larger studies, as this study only had 16 participants and 17 controls), it certainly is promising to improve one's health.

Have you ever tried it?  It certainly takes practice.  But it might be more practice I decide to do.  Will you?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dime a Drink, What do you Think?

The state of Maryland is proposing a new tax on all alcoholic beverages.

There are a few reasons for this.  One is to reduce the amount of alcohol consumption.  Research has shown that as the price of alcohol rises, consumption decreases.  Supporters of the tax argue the tax could potentially reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths by 33 each year and reduce those with alcohol-related dependency by 13,000, according to a study done at Johns Hopkins..  This would save the state of Maryland $225 million in health care costs during its first year.

The second reason for the proposed tax is to fund the Medicaid expansion and mental health services for those with developmental disabilities or those needing drug abuse treatment.  The bill is expected to raise about $215 million per year for the state of Maryland.

The tax would be a 10 cent tax per alcoholic beverage, which translates to an extra $2.40 per case of beer.  The last time taxes were raised on alcohol in Maryland was in 1972.  The same bill was introduced in the last session of the Maryland assembly, but failed.  A 5-cent tax was proposed the year before that, also failing.  There are so far 54/141 state delegates who have signed on to the current bill.

Will it pass?  If so, will the funds be administered as they are proposed?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year! New Health Law Changes In Effect.

With the start of 2011, a number of health law provisions are now in place. These include

1) Shrinking the "doughnut hole," meaning that seniors who fall into the doughnut hole (those who have spent between $2,840-$6,448 on medications, including what insurers pay) will now get a 50% discount on brand-name medications.  This compares to a $250 rebate they received in 2010.
2) Health insurers can use incentives (such as reduced premiums) for employees who join wellness programs or meet certain health targets. The discounts can be up to 30% of employee-related health insurance costs.  More info here.
3) Health insurance companies must now spend 80% (for small-group plans) on improving patient care, as opposed to spending on general profits/salaries, and admin costs.  If they fail to do so, they must give rebates to customers (starting in 2012).  This percent is 85% for large group plans.
4) Primary care physicians and general surgeons receive 10% more in reimbursements from Medicare.
5) Medicare will pay 100% of preventive care, meaning seniors on Medicare receive free health screenings (e.g. colorectal cancer, mammograms, etc) and other services (e.g. smoking cessation programs).
6) Medicare beneficiaries with annual incomes $85,000+ (for individual) or $170,000+ (for couples) will get smaller subsidies from Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage)...and the start of higher premiums.
7) Holders of flexible-spending accounts will no longer be able to pay for most over-the-counter supplies with their accounts and will now require a prescription.
8) Community-Based Care Transition Program is underway, which is a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Demonstration project designed to put evidence-based care transition services into place for Medicare beneficiaries to reduce the risk of hospital readmissions and improve the quality of care for seniors.  Hospitals and community-based organizations apply to the Department of Health and Human Services to implement this program, based on other successful care transition models, which have eased the transition from hospital to home and reduced hospital re-admission rates.  More information found here.  .
9) Certified Nurse Midwives will now receive the same rate as physicians by Medicare.  They were previously only paid 65% of the physician rate.

Mandatory health insurance doesn't come into play until 2014.

For more information, check out: Kaiser Health News