Heart on the Hill - October 2015

Heart on the Hill

Volunteer-Advocates Participate in Third Annual Rally for Medical Research Hill Day

 

Meliah Bowers Jefferson speaking at the Rally reception.

Meliah Bowers Jefferson speaking at the Rally reception

Nearly 40 You’re the Cure heart disease and stroke volunteer-advocates joined more than 300 individuals from 125 organizations for the third annual Rally for Medical Research Hill Day in Washington, D.C. September 16-17.

 

During the event, participants asked their members of Congress to provide robust, sustained and predictable funding increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Volunteer-advocate Juddson Rupp —who received a heart transplant less than four months ago—recounted his story of survival to a crowd of more than 100 volunteers at the Hill Day training session on September 16. That same day, Go Red for Women volunteer spokesperson and heart attack survivor Meliah Bowers Jefferson shared her experience at a Rally reception on Capitol Hill. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Amy Kloubchar (D-Minn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) along with NIH Director Francis Collins also spoke at the reception and stressed the importance of adequate funding for NIH.

The next day, volunteer-advocates met with congressional leaders from 20 states to tell their stories and urged their members to support the NIH. In addition, thousands of You’re the Cure advocates from across the country participated from afar by sending their own messages to their respective elected officials.

Contact: Claudia Louis


Research Advocate Speaks at Raise the Caps News Conference

 

Dr. Ghosh speaking at the Raise the Caps news conference.

Dr. Ghosh speaking at the Raise the Caps news conference.

On September 10, American Heart Association volunteer-advocate Shobha Ghosh, Ph.D., joined Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on Capitol Hill for a Raise the Caps news conference.

 

Ghosh, an associate chair for research at Virginia Commonwealth Medical Center, spoke about the negative consequences of sequestration on medical research. Specifically, Ghosh recounted how past NIH budget cuts have harmed her medical research initiatives and urged Congress to avoid drastic cuts for nondefense discretionary programs, including NIH.

During the conference, Ghosh and other speakers presented a letter signed by 2,500 national, state and local organizations which called on Congress to raise the spending caps and end sequestration through a bipartisan budget deal.

Contact: Claudia Louis


New You’re the Cure Video on NIH Funding

In an effort to explain the benefits of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), You’re the Cure has created a 90-second animated video highlighting the benefits of heart and stroke research. The goal of the new video is to break down why the NIH is crucial to the association’s mission. Staff are encouraged to share it with their networks.

Contact: Mark Fisher


Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act Expires, but School Meals Programs Still Operating

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act expired on September 30; however, most of the law’s programs—particularly the school meals programs—will continue on autopilot because they are considered mandatory programs.

Currently, there is no clear path forward, but many members of Congress remain committed to putting forth a strong, bipartisan bill despite a small, but vocal, opposition. The association will continue its efforts to protect the nutrition standards in these programs and support their continued successful implementation.

More than 96 percent of schools are now meeting the updated nutrition standards for lunch. This statistic means that nearly every single participating school is now providing healthy school meals for children, which is an astounding accomplishment given that just five short years ago only 15 percent of schools were meeting the national nutrition standards. In addition, the 2010 law also strengthened nutrition standards for breakfast and all other foods sold in schools.

Part of these successes can be attributed to the assistance schools receive to properly execute the programs. The association recently participated in its seventh Team Up for School Nutrition Success, a technical assistance program that helps school food service professionals receive in-person training. As an allied organization, the association provides resources and scientific evidence and serves as a conduit to the medical community for hundreds of school food service professionals who are on the frontlines of changing the culture of health and nutrition in schools.

The association’s strong advocacy and outreach campaigns have also played a role in supporting these programs, ensuring the hard work and success do not go unnoticed. In addition to the ongoing efforts with the Step Up to the Plate campaign, on September 3, the association led a #Back2Healthy social media day of action with groups and organizations that stressed the importance of child nutrition reauthorization (CNR). Our efforts highlighted the need to protect strong nutrition standards and ensure that schools continue to serve healthy meals at breakfast, lunch and throughout the day. In addition to other CNR-related postings during the day of action, a Twitter chat co-hosted with the Pew Charitable Trusts helped us reach more than three million Twitter accounts and generate more than 17 million impressions. During the chat, the #Back2Healthy hashtag reached the top spot on Twitter’s “trending” list.

Contact: Kristy Anderson


Cardiologist Nominated for Top Post at FDA

 

Robert Califf

Robert Califf

Last month, President Obama nominated Robert M. Califf, M.D., a globally recognized leader in cardiovascular medicine, to serve as the next commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dr. Califf currently serves as the agency’s deputy commissioner of medical products and tobacco and has a long and distinguished career in medicine and clinical research.

 

As the founding director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute, Califf led groundbreaking clinical and translational research initiatives that helped to advance scientific efforts and improve medical care. As a member of the American Heart Association, Califf assisted with the design of a community program in the state of North Carolina that helps residents maintain a healthy blood pressure through regular monitoring and guidance from health care professionals.

Through formative experiences like these, Califf has garnered a unique patient-centric perspective and gained valuable experience in medical product development that make him well-suited to work with all stakeholders to protect and improve public health.

In a statement , CEO Nancy Brown praised Califf’s nomination, commenting, “Dr. Califf’s extraordinary vision will help drive the development and delivery of innovative medical products and maintain the agency’s critical efforts to combat the significant public health threats posed by tobacco and unsafe food.”

The association has urged his swift confirmation by the U.S. Senate and looks forward to continuing to work with the FDA under his leadership.

Contact: Kevin Kaiser


Legislation Introduced in Congress to Raise Tobacco Age

At the end of September, Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Mark Takai (D-Hawaii) introduced legislation that would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21 nationwide.

The association supports the Tobacco to 21 Act and joined our tobacco partner organizations in praising the legislation. While we wait for Congress to move forward with the Tobacco to 21 Act, we will continue to work with states on this issue. Hawaii became the first state to raise the age of sale to 21 earlier this year, and legislation is currently under consideration in California, Washington and in several cities, including Cleveland, Ohio and Kansas City, Mo.

Earlier this year, the Institute of Medicine released a report that found raising the age of sale for tobacco products to 21 would prevent 223,000 premature deaths among individuals born between 2000 and 2019, and could provide countless other critical health benefits. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a national survey in July that found more than three quarters of adults, including seven out of 10 smokers, supported raising the age of sale for tobacco products to 21.

Contact: Hannah Green


AHA Participates in Congressional Black Caucus Conference, Kelly Report

The association once again participated in the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference held in Washington, D.C. September 17-19. During the conference, a new report on healthcare disparities was released.

The 2015 Kelly Report on Health Disparities in America, issued by the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, examines the root causes and impact of health inequities in the United States and provides a comprehensive set of legislative and policy recommendations to address them.

“Your ethnicity, zip code or bank balance should never determine your health,” said CBC Health Braintrust Chair Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), M.D. “Though there are a number of challenges in addressing health disparities, there are also many opportunities to advance and achieve health equity. We all have a role to play in creating a healthier America.”

AHA President Emeritus Elliot Antman, M.D., contributed a chapter in the report on Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke in African-Americans. The chapter noted that nearly half of all African-American adults have some form of CVD. Antman highlighted specific efforts the association has implemented to educate more at-risk populations, such as the Power to End Stroke campaign and the Empowered to Serve initiative.

In addition, Cardiologist Boisey Barnes, speaking on behalf of us and the Association of Black Cardiologists, gave a brief overview of CVD disparities during a panel discussion sponsored by the CBC Health Braintrust in conjunction with the release of the report.

The association also had a booth in the conference’s Exhibit Hall, where conference attendees had the opportunity to learn hands-only CPR, sign up to be Empowered to Serve ambassadors and join the You’re the Cure network.

Contact: Stephanie Mohl


Health Insurance Marketplaces Gear Up Again

With the third annual open enrollment period for the Health Insurance Marketplaces set to begin November 1, new evidence indicates that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made health insurance more accessible to millions of people, and significantly reduced the number of uninsured Americans.

The American Heart Association continues its efforts to help educate uninsured Americans about potential coverage options and the preventive services benefits available under most health plans. In addition, the association is working to make sure that the law continues to meet the needs of patients with heart disease and stroke.

Open enrollment begins November 1 this year and runs through January 31, 2016. We are in the process of updating the materials in our “Covering All Americans Toolkit” to help staff and volunteers educate the public about the Marketplaces and the coverage options available to the uninsured.

The good news is that data recently released by the Census Bureau and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirm that millions of Americans have gained health insurance coverage since 2013, the first year of implementation of the ACA’s coverage expansion:

  • According to Census Bureau data released September 16, the percentage of people without health insurance coverage for all of 2014 was 10.4 percent, down from 13.3 percent in 2013. The number of people without health insurance fell to 33 million in 2014, down from 41.8 million in 2013.
  • HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced on September 22 that 17.6 million uninsured Americans have gained coverage over the last two years. More specifically, the HHS data show that:
    • From the beginning of open enrollment in October 2013 to September 12, 2015, 15.3 million adults gained health insurance coverage, and the uninsured rate declined from 20.3 percent to 12.6 percent — a 38 percent (or 7.7 percentage point) reduction in the uninsured rate.
    • 2.3 million young adults ages 19 to 25 gained health insurance coverage because of an ACA provision allowing young adults to remain on a parent’s plan until age 26.
    • The racial/ethnic groups that saw the greatest drop in uninsured individuals were:
      • a) African-Americans, whose uninsured rate dropped from 22.4 percent to 12.1 percent; 2.6 million adults gained coverage
      • b) Hispanics, whose uninsured rate fell from 41.8 percent to 30.3 percent; 4 million adults acquired coverage.
    • The uninsured rate also declined for men and women:
      • a) Males dropped to 14.5 percent with 7.3 million adult men gaining coverage.
      • b) Females decreased to 10.8 percent with nearly 8.2 million adult women securing coverage.

Despite the gains that have been made in insurance coverage, HHS estimates that there are still about 10.5 million Americans who lack health insurance who are eligible for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplaces.

Finally, a study published in July by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted ACA’s potential impact on CVD. The data revealed that because of coverage gains under the act, increased use of high blood pressure medication will lead to 111,000 fewer cases of coronary heart disease, 63,000 fewer strokes and 95,000 fewer CVD-related deaths by 2050.

Contact: Stephanie Mohl


AHA Comments on Nutrition Standards for Foods Served in Federal Buildings

At the end of September, the association submitted comments on the Health and Sustainability Guidelines for Federal Concessions and Vending Operations.

The guidelines establish nutrition standards for foods and beverages that are served in cafeterias and vending machines located in federal government buildings. The General Services Administration (GSA), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working together to update the guidelines, which were originally released in 2011.

The association’s letter encouraged the GSA, HHS and CDC to strengthen the standards for sugars, sodium and saturated fat, as well as establish maximum calorie limits and prohibit deep-fried foods. The letter also recommended a number of incentives and strategies that could be used to encourage customers to select more healthful foods and beverages, such as highlighting healthier options on menus, placing healthier items at eye level or in a prominent location and lowering the price of healthy selections.

Contact: Susan K. Bishop


FDA Considers Child-Resistant Packaging for E-Cigarettes, Novel Tobacco Products

In response to a recent increase in calls and visits to poison control centers and emergency rooms for accidental exposure to liquid nicotine, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it is considering requiring some tobacco products to be sold in child-resistant packaging.

The requirement would likely apply to liquid nicotine, which is primarily used in electronic cigarettes, and novel tobacco products such as dissolvables, lotions, gels and drinks. The FDA is also considering requiring these products to include a warning statement about the dangers of nicotine exposure.

In a letter to the FDA, the American Heart Association offered strong support for both child-resistant packaging and a nicotine exposure warning and urged the agency to implement these requirements as soon as possible. We also encouraged the FDA to consider the impact that fruit and candy flavors, fragrances and colorful packaging can have on children, and how this may increase the likelihood that children will be attracted to and accidentally exposed to these products. In addition to issuing commentary, AHA also joined 43 other organizations in sending joint comments to the FDA offering the public health community’s support.

The FDA is currently in the process of considering the comments it received, and should offer a more detailed, official proposal in the near future.

Contact: Susan K. Bishop


Co-pays Lowered for Cardiac Rehab

With the benefit of insights and assistance of AHA/ASA volunteers, the association recently brought high co-pays for cardiac rehabilitation to the attention of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). As a result, the average co-pay for these charges by Medicare managed care plans were reduced by more than 24 percent.

Dr. Gary Balady – a volunteer member serving on the Advocacy Coordinating Committee – and a Professor of Medicine and Director of Preventive Cardiology at Boston Medical Center alerted the association’s federal advocacy staff to the issue that only a fraction of Medicare beneficiaries take advantage of cardiac rehabilitation (CR) services which significantly reduce mortality and morbidity from CVD and help lower hospital admission/readmission rates.

One important reason is cost to the beneficiary — particularly for those enrolled in some Advantage (MA) Plans. Medicare co-pays for this service average $21 a session, but MA co-pays can be double that amount, with some exceeding $100 a session. These higher rates discourage completion of the recommended 36-session course, particularly for low-income seniors.

As a result, association staff met with CMS — along with representatives from the Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. At the meeting, they presented several examples of high co-pays. CMS agreed to perform a comprehensive review and analysis and to take steps to address the issue — mainly by informing plans that high copays for CR could reduce access to a critical benefit that improves patient outcomes, reduces costs and lowers hospital readmissions.

When CMS performed its first analysis in 2015, it found that on an enrollment weighted average basis, the charge for CR (and pulmonary rehabilitation) was $33. Some plans charged nothing — some charged $10 — some charged considerably more.

We were pleased to find out that when the bids for 2016 came in recently, the same weighted average declined from $33 dollars to $25 dollars — or by about 24 percent.

CMS will continue to talk with plans that charge high co-pays and asked for our help in identifying them.

Contact: Sue Nelson


STATE ROUNDUP

Two More Wins for Newborn Pulse Ox Screening

Maine and the District of Columbia have become the latest governments to require pulse oximetry testing for newborns.

On August 17 the Maine Secretary of State published the final rules that require pulse oximetry testing for all newborns. The association has worked for more than two years to help develop rules for implementing LD 460, “An Act To Protect Newborn Infants by Requiring Birthing Facilities To Screen for Congenital Heart Disease Using Pulse Oximetry,” which became law in July 2013.

Exactly one month later, “The Healthy Hearts of Babies Act” was enacted into law in the District of Columbia requiring all newborns in Washington, D.C. to receive critical congenital heart disease screening using pulse oximetry prior to discharge from the hospital. The American Heart Association and volunteer-advocates led the campaign, in close partnership with Children’s National Medical Center, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Cardiology, March of Dimes, Mended Little Hearts and others.

Contact: Lucy Culp


Alaska Expands Access to Medicaid

Efforts by association staff and volunteers to expand Alaska’s Medicaid program and close the coverage gap were successful late this summer. When they could not make headway through the legislative process, staff and advocates turned to a new strategy and supported Gov. Bill Walker’s (I) executive action.

The opposition then took the case to the Alaska Supreme Court. But on August 31, the court refused to step in and allowed the law to take effect on September 1.

As a result, an estimated 40,000 people will now have access to healthcare coverage and approximately 2,000 people will likely receive better hypertension treatment in the very near future. In addition to its positive impact on public health, Medicaid expansion will save the state about $6.1 million in medical costs in 2016.

Contact: Lucy Culp


Tulsa Takes New Strides to Improve Health

Tulsa, Oklahoma recently adopted an Executive Order and Policy Memorandum that outlined the development and implementation of evidence-based nutrition standards for healthier foods and beverages in vending machines provided in city-owned or leased buildings and property.

The order ensures that vending machines located on city properties visited by the public will meet recommended nutrition standards and provide patrons with healthier options, and include labeling that lists calories and nutritional value. In addition, Tulsa’s 3,500 city employees will benefit from healthier choices in vending machines where they work, including City Hall, police and fire departments. With a population of more than 395,000, including approximately 100,000 children, this is a critical step in building a culture of health for all Tulsans.

Contact: Katie Bishop


Three More States Pass CPR in Schools Legislation

Thanks to the ongoing efforts of American Heart Association staff, volunteers and partners across the country, a total of 27 states have now passed laws or adopted curriculum changes to require hands-on CPR training for high school graduation.

With the most recent passage of CPR in Schools legislation in North Dakota, New York and Illinois, more than 1.5 million students (over half of the nation’s high school graduates) will enter our communities as trained lifesavers each and every year!

Contact: Douglas Dunsavage


Massachusetts Secures Funding for Statewide Stroke Registry

Massachusetts secured $200,000 in new appropriations for the development and enhancement of a statewide stroke registry which will complement the recent Paul Coverdell Award given for the improvement of the overall state stroke systems of care. An additional $300,000 in appropriations was also secured and will be allocated for stroke education and awareness for patients in the state.

Contact: Douglas Dunsavage


Washington State Secures Dollars for Obesity Prevention, Biking and Walking

American Heart Association staff, volunteers and partners helped secure public funding in Washington State for both obesity prevention and biking and walking. Through the passage of a capital budget, Washington secured $5 million for “Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools.” The program will fund grant applications from schools who want to improve their food and beverage or physical activity environments.

A particular line item on water bottle filling stations emphasizes the importance of availability and accessibility of tap water in schools. The association and partners advocated for these dollars starting in 2014, and the funding will allow students to enjoy a healthier school environment, thus contributing to overall health and wellness and obesity prevention.

In addition, on July 15, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed a State Transportation Revenue package into law which included more than $164 million for bicycle and pedestrian safety projects and $56 million for Safe Routes to School over the next 16 years. This multi-year effort moved the state to make critical investments in active transportation.

Contacts: Jill Ceitlin and Tim Vaske



Media Advocacy Contacts

Retha Sherrod
Director, Media Advocacy
Retha.Sherrod@heart.org
(202) 785-7929

Abbey R. Dively
Associate Communications Manager, Media Advocacy
Abbey.Dively@heart.org
(202) 785-7905

Samantha Carter
Associate Communications Manager, Media Advocacy
Clare.Rizer@heart.org
(202) 785-7935

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