People were talking about: The year in health news

Published on Saturday, 28 December 2013 17:48 - Written by From Staff Reports


Tyler gets a new FQHC as Total Health Care closes. Tyler Family Circle of Care, a clinic formerly associated with Trinity Mother Frances and Clinics, received funding that would make it the area’s federally qualified health center.

An FQHC enables the under- and uninsured to receive affordable medical services. This came after Total Health Care, which had been Tyler’s FQHC since 2007, closed its doors due to financial, administrative and legal issues.

Major national cancer prevention project recruits in East Texas. Medical personnel ventured to East Texas to enroll participants for the Cancer Prevention Study-3, the third major project of the American Cancer Society. The study aims to unlock more clues about the causes of cancers as officials enrolled 300,000 people nationwide. Participants ages 30 to 65 will receive an annual newsletter with the latest study findings and periodic follow-up surveys to complete every two to three years for more than 20 years.

ETMC’s EMS makes cuts in rural towns. East Texas Medical Center’s EMS announced that it would cut its ambulance services in Gladewater, Frankston, Van, Alto and Wells. Those towns have a combined population of more than 12,000. ETMC EMS said the decision was because of a drop in reimbursement from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance.

The health system also reduced its spending by 5 percent to 7 percent in 2013.

UT Health Northeast is rebranded, gets OK for new clinic. Officials began using the name in March after The University of Texas System Board of Regents approved the name change in mid-November. The center still is officially named The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, but officials will use the shorter name for business purposes and improved recognition. Regents also approved the opening of a new clinic, to be located on West Gentry Parkway.

Lighten Up East Texas gives away its first car. A Nacogdoches woman won the grand prize — a 2013 Dodge Dart — in the Lighten Up East Texas weight loss challenge, an initiative of the Fit City Challenge. The Fit City Challenge was established in 2010 to address the impact of obesity in East Texas. Lighten Up East Texas was created in 2012, with the goal of promoting healthy weight loss. Overall, 578 participants lost more than 4,300 pounds. The contest returns in 2014, and again, participants are challenged to lose at least 5 percent of their body weight to be entered in a drawing to win a new car or other prizes.



No Medicaid expansion for Texas. In a battle over the new health care law, Gov. Rick Perry pledged not to expand Medicaid or set up health care exchanges. Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country and the expansion of Medicaid would have impacted 1.5 million uninsured Texans.

All eyes are on Texas’ women’s health and abortion debates. Texas legislators battled over abortion restrictions, which landed them at the Supreme Court. The lawmaker’s restrictions — which include a ban on abortion at 20 weeks, and that abortions be conducted at surgical centers — are among the toughest in the nation. The issue gained notoriety when democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis launched a nearly 13-hour filibuster against Republicans in June. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that most of the state’s new abortion restrictions could take effect. The decision would mean that at least 12 abortion clinics would close.



ACA rollout fraught with challenges. With most Americans mandated to have health insurance in 2014, the federal government opened up its health insurance exchange, of the Marketplace on Oct.1, only to have several problems with access to the website. Criticisms about the inefficiency was met with initial low enrollment rates, but later improved.

About 14,000 Texans enrolled for health insurance in October and November. According to The Associated Press, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that “Texas trailed only Florida and its nearly 18,000 signups over the same two-month period for the highest number of enrollees among the 36 states relying on federally run health insurance marketplaces.” The Marketplace is for those seeking insurance not available (or affordable) through their employer, with tax breaks offered to those meeting certain income requirements. The deadline to have insurance by Jan. 1 was Dec. 23. Open enrollment occurs through the end of March 2014.

Obesity classified as a disease. At the American Medical Association’s annual meeting, doctors agreed to classify obesity as a disease. In previous meetings, the concept had been tabled and doctors concluded that more research needed to be done before adopting a formal stance.

Doctors said recognizing obesity as a disease would help change the way the medical community tackles the issue that affects about 1 in 3 Americans.

Dementia cases on the rise. About 3.8 million people older than 71 have some form of dementia and that figure is expected to rise to 9 million by 2040, according to a study released by the RAND Corp. and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April. The report also highlighted the cost of dementia. The annual cost attributed to dementia per person was either $41,000 or $56,000, depending on the method used to value informal care. The total cost in 2010 was between $159 billion and $215 billion.

FDA tackles several policy changes. The Food and Drug Administration has addressed or implemented major new policies in 2013. This month, it announced it will phase out the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock. Health experts have long said the overuse of antibiotics in healthy animals’ food and water was a contributor to the decreasing effectiveness of antibiotics in humans, leading to antibiotic-resistant infections.

The FDA is also pushing to eliminate partially hydrogenated oils, or trans fat, from the food supply. FDA officials said there is no safe level of consumption for trans fat. The fat has been shown to have several adverse health effects, including rising bad cholesterol. The FDA required manufacturers to include the ingredient on food labels in 2006.

The organization has recommended that it tighten restrictions on painkillers that contain hydrocodone, a potentially addictive opioid. Currently, products such as Vicodin that have less than 15 mg of hydrocodone are considered a Schedule III controlled substance. Reclassifying the drug would make it a Schedule II controlled substance, making it harder to get. Oxycodone and morphine are both Schedule II drugs. Most recently, the FDA announced that they’d require soap manufacturers to show that chemicals in antibacterial soaps are safe or they’d have to take them out.

Pregnancy terms get redefined. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine are redefining when a pregnancy is full term. A full-term pregnancy is considered to be between 39 and 40 weeks of gestation. An early term is 37 to 38 weeks. A baby born during the 41st week is considered a late-term pregnancy, while babies born at 42 weeks or greater of gestation is considered post-term. Previously, a full term was considered to be between 37 and 42 weeks gestation.

Acetaminophen gets scrutinized. Acetaminophen is not so safe. In ongoing investigative reports, nonprofit news organization ProPublica found that acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, has led to the deaths of 1,500 Americans in the past decade. It’s not that people are abusing the drug. ProPublica reports show that there is a narrow margin between what is safe and what is dangerous. Too much acetaminophen can cause severe liver damage. Their reports showed, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, that 150 die accidentally each year because of the drug. They also note that the Food and Drug Administration has yet to complete a review that looks at setting safety rules for acetaminophen. It began in the 1970s. View the report at