Healths biggest headlines; A look Back at 2012
Health, health policy, science and medicine dominated headlines in 2012, including viral outbreaks and the ongoing political battle over health care law.
Among the health topics pout front were mental health services. Toward the end of the year, after multiple mass shootings, legislators, mental health advocates and families affected by violence increased vocalizing on the need for more awareness and funding for mental health services.
Valerie Holcomb, director of forensic services at the Andrews Center, said lack of funding is the primary obstacle that hinders people from getting help.
Mental health funding in Texas is ranked 51st, behind all states and Washington, D.C.
During the past 10 years, the state has reduced funding by nearly 20 percent and state officials expect more funding cuts in months to come.
"According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Texas' mental health funding is $34.57 per capita," Ms. Holcomb said. "The national average is $103. What that means is that statewide, we have waiting lists for public mental health services; waiting lists to get into a state hospital if you're in a crisis. A person who goes into crisis, if they don't have a hospital bed and they can't get in for crisis services then they usually end up in our prison system, whether it's the local jail or the state prison system."
She said mental health treatment costs about $12 per day, while the cost to house a mentally ill person in jail is $137 per day. In addition, it costs $400 per day to care for a patient in a state hospital.
Ms. Holcomb said having a dialogue about mental health is important before anything bad happens.
"Unfortunately the stigma, with all of the different shootings, is getting worse," she said. "We've already seen that locally with the headlines. If the funding was there, those individuals probably could have gotten some help."
The stigmatization of mental illness also prevents many from getting help.
"On a daily basis, I have people come in and say, 'Well, if I get services here, does that mean I'm crazy?'" she said.
Mental health services include medication, counseling, psychosocial rehabilitation services, supportive employment, supportive housing and substance abuse counseling.
Ms. Holcomb also pointed to a lack of providers in the state.
"We need to support those laws that will provide scholarships and incentives for providers and physiatrists to go to school," she said.
She said people should contact legislators to express the importance of prioritizing mental health.
"They need to know that we've got a lot of new legislators who probably need education on the importance of mental health services," she said. "The poster child for mental health services is not rosy cheek kids, so it's not pretty to look at."
PUBLIC HEALTH AND FITNESS
Health and fitness was the talk in Tyler throughout 2012, with two major initiatives of the Fit City Challenge being introduced to the public. They are Lighten Up East Texas, a six-month, regional weight loss challenge and 5-2-1-0, a health program designed for school-age children.
"The community has created a buzz for people to start taking action," said George Roberts, chief executive officer at Northeast Texas Public Health District and a leader in the Fit City Challenge campaign. "We've grabbed the people's attention."
So far, about 2,300 signed up to participate in the weight-loss challenge, with 942 weighing in at the kickoff event in November. The 5-2-1-0 curriculum has been implemented in Tyler and Whitehouse ISD elementary schools. It advocates getting five servings of fruits and vegetables, two hours or less of screen time, one hour of physical activity and zero sugary beverages daily.
The health district was recognized for its efforts by the National Association of County and City Health Officials during its annual conference for developing and implementing the Fit City Challenge. The city of Tyler also has been recognized for its health initiatives.
"Reflecting back on the year, one of the first positive things that happened is that the City of Tyler was named a gold level heart and stroke healthy city," Roberts said. "Of of the 11 cities surveyed, we received the highest score."
The program measured the efforts to make a city healthier. Part of that included the Fit City Challenge campaign and initiatives that spun off from that, Roberts said.
In 2012, the health district received a community transformation grant from the state to develop programs in Smith, Van Zandt and Wood counties.
"It's threefold: to implement smoke-free initiatives in these three counties, to support healthy living and Fit City-type coalitions, and to help citizens better monitor their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar," Roberts said.
Also at the health district, the agency's WIC (Women, Infants and Children) coverage expanded from 11 to 20 counties.
The health district was instrumental in educating residents about the threat of the West Nile virus, also a hot topic late in the year. As Texas experienced a surge in West Nile cases, local health officials urged residents to look after their older family members and neighbors, who were most vulnerable.
Beginning in August and lasting through the fall, Texas had 835 cases and 86 deaths from the virus. In East Texas, there were 22 cases in Smith County; 29 in Gregg County; eight in Van Zandt County; four in Henderson County; one in Wood County; 11 in Rusk County; three in Upshur County; and eight in Cherokee County. There were no cases in Anderson County and one death each in Gregg and Cherokee counties.
HEALTH CARE LAW
This year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld all of the Affordable Care Act, the controversial health care law enacted by Congress in 2010. The key part of the legislation, the individual mandate, requires all citizens to purchase health insurance when that portion of the law is implemented in 2014.
The individual mandate was not upheld based on Congress's power to regulate commerce between states to require people to buy health insurance. However, in a 5-4 vote, the justices said that because individuals can refuse to buy insurance and face a penalty, it is a kind of tax Congress can impose using taxing power.
Another part of the law was the requirement to expand Medicaid eligibility. Effective April 2010, states receive federal matching funds to expand the program. In that law, it required states to comply with the new eligibility requirements or lose funding. However, the government cannot threaten with loss of funding if they choose not to expand Medicaid, the court said.
In 2014, when the individual mandate will affect all citizens, states are supposed to have in place a competitive insurance marketplace for individuals and small businesses to purchase affordable plans.
Some governors, including Gov. Rick Perry, asserted that they would not expand the Medicaid program or set up insurance exchanges for the newly insured population.
Some parts of the health care law have been enacted since it was signed into law. Other provisions will be added through 2015. Features enacted since 2010 include: providing access to insurance for uninsured individuals with pre-existing conditions and extending coverage to young adults up to 26 on their parents' plans.
Locally, there were mixed views about the health care law. Most concerns centered on funding, doctor shortages and addressing the needs of newly insured patients.