Insurers’ dirty tricks undermine promise of Obamacare

Thanks to President Obama’s landmark healthcare law, insurance companies are no longer allowed to turn away patients with pre-existing health problems. This “guaranteed issue” mandate enables millions of sick Americans to buy affordable insurance and access vital medications.

Unfortunately, insurers have discovered a sneaky way to undermine this requirement. They’re structuring plans to heap huge costs and bureaucratic burdens onto high-risk patients, leaving insured patients without real access to medical care.

Federal officials must halt such discriminatory practices. Fortunately, David McKinley (WV-01) and Lois Capps (D-CA) recently introduced the Patients’ Access to Treatments Act (PATA) to do just that. Lawmakers should pass it immediately.

Insurers strap sick patients with big bills by putting expensive medications into the highest “tier.” Insurers typically divide their drug benefits into different tiers, with the lowest providing the most financial support and the highest providing the least. The higher the tier— the higher the patient’s out-of-pocket expenses.

For example, in the state-level insurance exchanges established by Obamacare, more than half of the popular “Silver” plans place all multiple sclerosis drugs in the top tier. Patients suffering from this devastating condition are getting hit with huge costs. Many are forced to forego needed treatments.

PATA ensures that patients can afford these life-saving medications. The bill prohibits insurers from grouping specialty drugs in higher cost sharing tiers than the ones used for regular medicines.

Many health insurers also have a “fail first” policy. Patients must first take drugs that are less effective and often less safe— and only when these fail can they receive needed medicines. In other words, insurers force people to get sicker before offering them lifesaving treatments.

A new Harvard study suggests insurers are deliberately offering thin coverage for high-cost therapies to dissuade chronically ill patients from signing up in the first place. When people who need costly drugs see treatments’ price tags, they look elsewhere for coverage— which is what insurers want.

Insurers justify such discrimination by claiming it helps contain healthcare costs, keeping premiums affordable. After all, those with serious illnesses disproportionately rely on expensive, specialty medicines. They’re the one percent of patients— often referred to as “super spenders”— that account for more than a fifth of the nation’s annual health expenditures.

However, this argument is misleading. Expanding access to prescription drugs actually helps bring down long-term healthcare costs— and denying sick patients needed medications drives costs up.

Cancer drugs, for instance, help keep patients healthy and out of the hospital. As a proportion of total cancer treatment costs, drug spending nearly tripled from 2001 to 2011. Over that same time, the share of total costs spent on hospital stays dropped by 25 percent. Spending more on better medications has improved cancer patient health and saved money.

Restricting drug access to trim healthcare expenses usually backfires. The average patient will skip prescribed medications if her monthly out-of-pocket costs exceed $200. Such “non-adherence” typically causes a patient’s condition to worsen to the point where she requires much more expensive medical interventions.

One of Obamacare’s central promises was that sick patients would no longer suffer from discrimination. Insurers are breaking that promise by strapping vulnerable patients with huge costs and forcing them to fail on less effective treatments. Lawmakers must stop these abuses— and the Patients’ Access to Treatments Act is a good place to start.

Robert Goldberg is vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

Entertainment mogul starts “Backpacks for Baltimore” initiative

Since his rise as an executive at Def Jam Records and Warner Music, Kevin Liles has continued to use his fame and fortune to provide opportunity and hope for those less fortunate.

The Baltimore native and Morgan State alum is again reaching deep into his pockets while asking others to do the same in an effort to provide backpacks for local students.

“Preparing for school is a financial, physical and mental exercise for every family around the world,” said Liles, who’s also known for his “Make it Happen” Foundation which he says provides opportunities and access for young people to become products of their experiences and not merely products of their environment.

Through internship partners and mentor programs, the foundation provides life-changing opportunities for under serviced youth.

“In Baltimore, we hope to celebrate and give kids every opportunity to achieve academic success,” Liles said.

Statistics have revealed that almost 24 percent of Baltimore’s population is living below the poverty line. Thirty-five percent of children are below the poverty line and 61 percent are living in households that have incomes that are less than two times the poverty level.

“Our children are the future of this city, and a proper education is the key to better opportunities for our kids, which is the key to a Better Baltimore,” Liles said.

He noted that each year, families of the less fortunate and Baltimore’s underprivileged youth are unable to afford some of the basic necessities for their child’s academic success.

So, Liles has introduced one solution through his other foundation, “Kevin Liles for a Better Baltimore,” which three years ago hosted the first citywide back to school festival.

This year’s fourth annual event is sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Verizon, and the purpose remains bringing children and family together to celebrate the new school year throughout Baltimore.

The free event will be held from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 29, 2015, at Security Square Mall and children attending will have a chance to secure a backpack, free haircut, immunizations, food and a host of other activities.

Last year, Liles distributed over 6,000 backpacks at the event to students in Baltimore and this year he said the goal is to increase that, which is why he started a GoFundMe campaign to encourage others to make donations.

He says a new backpack to start the year can amount to a badge of honor for underprivileged students, one that boosts their confidence and prepares them for the academic year ahead.

“It’s important to KLBB and the City of Baltimore that our children get each year off to a strong start. These new backpacks will bolster their attitude and ultimately create a solid foundation for their academic and social performance,” Liles said.

The foundation’s goal through its 30-day “Backpacks for Baltimore” campaign is to provide students from Pre-Kindergarten to twelfth grade with 7,500 new backpacks for the 2015-16 school year.

“The purpose of this event is to get our entire community— kids, families, teachers and others— prepared and excited about another school year. It takes a village to raise a child and KLBB is proud to be a contributor by hosting this annual event,” Liles said. “Not only are we thrilled about exceeding last year’s goal of distributing 6,000 backpacks, we’re just as excited about the opportunity to distribute a plethora of community resources which will contribute to the overall success of our students and our goal of developing healthier families in Baltimore.”

To make a donation toward the purchase of the backpacks, visit http://www.gofundme.com/Backpacks4Bmore.

Baltimore residents will walk to help solve cruel mystery of lupus

Baltimore residents will walk to help solve cruel mystery of lupus. The Lupus Foundation of America DC/MD/VA Chapter will host its annual Walk To End Lupus NowTM event at Rash Field in Baltimore City on Saturday, September 12, 2015.

The Walk to End Lupus Now events are held in more than 60 cities across the country, making it the largest lupus walk program in the entire country. The walk events bring together community members— people with lupus, friends, families, health care providers, celebrities and other stakeholders— to raise money for lupus research and education programs, increase awareness of the disease, and rally public support for those who feel the brutal impact of lupus.

A recent survey found that 72 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34, the age group at greatest risk for the disease, have either not heard about lupus at all or know little or nothing about the disease beyond the name. Every dollar raised from the Walk to End Lupus Now event, as well as the others like it that take place across the country, supports the Lupus Foundation of America’s efforts to solve the mystery of lupus— one of the world’s cruelest, most unpredictable and devastating diseases— by increasing public awareness of the disease, funding critically needed research programs and providing local support programs and services to those who suffer from its brutal impact.

“Lupus is a significant concern in the Washington Metropolitan area,” said President and CEO, Katy Ahmed “Each year, more than 80,000 residents look to us for support and resources. We need more awareness of lupus and we need more resources for research to continue efforts to find a cure for this terrible disease. We hope the community will join us in our fight to end lupus.”

Registration for the walk is available, online at http://marylandlupuswalk.kintera.org/ or by calling 202-787-5390. Participants can also create a personal fundraising page on the Walk website to raise money, recruit new team members, and get valuable fundraising tips.

Lupus is an unpredictable and misunderstood disease in which the immune system is out of balance, causing damage to any organ system in the body. The exact cause of lupus is unknown. While lupus can strike anyone at any time, 90 percent of the people living with lupus are females. Women of color are at an especially high risk. Lupus usually

develops between ages 15 and 44. While lupus can be disabling and fatal, the disease can be managed in most cases through aggressive medical treatment and lifestyle changes.

Grammy Award-Winner Jill Scott releases highly anticipated fifth album

The wait is finally over for Jill Scott’s fans! The Grammy® award-winning, singer and songwriter has just released her fifth studio album, which is available for purchase in stores and on Itunes. The highly anticipated CD entitled “Woman” with 16 eclectic and soulful tracks, is the follow up to the 2011 critically acclaimed “The Light of Sun.”

Rolling Stone proclaims that Jill “has never sounded as authoritative as she does on her fifth album” and US Weekly hails it as “spirit-enriching” music. Jill describes the sound of this album as “classic Philly soul meets Country rhythm served with captivating storytelling.” The thought provoking titled album coming on the heels of her latest singles, “Fool’s Gold,” which debuted on May 11 and is currently #3 on Billboard R&B charts and the critically acclaimed, “You Don’t Know.”

In addition to the new album, Jill has embarked on a summer tour with sold out shows throughout the country performing new music from WOMAN, along with her classic hits throughout the 25-city tour. The songstress is thrilling audiences— proving that R&B is not dead and further solidifying her place as one of the most powerful and prominent voices of our time and a torchbearer for R&B music.

The three-time GRAMMY® award-winning singer-songwriter, New York Times best-selling poet, and critically acclaimed actress are only a few titles held by Jill Scott. Before having the #1 album in the country with The Light Of The Sun, the triple threat began her career collaborating with musical icons The Roots, Will Smith, and Common in the late 90s. Never limited to music, Jill Scott is a true multimedia brand across books, clothing, TV and film, including credits such as Baggage Claim, Steel Magnolias, The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, and Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? and Lifetime’s Sins of the Mother. In 2002, Scott also founded Blues Babe, a registered 501(c)3 foundation that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support minority students pursuing college degrees.

AACC Math Professor Selected for National STEM Award

Alycia A. Marshall, Ph.D., chair of Anne Arundel Community College’s mathematics department, was chosen for a top national honor in the science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM) field. INSIGHT into Diversity magazine named her one of 100 Inspiring Women in STEM in recognition of her leadership in mentoring, teaching and encouraging students to major in a STEM subject.

Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of the magazine, says the award is a tribute to 100 women whose work and achievements not only encourage others in their individual STEM fields, but also inspire a new generation of young women to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Using her own experience working alongside the Meyerhoff Scholars at University of Maryland Baltimore County, Marshall pursued a grant from the National Science Foundation to start an Engineering Scholars Program to provide scholarships, mentoring and support services to underrepresented students at AACC. She is now the principal investigator for that program.

At the end of the fourth year of the five-year grant, 63 students have received scholarships and 34 already have graduated and/or successfully transferred to four-year engineering programs at University of Maryland College Park, UMBC, Frostburg State University, the U.S. Naval Academy, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and the Florida Institute of Technology. Her doctoral research

included the qualitative study of mathematically successful African American students at the community college level, which she used in helping to support AACC’s successful Math Fir³st and Accelerated Learning programs that help students move more quickly from developmental to credit math classes.

Marshall has a doctorate of philosophy in mathematics education from the University of Maryland College Park, a Master of Arts degree in teaching from Bowie State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from the UMBC. She is also the chief executive officer of Educational Excellence LLC, a tutoring company, which provides tutoring and enrichment services to students of all ages in all subject areas in the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan area.

New Ravens CB Kyle Arrington is fitting in well with the secondary

— The Baltimore Ravens added Kyle Arrington in the off season because of his ability to be a nickel corner.

He is fitting in well with his new teammates. Arrington seems to have settled in and has taken reps covering the slot receiver along with lining up on top of the numbers. He talked about some of the similarities that he sees between the Ravens and the team that he won the Super Bowl with, the New England Patriots.

Checkout the interview below to see what Arrington has to say after his first training camp practice with his hometown team.

Late For Work 5/12: 5 Reasons Recently Cut CB Kyle Arrington Makes Sense For Ravens

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Goodridge of Baltimore participates in humanitarian efforts

— Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Goodridge, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, and family nurse practitioner assigned to Naval Branch Health Clinic New England, Conn., examines a patient at a medical site established at the Centro Escolar Lisandro Larin Zepeda in support of Continuing Promise 2015.

Continuing Promise is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet-conducted deployment to conduct civil-military operations including humanitarian-civil assistance, subject matter expert exchanges, medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support and disaster response to partner nations and to show U.S. support and commitment to Central and South America and the Caribbean.

The clock is ticking for Ravens Linebacker Arthur Brown

— The Baltimore Ravens selected Arthur Brown in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The team traded three picks to move up to get him. Brown was supposed to be a player that would help the Ravens patch up an inside linebacker unit that lost its leader, Ray Lewis to retirement. The Ravens also lost a key member of the 2012 Super Bowl team in Dannell Ellerbe, which created the perfect opportunity for Brown to step up immediately. Unfortunately, the results have not come.

The Ravens made a less heralded move that offseason when Daryl Smith was signed at a more reasonable cost than Ellerbe. Smith was set to be a veteran leader who would play well and be a mentor to Brown.

Brown didn’t start a single game during his rookie year and only registered 15 tackles. Meanwhile, Smith started all 16 games and played extremely well.

Brown’s second season went even worse for him. He didn’t play a single snap on defense after being beaten out by 2014 first round selection C.J. Mosley in training camp. Brown comes into training camp this year very much in need of an outstanding performance. He has been put on notice by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.

“Arthur Brown is another young man who, at this point of his career, needs to find a way to get to the field,” said Newsome.

With Mosley and Smith firmly entrenched as starters, the next logical area for Brown to contribute would have been special teams. He lost out in that competition to Zach Orr and Albert McClellan, which cost him a spot on the active roster for a number of weeks during the 2014 season.

Offseason activities went well for Brown. He was able to get some reps with the first team defense since Mosley was sidelined as he recovers from a wrist injury. Brown seemed to have bulked up a bit but still moved well. He caught the attention of defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

“I think Arthur Brown has taken a big step forward. I think he’s feeling a little more comfortable with the defense. He has always been fast; he has always been a tough guy. His problem has always been, maybe, a little bit of thinking what was going on and sometimes that would make him slow to react.” Pees said.

Sometimes it takes a while for a player to catch on and really get a grasp of the scheme that he’s expected to play in. Being unsure about alignment and assignment can slow down any player, even the ones that are naturally fast and Pees recognizes that may just be Brown’s problem.

“If he knows, he’s plenty fast. He’s a very fast linebacker.” Pees continued; “I think these OTAs and this mini-camp, he has taken a big step forward, as far as understanding the defense and what he has to do.”

The Ravens are losing patience in Brown and would like more than just special teams play as a return on their investment. Brown is surely a player to watch during training camp. Mosley came in and was an instant success. That raises the expectation for Brown. The roster is stacked with great players so it will be interesting to see whether or not he can remain with the team.

Celebrating 50 years of Medicare

One of my guiding principles has always been that honor thy father and mother is not only a good commandment to live by— it’s good policy to govern by. Fifty years ago on Thursday, July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law legislation to create Medicare, ensuring all of America’s seniors— middle class or of modest means— have access to health care when they need it.

I’ve seen first-hand what a difference Medicare makes in the lives of seniors. In the 1960s, I was a young social worker in Baltimore working for a program called Responding to the Elderly’s Abilities & Sickness Otherwise Neglected or “Operation Reason.”

Our goal was to help Maryland seniors get the health care and social services they needed. We worked in teams led by social workers and nurses. Our job was to help sick, elderly people sign up for this new Medicare program.

We were focused on helping seniors who had no health insurance and who had neglected their chronic conditions because of an inability to travel, lack of knowledge about services available to them, fear of asserting their right to such services, or other barriers. Baltimore’s seniors were struggling.

In those days, when you retired, it was the end of your health insurance, which meant that nearly half of seniors were uninsured. They could not afford doctor’s visits. Instead, they went to clinics and stood in long lines. They were often shuttled back and forth from one clinic to another. Before Medicare, millions of seniors were just one heart attack away from bankruptcy— one cancer diagnosis away from destitution. That’s what life was like for America’s seniors before Medicare.

When Medicare came along, I knew it could help them. Many were skeptical— they wondered if Medicare was big government or big opportunity. My job was to show them that this program was not about big government, but about government with a big heart. Every single day, I would go out to talk with seniors. I would go in to the community, to churches and to senior citizen centers.

I would talk with them about their options, organize transportation, and help fill out complicated forms.

In those days, we didn’t have computers or cell phones. We had to physically meet people where they were and help them confront the very real challenges they faced every single day.

And it worked. After four months of operation, we had more than 100 clients with a variety of chronic diseases. Nearly all of them were living on very modest incomes. And we helped them get the care they so desperately needed.

These people were the reason Congress passed Medicare in the first place. And thank God we did. Today, 55 million Americans— nearly EVERY senior has access to the guarantee of Medicare. That includes one million seniors in Maryland— and what has it meant?

·More Americans have health insurance. Before Medicare, 48 percent of seniors had no insurance. Today, only two percent are uninsured.

·Out of pocket costs have decreased. Before Medicare, seniors paid 56 percent of health care expenses out of pocket. Today, seniors pay only 13 percent out of pocket.

·Life expectancy is five years longer.

·Deaths from heart disease have drop-ped by a third for people older than 65.

·Our elderly’s poverty rate has declined dramatically from 29 percent in 1966 to 10 percent today.

·Seniors have more affordable drugs. Since 2010 when the Affordable Care Act passed, more than eight million seniors have saved more than $11 billion on prescription drugs.

Because I’ve seen first-hand the difference Medicare makes, I’ve given it my best shot to maintain a Medicare that’s affordable and accessible, reliable and undeniable. Over the years, I have fought hard to protect, reform and refresh Medicare.

Most recently, I fought for Medicare as part of the Affordable Care Act, where we closed the prescription drug “donut hole,” extended Medicare’s solvency another decade and paved the way for free preventive screenings, saving money and saving lives along the way.

Over the years, I’ve fought repeated efforts to end Medicare as we know it by privatizing it and turning its guaranteed benefit into nothing more than a voucher and a political promise.

It’s been a great honor and privilege to devote so much of my time in elected office to honoring America’s mothers and fathers. As we commemorate Medicare’s first 50th anniversary, let’s come together for another 50 years of health care for seniors.

U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski is the senior Senator for Maryland and the Senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Area teens grow confidence to ‘Engineer Like a Girl’

St. Mary’s Ryken High School junior Nicole Hedspeth’s understanding of the vast career opportunities for women engineers grew exponentially—as did her excitement for her future—during the weeklong “Engineer Like a Girl” program at the College of Southern Maryland’s Leonardtown Campus.

This was the exact outcome that CSM Pre-Engineering Coordinator Shadei Jones was striving for when she began developing the program last fall.

According to the American Society for Engineering Education, women make up only 20 percent of engineers. Part of the problem is the lack of understanding of what it is that engineers do and the types of jobs they can have. To help increase understanding of engineering among middle and high school girls in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties, the College of Southern Maryland offered a free wee-long camp in July for girls to learn about careers in the field of engineering.

“The aim of ‘Engineer Like a Girl’ is to create awareness and familiarize high school girls in Southern Maryland with career opportunities in the field of engineering. .There are negative stereotypes associated with women’s ability to pursue careers in science and we wanted to replace those with positive images of exciting jobs and opportunities for female engineers,” said Jones who has a degree in manufacturing engineering.

Throughout the week, the 10 students made daily journal entries on what they were experiencing. Hedspeth shared her thoughts midway through the week, writing, “Today was the first time in a long time I got the opportunity to think realistically about my future. I thought it was really important to talk about how it’s not just academics that are important in college and in getting a job later on— it’s about working on your attitude and really loving what you do. This program gave me a lot of confidence to be an engineer and an edge in knowing what I want to do with my life.”

Hedspeth, of Lexington Park, and nine other girls participated in workshops, hands-on activities and projects in a wide range of engineering disciplines. The week’s activities included building their own cell phone detector with the help of CSM alumna Jehnae Linkins, a biomedical engineering PhD candidate at the University of Delaware. They attended a career workshop with CSM Career Coordinator/Academic Advisor Tamara Cherry-Clark and a lecture on the power of self-confidence, “You v. You,” by Antoinette Jackson of Heart of Appreciation.

“This program has helped to build my confidence as a female wanting to be an engineer,” said Hedspeth. “Not only did the guest speakers give us words of encouragement, they answered questions on engineering and provided helpful advice on what we would need to accomplish in high school before applying to colleges.”

“The camp was very helpful in showing me the need for women engineers and the different career options available in engineering,” said Riley Hines of La Plata, an incoming sophomore at Maurice J. McDonough High School. “Not only was the program about women as engineers, it was about how we need to make sure that we are staying positive and making great life choices—or else we won’t be getting into the college that is our first choice, or we won’t get the engineering job of our dreams.”

“It is extremely important for young women to have healthy minds and good attitudes toward life and to know they have the same options as men,” said CSM Vice President of Advancement Michelle Goodwin in an email responding to Hines. “The country needs more women scientists, math teachers, engineers and cybersecurity experts.”

The week of activities, funded by the CSM Foundation and Exelon, included a trip to NAVAIR at Patuxent River Naval Air Station to give the opportunity to visualize the workplace of female engineers.

Hines especially enjoyed seeing women engineers working on planes and helicopters in hangers at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. “I liked that the jobs are hands-on, not just at a desk,” she said.

“I could see myself doing what these engineers were doing,” said Hedspeth.

The participants also heard from Dr. David John Barrett, the director of engineering education and research partnerships at Naval Air Warfare Center, Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), who provided details on the Southern Maryland Pathways Program in Engineering, a partnership between CSM, the University of Maryland (UMD) A. James Clark School of Engineering, the U.S. Navy and the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center (SMHEC) in St. Mary’s County. The partnership, for students interested in mechanical and electrical engineering, provides a seamless transfer to UMD, Navy scholarship and internship opportunities, and a job at the completion of the program.

“It is a great partnership and one that has proven results. We wanted to reach girls in middle and high school when they are beginning to think about careers and tell them about the Pathway Program,” said Jones.

According to Barrett, there have been seven cohorts of Navy interns in the Southern Maryland program, including some who did not come from CSM and UMD. Of the 99 interns, 19 have been women.

“[Engineer Like a Girl] really opened my eyes to more things you can do with math and science,” said Mariah Goldring of Prince Frederick, an eighth-grader at Calvert Middle School and one of three middle school students participating.

“It’s nice to see that the program has had an impact. Girls should be as confident about entering the field of engineering as boys,” Jones said.

For information on the Southern Maryland Pathways Program in Engineering, visit http://www.csmd.edu/stem/events_internship.html.

For information on CSM, visit www.csmd.edu