The Rundown | Week of 7.2.18

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July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recognized July as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in an effort to generate awareness of the intersection of mental illness and racial or ethnic minority populations. Cultural stigmas and a lack of availability impose barriers that both discourage minority individuals from seeking and receiving care for mental health conditions. Studies indicate that people of color are “less likely to have access to mental health services, less likely to use community mental health services, more likely to use emergency departments, and more likely to receive lower quality care.” The statistics paint a grim picture of racial disparity in America: 70 percent of black/African American adolescents did not receive treatment for their condition; American Indians have the highest rate of mental illness; and Asian Americans are the group least likely to seek counseling or support. Awareness breeds positive change, so take time this July to participate in conversations that can reduce stigmas around this issue.
>>Learn More: Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

FDA Relaxes Regulations on Mobile Medical Apps

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently adopted a non-interventionist, relaxed stance on wellness mobile applications, though the agency will continue to regulate software as medical device (SaMD). Apps that make general wellness claims or “receive, transmit, store, and provide simple displays of information” will not require premarket review or notification from the FDA. Examples of these apps include those that promote healthy lifestyle choices such as diet planners or exercise regimens, treat or manage a condition or disease, offer guidance for clinical decisions, and monitor and manage patients in hospitals or homes. The announcement both legitimizes the potential for mobile technology in managing health and codifies the criteria for what a high-performance software product is, which in turn spurs technological innovation. The announcement coincides with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) proposal to pay home health agencies for remote patient monitoring, which often utilizes patient-generated health data from devices in the Internet of Healthcare Things network to supply providers with continuous, real-time information.
>>Read More: FDA regulation of mobile medical apps

Studies Unveil Health Risks of Environmental Pollution

A longitudinal study published in The Lancet Planetary Health that linked data from 1.7 million participants and federal air-quality measures determined air pollution caused type 2 diabetes in 150,000 Americans. Even when factors such as body mass were accounted for, experts estimated that in 2016 alone, 8.2 million years of healthy life were lost to pollution-linked diabetes globally. Another environmental study linked increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to less nutritious crops, which could result in widespread malnutrition, especially in African and southeast Asian regions. As carbon dioxide levels are projected to increase by one third by 2050, researchers endorse a proactive mixture of solutions including reduced emissions, dietary changes, and health policies such as adding iodine to table salt to combat the effects of increased greenhouse gases.
>>Read More: A frightening new reason to worry about air pollution

Affordable Care Act Sees Decline in Numbers

In 2018, 1.1 million individuals enrolled in health insurance exchange policies had dropped their coverage by mid-March. Of the nearly 11.8 million people — approximately 400,000 fewer than last year — who initially signed up for health insurance through federal and state health insurance exchanges, 1.1 million did not pay the first month’s deductible. Despite fewer enrollments, the percentage of individuals who paid the first month’s deductible, and therefore maintained their coverage, was higher than last year. Experts speculate that there were several reasons behind the statistics. Economist Matt Fiedler pinpoints the increase in the federal premium tax subsidy, which allowed would-be customers to find low- or no-cost plans. The abridged deadline for enrollment also may have influenced the data as enrollees are calculated in February. In 2018, policies began in January instead of February or March, as was the case in 2017. Therefore, last year’s enrollees were tabulated before all had begun their plan.
>>Read More: About 1.1 million people dropped 2018 Obamacare coverage

A Victory for Mental Health Education

New York and Virginia recently became the first two states to integrate mental health education into school curricula. The New York law aims to “teach the facts about mental health and openly discuss the issues from a health perspective … to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness — a stigma that causes ostracism and isolation, leads to bullying and keeps many students from getting the help they need.” Virginia’s law was sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds, whose son died by suicide after he was unable to procure a bed in a rural psychiatric facility. There are key differences between the two pieces of legislation; whereas New York’s law broadens the definition of health to include the mental aspects without specifying new programs, Virginia’s law requires the Board of Education to update its Standards of Learning. Furthermore, Virginia’s changes will alter high-school freshmen and sophomores’ health education classes, while New York’s law encompasses elementary, middle, and high schools.
>>Read More: New York, Virginia become first to require mental health education in schools

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