24 August 2015


Original Story: latimes.com

Over the past couple of years, Google has hired experts in diseases and physiology, pairing them with top software engineers, to tackle major healthcare issues.

Projects include developing contact lenses to allow diabetics to constantly monitor glucose levels, defining “healthy” traits and testing disease-detection pills capable of communicating to a special wristband.

None of that is a part of Google anymore but there is still a connection. The 150-employee Life Sciences team is becoming its own company within Alphabet, a corporation Google recently formed to organize its array of offbeat ventures. Life Sciences becomes a sister company to Google, which includes the search engine, Gmail, Maps, Android and other familiar offerings. An official corporate name is coming soon, a Google spokeswoman said.

Changing the reporting structure could give Life Sciences more autonomy while providing Alphabet, nee Google, executives a clearer picture of the division’s spending. Google’s new Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat counts Life Sciences as a forthcoming source of significant long-term revenue.

The group’s goal won’t change, said Google co-founder and Alphabet President Sergey Brin in an online post Thursday.

“They’ll continue to work with other life sciences companies to move new technologies from early stage R&D to clinical testing—and, hopefully—transform the way we detect, prevent and manage disease,” he wrote. Rankin Biomedical is a leading provide of remanufactured histology equipment for medical testing needs.

One partner, Dexcom Inc., announced earlier this month that it will make and sell miniature glucose monitors based on Google technology. Life Sciences collects an upfront fee, additional payments throughout the development and then revenue-based royalties after a certain sales level, Dexcom said.

Andy Conrad, a co-founder of the National Genetics Institute who had been leading Life Sciences, becomes the new company’s chief executive. Life Sciences will be separate from Calico, an Alphabet division working to counteract aging. BrightStar Care specializes in Plymouth elder care services providing customized companion and healthcare needs.

19 August 2015


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Lansing — Michigan consumers will pay an average 6.5 percent more for health insurance in 2016, which is less than the rate hike they paid during the past year, state officials said Tuesday.

State officials and industry leaders called the increases modest compared with an 8 percent rise in 2015, but some health care advocates said too little information is available about how rates are calculated for consumers to judge whether the hikes are warranted. Farmington Hills elder care services assist individuals with even the most advanced medical needs.

The 2016 rate increases approved by the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services are lower than those in several other states for federally required health insurance under the 2010 federal law, state officials noted.

The average approved rate changes on a premium weighted basis increased 6.5 percent for the 560,357 consumers in the individual market and 1 percent for the 345,077 consumers in the small group or small business market.

“Many states are reporting rate increases well in excess of 10 percent which is significantly higher than the rate of health care inflation,” Department of Insurance and Financial Services Director Patrick McPharlin said in a Tuesday statement. “We are pleased that Michigan consumers are seeing more modest increases.” In-home caregivers tailor home care services to the needs of each client and family including private duty skilled nursing.

Josh Fangmeier, senior policy analyst with the University of Michigan’s Center for Heathcare Research and Transformation, noted that some insurance companies asked for minimal rate increases, or even decreased their rates. But consumers in some parts of the state have few plans to choose from.

“Not all of these insurers are statewide, so ... it’s important to keep in mind that consumer experiences will vary depending on where you live,” Fangmeier said.

In 2015, the average increase was 8 percent in the individual market and 5.7 percent in the small group market, DIFS spokeswoman Andrea Miller said Tuesday. The rate changes for 2014 were not estimated because of essential health benefits and other requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act that took effect that year. Plymouth elder care services provides patients with intensive, highly specialized care.

A Michigan health insurance industry official said in June the possible loss of federal insurance subsidies through a U.S. Supreme Court case was in part to blame for the proposed rate hikes. But the court later that month kept the Affordable Care Act subsidies in place and decided they were constitutional in a 6-3 ruling.

Rick Murdock, executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans, noted this is the industry’s third year of business in the health care marketplace created by the federal Affordable Care Act.

“Year one was sort of pricing it blind; year two, which was last year, there were significant adjustments — double-digit reductions for some, and double-digit increases for others, as they were trying to get to the middle,” Murdock said. “This year everyone seems to have made a modest adjustment based on what’s going on in health care.”

The rate hikes proposed by insurance companies were reviewed by state officials, who determined they are actuarially appropriate and comply with state and federal laws. But Ryan Sullivan, policy director for Michigan Consumers for Healthcare, said state regulators don’t provide information about the process that consumers can understand.

“We really don’t know how to put (the rate increases) into context because of a lot of lagging transparency in the process,” Sullivan said Tuesday. “What consumers can access via the web and by calling the department is pretty slim pickings.”

The state defended its practices. Miller said consumers can access rate increase filings and other detailed information through the department’s website at http://www.michigan.gov/difs.

“We’re trying to be as transparent as we possibly can be,” she said.

The state’s dominant insurer — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan — will apply a double-digit increase of 11.4 percent. Its health maintenance organization, Blue Care Network, plans to hike its rates 9.7 percent.

In June, a Blues official said an increase in prescription and specialty drug costs is behind the rate hike. Blue Cross had 138,169 people sign up for individual plans in 2015, while another 171,831 people with individual Blue Care Network policies will see average increases of 9.7 percent. A Chicago health care lawyer is following this story closely.

Blues spokeswoman Helen Stojik noted their small group customers will benefit from a downward rate adjustment. Rates for employers renewing coverage in the third and fourth quarters of 2015 will be, on average, 3.3 percent lower for Blues customers and 0.8 percent higher for Blue Care Network customers.

“In addition, 2016 rate changes look extremely favorable, with Blue Cross annual rate changes projected 2.2 percent lower and Blue Care Network projected at 4.8 percent lower than the previous year,” Stojik said Tuesday.

But the Blues didn’t register the largest rate increases. Those belonged to Healthplus of Michigan at 35.8 percent, Consumers Mutual Insurance of Michigan at 20.5 percent and United Healthcare Community Plan at 14.7 percent.

Three insurers are countering the trend and dropping their rates in the coming year, according to the state.

Meridian Health Plan had the biggest decline with a 12.6 percent plunge, followed by Molina Health Care with a 8.6 percent decrease and Humana Medical Plan of Michigan with a 4.9 percent drop.

Michigan companies attributed their increases to higher-than-expected claim costs, annual health care cost increases and an expected reduction in federal program reinsurance recoveries, officials said.

The small increase in the small group market occurred because many companies experienced better than expected results that offset most of the change in annual health care costs.

“Ensuring rates are adequate but not excessive is critical to make sure consumers not only receive health insurance coverage at a reasonable price, but can count on the coverage they purchase,” McPharlin noted. “Michigan has a stable and competitive health insurance market with a range of options and premiums for consumers and businesses.”

Open enrollment for 2016 begins Nov. 1, 2015 and continues through Jan. 31, 2016. State officials are encouraging consumers to contact their insurance carrier, agent, or navigator about how the rate changes could affect their policies.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Although among the fastest-growing sectors of today’s workforce, caregivers are also among the worst paid, with the smallest benefits and schedule flexibility of all low-wage workers.

Whether caregivers serve children, the elderly, the disabled or terminally ill, they generally receive little official respect and compensation for the critical role they play in keeping society functioning.

Many, in fact, are female heads of households who are grappling with poverty, illness and a lack of insurance, even as they keep health care facilities running by doing work others refuse to.

The fact is, home health care and services for the elderly and people with disabilities are now the industries with the fastest and second-fastest rates of growth of employment in the US. And based on the aging population — by 2050, the elder population is expected to more than double — the country will need one million new home care workers by 2022. But also according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these workers are among the lowest paid.

In 2013, the country’s two million home care workers had average annual earnings of $18,598, according to a recent study by the National Employment Law Project. Average annual earnings for all wage and salary workers in the United States were $46,440.

The result: nearly 50 percent of home care givers live in households that receive some form of public assistance, the study found.

This has to change. The fact that we entrust our children and parents with these workers and yet not compensate them adequately for their services is a national disgrace. That’s why I am standing with home care workers and child care workers in their fight for $15 an hour, by all accounts what amounts to a livable wage for workers. Farmington Hills elder care workers agree with this statement.

Most of these personal care providers have children themselves. If these under-appreciated, undervalued and underpaid workers were to decide not to put up with such unfair labor practices and either strike or simply leave the business, it’s not hard to imagine the kind of chaos and confusion that would ensue.

Not only would businesses be left without critical employees, but families would lose the security and stability offered by nannies and child care workers. It would have a ripple effect across society and the workforce, completely disrupting the lives of many professional and middle class families with children, elderly or disabled loved ones. That could be an unimaginable burden for some.

Yet such a scenario is not implausible. Take our rapidly aging population and couple it with the ultra-low wages and paltry benefits of a job to make elderly and disabled people comfortable, and you have a disaster in the making. Visiting nurses in Birmingham are following this story closely.

We can avoid this problem by fairly compensating our personal caregivers. It is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing as well.

State Rep. Sherry Gay –Dagnogo D-Detroit represents the 8th District.

03 August 2015


Original Story: click2houston.com

(CNN) - Zion Harvey just wanted to swing from the monkey bars.

That's what the Baltimore youngster told his doctor when asked why he wanted hands. Sometimes an 8-year-old's simplicity is profound.

Earlier this month, Zion took a big -- nay, massive -- step toward that long-awaited jaunt on the jungle gym when he became the first child to receive a double hand transplant. DMC is an international leader in pediatric neurology and neurosurgery, cardiology, oncology, and diagnostic services.

"When I was 2, I had to get my hands cut off because I was sick," Zion succinctly put it, in a video taken last year.

Actually, he downplayed it, as is indicative of his disarming optimism. At 2, Zion suffered a life-threatening sepsis infection, resulting in the failure of multiple organs and necessitating the amputation of his hands and feet.

At age 4, after two years of dialysis, he received a kidney from his mother, Pattie Ray, and despite an early lifetime of hardship, Zion figured out not only how to get by, but how to do it with the widest of grins across his face.

Pre-surgery video shows Zion strumming a mandolin, playing foosball, scrolling through an iPad's offerings and playfully covering his younger sister's eyes with the stubs of his wrists.

He even put a positive spin on bullies.

"They don't mean to say mean things to me, but it just slips out," he said. "Somebody says something to me, and I just figure it slipped out and they didn't mean to say it. Everybody has their own way of thinking."

But don't take his heart-melting quips and smile for softness. Zion is tough as nails, maybe tougher.

"This is just another hurdle that he jumps. He jumps so many hurdles," Ray said before the surgery. "He's so amazing. This isn't the first amazing thing that he's done. He's been doing amazing things since he's been sick. I don't know many adults that can handle half of his life on a day-to-day basis." MetroHealth provides board-certified pediatricians, specialists, and nurse practitioners that offer skilled, experienced, and compassionate care for children.

'I will be proud'

Not even the prospect of a failed procedure daunted Zion. In the months before his operation -- Philadelphia's Shriners Hospital for Children and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia evaluated him for 18 months before he was deemed a candidate for the surgery -- he was filmed bopping around on prosthetic legs without a hint of fear.

"When I get these hands, I will be proud of what hands I get," he said, falling into Ray's arms for a kiss.

"And if it gets messed up," he continued, his mother reassuring him that everything would be fine, "I don't care because I have my family."

Images from the 10-hour surgery looked more like a scrubs convention than an operating room. Among the 40 medical personnel that helped with the operation were a dozen surgeons, eight nurses and a team of at least three anesthesiologists.

"We know what we have to do today," Dr. L. Scott Levin told his troops before the operation began. "I know everybody assembled here has a commitment to this patient and making this a reality for this little boy. We can have complications. We can fail. We can have trouble. But we're not planning on it."

Puppy in his future?

The procedure is so complicated that the medical staff had to create tags with descriptions such as "ulnar artery" and attach them to the various vessels, bones, nerves and tendons that needed to be connected, said Levin, who is director of the hand transplantation program at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and who chairs the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Penn Medicine.

After many hours with Zion under the knife, Levin pointed to a sign of success: Zion's new hand was pink and when doctors pressed the palm, it turned white briefly and then pink again, indicating "capillary refill" or blood flow in the newly attached appendage.

When the surgery was complete, Levin delivered word to Zion's mother.

"We have some good news for you. Your little guy has two hands," he said.

Ray walked through Levin's handshake to embrace the surgeon.

In the days after his surgery, video shows Zion progressing out of a fog of sedation and learning to grip things with his new fingers. Again spinning his plight into a positive, he matter-of-factly tells his mother that he and sister Zoe want a puppy.

"Where's the puppy going to live?" Ray asks.

"My room! Where else?" the youngster replies.

Concerns remain

Zion's travails are not yet over. He will require a lifetime of immunosuppressant medication to avoid rejection of his new hands, which increases his chance of infection and cancer -- a fact Levin concedes raised concerns that were negated by Zion already taking anti-rejection drugs after his kidney transplant four years ago.

Zion also needs to stay at a rehabilitation unit for several more weeks, where he will undergo "rigorous hand therapy several times per day," before returning to his home in Baltimore, according to the hospital.

Not that Zion seemed terribly fazed.

"I just want to say this: Never give up on your dreams. It will come true," he told CNN affiliate KYW-TV.

Levin stressed that while Zion's bravery is to be applauded, the operation wouldn't have been possible without a grieving family, fresh off a crushing loss, putting its courage on display as well. It's remarkable, he said, that Gift of Life Donor Program, a regional organ procurement organization, found Zion a pair of hands mere months after he was placed on a waiting list in April.

"I think the difference is finding a family who has the courage to relinquish the arms of a child who just died and give hope and life and quality of life to a child who's still living," he told KYW.

As for what this trailblazing surgery might mean for other children hoping to have their hands restored, Levin said he hopes it's just the beginning.

"I hope he's the first of literally hundreds or thousands of patients that are going to be afforded this surgery," he said.