Help Navigating Medicare Open Enrollment

The annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period is here once again and if you’re a Medicare recipient you have until December 7th this year to review your plan for the upcoming year. By now you should have received your Annual Notice of Change letter in the mail informing you what changes will be happening to your current Medicare Plan from your provider. “This is a very important letter to read and understand,” says Laura Crews, director of benefits access at Senior Resources Agency on Aging based in Norwich.  “It’s going to explain the changes your current drug plan will be undertaking.

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Connecticut Beefs Up Contact Tracing as Public Moves Indoors

Connecticut is bolstering contact tracing efforts at the state and local levels in an effort to limit the recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases, particularly across the southeastern portion of the state. The state Department of Health has contracted with the San Diego-based firm AMN Healthcare to provide the state with a local workforce trained in contact tracing methods. Contact tracing is a process of identifying and reaching out to close contacts of someone diagnosed with a communicable disease. The tracers inform contacts about quarantine requirements, review a list of symptoms and connect individuals with any services they might need.  According

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Hartford Healthcare Reaches Tentative Agreement with Nurses at Backus

NORWICH — Nurses at Backus Hospital have reached a tentative agreement with management over a new four-year contract that will increase wages to a level comparable to other hospitals in the area. The agreement was reached after more than twenty negotiating sessions that culminated in a two-day nurses’ strike on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week.  According to the contract, nurses at Backus will be paid wages comparable to their counterparts at Windham Hospital, also owned by Hartford Healthcare, by the third year of the contract. Wages for a starting nurse at Backus will immediately increase from the current $29.59

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Southeast Connecticut Towns Report 9 of 11 COVID Hotspots

Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Tuesday that he will allow municipalities with high numbers of COVID cases to choose whether to rollback reopening from phase three to phase two — a notable change from his earlier insistence that coronavirus policies and restrictions should be kept to a statewide level.  The governor signed an executive order authorizing the change after announcing a 2.4 percent positivity rate for the state, the highest since June.  “Six months ago, when I said ‘Let’s work on a statewide basis,’ I didn’t want some communities saying ‘My bars can be open’ and others not,” Lamont said

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Hot Dry Weather Fostered West Nile, Reduced EEE Populations in Southeast Connecticut

A hot dry summer across Connecticut has increased the prevalence of mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus, but far fewer mosquitos have been identified as carrying the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus than last year. Through Oct. 5, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has trapped 143 mosquitos that have tested positive for the West Nile Virus, compared to 82 it found through the end of its testing on Nov. 7 last year.  Last year, 122 mosquitos the station trapped tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). So far this year, they’ve found two – one trapped at Stonington High School on Aug.

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Added Nursing Staff Can Save Lives, Report Shows, But Cost Remains a Hurdle

A higher ratio of staff to residents correlated in the first six months of the pandemic to fewer cases of COVID-19 in nursing homes across Connecticut according to a recent review by Mathematica of the state’s public health policy and practices. According to Mathematica’s final report published last week, the lower the ratio of staff hours to residents, the more the cases and deaths of COVID-19 in a nursing homes. “Staffing rating was highly predictive of the ability to limit the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes,” the report states. “Nursing homes with a high staffing rating (4 or 5

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Nurses at Backus Hospital Schedule a Two-Day Strike as COVID Cases Jump for Norwich Region

NORWICH — Nurses at Backus Hospital in Norwich are prepared to strike next week if the union and the hospital cannot come to an agreement over a new contract.  The Backus Federation of Nurses, part of the local AFT, gave notice on October 2 that the strike is scheduled to last from 7 a.m. on October 13 until 7 a.m. on October 15.  Sherri Dayton, president of the Backus Federation of Nurses, said that the negotiations had been “a nightmare.”  “Tonight’s negotiation will be negotiation number twenty,” said Dayton, who has been a nurse in Backus’ emergency department for 16

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Report Cautions Health Officials to Balance Safety from COVID with Isolation and Care Concerns for Nursing Home Residents

All policies have consequences was the theme of the final report conducted by Mathematica to review and analyze nursing home policies and practices during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic.  “This report gave us an evidence base to support the concerns that the policies came at a cost of the physical and emotional wellbeing of those who live in facilities,” said Patricia Rowan, project director and health services researcher at Mathematica in a presentation to legislators on Monday afternoon.  In other words, even if a policy is formulated with the best of intentions, and necessary to prevent one

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Officials Urge Caution, but No Delays to Reopening, as COVID Cases Jump across Southeast Connecticut

COVID positivity rates in southeast Connecticut have grown significantly this week, according to data from state and local health departments.  According to Ledge Light Health Department, which encompasses East Lyme, Groton, Ledyard, Lyme, New London, North Stonington, Old Lyme, Stonington, and Waterford, the region has confirmed 154 new COVID cases this week, the largest increase since April. Last week, the region confirmed 60 new cases.  In New London County, the number of COVID cases has increased from 1,882 to 2,126 over the course of the week, a 13 percent jump. The number of deaths increased by two, from 87 to

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Panel Discusses Barriers to Treating and Preventing ‘Opioid Use Disorders’

A panel of medical professionals met on Wednesday in a virtual roundtable hosted by the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce to discuss the added obstacles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to treating and preventing opioid addiction. Opioid overdoses and deaths have increased during the pandemic, and Dr. Michael Kalinowski, a family physician at Middlesex Health, said it’s likely that long-term addictions have increased as well.  According to Kalinowski, COVID-related restrictions have hindered efforts to educate students and parents about opioid use, identify mental health concerns in young people, and eliminate unneeded prescription opioid medication. Kalinowski said that because improving mental

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Connecticut Announces Sharply Lower Rate Hikes for Health Insurance Plans

Connecticut’s approved rates for health insurance premiums in 2021 are vastly lower than what companies have requested, according to the final rulings released on Friday by the Connecticut Insurance Department.  The approved average rate increase was 0.01 percent for individual plans and 4.1 percent for group plans. Last year, the average increase for individual and group plans were 3.95 percent and 9.19 percent, respectively.  The department said in a press release that it expects the proposed changes to save 214,600 Connecticut residents $96 million.  In a public hearing on September 2, the insurance companies defended their proposed increases, arguing that,

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As Connecticut Evaluates Rate Hikes for 2021, Health Insurers Push Back on Reports of Large Profits

As the Connecticut Insurance Department deliberates over whether to allow insurance premiums to increase for 2021, health insurers pushed back against reports of large profits during the pandemic as premature. On Aug. 5, the New York Times reported that many of the large insurance companies that serve Connecticut, including Aetna, Anthem and United Health Care, reported second-quarter earnings that were double what they earned in the previous year.  Insurers, however, are predicting that these earnings will be offset by a coming increase in elective surgeries and treatments postponed due to the pandemic. Most said they experienced a decrease in claims

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Democratic and Republican Legislators Question State Guidance Limiting High School Football

After the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced on Friday that full-contact high school football will not resume this fall, Democratic and Republican state representatives sent letters to Gov. Ned Lamont and the state commissioner of public health urging them to reconsider the decision. “We write to urge you to convene a meeting with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the Department of Public Health, and your office to continue the conversation, work collaboratively and see if we can find a way for our young people to play football this fall,” read a letter sent by 24 Democratic representatives. In contrast to

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As Reopening Stalls in Connecticut, GOP Leaders Call for a Greater Legislative Role

Connecticut has remained since June 17 in “phase two” of reopening — a significant delay in the scheduled rollback announced, by Gov. Ned Lamont in early May, of statewide mandates to control the spread of COVID-19. Lamont’s announced plan for reopening called for each phase of the reopening to last about one month, meaning that “phase three” should have begun in mid to late July, and a full reopening — “phase four” — started in mid to late August. “As of now, the Governor remains steadfast in maintaining the current level of the reopening process,” said Max Reiss, communications director

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20 Percent Spike in Drug Overdose Deaths Across Connecticut in 2020

Statewide, drug overdose deaths in 2020 are on track to surpass the 2019 record by 20 percent, according to the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Those numbers come on top of a reported 18 percent increase in deaths in 2019 over the previous year. In response to the increase, Gov. Ned Lamont declared Monday, August 31 Overdose Awareness Day in Connecticut. “Addiction is an illness that should be treated just as any other public health emergency, and we cannot allow this epidemic to continue consuming our families and residents,” said Lamont. “We need to send the message

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With 19 Nursing Homes Across Connecticut, Genesis Healthcare Warns it May Fall Victim to Costs of Pandemic

The occupancy rate of the 19 Genesis Healthcare nursing home facilities in Connecticut dropped by 23 percent between April and June of 2020 compared with 2019, the largest decline for any state in the nation. At the same time, the hourly wage for nursing staff rose by 45 percent as facilities increasingly relied on agency labor to fill in the gaps as employees contracted COVID-19 or took time off to care for their families. “These are astonishing figures that highlight just how wide the range of impact can be on skilled nursing facilities located in markets having high prevalence of

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Test Delays Raise Questions — Spur Efforts to Reduce Wait — for COVID-19 Diagnoses

Whether to go to work, to travel out-of-state, be admitted to a hospital or for some just to visit friends and family, many individuals across Connecticut are required to take a diagnostic test for COVID-19. The test, which is now widely available and reimbursed by insurance companies, indicates whether an individual is carrying the virus at the time of the procedure. But with the results taking on average a week to arrive, they may already be overtaken by new infection and no longer accurate. “Demand for our molecular diagnostic testing remains high as the virus has spread across much of

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UPDATED: Connecticut Legislature Approves Compromise Measure on Distance Medicine

UPDATE: The Connecticut Senate unanimously gave its approval to the telehealth bill by a vote of 35-0 on Tuesday afternoon. No senators raised any amendments on the bill before voting to approve it.  Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, did not vote on the bill. There was no debate in the Connecticut House of Representatives about the need to set temporary telehealth rules as members voted unanimously Thursday to send the bill to the Senate for its approval. Before passing the bill, legislators also approved by voice vote an amendment that would give the Commissioner of Public Health emergency powers until March 15 to

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UPDATED: Advocates Push Connecticut Legislators for Price Caps on Insulin and Cost-Savings for the Uninsured

UPDATE: On Thursday evening, the Connecticut General Assembly passed legislation, by a vote of 142 to 4, that will cap the monthly cost of insulin, supplies and emergency insulin for people with insurance. According to State Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, beginning January 1, 2022, the maximum monthly cost for insulin will be $25, for non-insulin medication $25 and for devices and equipment $100. In addition, once each year anyone with diabetes will be eligible for a 30-day emergency supply of insulin at any pharmacy in the state. “This bill is an investment in saving lives, in saving health and in

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Payment Parity, Regulation of Telemedicine, Debated by Lawmakers and Industry Representatives

The Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Insurance and Real Estate heard from medical practitioners and a representative of the private insurance industry concerned a proposed bill, to be considered this week during the legislative special session, to set a framework for telemedicine until next June. The draft bill would address concerns voiced to lawmakers by healthcare providers as they have adapted to telehealth services to slow the spread of COVID-19. The bill would authorize healthcare providers to meet with patients using any video or audio platform compliant with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed by Congress

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Audit Shows Limited Oversight of Prescribers of Controlled Substances Across Connecticut

An audit report of the Department of Consumer Protection drug monitoring program released on Thursday found that state officials cannot ensure that prescribers of controlled substances have registered or are using the program as the law requires. According to the report, the Department of Consumer Protection Division of Drug Enforcement, which oversees the prescription monitoring program, also can’t ensure that healthcare providers are looking up a patient’s history of being prescribed controlled substances, a step intended to help providers determine whether a patient is at a higher risk of abuse or misuse of medications. The division has recently started the

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Legislature Opts for Deliberation — Not Haste — in Tackling Nursing Home Reforms After Wave of COVID Deaths

With about 60 percent of 4,338 COVID-19-related deaths in Connecticut occurring in nursing homes, the need for reform in the industry and the potential for increasing penalties for health code violations have become commonplace talking points among state legislators. That said, the issues are not expected to be addressed by legislators in summer or fall special sessions. “Changing penalties is not at the level or urgency for the special sessions,” said State Sen. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, co-chair of the Public Health Committee. “My job is to make sure we take our time and look at all the possibilities.” Steinberg said

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Fearing Health Insurance Rate Hikes in the Wake of COVID, Senate Democrats Propose Caps, Subsidies

The number of people seeking medical care for COVID-19-related reasons has sparked fears that Connecticut insurance companies, set to file their rates by the end of July, may raise 2021 premiums to astronomical levels. In response, members of the Connecticut State Senate are proposing measures that may offset or prevent some of these potential costs. In the “Juneteenth Agenda,” unveiled on June 19 of this year, the Senate Democrats offered a list of reforms in policing, education, housing, and healthcare, among other things. One of the proposals involves setting limits on premium hikes by insurers and provides state-level subsidies to

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Connecticut Providers and Insurers Debate the Future of Remote Medicine

Gov. Ned Lamont’s decision in March to mandate social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 forced medical providers to quickly expand telehealth coverage for appointments by video or phone. This expanded coverage is regulated by a temporary patchwork of major policy changes, including state and federal emergency mandates and voluntary measures by private insurers. On March 19, Lamont issued an executive order allowing providers for the first time to offer medical visits by telephone. And Medicaid and private insurers have moved to reimburse providers for virtual visits at the same rate as in-person visits.  At an Insurance and Real

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Connecticut Department of Public Health Rolls Back Mandate for Testing Nursing Home Staff

The Connecticut Department of Public Health is rolling back a June 1 executive order by Gov. Ned Lamont which mandated weekly testing of nursing home staff for COVID-19 for the duration of the public health emergency. The state agency has informed care facilities that they may forgo testing after two consecutive weeks without positive tests for nursing home staff and residents. “After two weeks of zero positives a facility can discontinue testing,” said Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of public health and commissioner of social services at an Appropriations Committee meeting on Friday. According to Gifford, the guidance comes from the

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As State Officials Commission Study of Nursing Homes, COVID-19 Infections Slow

In the last week, just 61 new cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Connecticut, evidencing a drop in the spread of the virus among the state’s hardest-hit population. Of those 61 cases, one was diagnosed at Aaron Manor Nursing and Rehab Center in Chester, where there have been 31 cases, six were at Essex Meadows Health Center, where there are now 16 cases and two were at Apple Rehab in Old Saybrook, where there are now 69 cases. Between mid-March and mid-June, at least 9,720 residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities

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COVID in Connecticut – By the Numbers

Yesterday, phase two of reopening the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic began with Gov. Ned Lamont allowing hotels, indoor dining, nail salons, fitness facilities, amusement parks, museums, zoos and aquariums to open for business. Lamont attributed the slightly accelerated pace of successive phases to the continued decline of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state despite increased socialization and travel since May 20. “We hit our peak on April 22 and are down about 90 percent since then,” said Lamont at a Tuesday press conference. “The positivity rate has stayed at or below 2 percent despite our increased testing with

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Bipartisan Women’s Caucus Rallies to Push Change After Thousands of Deaths at Connecticut Nursing Homes

HARTFORD — In response to the deaths of roughly 2,500 nursing home residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Connecticut state legislature’s bipartisan Women’s Caucus is calling for change in the industry, at the state Department of Public Health and from the Office of the Governor in an effort to prevent a second wave from devastating this population again. Although Governor Ned Lamont released a request for proposals for an independent contractor to complete a review of procedures to address the COVID-19 pandemic inside nursing homes and assisted living facilities last week, the caucus is requesting that the review encompass much

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