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Senate HELP Committee members tackle mental health care access, funding

BY David Salazar
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee announced Tuesday their plan to address and improve the state of mental health care in the United States. 
 
The Mental Health Care Reform Act of 2016 is aimed at ensuring programs that work with patients with mental illness are serving them efficiently, help states fund mental health care effots, promote evidence-based treatment and best practices and increase access for veterans, homeless patients, women and children. 
 
“One in five adults in this country suffers from a mental illness, and nearly 60 percent aren’t receiving the treatment they need,” HELP Committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said. “This bill will help address this crisis by ensuring our federal programs and policies incorporate proven, scientific approaches to improve care for patients. States like Tennessee and local governments are on the forefront in treating mental illness and substance abuse, and this legislation will support their efforts so people can get the help they need.”
 
Alexander is joined in the effort by Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La.; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; and Chris Murphy, D-Conn. There is a planned markup session on March 16, during which the committee will consider additional measures to address mental health and tackle the ongoing opioid abuse and addiction issue. 
 
“Our mental health care system is failing those who need it most. Individuals struggling with mental illness may go years without receiving treatment, ultimately suffering in isolation, or being cast aside and abandoned by the very system they should be relying on,” Murphy said. “Too many Americans with serious mental illness slip through the cracks, and Congress must act to stop it.”

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BlueShield promotes healthy shopping through digital nutrition program

BY Michael Johnsen
LATHAM, N.Y. – BlueShield of Northeastern New York on Monday unveiled HealthyLife Rewards, a digital nutrition program powered by NutriSavings that provides educational tools and incentives to more than 50,000 subscriber households in the New York Capital Region.
 
"As a community-based health plan, we know that you need proactive tools and supportive environments to change behavior," said Kirk Panneton, regional executive and medical director at BlueShield. "HealthyLife Rewards encourages shoppers to select healthy foods and rewards them for making sure those items end up in their shopping cart."
 
HealthyLife Rewards offers BlueShield subscribers and their families a potential $500 in annual cash back rewards for purchasing healthy foods at grocery stores, including local chains Hannaford Supermarkets and Price Chopper and its Market 32 Supermarkets.
 
"Hannaford is celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Guiding Stars, which identifies good, better and best nutritious choices on our shelves and on our Hannaford brand products," said Julie Greene, manager of Healthy Living for Hannaford. "HealthyLife Rewards, combined with information sources like our in-store registered dieticians offering free classes and help gluten-free, weight management and other topics, and the credible resource of Guiding Stars, give shoppers tools to meet their needs and live healthier. This initiative connects well with Hannaford's long, proud history of helping consumers with fresh, nutritious products and credible information sources."
 
"When Price Chopper became the first supermarket in the nation to introduce the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System, in 2009, we were hopeful that it would soon become accessible to consumers across the nation," said Mona Golub, VP public relations and consumer services. "By bolstering the combined efforts of product manufacturers, supermarkets and health-care providers with online and mobile app access to rewards and incentives, NuVal scores, recipes and tips, NutriSavings has effectively strengthened the network of support for BlueShield subscribers in this region who aspire to make healthy choices."
 
Discussions are currently ongoing with additional local and regional supermarket chains. 
 
The program is simple: Food items are scored based on their nutritional value and an average score for each shopping trip is calculated. At any time, individuals can deposit their rewards into their checking account or redeem as cash. 
 
Members also have access to a database of resources, including healthy recipes, articles and tips, and news on the latest nutrition science to help them make healthy decisions. Over time, members can look back on their shopping score history to review and improve healthy shopping habits.
 
HealthyLife Rewards was rolled out as a pilot to BlueShield employees – who found it highly useful – this past fall and is now available to BlueShield commercial subscribers. 
 
In the first four months of the pilot program, 44% of BlueShield's eligible employees have engaged in this innovative wellness program logging more than 720 shopping trips; 32% of those shopping trips were recognized as healthy, according to the nutritional value scores associated with the items purchased.    
 
HealthyLife Rewards is powered by NutriSavings, a Massachusetts-based company whose mission is to improve the health of the U.S. workforce and reduce the rising costs of health care through better nutrition.
 
"We accomplish our mission by providing relevant and personalized education to help members make informed grocery decisions, along with discounts to make healthy food more affordable," commmented Niraj Jetly, COO and chief information officer at NutriSavings. "HealthyLife Rewards shares our mission in making its subscribers and families healthy." 
 
 
 

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Ontario pharmacists look to expand role during Pharmacist Awareness Month

BY David Salazar
TORONTO — March is Pharmacist Awareness Month in Canada, and in Ontario, local pharmacists are working to make sure Canadians know pharmacists can do more than fill prescriptions and help deliver on health outcomes, and pharmacy organizations are working to make sure pharmacists can offer as much as possible to patients. 
 
“Besides dispensing medication, Ontario's pharmacists are administering flu shots, performing medication reviews, adapting and renewing prescriptions when appropriate as well as prescribing medications to support smoking cessation efforts," said Sean Simpson, chair of the Board for the Ontario Pharmacists Association. "This expanded practice has been successful in Ontario, and there is so much more pharmacists could be doing to improve patient outcomes if the government supported the expanded scope initiative.”
 
Though pharmacists in certain other provinces can provide immunizations beyond a flu shot and even prescribe treatments to common ailments, Ontario pharmacists are limited to the services that Simpson described, and he sees promise for patients in expanding what pharmacists in Ontario can do. 
 
“Ontario is one of the last provinces to empower pharmacists to treat common ailments such as diaper rash, athlete's foot and pink eye, as well to authorize pharmacists to administer vaccines for travel, HPV, pertussis and shingles, to name just a few," Simpson said. "Pharmacists are highly trained medication experts and giving them the ability to provide these services will have a significant impact on patient care, as well as on cost savings."
 

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