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Friday, May 22, 2015

Survey: Most ACA Insurance Marketplace Enrollees Satisfied With Coverage

This month’s Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll surveyed Americans with nongroup health insurance, meaning they are not insured through their employer. Many of these individuals (60 percent) purchased their health insurance from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) individual marketplace.

The KFF poll reports nearly three-quarters of marketplace enrollees (74 percent) are satisfied with their overall coverage, rating it either excellent or good. A majority (59 percent) also say their insurance was an excellent or good value for what they paid for it.

These satisfaction rates are below those for employer-sponsored health insurance, however. Three-quarters (75 percent) of marketplace enrollees say they are satisfied with their choice of primary care doctors and hospitals, compared with a 92-percent satisfaction rate for employee-sponsored coverage. And though many marketplace enrollees receive premium tax credits and subsidies to help pay for insurance, 65 percent say they are satisfied with their monthly premium compared with 73 percent of those with employer-sponsored coverage.

Opinion on the value of these health plans is split along partisan lines: More than half of Republicans with nongroup insurance (55 percent) say they have been affected negatively by the ACA, while two-thirds of Democrats (64 percent) say they have benefited from the law.

Read the poll’s full findings at KFF.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

TMA Awards Scholarships to Minority Medical Students

Nine minority students entering Texas medical schools this fall each will receive a $5,000 scholarship from the Texas Medical Association (TMA). Students were recognized at TexMed, the association’s annual conference, in Austin for their academic achievement, commitment to community service, and deep desire to care for Texas’ increasingly diverse population.

Students are from L to R: Samuel Garcia, Peris June Nganga, Ruth Woldemichael, Jennifer Espinales, Hillary Evans, Lillian Ene, Kimberly Farias, Efrain Rodriguez 

The TMA Educational Scholarship, Loan, and Awards Committee chose winners from a competitive field of promising future physicians.

TMA created the Minority Scholarship Program to help diversify the physician workforce to fulfill the needs of Texas’ diverse population. The scholarship encourages minority students to enter medicine by lightening their medical school financial burden. Since 1999, TMA has awarded 101 scholarships totaling $505,000 thanks to generous gifts from donors to the TMA Foundation.

2015 TMA Minority Scholarship Recipients

Lillian Ene of Rockwall graduated from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. She will attend Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center-Lubbock to become a pediatrician or emergency physician in rural Texas.

Jennifer Espinales of Harlingen graduated from The University of Texas at Brownsville and will attend The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She plans to become an internal medicine physician.

Hillary Evans of Buda is a graduate of Saint Edward’s University in Austin. She will attend The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas to become an internal medicine physician.

Kimberly Farias of Waco graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio and will attend the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth. She plans to become a pediatrician.

Samuel Garcia of Horizon City graduated from The University of Texas at El Paso and will attend Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso. He plans to become a cardiologist.

Peris June Nganga of Irving graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas and will attend The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio to become a primary care physician.

Efrain Rodriguez of Mission graduated from The University of Texas Pan American in Edinburg and will attend The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He will study to become a family physician.

Ruth Woldemichael of Amarillo graduated from Rice University in Houston and will attend Texas A&M Health Science Center in College Station. She plans to specialize in family or internal medicine.

The ninth scholarship recipient, who will attend Baylor College of Medicine, will be determined following TexMed.

The TMA Minority Scholarship program is supported by the TMA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of TMA, thanks to generous major supporters and gifts from physicians and their families.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

TMA Physicians Award Six Outstanding Science Teachers

The Texas Medical Association (TMA) named six Texas science teachers winners of the 2015 TMA Ernest and Sarah Butler Awards for Excellence in Science Teaching. These educators help create tomorrow’s physicians by inspiring students in the field of science.

 Pictured left to right: Ernest Butler, MD; Sarah Butler; Patricia Kassir of The Bendwood School in Houston; Joseph Morris of All Saints' Episcopal School in Fort Worth; Anna Loonam of Bellaire High School in Bellaire.











TMA believes awards like this that encourage excellent science teaching are important, as only 32 percent of Texas eighth-graders have achieved proficiency in science, according to the National Science Foundation’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2014 report. Through this award, TMA hopes to help improve these numbers by recognizing innovative teachers and providing them resources to continue motivating and engaging students. Eventually, TMA believes, some of these inspired students will choose medicine as a career. Some already have: Several TMA physician leaders were once taught by teachers who later won this award.

First-Place Winners:

Patricia Kassir — Elementary School First-Place Winner

Mrs. Kassir teaches the gifted and talented program for medical science to grades 3-5 at The Bendwood School in Houston. She teaches because she wants to “improve the lives of others and foster understanding.” Mrs. Kassir’s career spans decades, disciplines, languages, and countries, including two years teaching English at an Islamic school in Lebanon. An immigrant to America at the age of 7, Mrs. Kassir speaks English, Spanish, French, and some Arabic, and is an expert at reaching out and connecting to students regardless of their background or socioeconomic status. Classes with Mrs. Kassir are filled with debates and interactive labs, from “CSI”-style frog “autopsies” to a mock medical school. “A teacher like Mrs. Kassir is a rarity,” says Jana Bassett, principal at The Bendwood School. “We often joke that as we all age, her students will be addressing our medical needs.” In no place is this more evident than Mrs. Kassir’s own children, who are pursuing their own paths in science, the oldest of whom is a first-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine.

Joseph Morris — Middle School Winner

Mr. Morris teaches seventh grade life science at All Saints’ Episcopal School in Fort Worth. “I want students to walk into my classroom and immediately become wide-eyed and drawn to something that sparks their curiosity,” he says. “I want questions to fill their minds like, ‘What is that? How does that work?’ and one of my favorites, ‘What is that smell?’ To which I always answer, ‘THAT… is the smell of FUN!’ ” His dedication to his students extends outside the classroom. Together with another All Saints’ teacher, Mr. Morris mentored the school’s Solar Car Club as they built a solar-powered car and drove it from Texas to California for the national Solar Car Challenge. During the two-year long project that earned the team a second-place finish, Mr. Morris’ students learned valuable skills like teamwork, problem solving, and fund raising. “He doesn’t just teach science,” says fellow All Saints’ teacher Lyle Crossley, PhD. “Joe also models and teaches character and integrity.”

Anna Loonam — High School Winner

Mrs. Loonam teaches advanced placement biology at Bellaire Senior High School in Bellaire. She is described as a “legend” within the Bellaire community. Mrs. Loonam encourages students to design their own science experiments, cultivate plants on the school’s “green roof,” and create mini-movies explaining difficult science concepts. “I firmly believe in providing students with opportunities to ‘do science,’ ” she says. Each year, she introduces students to the scientific community by taking them to the Sam Rhine Genetics Update Conference, and hosting Genetics Night, where students explain their research of a genetic disorder to peers, parents, teachers, doctors, medical students, and administrators from Baylor College of Medicine. “As a medical school teacher of a number of Mrs. Loonam’s former students, I have seen first-hand that she is a transformative and innovative teacher who created an intellectual legacy,” says Joseph Kass, MD, JD, a neurology professor at Baylor College of Medicine and father to a student in Mrs. Loonam’s class.

TMA awards each top recipient a $5,000 cash prize, and each winner’s school receives a $2,000 resource grant toward its science programs.

Second-Place Winners:

Second-place winners are Laura Wilbanks of Whiteface Elementary School in Whiteface, Carol Raymond of E.A. Young Academy in North Richland Hills, and Theresa Lawrence of Friendswood High School in Friendswood. Second-place winners’ schools each receive a $1,000 resource grant to enhance science classroom learning.

The TMA Ernest and Sarah Butler Awards for Excellence in Science Teaching are supported by the TMA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of TMA, thanks to an endowment established by Dr. and Mrs. Ernest C. Butler of Austin and additional gifts from physicians and their families.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Helmet Safety: It’s for Horseback Riding, Too

By Adrian Billings, MD, PhD, FAAFP
Presidio County Health Services, Marfa and Presidio, Texas

I have long been an advocate for Texas Medical Association’s Hard Hats for Little Heads bicycle helmet giveaway program and have been involved in many bike helmet giveaways to children in the Big Bend region. I, myself, am an avid cyclist, and I do not get on a bicycle without covering my head to prevent a head injury. However, this was not always the case. I was a child in the 1970s and 1980s when wearing a bicycle helmet was not as common as it is today. I also grew up riding horses and, at that time, wearing a helmet during horseback riding was almost nonexistent.

I live in a rural part of West Texas, the Big Bend. Recently, my three children, ages 4, 9, and 12 years, have begun horseback riding. Our horse, Splash, is very well-trained, calm, and about as kid-friendly as any parent could hope for. In the horse world, Splash is called a “good keeper.” Just as before getting on a bicycle saddle, my children know to cover their heads with a helmet before mounting their horse.

Wearing a helmet while horseback riding and even when just around horses is as important, if not more so, than when riding a bicycle. First, when atop a horse, riders’ heads can be 13 feet above the ground. Second, horses are capable of moving at high rates of speed — up to 40 miles per hour. Third, horses, even well-trained good keepers, can be unpredictable and may buck or become “spooked” at a moment’s notice.  In the United States in 2007, there were 11,759 emergency room visits for head injury from horse riding (NEISS data 2007).

A rider’s helmet is the most important piece of equipment to help prevent an accidental injury when he or she rides a horse — or a bicycle. Be sure you purchase and wear the proper helmet for each sport, which is optimized for potential hazards in the sport. An equestrian helmet, for horseback riding, can absorb a fall or a kick to the head from a horse that the head was never designed to do. Bike helmets are made of lighter-weight materials and are designed to protect the parts of a head most at risk in a bicycle accident, which differ from what’s at risk during horseback riding.

Recently, I experienced two reminders about the risks of horseback riding and the importance of wearing an approved helmet. First, my oldest son, Blake, was riding in the pasture earlier this spring at a fast lope. Blake decided he wanted to stop, so he let out “Whoa!” to Splash, our well-trained horse. Splash did as he was instructed and trained, and he set up for a hard stop. Though he signaled the stop, my son was not quite expecting such an abrupt stop. He flew over the front of the horse, flipped in the air, and slammed down buttocks first, then hit the back of his helmeted head onto the rock-laden pasture.

Blake got up to dust himself off, but he missed the dirt coating the back of his helmet. As his father I did not miss the fact that had he not been wearing that helmet, we may have been heading to the emergency room or worse. I was thankful for that most important piece of equipment, the helmet.

My other reminder happened as I was riding recently and my horse spooked at something. Before I knew it, I was in midair as he literally dropped out from under me, and I fell to the ground. I was all right, and only my pride was hurt. I was fortunate; even though I have considered myself a role model for bicyclists and always wear my bicycle helmet when riding, I was not wearing a helmet while horseback riding that day. I felt very lucky, but I was embarrassed that I was not modeling good safety etiquette. I am now shopping for an equestrian helmet!

When looking for a helmet for horseback riding, purchase a product that is ASTM/SEI (American Society for Testing and Materials/Safety Equipment Institute)-certified. Excellent websites for equine safety are Riders 4 Helmets and the Equestrian Medical Safety Association.

TMA has a fact sheet that shows how to properly wear a bicycle helmet.

Have a safe summer, and wear that helmet when bicycle or horseback riding!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Prevent Premature Birth to Protect Your Newborn’s Health

By Stephanie Carson-Henderson, MD
Fort Worth OB-Gyn
TMA Leadership College Class of 2015

As we approach Mother’s Day, many of us who are lucky enough to be called “mommy” will remember the birth stories of our children … the contractions, the exhaustion … all of which are followed by the elation of seeing our newborn’s face for the first time. But if you have experienced preterm labor and a premature birth, you know that all of these emotions will quickly be overshadowed by the fear of a premature baby.  After two full-term births, my third child unexpectedly came a month early, and I now know firsthand just how frightening this can be. Thankfully, he was fine, but this is not always the case.

In the United States, one in nine babies will be born premature (delivery before 37 weeks). While our country’s preterm birth rate has declined in the last several years, it still remains higher than most developed nations. Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies born early are at risk for serious health problems and life-long disabilities. While we still do not know all of the causes of preterm labor and we may not be able to prevent all preterm births, here are some recommendations to promote a full term pregnancy:

  1. Take care of your health before you become pregnant, also known as “preconception health.” This is especially important if you have a chronic medical condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma.
  2. Eat a healthy diet. Include a daily prenatal vitamin, even in the months before you try to conceive.
  3. Seek regular prenatal care once you are pregnant in order to monitor your health and your baby’s health. Be sure to mention any new symptoms.
  4. Avoid smoking and other unhealthy substances such as alcohol and illegal drugs.
  5. Get regular exercise and minimize stress.
  6. Talk with your physician about optimal spacing between pregnancies.

Know the warning signs of preterm labor. If you do experience any of the symptoms, contact your physician right away.

Although we cannot predict every preterm labor and prevent premature delivery, doing everything we can to promote a healthy pregnancy and full term delivery will go a long way to ensuring a healthy baby — and a Happy Mother’s Day.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mom’s Gift of Vaccination Protects Baby From Whooping Cough

Moms do all they can to keep their babies safe and healthy. As we celebrate Mother’s Day, the physicians of Texas Medical Association (TMA) urge pregnant moms and moms-to-be to get vaccinated against whooping cough, or pertussis.  

“Babies can’t get their first pertussis vaccine until they are 2 months old, so mom’s vaccination helps protect them during these early weeks of life,” said Jeanne S. Sheffield, MD, a Dallas obstetrician/gynecologist and member of TMA’s Committee on Infectious Diseases. “Whooping cough is especially dangerous for babies under one year of age, possibly even deadly, so getting vaccinated is an easy and effective thing a mom can do to help keep them healthy.”

The Tdap vaccination (a combination vaccination that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) is recommended during each pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the vaccination may be given any time during pregnancy, the CDC recommends pregnant moms receive it between 27 and 36 weeks of gestation, or during the third trimester.

Vaccinating women with Tdap during pregnancy helps them develop antibodies against pertussis that are passed on to the baby, said Dr. Sheffield. The protection is two-fold: Mom is less likely to catch and pass whooping cough to her baby, and baby gets protection from the disease until he or she can begin to get vaccinated. Because babies require a series of pertussis vaccinations once they’re old enough, they are not fully protected until they’re close to 18 months of age.

Of course, not only mom could pass pertussis on to the baby. In most cases, infants catch pertussis from a family member or caregiver. Pertussis symptoms in adults can be mild, so a mother, father, or other caregiver might unknowingly spread pertussis to a baby.

That’s why physicians recommend that all adults who will come into contact with the baby get a Tdap vaccination. This includes parents, siblings, grandparents, child care providers, and health care workers. “We call this ‘cocooning,’ ” said Dr. Sheffield, “where you protect the defenseless baby in a vaccine cocoon until baby can protect him- or herself.”

Texas reported 3,985 pertussis cases in 2013, the most cases in a year since 1959, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Eleven percent of those (most of them children under age 1) ended up in the hospital, and all five of the people who died of pertussis in 2013 were infants. In 2014, statistics improved slightly with 2,576 cases of pertussis and two infant deaths (based on preliminary data).  

If you’re pregnant, physicians say, ask your doctor about Tdap vaccine. TMA has published a fact sheet about the importance of pertussis vaccination, in English and Spanish

Be Wise — Immunize is funded by the TMA Foundation, thanks to generous support from H-E-B and TMF Health Quality Institute, and gifts from physicians and their families.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Texas Legislature Honors Physician for Starting Helmet Giveaway Program

Larry C. Driver, MD, of Houston, was recognized by the Texas House of Representatives on Thursday for launching Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) Hard Hats for Little Heads bicycle helmet giveaway program, in honor of two recent milestones. The program reached its 20th year, and TMA exceeded 200,000 free helmets given to Texas children to protect them from head injury.

“I am humbled to accept this recognition on behalf of Texas physicians, medical students and residents, TMA Alliance members, and other volunteers who have contributed over the years to make Hard Hats for Little Heads a success,” said Dr. Driver, who practices at MD Anderson Cancer Center. “This is an example of how Texas physicians care about Texans, especially young Texans. We are all about looking out for their safety.”

Rep. J.D. Sheffield, DO, of Gatesville, a TMA member who has sponsored several Hard Hats helmet giveaway events, made the presentation, which declared April 30 as Hard Hats for Little Heads Day.


“Twenty years ago this man brought the idea to TMA to give away helmets free,” said Representative Sheffield after he introduced Dr. Driver. “Since the program began 20 years ago, more than 200,000 helmets have been given — that’s 10,000 heads per year that have been protected from trauma. During Child Safety Month, it is fitting that we raise awareness about head trauma and the importance of wearing a helmet,” he said.

In 1994, Dr. Driver was living in San Angelo when a young neighbor fell off her bike and suffered a concussion. She was not wearing a bicycle helmet. The doctor knew a helmet could have prevented her injury, so he began to create a bike helmet giveaway program whereby he and his physician colleagues could prevent brain injuries in children.

TMA adopted Dr. Driver’s idea, and the Hard Hats for Little Heads program was born. San Angelo physicians, with the help of the local police department, gave away the program’s first 500 helmets.

Through Hard Hats for Little Heads, Texas physicians urge children to be active and to stay safe: The program’s motto is “Get Moving. Stay Safe. Wear a Helmet.” TMA encourages helmet use for all sports on wheels: biking, inline skating, skateboarding, and riding a scooter. Studies have shown that properly worn bike helmets can prevent up to 85 percent of brain injuries. Head injury is the most common cause of death and serious disability from bike crashes.

“How many of you have children?” Representative Sheffield asked House members. “I hope you insist they wear a helmet every time they ride a bike. And that you do the same yourself.”

Hard Hats for Little Heads is made possible through a grant from TMA’s philanthropic arm, the TMA Foundation (TMAF), thanks to top donors — Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, Prudential, and two anonymous foundations — and gifts from physicians and their families, and friends of medicine.

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