Bettendorf, IA - The North Central States Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society will hold its annual walk MS in the Quad Cities on Saturday, May 8th, 2010 at Veterans Memorial Park.

More than 700 walkers are expected to come out and help raise the goal of $57,500.  Funds raised will support direct services for the more than 8,000 people with MS and their families in the North Central States Chapter area and national MS research to find a cure for this chronic disease of the central nervous system.

We encourage families to come out to this event. Adults & children of all ages are welcome to participate, and enjoy some fun.  Walk MS: Quad Cities Walk will be entering its 9th year. Walkers will participate in a 3 mile walk, and the festivities will take off and end at the Veteran Memorial Park in Bettendorf with lunch being served following the walk. Registration will open at 8:30 am and the walk will begin at 10:00 am. People can participate in walk MS individually, as a team, or as a virtual walker.

A special thanks to our 2010 walk MS sponsors: Wal-Mart, Mike & Monique Gorsline, WHBF, Golden Corral, & Starbucks.

  • WHAT: walk MS: Quad Cities Walk to benefit the North Central States Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  • WHEN: Saturday, May 8th, 2010 at 10:00 am
  • WHERE: Veterans Memorial Park
  • REGISTRATION: Visit www.myMSwalk.org, call 319-447-1800 or email emily.hoover@nmss.org.
  • WHY: Proceeds raised will benefit the North Central States Chapter of the National MS Society.

About the National Multiple Sclerosis Society

  • The National MS Society helps each person address the challenges of living with MS through our 50-state network of chapters.
  • Through our home office and 50-state network of chapters, we fund more MS research, provide more services to people with MS, offer more professional education and further more advocacy efforts than any other MS organization in the world.
  • The Society is dedicated to achieving a world free of MS.  We are people who want to do something about MS now.  Join the movement at www.nationalmssociety.org.

About Multiple Sclerosis

  • Every hour in the United States, someone is newly diagnosed with MS, an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system.
  • Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis.  The advancement, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS.
  • Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with more than twice as many women as men being diagnosed with the disease.
  • MS affects more than 400,000 people in the U.S. and 2.5 million worldwide.

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MADISON, Wis.?The human body is composed of about 70 percent water. Take that as a hint.

Water is at the top of the list of things you should be drinking plenty of, says Dr. Kristina Penniston, a clinical nutritionist with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH).

Penniston, who works primarily with kidney specialists, says what you choose to drink, and in what quantity, has a huge impact on the health of your kidneys and other parts of your body. Every day, the average American guzzles several quarts of liquid --everything from good old H20 to drinks like coffee, soda, juice and alcohol.

Water is best, but you don't necessarily have to heed the old saw that suggests you drink a full eight glasses a day.

"Our need for fluids varies so much, and there's really no one-size-fits-all amount," says Penniston. "Everything depends on what you're doing?are you sweating during physical activity or are you sitting at a desk being sedentary?"

If you're looking to avoid kidney stones?and given the pain they can cause, you should be?both lemonade and orange juice both contain a citrate that helps prevent the buildup of calcium oxylate, the substance that forms kidney stones.

That's a good thing. But there's also a drawback: both beverages are laden with sugar and calories.

"We don't drink eight ounces of pure lemon juice, which is what actually provides the protection," says Penniston. "We dilute it with water and sugar, and that changes the equation of how healthy it is fairly significantly."

Cranberry juice has its share of sugar, too, but some recent research suggests it also has something else: a substance that may inhibit the strains of e.coli bacteria that can cause painful urinary-tract infections.

"We know that you can show in a test tube that the infectious bacteria are kept in check by cranberry juice," says Dr. Dr. Sarah McAchran, an urologist and assistant professor of urology at UW. "The question is, when you drink the juice, does the protective element excrete into the urine and the urinary tract?"

Grapefruit juice is packed with vitamins and minerals. But if you're on certain types of antidepressants, or using statins to control cholesterol, you need to avoid it, because it interferes with the body's ability to metabolize the drugs. In some cases, the interaction speeds up the body's response to certain drugs, creating a dangerous and life-threatening situation.

Then there's soda, the favorite beverage of many--if not most-- Americans. In fact, the United States is responsible for more than a third of the world's total soda consumption every year. Penniston suggests we should choose another option?or at least cut way back.

"I would really ask people to wake up to the fact that the amounts of high-fructose corn syrup found in most types of sodas are associated with all sorts of troublesome health issues, from obesity and kidney stones to gout and insulin resistance," she says.

Diet sodas don't lead to obesity, but they aren't necessarily much better. A 2009 Brigham and Women's Hospital study suggested that women who consume more than two diet sodas a day may be doubling their risk of kidney-function decline.

Vegetable juice drinks seem like a no-brainer?after all, aren't all those great vitamins in things like tomato juice cocktails wonderful for us? Well, yes. But the huge amounts of sodium that accompany some of them aren't.

"The kidneys actually mirror the heart in several ways," says Dr. Stephen Nakada, head of the division of urology at UW Hospital and Clinics. "And that includes the fact that too much sodium isn't good for either of them. High levels of sodium contribute to kidney stones, and are a risk factor for high blood pressure and heart attacks."

Sports drinks are also loaded with sodium, which makes them an odd choice for those who drink them while sitting in their cubicles rather than after a 10K run.

"It's good to remember that these drinks were formulated for elite athletes who need to replace fluids lost to sweat," notes Penniston. "The rest of us probably shouldn't drink them unless we need them." Opting for the low-sugar and low-sodium versions of these drinks is another possibility.

The bigger issue with many of these drinks, says Dr. Nakada, is actually the size of the bottles. In recent years, both soda and sports-drink bottles seem to have been put on some kind of steroid regimen?20 and 24-ounces bottles have edged out 12 and 16-ounce servings. Some companies have also begun to offer smaller-size serving options, but big bottles still dominate the shelves.

"If you're smart, you're staying away from large drinks," says Dr. Nakada. "Whatever drink you're talking about, the bottom line is you should try to avoid excesses, and simplification is best."

Dr. Penniston agrees. "The key to all of this is that your beverage intake should be diverse, and it should center on moderation. You don't want to have too much of any type of drink."

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DAVENPORT, Iowa -- March 8, 2010 -- Communitas Awards has recognized Genesis Health System for Leadership In Community Service.

Genesis received a Communitas Award award for its Flu-Free Quad Cities project that provided seasonal influenza vaccinations to more than 10,000 elementary school children in 2009.

The Communitas Awards are an international effort to recognize exceptional businesses, organizations and individuals that are unselfishly giving of themselves and their resources, and those that are changing how they do business to benefit their communities. Nominees are evaluated on the extent and effectiveness of their efforts.

The Communitas Awards is an outgrowth of the pro bono recognition program of the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP). Founded in 1995, AMCP fosters and supports the efforts of its members who contribute their unique marketing and communication talents to public service and charitable organizations.

Genesis Flu-Free Quad Cities is an initiative of Genesis Health System that started three years ago with the idea to protect thousands of elementary school children against seasonal influenza.

Starting out as a pilot project in 2007 with 300 students in three schools, the program has expanded to reach 10,000 children in 82 schools throughout the Quad Cities area of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois.

Children in elementary schools often go unvaccinated. They are not generally considered to be a high-risk group because they rarely suffer severe complications of flu, but they are very efficient carriers.  They carry seasonal flu into their homes and into the communities where they reside.  They carry the flu to baby siblings who may be at higher risk from complications and to grandparents, who also are at higher risk of complications.

Through the Genesis Health Services Foundation, more than $250,000 was raised to fund the project in 2009.

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Washington, DC - Reps. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Peter Welch (D-Vermont) introduced legislation yesterday (Mar 3, 2010) requiring the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate prescription drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries. The Medicare Prescription Drug Act of 2010 could save more than $156 billion over the course of 10 years. Currently, there are 336,000 Iowans enrolled in Medicare Part D.

"Restoring Medicare's ability to negotiate with drug companies is long overdue and will dramatically lower health care costs.  It defied logic to pass a prescription drug benefit that prevented negotiations to lower costs," Braley said. "In 2010, 94% of Iowa seniors can expect to see an increase in Part D premiums. These types of increases are unsustainable for Iowa seniors. The fact that there is no negotiation occurring between HHS and the insurance companies is a major reason for these increases. By requiring the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies for Medicare Part D patients, we can save taxpayers billions of dollars."

This legislation is identical to bipartisan legislation introduced in the House in 2007. It's also identical to an amendment attached by Braley to the House-passed health care bill.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Committee on Finance, today made the following comment on a letter from President Obama to congressional leaders on health insurance reform legislation. The President cited Grassley's concern about Medicaid access.  Grassley attended the President's health care summit last week.

"The flawed Medicaid policy in the Senate bill is a disgrace for everyone who needs access to health care because it gives 15 million people a false promise by putting them in Medicaid where they'll face challenges finding providers who will see them.  There's no question Medicaid won't be able to provide adequate access.  It's good if the White House has figured that out.  The question becomes whether the President is willing to cut spending in the bill to guarantee the poorest people adequate access to care."

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and gastroenterologists  and other healthcare professionals from around the Quad Cities are joining forces to spread the word about how to prevent colon cancer.  This coalition, Colon Cancer Free QCA, includes physicians and their staff members from The Center for Digestive Health, Digestive Disease Center, Eastern Iowa Gastroenterology, PLC, Gastroenterology Consultants, S.C., Gastroenterology Associates, P.C., Gastrointestinal Clinic of the Quad Cities, Regional Surgicenter, Genesis Medical Center and Trinity Medial Center.

"We felt this partnership was necessary, because despite the fact that colon cancer is the second deadliest form of cancer, it is also the most preventable," said Dr. Erling Larson III of Gastroenterology Associates, P.C. and The Center for Digestive Health.  The disease affects men and women equally and colonoscopies are the most effective prevention method.

"Colon cancer is the second most common cancer killer," expressed Dr. Rao Movva, medical director at Gastroenterology Consultants, S.C.  "However, if the cancer is detected early, your chance at survival is about 90 percent."  People with an average risk for colon cancer should be tested at age 50.  However, screenings should begin at age 40 if you have a family history of colon cancer. Dr. Sreenivas Chintalapani of Digestive Disease Center states, "Colon cancer also does not discriminate.  It crosses all social economic lines."

Colon Cancer Free QCA will be running public service announcements throughout the month of March and will end the month with an event on Saturday, March 27 at the Radisson Hotel in Davenport.  This event will include entertainment from Comedy Sportz, along with a few local colon cancer survivors who will tell their story.  Admission to this event is just $35.00 and all proceeds will go to Gilda's Club of The Quad Cities.  Please make your reservation today at www.coloncancerfreeqca.com.

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Go ahead and enjoy Lemonades Girl Scout Cookies being sold by Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa & Western Illinois. They're totally safe to eat.

The lemon-flavored cookies being sold locally are not affected by reports of returns being requested by another baker of Girl Scout Cookies.

Lemonades are manufactured by ABC Bakers. Cookies of various lot numbers being requested to be returned are made by Little Brownie Bakers, another approved Girl Scout Cookies baker. Little Brownie Bakers' Lemon Chalet Cremes have been affected by an oil rancidity issue, that while renders an issue with the smell of the product, it remains safe to be consumed.

ABC Bakers regularly tests their cookies and have not noticed similar problems nor do they expect similar issues with any of the products that they manufacture for Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa & Western Illinois. None of the products being produced by ABC Bakers are involved with the recent problems experienced by Little Brownie Bakers.

For more information, call the GSEIWI office at 309.283.2359.

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MADISON, Wis. - Feb 25, 2010 - Whooping cough is becoming more common in infants - and a big part of the solution is for women to get a booster vaccination before they become pregnant or right after they give birth.

Also known as pertussis, whooping cough is a contagious bacterial disease of the upper respiratory system. It can lead to uncontrollable coughing and breathing difficulties and can cause permanent disability and even death in infants.

Dr. Jim Conway, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, says that, until they can be vaccinated, infants are totally dependent on the antibodies they get from their mother during pregnancy.

"The baby's primary protection for the first couple of months of life is what they get from mom," Conway says. "So, it is important for moms to get vaccinated, so they can give some immunity to the baby."

But Conway says this rule doesn't apply only to the mother.

"Anyone who has contact with infants should also receive the vaccination so that they don't expose the infant," he says.  "The mother is one part of it, and should receive vaccine either before pregnancy or immediately after delivering.  In addition, all family members should get it."

Dr. Greg DeMuri, also an infectious-disease specialist and associate professor at UW, says there have been greater efforts to get new moms immunized.

"Many women who have given birth have not had a pertussis booster since kindergarten," he says. "Some hospitals are implementing vaccination programs on their labor and delivery units."

The booster vaccine not only protects against whooping cough, but also against tetanus and diphtheria. Infants get their first immunizations in three doses, beginning at two months of age. After that first series, children should receive shots between 15 and 18 months; four to six years; and when they reach age 11 or 12.

Immunizations don't end at childhood, and adults should check with their physicians during routine visits and annual physicals to see if they are due for booster shots to guard against tetanus, an infection often connected to puncture wounds from rusty nails, fish hooks, or open wounds infected by dirt. If left untreated, tetanus may cause muscle contractions and other complications requiring hospitalization.

"Tetanus is a soil microbe, so as long as there is soil, there will be tetanus, and people will be at risk of tetanus contaminating a wound," says DeMuri. "It's completely preventable by vaccination. Adolescents and adults should receive regular boosters every 10 years."

Conway says about 30 to 40 cases are diagnosed annually, and most of them are in the western part of the country and involve people over 40 years old.

"They stop paying attention to their health, think they are super human and don't need the vaccine," he says. "Also, it's not routine practice to administer these vaccines in other countries, and some immigrants may not be protected. Older adults who get tetanus usually survive, but it's an unpleasant condition in which all of your muscles are spasmodic."

Conway says people who get puncture wounds or infected lacerations should get a shot as soon as possible if they are not sure of their vaccination history. However, a product called tetanus immunoglobulin can be given to patients who wait too long and put themselves at greater risk.

"If someone stepped on a nail three or four days ago, and they haven't had a tetanus booster for more than 10 years, tetanus immunoglobulin can provide instant immunity and the antibodies needed to fight off tetanus," he says.

 

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2010 - USDA officials today highlighted one of its newest web-based mapping tool, Your Food Environment Atlas, which will enable researchers, policy makers, and the public to find information on a range of factors that affect access to healthy, affordable food, and will allow users to map the data by county. The map will provide highly detailed information on local food environments and health outcomes, including grocery store access and disease and obesity prevalence.

The demonstration of the new mapping tool follows First Lady Michelle Obama's launch of the Let's Move! campaign, a high-priority initiative to address childhood obesity within a generation. The food environment atlas will help to jump-start a national discussion on childhood nutrition, health, and well-being. The Food Environment Atlas is at www.ers.usda.gov/foodatlas. Learn more about the Let's Move! campaign by visiting www.LetsMove.gov.

"The First Lady has set an aggressive goal of solving childhood obesity within a generation because this epidemic is keeping our children from reaching their potential, and we're going to need new tools, greater collaboration, and new partnerships to address this crisis," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "As we continue working to improve the nutrition of our kids, this new food atlas will be an important tool to help decision makers become more aware of local challenges that impact the overall health and nutrition of the American people in their local communities."

Factors such as food prices, household income, and proximity and access to grocery stores in a community are among the potential determinants of balanced, healthy diets. These "food environment" factors interact to influence food choices and diet quality, and also reflect the outcome in terms of residents' well-being.

The Food Environment Atlas, developed by the USDA's Economic Research Service, assembles information on three broad categories of food environment indicators:
  • Food Choices-Indicators of the community's access to and acquisition of healthy, affordable food. Examples are access and proximity to a grocery store; number of food stores and restaurants; expenditures on fast foods; food and nutrition assistance program participation; quantities of foods eaten; food prices; food taxes; and availability of local foods.
  • Health and Well-Being-Indicators of the community's success in maintaining healthy diets. Examples are food insecurity; diabetes and obesity rates; and physical activity levels.
  • Community characteristics-Indicators of community characteristics that might influence the food environment. Examples are demographic composition; income and poverty; population loss; urban versus rural location; natural amenities; and recreation and fitness centers.
The online Atlas currently contains 90 indicators of the food environment and is available to the public. Most of the data are at the county level. A user can select an indicator - for example, the prevalence of obesity - and create a map showing how obesity levels vary across the United States or across a state. Atlas users can identify counties with a combination of indicators - for example, those with persistent child poverty as well as high numbers of residents with poor access to grocery stores.  The Atlas also allows users to get data on any and all of the county-level indicators for a particular county.
In addition to USDA's Economic Research Service, a number of government agencies contributed to the data in the Food Environment Atlas. The National Institutes of Health provided indicators on physical activity and recreation centers; USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service provided indicators on farmers' markets; USDA's Food and Nutrition Service provided information on State-level food and nutrition assistance program participation rates; and the National Farm-to-School Network provided statistics on farm-to-school programs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contributed the statistics on obesity and diabetes.

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley is asking Wellmark for information about its plan to increase health insurance rates.

In a letter sent today, Grassley requested an accounting of the factors considered, including any independent actuarial analysis, data about reserves, and documentation of the insurer's effort, announced in 2007, to make itself a true nonprofit.

"I'm asking because Iowa consumers deserve to know, and as the health care debate in Washington continues, insurance rate increases are a major issue. The health reform legislation passed last year would not drive costs down.  In fact, health reform bills passed by the House and Senate would cause premiums to go up even more than they already would have gone up, according to the Congressional Budget Office," Grassley said.

The text of Grassley's letter to Wellmark is here.

 

February 23, 2010

Mr. John Forsyth

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield

636 Grand Ave

Des Moines, IA 50309-2565

Dear Mr. Forsyth:

As the senior senator from Iowa and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance, I am writing regarding Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield's plan to increase health insurance premiums by as much as 22 percent on April 1, 2010.  At a time of record unemployment rates and sluggish wage growth, I'm concerned that a rate increase of this magnitude could force some Iowans to drop health insurance entirely.  This would not only have a negative impact on the health of Iowa citizens, but could also place a greater financial burden on providers that will be forced to deliver more uncompensated care.

Recent reports have stated that Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans to raise premiums by an average of 18 percent for approximately 80,000 of its 1.8 million customers.  This is almost twice as much as last year's 9.3 percent increase.  Moreover, some 44,000 Wellmark beneficiaries will see rate increases as high as 22 percent.  I'm particularly concerned about the level of these increases since the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Office of the Actuary recently reported that health care spending increased by a much lower rate of 5.7 percent in 2009.  I understand that the individual and small group health insurance markets face unique challenges regarding adverse selection and that the recent economic downturn has likely exacerbated these challenges.  However, I also believe Iowans deserve a clear explanation for why premiums are increasing at a much faster rate than national health care spending.

As Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance, I take my oversight responsibilities very seriously and I have always believed that greater transparency allows consumers to make better choices.  Accordingly, in an effort to obtain more information about Wellmark's plan to increase health insurance rates on April 1, 2010, I ask that you respond to the following questions and requests by no later than March 8, 2010.  In responding, please repeat the question followed by the appropriate response.

1.   What factors were taken into consideration when coming up with the health insurance rates for 2010?

2.   Were the 2010 rates reviewed by any independent actuarial firms before being presented to the Iowa Insurance Division? If so, please provide a copy of this independent analysis and any supporting documentation.

3.   Please provide a report on Wellmark's average Medical Loss Ratio in its individual and small group products for each of the last five years along with a description and explanation of the factors involved.

4.   Please provide a report on the amount held in reserves for each year for the past five years along with an explanation of how Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield's reserves compare to any minimum levels required by the Iowa Insurance Division, and whether Wellmark utilized any reserves to mitigate rate increases for 2010 or for any year within the five year period.

5.   In 2007, Wellmark announced its goal to be a pure non-profit and reduce profits to 0 percent. Please provide copies of Wellmark's Form 1120, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return, for the past five years. Please also provide copies of all studies and reports used to determine compensation for the officers listed on Schedule E of Form 1120.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.  While there are strong differences of opinion on how to improve the U.S. health care system, there is widespread agreement that health care spending levels are unsustainable.  Your answers to the questions listed above will not only be informative for Iowa consumers, but will also be helpful as Congress considers potential policy solutions.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

Ranking Member

 

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