Health briefs for Jan. 4, 2014: Arthritis exercise class available

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An Arthritis Foundation Exercise Class will be offered from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Mondays at Sunset Meadows 1.

This is an easy exercise class for older adults or those facing physical challenges, providing a workout for the entire body while primarily seated. Have fun with friends and feel better with movement.

The cost per class is a $3 donation to the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

For more information, call 970-871-7676.

January is awareness month for multiple medical issues

January includes observances for numerous medical topics, such as birth defect prevention, blood donations, cervical cancer and glaucoma.

Birth defect prevention: Women of childbearing age and their care providers need to know that folic acid promotes good health before, during and after pregnancy.

Daily consumption of the B vitamin folic acid beginning before pregnancy is crucial, as birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida, can occur in the early weeks following conception, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.

For more information about preventing birth defects, visit www.marchofdimes.com or consult local medical experts about prenatal care.

Blood donations: Blood is traditionally in short supply during the winter months, especially January, because of the holidays, travel schedules, inclement weather and illness. A reduction in turnout can put the nation’s blood inventory at a critical low.

January has been designated as National Blood Donor Month to encourage donors to give or pledge to give blood.

For more information about donor eligibility, visit www.bonfils.org or contact your local medical organization.

Cervical cancer: During January, issues are highlighted relating to cervical cancer, human papillomavirus and the importance of early detection, along with personal stories of women and caregivers battling persistent HPV, pre-cancer or cervical cancer. In addition, recent advances and research in the prevention, detection and treatment of cervical cancer and HPV as well as the success of local early detection cervical cancer screening and treatment programs are acknowledged.

The Foundation for Women’s Cancer, the National Cervical Cancer Public Education Campaign and its partner organizations promote the message that cervical cancer is preventable. Vaccinate early, Pap test regularly and HPV test when recommended.

For more information, visit www.wcn.org or www.nccc-online.org, or consult with local experts on women's health.

Glaucoma: More than 2.2 million Americans ages 40 and older suffer from glaucoma. Nearly half do not know they have the disease — it causes no early symptoms.

Prevent Blindness America provides insightful information about this “sneak thief of sight.”

For more information, visit www.preventblindness.org.

New federal budget agreement could reduce health care access for thousands of Coloradans

GREENWOOD VILLAGE — Colorado hospitals face yet another round of new Medicare payment reductions, this time estimated at approximately $90 million statewide as a result of the Bipartisan Budget Act passed earlier this month in Washington. Provisions in the act include extending Medicare payment cuts under the Budget Control Act, or sequestration, two more years — until 2023 instead of 2021.

This marks the latest in a series of unexpected Medicare payment cuts mandated by Congress that continue to threaten the financial stability of many Colorado hospitals. Rural communities will be especially affected by this action.

A Colorado Hospital Association analysis in March 2013 found that Colorado hospitals were already facing more than $2 billion in Medicare cuts throughout 10 years, equating to a nearly 10 percent reduction in Medicare revenue. While some of these cuts were expected under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, approximately $700 million worth of Medicare payment cuts to Colorado hospitals has been incurred since then via additional congressional actions.

In 2012, Colorado hospitals received $257 million less for providing care to Medicare patients than in 2009.

“This trend is not only troubling but also unsustainable for some of our hospitals in the long run,” said Steven J. Summer, CHA president and chief executive officer. “We’re gravely concerned that this could result in longer wait times, reduced access and even the end of some vital health care services in Colorado communities with higher percentages of Medicare patients. The federal government simply can’t keep balancing its books on the backs of hospitals and the patients they serve without significant societal repercussions down the road.”

A recent study by the Center for Studying Health System Change links Medicare cuts to reduced access to health care. Published in the October 2013 edition of “Health Affairs,” the analysis focused on Medicare prices and hospital utilization in 10 states from 1995 to 2009. The results suggest that “Medicare price cuts lead hospitals to reduce capacity and provide fewer services to the elderly,” the researchers wrote. “Hospitals do not appear to leave beds empty in response to Medicare price cuts. Instead, they appear to reduce their scale of operations by shutting down beds.”

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