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Federal shutdown starting to leave mark in NC

By Sarah Ovaska-Few

Four weeks into the federal government shutdown, Rochelle Poe is distraught, unable to pay the January rent for her Raleigh townhome and facing possible eviction.

Poe, a 20-year employee and mortgage underwriter for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says the threat of eviction over her $1,092 overdue rent has made it difficult to sleep or eat. She’s tried selling belongings, taking purses to a consignment shop and listing a new TV on Facebook’s Marketplace. Friends have chipped in money for groceries and gas.

photo of a smiling African American woman looking at the camera
Furloughed USDA worker Rochelle Poe. Photo courtesy: Rochelle Poe

“We want to go back work,” Poe said, about herself and fellow federal workers. “We’re not looking for a handout or anything, we just want to go back to our jobs so we can pay our bills.”

Also frustrating, she said, is a lack of collective anger from the public over the shutdown, with a fraction of the nation’s workforce affected.

“There’s no real outrage about the fact that we are going without,” Poe said.

Word came Wednesday, the same day her landlord said eviction proceedings would start, that a friend could loan Poe the rent money. It brought obvious relief but still leaves Poe with little to live on while she waits to find out when she can start working again.

“I was able to sleep last night for the first time in weeks,” Poe said.

Effects felt in NC

While the nation looks to Washington to resolve their differences, the effects of the shutdown are being felt, acutely for some like Poe, in North Carolina.

Of the nation’s federal agencies, several such as the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs had their 2019 budgets approved before the stalemate over immigration and President Donald Trump’s push to build a wall along the southern border.

shows a white board covered in writing
The list of critical needs at Fayetteville Urban Ministry includes more than 60 items. Photo credit: Sarah Ovaska-Few

But among the nine affected agencies are the Departments of State, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, Transportation and Treasury.  [A full list is here.]

An estimated 800,000 workers have been furloughed, meaning they’re not at work, while an additional 420,000, who are deemed essential, have been working without pay. Also affected are federal government contractors, who are not working, and may not see back pay once the government is back up and running.

Here in North Carolina, an analysis by Governing magazine estimates 7,678 federal employees work at agencies where they’re either being furloughed or working without pay.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is using reserves to keep its hospital and tribal health care running as normal, according to a news report from the Cherokee One Feather, a news publication that covers the North Carolina tribe. The hospital, which gets approximately a third of its funding through the federal Indian Health Service, could face bigger problems if the shutdown continues for an extended period of time.

Gov. Roy Cooper has expressed concern that the federal shutdown could delay ongoing recovery work from last year’s hurricanes as well.

Housing help frozen

The Fayetteville Urban Ministry, a non-profit that distributes food, clothing and more to the needy, is bracing for an increase in requests for help as a result of the federal government shutdown and the reality of no paychecks in a town with a lot of federal contractors.

“We’ll see it spike,” said Johnny Wilson, the organization’s executive director.

two women on opposite sides of a table work on a check list. There's a box on the table between them
Deborah Hanley, left, goes over food items she received with Chanell N’Smith of Fayetteville Urban Ministry. Photo credit: Sarah Ovaska-Few

In 2013, when the federal government was shut down for 16 days, the Fayetteville organization served more than double the number of people it usually served, offering emergency food provisions and clothing, Wilson said. This year, they’ve had full waiting rooms of those looking for help, though Wilson was unsure if it’s due to the shutdown or the struggles many have to stay afloat.

One of its nonprofit’s most powerful weapons against homelessness – one-time emergency money to help with rent or mortgage payments – is caught up in the wide net of disruptions from the impasse in Washington.

“That’s the one that’s really impacted by this,” Wilson said. “We are on the pause button.”

The funds come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, one of several federal agencies that haven’t had their 2019 budgets authorized. The nonprofit had a small reserve but exhausted that in just a week, Wilson said.

Mental health benefits help line NC Dept of Insurance 855-408-1212

So, the organization is back to doing what it can and offering clothing and food to those who qualify and are in need.

Collecting food at the nonprofit Friday was Deborah Hanley, who said she’s been pinning her hope for survival on a hearing date next month with the Social Security Administration.

Mental health and heart issues, including a heart attack in September that left the uninsured woman with more than $20,000 in unpaid hospital bills, prevent her from working, she said.

But, while she thinks the hearing will go forward as the agency is one of the several to have funding, Hanley is unsure if she will see any additional delays in getting the benefits if she’s approved.

shows two women on opposite sides of a table, they are packing up a box
Deborah Hanley, who expects to be homeless by the end of the month, looks at the fresh food offerings at Fayetteville Urban Ministry’s food pantry. Photo credit: Sarah Ovaska-Few

She and her adult son are on the brink of homelessness, unable to come up with the weekly $200 they pay to stay at a low-budget motel. Her son works two retail jobs but has had hours slashed in the new year.

“We’re about to be on the street,” Hanley said, crying as she held onto bags of donated food.

Food stamps released early

In response to the federal government shutdown, the USDA also called on the state to release February funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by Jan. 20, meaning that those who depend on the food assistance program commonly known as food stamps will receive their benefits earlier than normal.

While glad to have access to February funds, there’s concern from state health officials about whether struggling families may quickly go through their February benefits. State health officials are working to let families know so they can budget, said Susan Perry-Manning, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services deputy secretary in charge of the food stamps program.

The state agency also wants to get the word out that benefits are available now and for the next month.

“They don’t have to worry until the end of February,” she said. “Everything is business as usual.”

But there’s no clarity about what happens in March, should the shutdown extend that long. As of now, there’s no funding to distribute March benefits for SNAP or for the Woman, Infants, and Children program, which provides low-income mothers of young children with food assistance, Perry-Manning said.

The unprecedented nature of the shutdown has also meant conflicting messages on what is happening with local distribution of the federal SNAP program.

USDA has told states that the shutdown won’t impact the processing of new enrollees to the program and N.C. DHHS is encouraging counties to continue enrolling those who need help.

But earlier this week, the Orange County government was advising the opposite in a Facebook post, stating that those newly seeking help getting food on their table wouldn’t be able to sign up due to the shutdown.

When contacted, Lindsey Shewmaker of Orange County’s social services department said the county agency was trying to convey the overall uncertainty of what happens if the shutdown extends into late February and March. She emphasized that there is food available at their offices for those who need it.

“If there are any disruptions to benefits, they can come here and get food,” Shewmaker said.

For those looking to help others while the federal government is in limbo, consider making donations to local food pantries or food banks, Perry-Manning said.

“Making donations to their local food banks is a great way to help people that don’t have access to foods,” Perry-Manning said. “Now is a good time as is any time.”


[Note: This post has changed from the original to reflect Rochelle Poe is using Facebook Marketplace to sell her belongings, not Craigslist.]

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Dr. Joseph Sirven: Fake Health News

I asked my patient in the emergency room, “What’s going on?”

He said, “I stopped taking my medications!”

“What made you not want to take it? Were you having side effects? ”

“I started doing chiropractic manipulation of my shoulders, which stops my seizures.”

As non-judgmentally as I could, I responded, “where did you get the idea that a massage could control seizures?”

“Well, Twitter,” he said.

My patient is lucky. He managed to not die as a result of taking advice that he had picked up on social media. But it brings up a bigger question, how frequently does this happen?

According to two recent articles published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this is happening a lot. Twitter and other social media tools have taken over as the go-to source for health information for a large swath of the population.

The problem is that a lot of health-related social media posts are just plain wrong.

Scientists define fake health news as a health-related claim of fact that is currently false due to a lack of scientific evidence. Recent examples of the phenomena is the rise of the anti-vaccine movement, the hostility against healthcare workers during the 2014 Ebola outbreak and a recent analysis which shows that the public read more inaccurate posts regarding the Zika virus outbreak than accurate ones.

Researchers suggest a number of reasons why fake health news is on the rise.

First, it’s very easy and inexpensive to publish information on Twitter or Facebook and consumers can easily choose to read what they want rather than understand the context and nuance of a health issue. So if I want to find side effects of a given treatment, social media will find countless examples of side effects regardless if it’s true.

Second, the sheer volume of information on social media means that if enough people like some random fact, that fact may be interpreted as correct because if enough people like something, it must be right.

Fake health news is not a minor issue; it can hurt and, in rare cases, kill you. I tell my patients to always ask your doctor about social media posts they read and not assume it’s all true. In fact it’s best to assume that most health-related social media is false until proven otherwise just to be safe.

My patient in the ER joked with me that he wishes that you could smell social media posts like food. That way, good social media posts would smell good while bad ones would smell rotten!

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California’s Top Lawyer Cements His Role As Health Care Defender-In-Chief
Listen to KHN’s Samantha Young discuss the birth control ruling with WNPR’s Lucy Nalpathanchil on the program “Where We Live.” Can’t see the audio player? Click here to download.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Xavier Becerra, the political savvy Democratic attorney general of California, has sued the Trump administration 45 times in the past two years, often with much fanfare.

In winning a legal challenge Sunday against new government rules limiting birth control, he once against cemented himself as a national figure leading a fight against the administration across a range of issues — especially health care.

The 12 other states and the District of Columbia that had joined Becerra’s lawsuit also gained a last-minute reprieve from the federal regulations that would have taken effect Monday. They would have allowed most employers to refuse to provide insurance coverage for workers’ birth control by raising a religious or moral objection.

Those rules were also halted for the rest of the country on Monday when a Pennsylvania judge granted a nationwide injunction in a similar lawsuit.

The contraception case is one of several fronts where Becerra has led state coalitions to defend the Affordable Care Act in lawsuits in Texas, California and Washington, D.C.

“The Trump administration is trying to chip away at those protections,” said Andrew Kelly, an assistant professor at the Department of Health Sciences at California State University-East Bay. “It’s left to states like California and Attorney General Becerra in taking a lead in confronting these efforts.”

Becerra is perhaps best known for leading the opposition to the Texas v. U.S. lawsuit. In that suit, the Texas attorney general argued that the Affordable Care Act should be rendered unconstitutional because Congress eliminated the tax penalty on the uninsured. A federal judge last month sided with Texas, ruling that the federal health care law is unconstitutional.

Becerra, who said he helped write the health care law, said he felt compelled to step in when the Trump administration decided not to defend the law. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia joined that lawsuit, which is now on appeal.

The multistate strategy is one that attorneys general have used often in the past few decades when they don’t agree with policies coming out of Washington, legal and political experts say. And it’s not unique to one political party.

Republican attorneys general, for example, sued the Obama administration to block the expansion of Medicaid in their states. When George W. Bush was president, the state of Massachusetts led Democratic states in an effort to force the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

The legal tit for tat is what Nicholas Bagley, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, described as a disconcerting “militarization” of the state attorneys general offices to press an agenda in the courts.

“At a time of polarized politics, there’s every incentive to pull whatever levers are available to you to try to advance your goals,” Bagley said. “Over time, the state attorneys general have come to the view that the courts are an important forum to have these fights over important questions.”

The behavior of the attorneys general also comes in response to an administration that is using its executive authority to push initiatives that it can’t get Congress to approve.

President Donald Trump is left “to try to use either the regulatory process or executive order to accomplish his goals,” said Gerald Kominski, a professor of health policy at UCLA. “Anyone who opposes those goals has to proceed through the legal process to challenge them.”

Becerra, the first Latino to serve as California attorney general, has sued the Trump administration on a wide range of issues: health care, immigration, the Muslim travel ban, citizenship questions on the census, the border wall, climate change and clean-water rules.

When the former congressman was sworn in to his second term last week, he declared that he had “been a little busy keeping the dysfunction and insanity in Washington, D.C., from affecting California,” and defending the state from the “overreach of the federal government.” And he doesn’t have any plans to let up.

“Whether it’s the criminals on our streets or the con man in the boardrooms or the highest office of the land,” Becerra said, “we’ve got your back.”

But Becerra’s record has been mixed.

The victory in court Sunday was limited. Oakland-based U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. blocked the rules from taking effect in the District of Columbia and the 13 states that challenged them, but he refused to stop them from taking effect in the rest of the country. That national reprieve came a day later in a Pennsylvania court, with U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone describing the harm to women as “actual and imminent.”

If the administration appeals, as expected, Pennsylvania, along with California and its legal coalition would move ahead with their cases to permanently throw out the rules, arguing that the Affordable Care Act guaranteed women no-cost contraception as part of their preventive health care, a provision that they say has benefited more than 62 million women since 2012, when the regulations went into effect.

The Trump rules, California argued in legal filings, would “transform contraceptive coverage from a legal entitlement to an essentially gratuitous benefit wholly subject to an employer’s discretion.” In its proposed regulations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services described the exemption as narrow and one that would affect a fraction of women — no more than 127,000.

That’s a number Becerra disputes.

In claiming victory on the birth control lawsuit, Becerra said Sunday that his coalition will continue to advocate for women’s access to reproductive health care.

How much more will Becerra fight during the next four years? Addressing the crowd who gathered this month to see him sworn in to a second term, he conveyed a simple response:

“The sky is the limit.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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How clutter affects your health

Being thankful for what you don’t have might be just as important as being thankful for what you do have.

Home organization guru Marie Kondo has sparked an international phenomenon with her KonMari method of tidying up. Her process is based on figuring out which possessions “spark joy” in you, and getting rid of the rest.

Kondo is the star of a new Netflix series, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” in which she travels across the U.S. to teach American families how to get organized. She previously published a book by the same name in 2014.

Spoiler alert: getting organized does not just mean cleaning, sorting, and putting your things away. It is also about deciding what you need and love.

One in 11 Americans have so many possessions that they pay for storage space outside their home, according to the Self Storage Association.

Recent scientific research backs up the KonMari method, and shows that having too many things in your home may not only make it difficult to find your keys, but significantly impact how you feel.

Increased stress

In 2009, researchers at UCLA found that mothers who described their homes as “cluttered” had a stress hormone profile indicative of chronic stress. These moms also tended to have a more depressed mood throughout the day, were more tired in the evenings and had a difficult transition from work to home.

Decreased focus and productivity

Princeton researchers published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2011 that found in a cluttered visual environment, multiple objects compete for your attention, leading to poor focus. Clutter is distracting, and a person’s ability to be productive suffers.

Unhealthier eating

In a 2016 joint Australian-U.S. study, college students were twice as likely to reach for sugar-rich foods when they were stressed in a messy kitchen. Researchers found that the combination of feeling vulnerable and being left in a chaotic environment led to more unhealthy eating habits.

Decluttering is easy…but difficult too

Clutter accumulates for many reasons. A study published in The Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders in 2015 about our motives for collecting objects suggests that people have strong emotional attachments to their belongings. Those belongings can serve as a source of comfort, an extension of self and sentimental reminders of life events. People are also concerned about waste, and fear that they will lose or forget things if they are discarded.

Interestingly, a 2017 study published in The Journal of Marketing showed that people are more willing to part with their possessions if they were able to keep its memory by photographing it. A box of old toys is easier to part with if there is a memento.

Decluttering — a trend centuries in the making

Despite recent “declutter” trends, the act of purging one’s possessions can be found throughout history. The idea of “spring cleaning” has been practiced for centuries around the world, sometimes in preparation for a new year, as in China and Iran, and often linked to religious practice such as Clean Week prior to Lent in Catholicism or Passover in Judaism.

When it comes to clearing clutter, there is just no room to mess up.

Dr. Tiffany Truong is a resident physician in internal medicine in Houston, and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.

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Which affects health more – DNA code or ZIP code?

Which matters more to your health — nature, or environment? A new study has started to answer that question in a comprehensive way and it shows the scale falls on the side of nurture over nature, at least for young adults.

A team at Harvard Medical School and the University of Queensland in Australia built what they say is the world’s largest database of twin data, based on health insurance claims covering nearly 45 million people. Twins share much of their genetic code and sometimes share the same environment, so they are useful for studying the impact genetics has on health, behavior and other outcomes.

The study, published in the journal Nature Genetics, doesn’t have any big surprises. Overall, for diseases and conditions that hit people by early adulthood, genes account for about 40 percent of the variations from one person to another. Environment — broadly, climate, pollution, and socioeconomic status — accounts for most of the rest. “Environment” usually also includes behavior such as diet and lifestyle.

Genetics had the largest influence on early-in-life eye diseases and on cognitive, or learning, disorders. Environment was the clearest factor in morbid obesity and, unsurprisingly, on infections such as Lyme disease, which is spread by ticks. It was also, to no one’s surprise, the biggest factor in lead poisoning.

Health company giving drug disposal kits to West Virginia

A health care company is donating thousands of disposal kits to help West Virginia residents dispose of unused opioids and other drugs.

Gov. Jim Justice announced that UnitedHealthcare will give 10,000 opioid disposal kits to Recovery Point West Virginia to give to people so they can remove the drugs from their homes.

Each disposal kit deactivates up to 45 tablets or six opioid patches. The governor’s office said in a news release the kits contain activated carbon and are not a threat to the water supply or environment.

West Virginia by far leads the nation in the rate of drug overdose deaths.

For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.


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Dating apps: What are they doing to our mental health?

Will is a serial swiper, Alvin says he’s addicted, and Meggy is about to give up. Dating apps are everywhere, but how do they affect our mental health?

Follow three people on their dating journeys, find out what these apps might be doing to us, and learn how to use to them better.

UK users can watch more films from the BBC Like Minds series on iPlayer .

Produced by Lara Ingram, Alvaro Alvarez and Camila Ruz

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Reframing How We Think About Exercise Makes A New Habit Stick : Shots – Health News

“Feeling better isn’t just this selfish, hedonic thing — it actually is fuel. I consider energy from taking care of yourself as essential fuel for the things that matter most in our lives,” says Michelle Segar, a psychologist at the University of Michigan who studies how we sustain healthy behaviors like exercise.

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“Feeling better isn’t just this selfish, hedonic thing — it actually is fuel. I consider energy from taking care of yourself as essential fuel for the things that matter most in our lives,” says Michelle Segar, a psychologist at the University of Michigan who studies how we sustain healthy behaviors like exercise.

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I have become the type of person that used to mystify me. I … am a fitness fanatic.

That was certainly not the case a year and a half ago. Back then, like a lot of Americans, I was mostly sedentary (unless you count walking to meetings). Which is ironic, because, as a senior editor for NPR’s science, food and health team, it is literally my job to know better. But, with two small kids, a full-time job and recurring insomnia, I didn’t have the time or energy to work out. And I’m not going tell you how much I used to weigh, but it wasn’t healthy.

So what changed? For starters, I reframed what I thought of as exercise.

Get Fit — Faster: This 22-Minute Workout Has You Covered

“The research does now show that basically all movement counts, and anything is better than nothing,” says Michelle Segar, a psychologist and director of the University of Michigan Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center. She studies how we sustain healthy behaviors, and she says one big stumbling block for people is that they fail to take advantage of the exercise opportunities they can build into their daily lives, like taking the stairs or walking to work.

“I’ve been astounded that even up until today, very educated people don’t know — don’t believe — that walking actually ‘counts’ as valid exercise,” she says.

Get Started Exercising

This 22-Minute Workout Has Everything You Need

That was a big hang-up for me. I used to think if I wasn’t sweaty or huffing away on the treadmill for at least a half-hour straight, why bother?

But so much more counts as moderate exercise, science now tells us. There’s actually a pretty geeky but cool scientific resource called the Compendium of Physical Activities. It’s used by researchers to compare apples and oranges when it comes to exercise. And it uses a value called a MET, or metabolic equivalent.

“Just sitting, doing nothing, is a MET value of 1 — you’re working at your resting metabolic rate,” explains Loretta DiPietro, an exercise research scientist at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. “An activity that, say, is 2 METs makes you work at twice your resting metabolic rate. So getting up and walking across the room is about 2 METS.”

DiPietro says the Compendium lists the MET values for all kinds of activities — everything from mopping (that’s about 3.5 METS) to line dancing. (That can be almost 8 METS!)

But to count as moderately intense exercise, the magic number you want to hit is between 3 and 6 METS. (Alas, even the most vigorous sexual activity falls just short of that, according to the Compendium — though DiPietro suggests with a laugh that more research may be needed.)

Turns out, lots of regular activities meet the magic mark. Climb the stairs slowly and that’s 4 METs. Climb them quickly and it’s nearly 9 METS, which means you’re burning nearly nine times as many calories as you would just sitting. Even vacuuming counts, if you do it with gusto.

How To Make Exercise A Habit That Sticks

And researchers now know that the health benefits of these little movements add up. Just taking short breaks to get out of your chair and walk throughout the day can help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, helping to ward off diseases like Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. And while it won’t make you an athlete, moving throughout the day, even in short but repeated spurts, has been linked to a lower risk of dying prematurely. When you think of it as something that can be broken down throughout the day, the idea of getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week — as federal guidelines recommend – becomes less daunting.

“Think about it like putting pennies in a piggy bank,” says DiPietro. “You think, ‘Oh, I’m putting in three pennies here,’ and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, this doesn’t add up to much.’ But at the end of the month, it does indeed.”

Knowing this really changed the way I think about exercise. Instead of seeing exercise as all or nothing, I started to think about it like climbing a ladder. It’s OK to start at the bottom rung and work your way up. So I started with small bursts of movement throughout my day. Instead of sending an email to a co-worker, I’d walk over and talk to them. I’d skip the elevator and take the stairs. I’d do squats at my desk and take short walks around the office whenever I could fit it in. I’d do one-on-one meetings with co-workers while walking and talking.

Exercise Wins: Fit Seniors Can Have Hearts That Look 30 Years Younger

The more I did, the stronger I felt — and the more I wanted to do. I started using the elliptical that was gathering dust in my basement. I made a rule: I’m only allowed to watch Netflix while working out or moving in some other way (like washing dishes or folding laundry).

Then a curious thing happened: The more I exercised, the more my body craved it. These days, I even take spin class and do high-intensity interval training.

And while I did lose weight during this process (which was pretty nice — I am now at a healthy weight), that’s not what’s kept me going.

For me, exercise has become a bodily need. I just don’t feel right without it. And while I used to think I didn’t have time to work out, nowadays I don’t see how I could get through my busy days without the energy I get from exercise. (And my insomnia is pretty much gone.)

As psychologist Michelle Seger notes, there are tons of documented mental benefits to exercise.

“We know that it helps people generate energy. We know that it boosts mood,” she says. “We know that it improves executive functioning and all the tasks associated with that — focus, creativity. There are so many positives that happen when you move.”

A New Prescription For Depression: Join A Team And Get Sweaty

In fact, even though lots of people start exercising this time of year to lose weight, Seger says for many people, weight loss isn’t actually a good motivator over the long haul, because it can take way too long to see any results, and our brains are not wired to strive for long-term payoff. Weight is much more a factor of what we eat — and eating a 600-calorie muffin takes no time at all. Working it off, on the other hand, takes a good long time.

Given that reality, Seger says focusing on the immediate rewards from exercise can be more effective at keeping you motivated.

“When you have more energy and you’re a happier person, you bring that much more enthusiasm and energy and performance to your role in your work, your patience as a parent, [and] as a partner to someone,” she says.

“Feeling better isn’t just this selfish, hedonic thing — it actually is fuel. I consider energy from taking care of yourself as essential fuel for the things that matter most in our lives.”

If you’ve been sedentary, adding more movement into your day is a good place to start an exercise habit. Just grab that bottom rung. Remember, you have to start somewhere.

Like this article? Listen to it as a podcast. It’s part of Life Kit, NPR’s new family of podcasts for navigating your life — everything from finances to diet and exercise to raising kids. Sign up for the newsletter to learn more and follow @NPRLifeKit on Twitter. Email us at Follow NPR’s Maria Godoy @mgodoyh.

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Medicaid patients have Pensacola-based, doctor-run health care option in Lighthouse Health Plan

A new community-based health plan created and run by doctors will begin serving Escambia, Santa Rosa and other Panhandle counties next month. 

On Feb. 1, Lighthouse Health Plan will begin serving approximately 24,000 Medicaid patients in 18 Panhandle counties.

Christie Spencer, Lighthouse’s CEO, said the organization’s unique position as a provider sponsored network means it can work hand-in-hand with local agencies and physicians to provide resources and services that are tailored to the local community’s needs.

“We’ve spent a lot of time engaging with the provider community, advocates and community partners in general,” Spencer said. “So now that we have members, our main mission is to get all those people together and everybody have a plan for their health care so that they know what sort of preventative things they need, and also what to do when an adverse events happens.”

More health news: Sacred Heart Health System’s new CEO Henry Stovall talks projects, changes in 2019

Medicaid provides health coverage to millions of Americans, including eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities. 

Approximately 200,000 people in the Florida Panhandle qualify for Medicaid coverage. about 70 percent of whom are children.  

There are three other Medicaid providers serving the Panhandle, but they are national, commercial entities headquartered outside the communities they serve, Spencer said. She noted when the insurance and delivery segments of health care are separate, it can sometimes cause disconnects that result in bad outcomes.

“We know (providers) could recommend a specialist or recommend a certain treatment, but Medicaid patients don’t always have access to transportation or their schedules are not always stable enough that they can make an appointment two weeks from now,” Spencer said.

She said Lighthouse has a team of community health workers who can help facilitate transportation and provide other services to ensure patients get the help they need.

“We really are an extender of what the doctors want and need, but don’t have the resources to do,” Spencer said.

More health news: Baptist Health Care Simulation Lab gives training for situations with no room for error

Lighthouse is contracted locally with Baptist, Gulf Breeze, Jay and Sacred Heart hospitals, and partners with organizations such as Community Health Northwest Florida. Spencer said something else that makes Lighthouse unique is that it can work with those entities, help supplement their programs and direct patients to existing local resources like diabetes education classes and smoking cessation programs.

“We want to use the programs that are already in the community and add on to them so they are more effective,” Spencer said.

“One of the big resources we can give them is from our predictive modeling … . It takes data from lots of different sources — claims data, population demographics, food deserts — all of this data and really can predict which of our physician’s patients are the ones most likely to have an adverse effect in the next two months.”

Lighthouse is a provider service network, a type of health care provider-managed entity authorized by Florida Legislature in 1997 to more effectively manage the medical care of Medicaid beneficiaries its serves.

Spencer noted an ancillary benefit of having Lighthouse in Pensacola is it will create more than 100 new jobs and generate an estimated $75 million to $80 million in annual revenue. 

Lighthouse’s new headquarters are at 700 E. Gregory St. in Pensacola. The organization will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony Jan. 22.

For more information about Lighthouse Health Plan, visit

Kevin Robinson can be reached at and 850-435-8527.

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Health & Wellness Expo provides screenings, promotes health





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