www.charlestondailymail.com Health http://www.charlestondailymail.com Daily Mail feed en-us Copyright 2015, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers CAMC bars children from visiting hospital due to flu outbreak http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150119/DM01/150119181 DM01 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150119/DM01/150119181 Mon, 19 Jan 2015 21:37:15 -0500 By Marcus Constantino To keep the flu virus from spreading, Charleston Area Medical Center is asking parents to keep children away from the hospital unless necessary.

CAMC said in a press release that additional restrictions on visitation have been implemented due to "above-normal flu activity" in the area and the probability that the flu virus will remain elevated for several weeks. The policy restricts children 12 or under from visiting patients the hospital until further notice.

The advisory says children should either be left in the lobby with an adult or kept at home until further notice, unless the child is in need of medical attention.

"Younger people tend to have a greater chance of exposure at schools etc. Therefore they are at risk of spreading viruses to loved ones, other patients and visitors," the hospital release said.

The restriction on children comes in addition to other visitor guidelines announced in December in response to the flu. Only two visitors per patient are allowed at any given time, and those who are running a fever of more than 100 degrees or are showing symptoms of illness, such as sore throat or coughing, are asked to not visit the hospital unless they are seeking medical care.

The hospital said signs have been placed at the hospital's entrances to notify visitors of the restrictions.

More than 330 cases of flu were confirmed statewide during the first week of January, according to data from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services. Around 6,000 patients reported "influenza-like illness" at West Virginia hospitals and referral laboratories during that week.

Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or marcus.c@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/amtino.

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Thomas Health System CEO announces retirement http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150119/DM01/150119218 DM01 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150119/DM01/150119218 Mon, 19 Jan 2015 10:55:30 -0500 By Charlotte Ferrell Smith Stephen P. Dexter, president and chief executive officer of Thomas Health System, will retire July 31 after 21 years of leadership with the organization.

His retirement was announced Monday by the Thomas Health System Board of Trustees through a news release.

"We appreciate the years of Steve leading this organization and developing the Thomas emergency room, beginning the clinical pavilion, overseeing the acquisition of Saint Francis Hospital thus forming Thomas Health System and significantly, his role in healthcare policy government relations," said Thomas McHugh, chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Dexter will remain a senior executive with Thomas Health System through January of 2017 as president of TMH Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Thomas Health System.

The new president and CEO of Thomas Health System is Dan Lauffer, who will transition into the role over the next six months. He is currently the executive vice president and chief operation officer of Thomas Health System Inc.

"I'm excited to be turning the reins over to Dan Lauffer," Dexter said. "I have known Dan for 20 years. He is an exceptional individual and a true leader in the healthcare community. Under Dan's guidance, the best days are ahead for Thomas Health System."

Lauffer is a graduate of Alderson-Broaddus College and is a certified physician assistant. He holds a master of science in health care administration from Marshall University. He is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives and a board member of the West Virginia Hospital Association.

"I'm excited for the opportunity to be the president and CEO of this organization where I first started my healthcare career," Lauffer said. "This transition comes at a time when the healthcare industry is undergoing great change," Lauffer said. "The Thomas Health System is positioned well to take on these challenges because of the talent of its Board of Trustees, the medical staff, department leaders, the dedicated employees and the senior executive team. I appreciate Steve Dexter's leadership in influencing my career and I will work hard to ensure our community continues to value the Thomas Health System to be the first choice of those in need of quality healthcare in our region."

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Scholarship to honor retired Cabell Huntington Hospital CEO http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150116/ARTICLE/150119408 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150116/ARTICLE/150119408 Fri, 16 Jan 2015 11:27:59 -0500 HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - A scholarship fund is being launched to honor the newly retired CEO of Cabell Huntington Hospital.

Officials announced the $1 million endowment for the Brent A. Marsteller Scholarship Fund this week to benefit students at the Marshall University's medical school.

The scholarship will be funded over five years in $100,000 yearly installments by both Cabell Huntington Hospital and Marshall Health. That's primary physician practice group affiliated with the hospital and medical school.

Marsteller retired from the hospital last month. The Huntington native took the job in October 2000 after leaderships at other hospitals in West Virginia, Ohio and Florida.

Among the hospital's accomplishments under Marsteller are the construction of the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center and a new wing for patients. He plans to continue with the hospital as a consultant.

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US releases W.Va. sign-ups for health insurance marketplace http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150115/ARTICLE/150119505 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150115/ARTICLE/150119505 Thu, 15 Jan 2015 10:53:12 -0500 CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Federal officials say more than 26,000 West Virginians have signed up for the health insurance marketplace under the program's second open enrollment.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says 26,236 people signed up ahead of the deadline Thursday for coverage starting Feb. 1.

For those who missed the deadline, an open enrollment period will extend until Feb. 15. If that deadline is missed, the earliest coverage for those seeking coverage would be 2016.

In the first month of the second enrollment, HHS says 85 percent of Virginia consumers who signed up were eligible for financial assistance.

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Charleston native Clay Marsh chosen to lead WVU's Health Science Center http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150114/DM01/150119589 DM01 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150114/DM01/150119589 Wed, 14 Jan 2015 17:50:49 -0500 From Staff Reports

Charleston native Dr. Clay Marsh will join West Virginia University as vice president and executive dean for Health Sciences effective Feb. 15, university President Gordon Gee announced Wednesday.

At the WVU Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center, Marsh will oversee five schools - dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health - and allied health programs and clinical operations around the state. According to the university, about 3,300 undergraduate and graduate students study on the center's three campuses in Morgantown, Charleston and Martinsburg.

Marsh will be the first leader in Health Science Center history who is a graduate of WVU's medical school, having received his biology and medical degrees from the university in 1981 and 1985, respectively.

He currently works at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, where he is the executive director of the IDEA Studio for Healthcare and Design, chief innovation officer at Ohio State's medical center and professor of internal medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine.

"Dr. Marsh is a nationally renowned leader in medicine, especially as it relates to pulmonary and critical care," Gee said in a news release from the university. "His approach to making health care the norm in improving lives and communities matches well with West Virginia University's commitment to solving the important health disparities our state and region are facing."

Marsh said he is looking forward to returning to the state and leading WVU's academic health care operations.

"I am grateful to the selection committee and President Gee for providing me the opportunity to come back home and serve WVU and the state's citizens," Marsh said. "The University is fortunate to have great leaders in place and I look forward to working closely with them to bring the best health care, education and services to our citizens.

"I am primarily focused on enhancing the health of the citizens and communities of West Virginia and providing the best educational environment to train the leaders of tomorrow."

Marsh, who trained under former Health Sciences leader Dr. Robert M. D'Alessandri while in medical school, said he thinks of Mountaineers as pioneers, blazing the trail for others. The emphasis in his work is on marrying high tech systems with high touch care to successfully augment health and treat disease.

His academic career at Ohio State spans from clinical instructor to assistant, associate and full professor; and from investigator to director to chair and senior level positions. In his current role with the IDEA Studio, which stands for Innovation, Design and Applications, he focuses on less cost and higher quality health care for the future.

He is married to Gail Marsh, chief strategy officer and senior associate vice president at OSU's Wexner Medical Center, and the couple have three children: Rachel, 21, a student at the University of Virginia; Cameron, 19, a student at Swarthmore College; and Matthew, 15, a freshman at Upper Arlington High School.

He is the son of the late Don Marsh, longtime editor and columnist of The Charleston Gazette, and mother, Jerry, who still resides in Charleston.

Marsh replaces Dr. Christopher C. Colenda, who in January 2014 took over as president and CEO of West Virginia United Health System while continuing to lead health sciences.

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ot help paying for health care? Watch your mailbox http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150112/ARTICLE/150119831 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150112/ARTICLE/150119831 Mon, 12 Jan 2015 14:53:19 -0500

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON - If you're among the millions of consumers who got financial help for health insurance last year under President Barack Obama's law, better keep an eye on your mailbox.

The administration said Monday it has started sending out tax reporting forms that you'll need to fill out your 2014 return. Like W-2s for health care, they're for people who got health insurance tax credits provided under the law.

Because this is the first time Americans will experience the complex connections between the health care law and taxes, there's concern that some people may not realize the new forms are important, and that they do need to open that envelope. Some consumers may not know what to do with the paperwork.

Called 1095-A, the forms come filled out with information from HealthCare.gov or your state's insurance exchange. They list who in each household got subsidized coverage, and how much the government paid each month to help with premiums.

You don't actually file the form with your tax return, but you can't complete your return without the information it contains.

Taxpayers, or their tax preparers, will use the financial details to fill out yet another form - 8962. That one is used to determine whether people received the right amount of assistance that they were legally entitled to.

The amount of the tax credit is based on a formula that takes into account income, household size, and health insurance costs in your community.

Those who got too much of a subsidy will get their tax refunds reduced by the IRS. For example, you can get dinged if your income went up during the year, and you didn't realize you had to report that to HealthCare.gov or your state insurance exchange.

If you received less of a subsidy than you were entitled to, the IRS will owe you instead.

The Health and Human Services department said it has started sending out forms to consumers in states where the federal government is running the insurance markets. The first batches should start arriving by midweek. The forms can also be downloaded from your HealthCare.gov account.

States running their own insurance exchanges - including California and New York - will send out the forms separately. But they still must meet a Feb. 2 postmark deadline.

Insurers say the feds have told them that they expect to mail about 4.5 million forms and they're tackling the massive job state by state.

Tax preparation companies are seeing a whole new line of business in the health care law. But insurers are worried that perplexed consumers will pepper them with tax questions they're not qualified to answer. The health care law will mean lots more work for the IRS, and Commissioner John Koskinen is warning Congress that budget cuts could hamper taxpayer services this filing season.

The Obama administration has been trying to offer reassurance.

"In the coming weeks, HHS will work with other agencies, tax preparers and community organizations to arm ... consumers with the information they need to know as they prepare to file their taxes," Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said in a statement.

The health care law provides subsidized private health insurance for people who don't have access to coverage on the job. Funneling the subsidies through the tax system allowed the White House to claim that the law was "the largest tax cut for health care in American history." But the downside is it adds more complexity to a tax system that's already impenetrable for many people.

Here are some pointers for consumers:

- You may get more than one 1095-A. That could happen for any number of reasons, from having a baby to switching plans during the year. You'll need to keep all of them for filing your taxes.

- Contact HealthCare.gov or your state insurance exchange if you believe there is a mistake on your 1095-A. Minor issues such as misspellings should not cause big problems, but it may take some effort to resolve financial inaccuracies.

- If you got employer coverage part way through last year and were only in the insurance exchange for a few months, you will still need your 1095-A to account for the subsidies that you got.

- If you're used to filing Form 1040EZ, you can't do that any longer if you got subsidized health care. You'll have to file one of the longer forms instead.

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Life back to normal for most a year after chemical leak http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150108/DM0104/150109346 DM0104 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150108/DM0104/150109346 Thu, 8 Jan 2015 21:46:49 -0500 By Whitney Burdette

(Click here for interactive timeline)

Jan. 9, 2014, is a day many in West Virginia won't soon forget.

That's the day 300,000 state residents were told they couldn't use their water for anything except flushing toilets after at least 10,000 gallons of MCHM, a coal processing liquid, leaked from a faulty tank and into the Elk River just a mile-and-a-half above West Virginia American Water's intake. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued a do-not-use order once the leak was discovered, hours after many in the Charleston area reported a licorice smell in the air.

The incident brought national media attention, and officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention twice visited the Charleston area to meet with state health officers and gather data from patients.

Officials tested the water repeatedly in the hours following the leak to determine when it would again be safe for consumption. To be deemed safe, the chemical needed to test below 1 part per million for 24 consecutive hours. That standard came from the CDC and other federal agencies, but it wasn't immediately clear how the CDC arrived to that number.

Because little is known about MCHM, particularly how it affects humans, many people were concerned about their health. Even after the ban was lifted, many refused to drink, bathe in or cook with tap water.

And there was distrust in state government and health officials. Nearly a week after the leak, the CDC handed down a recommendation "out of an abundance of caution" urging pregnant women to avoid drinking the water, although the do-not-use ban had been lifted. Officials noted it is common to issue such advisories to pregnant women during similar incidents, especially when little is known about a chemical, but that advisory confused some affected residents. If the water wasn't safe for pregnant women, was it safe for them?

Former Kanawha-Charleston Health Department director Dr. Rahul Gupta, who now serves as commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health, called for continued medical monitoring, saying too little is known about the chemical and how it could affect human health.

"We are the first human beings this chemical has been experimented on," Gupta said at a Jan. 29 town hall meeting, later adding, "Folks who show up at emergency rooms or doctor's offices are the tip of the iceberg."

A strange smell

Early on the morning of Jan. 9, people in the Charleston area began reporting the smell of licorice in the air. Just two hours later, Department of Environmental Protection officials discovered MCHM, a coal processing liquid, was leaking into the Elk River.

At the time, Freedom CEO Gary Southern said the chemical has a "very, very low toxicity," adding the chemical alone does not pose a risk to fish or area wildlife. When asked if the chemical was dangerous when mixed with water, he said his company was not in the business of producing drinking water.

MCHM, or 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol, is used as a frothing agent in the coal refining process. It is colorless and only slightly soluble in water.

Local health officials agreed it would take a considerable amount of the contaminant to pose a real health risk, but admitted they didn't know much about MCHM. Symptoms of ingestion included nausea, itchy eyes and throat irritation. Many of those same symptoms were reported as West Virginia American Water customers began flushing their homes' pipes in the days following the spill.

A recent study by a team led by Purdue University professor Andy Whelton found the CDC didn't consider the effects of inhaling MCHM vapors when it handed down its recommendations. The team reviewed health records of hundreds of patients presenting symptoms consistent with MCHM exposure and discovered two peaks - one in the immediate aftermath of the leak and the second when customers began flushing their pipes.

"It was clear that volatile chemicals were present in the drinking water because it smelled like licorice," Whelton said. "That was a clear sign inhalation was a plausible chemical exposure route. The public health consequences associated with flushing contaminated water into poorly ventilated rooms such as bathrooms were overlooked, and people became ill because of it."

Legislature reacts

The chemical leak occurred just one day into the 2014 legislative session, meaning lawmakers were staying in area hotels and also were affected by the contamination.

The Senate acted swiftly to draft and pass legislation aimed at regulating aboveground storage tanks, especially those near water resources, and calling on the state's water utilities to identify alternative intakes and develop emergency plans in the event of future disasters.

The bill was amended in the House of Delegates, which took a more deliberative approach in an attempt, then-Speaker Tim Miley said, to produce the best bill possible. The legislation didn't pass the House until March 8, then was amended again when it went back to the Senate. It eventually passed March 8 and Tomblin signed it into law April 1.

Parts of that law, often referred to as the water bill, have been implemented. It requires the registration and periodic inspection of aboveground storage tanks. The registration period began in June with an Oct. 1 deadline. All tanks must have been inspected by a qualified person by Jan. 1.

The registration process includes questions about tank size, contents, construction, age and location, according to the DEP's website.

New water filters

West Virginia American Water began replacing its filters April 1. Contractors from Pittsburgh replaced two filters each week for eight weeks at a cost of $1.1 million.

"Within days of the Freedom Industries chemical spill, we committed to our customers and have continued to commit to our customers that we would be changing out the carbon caps in the filters just as soon as flows allowed it to," water company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said. "We let customers know during that time that flow rates during the cold winter months are at their highest. It does not allow us to take any of the filters out of service for changing during those months. This is the first time we were able to start that."

Jordan said plant officials were confident the filters weren't compromised by the contamination, but they were changed nonetheless in an attempt to change public perception.

"This is a continuation of our commitment to our customers - not for any health reasons," Jordan said in April. "As we know, water leaving the water treatment plant, now laboratories can detect down to that half of a part per billion level. This makes no difference in our minds."

The filter replacement project was completed June 12, and tests showed no traces of MCHM in the water.

Even though MCHM is gone from the water, it's safe to say it's not gone from people's memories. Although many are back to living a normal life, including bathing in, cooking with and drinking the water that was once contaminated, the memories of what happened Jan. 9, 2014, are still there.

So where do we go from here? The Legislature convenes next week for the 2015 session, and some new lawmakers, many of whom ran on the platform of protecting West Virginia's water supplies, say the state needs to work harder to ensure clean drinking water and improve infrastructure so disaster doesn't strike twice.

"I think it's critical we have measures in place to ensure the public's drinking water is safe," said Delegate Chris Stansbury, an incoming Republican serving Kanawha County. "My family and I lived through the water crisis. It's a frightening thing. We'd never been exposed to anything like that before. We understand what it's like to be subjected to that. As a public official, it's one of those things that ultimately, the responsibility lies with us to make sure West Virginia has the infrastructure it needs."

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or whitney.burdette@dailymailwv.com. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.

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Faster flu test helps patients at CAMC http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150108/DM01/150109384 DM01 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150108/DM01/150109384 Thu, 8 Jan 2015 17:03:25 -0500 By Whitney Burdette With influenza reaching epidemic levels this year, Charleston Area Medical Center is using a testing method to increase patient care.

CAMC is one of four hospitals in West Virginia using FilmArray, a test that rapidly and accurately detects more than 20 respiratory pathogens. Linda Minnich, operations manager of virology at CAMC, said FilmArray is more sensitive and specific than other, similar tests.

"I feel we're sending out really good work for the patient with as much sensitivity and specificity that's available right now," she said.

The test looks for the genetic fingerprint of the pathogen, either viral or bacterial. The hospital has 16 FilmArray machines, which means 16 patients can be tested each hour.

"Our physicians wanted something for us we could turn around within an hour," Minnich said. "Turns out it's about an hour and 10 minutes. It's very close."

CAMC first received the machines in October 2013, just weeks after they were approved for use by the Federal Drug Administration. Since then, other hospitals across the state and country have began using them.

"It's provided a lot of more rapid turnaround time for patient care," Minnich said.

Janet Briscoe, director of epidemiology with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said flu isn't reportable to public health agencies unless it causes a pediatric death. But officials use surveillance to determine when an area enters the flu season and to compare statistics to previous years.

"Because it's not reportable, and providers can do their own rapid flu tests, it is impossible to know the exact amount, this is statewide and nationally, how many actual cases there are," Briscoe said. "They use a lot of surveillance and estimations based on the last few years to get a pretty good number as to what the season is and if they are sporadic cases or widespread cases. This week, West Virginia was listed as widespread flu."

Briscoe said it's not uncommon for illnesses to reach epidemic levels. Different strains of influenza become predominate and more likely to pass from person to person each year and that often dictates the severity of that year's flu season.

"Some flu year are milder than others," Briscoe said. "For instance last year the primary predominate strain was H1N1. We saw less severe illness and less deaths with that and probably less flu cases reported. That's because people got severely ill and went to the doctor or hospital."

Briscoe said the number of reported flu cases began to creep up in the weeks leading up to Christmas. CAMC operates around the clock to test patients for flu and other pathogens. Minnich said that's hard on the staff, but they're working to provide the best patient care possible.

"We will go from maybe 30 specimens a day to 150 a day," she said. "That's a huge increase with no increase in staff. You have to manage with what you have. So it's important staff steps up to the plate and they have."

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or whitney.burdette@dailymailwv.com. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.

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2 E. Panhandle hospitals restrict visitation due to flu http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150108/ARTICLE/150109412 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150108/ARTICLE/150109412 Thu, 8 Jan 2015 13:20:41 -0500 MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Two hospitals in the Eastern Panhandle are temporarily restricting visitations because of flu concerns.

University Healthcare announced the restrictions at Berkeley Medical Center and Jefferson Medical Center on Thursday.

The restrictions include limiting patient visits to one visitor at all times who isn't visibly ill. A second visitor per patient is allowed from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Visitors who have influenza-like illnesses, fever or cough aren't allowed.

Visitors at Berkeley Medical Center must be at least 18 years old. Jefferson Medical Center's age restrictions vary by unit.

University Healthcare says in a news release that Jefferson Medical Center's obstetrics department is the only exception. The department's visitor policy is unchanged at this time.

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Citing flu, W.Va. medical center extends hours Wednesday http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150107/ARTICLE/150109540 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150107/ARTICLE/150109540 Wed, 7 Jan 2015 10:10:51 -0500 HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - Citing a heavy volume of patients with flu-like symptoms, the Cabell Huntington Hospital Family Urgent Care Center is extending its hours of operation.

The extended hours kick in through at least Wednesday. The center will be open until 11 p.m.

The CDC recommends that unvaccinated people get their shots. That can be done at the Huntington clinic.

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Study finds CDC recommendations ignored health risks http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150105/DM01/150109727 DM01 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150105/DM01/150109727 Mon, 5 Jan 2015 16:58:06 -0500 By Whitney Burdette Recommendations handed down by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructing residents how to flush their pipes following last January's chemical spill didn't consider the negative health effects of chemical vapor exposure.

That's according to a new study released Monday by a team from Purdue University.

In the study, a team led by Purdue University professor Andrew Whelton said the CDC's recommendations, based off its health-based drinking water screening level, only considered health effects caused by ingestion, not inhalation.

"It was clear that volatile chemicals were present in the drinking water because it smelled like licorice," Whelton said. "That was a clear sign inhalation was a plausible chemical exposure route. The public health consequences associated with flushing contaminated water into poorly ventilated rooms such as bathrooms were overlooked, and people became ill because of it."

About 10,000 gallons of MCHM, a coal processing liquid, leaked from a faulty aboveground storage tank owned by Freedom Industries and into the Elk River, just a mile and a half above the intake for West Virginia American Water. As a result, 300,000 West Virginians were told to avoid using the water for everything except flushing toilets for a number of days. CDC officials first arrived in Charleston Jan. 16, a week after the initial leak, to review health data of those who reported symptoms consistent with MCHM exposure. A different team of CDC officers came back in February to meet with state officials.

As the do-not-use order was slowly lifted, West Virginia American Water issued instructions on how customers could flush the contaminated water out of their homes' pipes. The affected area was divided into zones, and officials notified each zone when customers could begin the flushing process. Customers were told to flush all hot water taps simultaneously for 15 minutes, then to turn those taps off. According to West Virginia American Water, water would then be safe to use.

Whelton and his team arrived to West Virginia shortly after the chemical spill. Among other factors, researchers looked specifically at the effectiveness flushing has on reducing chemical levels inside customers' homes and the health effects of flushing. Whelton and his team looked at the medical records of 224 patients examined by 10 physicians, polling residents in 16 homes and drinking water tested in 10 homes. Those results were compared to the CDC's January review of 365 patients admitted to 10 hospitals, as well as follow-up surveys conducted by the CDC and state health officials.

The most common adverse health effects, Whelton found, were rashes and skin irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat and respiratory symptoms. Researchers detected the licorice smell consistent with MCHM after flushing pipe systems, indicating the presence of the chemical.

The data Whelton reviewed found two distinct symptom peaks: the first associated with the Jan. 9 spill and the second shortly after flushing was authorized.

Laura Jordan, spokeswoman for West Virginia American Water, said the utility consulted with state and federal officials throughout the crisis and cannot respond to the CDC's actions in the aftermath of the chemical leak, including its flushing recommendations.

"As a water utility, we do not create our own health-based regulations and guidelines but rather follow and encourage our customers to follow those provided to us," Jordan said. "West Virginia American Water consulted closely with federal and state health agencies throughout its response to the Freedom Industries spill including on issues such as flushing instructions provided to customers. We believe our cooperation and coordination with these agencies was fully appropriate in determining response actions following the Freedom spill. We cannot speculate regarding the response of CDC and (West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources) to the assertions that have been made in various studies performed and released after the Freedom Industries spill."

Dr. Rahul Gupta, commissioner of the state Bureau for Public Health, said the DHHR has asked the CDC to work with the National Toxicology Program and National Institutes of Health to further study and analyze MCHM. Results of that analysis are expected later this year.

Whelton said government officials should be more aware of the location and condition of aboveground storage tanks, especially those that contain hazardous chemicals or are in close proximity to water sources.

"State and federal leaders must take action to help water suppliers better understand the threats they face and prevent chemical threats from being permitted near water supplies," Whelton said. "Also needed are tools that responders can use to select plumbing system cleaning methods that do not harm the people they are trying to protect. Their development is going to require funding. Today, water companies, state and federal officials simply do not have the necessary tools to respond to drinking water disasters."

The West Virginia Legislature passed Senate Bill 373 last year in response to the spill. Aboveground storage tanks must now be registered and regularly inspected. Additionally, water service providers must provide source water protection plans to the state and require inventories of sources of certain contaminants in so-called "zones of critical concern" of certain public water systems

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or whitney.burdette@dailymailwv.com. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.

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Officials warn of flu outbreaks at schools http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150104/DM01/150109795 DM01 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150104/DM01/150109795 Sun, 4 Jan 2015 19:16:38 -0500 By Samuel Speciale With flu activity now widespread in West Virginia, state health officials are concerned students returning to school Monday could cause the virus to spread further.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, the state's new health officer and commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health, said schools are likely to see flu outbreaks now that winter break is ending and is urging all West Virginians to take extra precautions.

The bureau issued a statement Friday asking West Virginians to get a flu shot and to stay home if sick. The bureau also promoted standard hygiene like washing hands frequently, covering sneezes and coughs with a tissue or sleeve and cleaning shared and touched surfaces with a disinfectant.

Flu activity in West Virginia escalated Tuesday to "widespread" status, which means cases are being reported in several regions across the state.

The bureau reported more than 30 flu outbreaks last month, with school-age children being one of the hardest hit populations.

State health officials have warned citizens for months that flu season would likely get an early start this year. While the virus can begin its spread as early as November, it usually remains contained until January.

"West Virginia is already seeing high levels of influenza activity across the state," Gupta said. "This flu season is shaping up to be a severe one in the Mountain State."

Last week, Shannon McBee, an epidemiologist for the Bureau for Public Health, said this year's early and harsh start to the flu season resembles outbreaks in 2009, 2012 and 2013, which she added were particularly harsh.

She and Gupta indicated this year could be just as bad.

In addition to getting an early start, this year's flu season is made worse by the vaccine not protecting against a major circulating strain of influenza.

The problematic flu strain is H3N2, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says has accounted for about 50 percent of flu cases this year. Because the vaccine is ineffective against the strain, people can get the flu even if they received a vaccine.

Still, the vaccine protects against the other strains, including H1N1 and Influenza B, and continues to be supported by Gupta and other health officials who say it still isn't too late to get the shot.

Flu symptoms include fever, body aches, fatigue and dry cough. Health officials urge those who experience any influenza-like symptoms to see a doctor immediately and to stay home when sick.

The flu is highly contagious and can be potentially deadly. There already are reports of flu-related deaths in Kentucky and Ohio. The influenza virus infects hundreds of thousands each year and kills an estimated 36,000 annually.

The flu can be treated with anti-viral medication, but health officials strongly recommend getting a flu shot, which are usually administered by local health departments.

While this year's vaccine does not inoculate against the dominant strain circulating, health officials say it reduces the chances of developing flu-related complications.

West Virginia has one of the highest inoculation rates in the country at about 50 percent.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886. Follow him at www.twitter.com/wvschools.

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6 W.Va. hospitals having Medicare funding cut this year http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141231/ARTICLE/141239878 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141231/ARTICLE/141239878 Wed, 31 Dec 2014 15:47:16 -0500 CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Six hospitals in West Virginia will have their federal Medicare payments cut this fiscal year as part of government penalties for having too many patient complications.

Federal numbers show the hospitals are among about 725 around the country that will have their payments reduced by 1 percent under the Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program.

The total reduction in spending because of the program is estimated at about $373 million for fiscal year 2015.

The program is a new effort under the Affordable Care Act that builds on existing programs that uses public reporting and financial incentives to encourage improvements in patient safety.

According to public data on the Medicare.gov website, the hospitals in West Virginia having payments cut include Ohio Valley Medical Center, Cabell Huntington Hospital and Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital.

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Officials warn against teen use of e-cigarettes http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141231/DM01/141239884 DM01 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141231/DM01/141239884 Wed, 31 Dec 2014 14:47:32 -0500 By Samuel Speciale The safety of electronic cigarettes has been debated since their rise to popularity in the last five years, but reports of increased use among teens has public health officials once again warning Americans of the potential danger posed by the mostly unregulated devices.

While tobacco use has been in steady decline and teen smoking levels are at an all time low, electronic cigarettes, which usually are tobacco free, have become a popular alternative.

The battery-operated devices are designed to deliver a vaporized and highly concentrated mixture of liquid nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals. While the device can resemble traditional cigarettes in appearance and use, they do not contain tobacco and other carcinogenic additives.

Public health officials say e-cigarettes are just as harmful as their traditional counterparts, but users say they are safe, less harsh and an ideal quit aide.

"There's an increased awareness and use of these devices," said Bruce W. Adkins, director of tobacco prevention for the state Bureau of Public Health.

The increase in teen use and many adult smokers opting to use electronic cigarettes has health officials calling for an evaluation of the industry, which, despite efforts from the Food and Drug Administration, has remained unregulated.

"There's all kinds of angst over whether these products are safe or not," Adkins said. "The fact is, we don't know much about them."

Adkins said the lack of standardization and regulation in how vaping liquids are mixed is a recipe for disaster.

"I'm surprised something hasn't happened yet," he said.

While the chemicals used in the vaping liquids - propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin - are generally used as food additives and have been deemed safe, Adkins is not convinced.

His main concern, though, is with the toxicity of liquid nicotine, which is extracted from tobacco leaves. But, unlike tobacco leaves found in traditional cigarettes, liquid nicotine is highly concentrated and can be lethal if ingested.

Carissa McBurney, an outreach coordinator for the state Poison Center, said it wouldn't take much for a teen, or even and adult, to accidentally overdose.

"Any amount can be fatal," she said, adding that calls to the poison center related to electronic cigarettes have increased. In 2013, the center received three calls for electronic cigarette poisoning. McBurney said that number increased to 44 in 2014.

"The rise in calls is definitely related to the increase in use," she said.

McBurney also said at least two people across the country have died from ingesting electronic cigarette fluid, and while that may be a small number, she said it does expose that there is a risk.

And that's why the rise in teen use has health officials worried, McBurney said.

In a 2014 survey, National Institutes of Health researchers found that 9 percent of eighth-graders admitted to using an electronic cigarette in the previous month. While that doesn't necessarily mean those teens are using e-cigarettes on a regular basis, the findings suggest that awareness of the product has increased and that teens are more willing to try them.

The West Virginia Bureau of Public Health conducts a similar survey every two years, the last of which came out in 2013. It found that fewer teens use tobacco products, but that electronic cigarette use was becoming more popular.

"That's when we started seeing the interest in e-cigarettes here," Adkins said. "We found there was somewhat of an increase in knowledge in middle and high school students."

Adkins said he expects to see a rise in users when the bureau conducts another survey this spring.

"We'll be learning a lot more about them and their use in March," he said.

One health concern Adkins fears will become a reality is that electronic cigarettes will get teens addicted to nicotine and that they can be used to experiment with drugs.

"Historically, tobacco or nicotine products have been classified as a gateway drug that kids usually graduate from," Adkins said. "The delivery devices have been and can be used for other drugs as well."

While the National Institutes of Health have released studies that support that claim, Michelle Smith, co-owner of a vaping lounge in South Charleston, doubts electronic cigarettes will get non-smoking teens addicted to nicotine or on drugs.

"Teens who will try vaping are the ones who would try smoking or they smoke already," Smith said. "I don't think teens who wouldn't smoke would use this to start."

While some teens have tried coming into her shop, Smith said she supports West Virginia's ban on selling electronic cigarettes to minors and that she doesn't allow them to even come into her store.

If that isn't deterrent enough, Smith said electronic cigarette devices and the needed liquids can be an expensive investment up front, which she thinks will dissuade teens from using them.

While that may be the case for boutique devices sold in lounges like Smith's, cheaper electronic cigarettes can be purchased at gas stations, with some starter kits costing $30 or less. Devices in Smith's shop cost $50 to $100.

Adkins said there is evidence that teens are somehow getting the devices. While he doesn't have an official tally, Adkins said there has been an increase in electronic cigarette confiscation in schools across the state.

"We get complaints coming in from teachers and parents who have concerns about that," he said.

McBurney also said several teens have admitted using electronic cigarettes during presentations she has given in schools.

Despite the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes, more West Virginia teens are not smoking. According to the state's most recent youth tobacco survey, 53 percent of teens have never smoked a cigarette, up from 26 percent in 2000. West Virginia still has one of the highest teen smoking rates in the country.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886. Follow him at www.twitter.com/wvschools.

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W.Va. authority approves rate increases for 5 hospitals http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141229/ARTICLE/141229399 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141229/ARTICLE/141229399 Mon, 29 Dec 2014 09:33:16 -0500 CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Five hospitals have received state approval to raise their rates.

The rate increases approved by the West Virginia Health Care Authority apply to nongovernmental patients paying with private insurance or out-out-pocket.

The Charleston Gazette reports that Logan Regional Medical Center's average rate will increase from $21,512 to $22,587.

Williamson Memorial Hospital's average rate will rise from $11,759 to $12,229.

The average rate at Greenbrier Valley Medical Center will increase from $13,486 to $14,320.

United Hospital Center received permission to increase its average rate from $21,133 to $21,916.

Raleigh General Hospital's average rate will increase from $23,333 to $24,476.

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WV health officials still urging flu vaccinations http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141223/DM01/141229691 DM01 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141223/DM01/141229691 Tue, 23 Dec 2014 21:08:42 -0500 By Samuel Speciale This year's flu vaccination may not be effective against some strains of the virus, but that has not swayed state health officials from urging West Virginians to get their shots in preparation for what they expect to be a severe flu season.

While influenza currently is widespread in at least 29 states, viral outbreaks in West Virginia have not yet escalated past the regional level. That could soon change though, said Shannon McBee, an epidemiologist for the state Bureau for Public Health.

McBee said West Virginia's northern counties and both panhandles have been hit the worst, and while the flu isn't as active in the Kanawha Valley, she expects the virus to become widespread in the next few weeks.

"Flu activity is running a little early this year like it did in 2012 and 2013," McBee said. "That was a severe flu season."

That year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December that 29 states had a high number of flu cases. By January, flu was considered widespread in all states, some of which ended up declaring health emergencies.

The flu is considered widespread in a state when an elevated number of cases are reported across the state.

While West Virginia has one of the highest inoculation rates - McBee said early numbers show that about 50 percent of the state's population has been vaccinated - many factors have primed this season to be particularly nasty.

Health officials say part of the problem is that this year's vaccine has been rendered ineffective against one mutated influenza strain, which also has been one of the most transmitted so far this season.

The problematic strain is H3N2. The vaccine protects against three other strains, including H1N1 and those in the lineage of Influenza B.

McBee said the vaccine still works against the other strains, though someone who contracts H3N3 has a higher chance of getting the flu.

"There's a chance of getting sick, but having had a flu shot greatly reduces the severity and potential length of sickness," McBee said.

While CDC officials say only 48 percent of flu virus samples taken this season are protected by the vaccine, McBee still recommends getting the shot.

"It's never too late," she said. "It may not be as effective this year, but the vaccine will reduce chances of getting sick."

With flu season well underway, McBee said now is the time to get vaccinated if one has yet to do so. The CDC recommends vaccination as soon as local health departments have the vaccine in stock each fall.

It generally takes two weeks for one's body to build up antibodies and for the vaccine to take effect.

"That's why we recommend early vaccination," McBee said.

When asked if some patients may forgo vaccination this late into the season, McBee once again said it's never too late to get a shot.

"The CDC recommends getting one as long as the virus is circulating in the area," McBee said.

By her accounts, it could be circulating statewide by the end of the year.

Influenza-related hospitalizations occur more commonly among young and elderly people, especially in those who do not receive a vaccine.

Because children are more susceptible, the influenza virus often spreads easily through schools. Leading up to Christmas break, flu outbreaks closed several in neighboring states like Ohio and Tennessee, and also shut down one northern county last week.

Tyler County Schools closed all schools in the district on Friday after nearly 30 percent of enrolled students missed school due to flu and other seasonal illnesses. There also weren't enough substitutes to cover for an undetermined number of teachers who also became sick.

Other school districts across the state have not been as seriously affected, but the spread of flu in Tyler County is part of a larger regional outbreak.

The flu is highly contagious and potentially deadly. It infects hundreds of thousands and kills an estimated 36,000 people annually.

While forgoing vaccination is not recommended by health officials, the flu can be treated with the use of antiviral medication.

Its spread can be prevented by practicing standard hygiene like thoroughly washing hands, cleaning shared surfaces and sneezing and coughing into one's arm.

Vaccines are usually administered by local health departments and billed to each patient's insurance provider.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886. Follow him at www.twitter.com/wvschools.

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Martinsburg hospital installs baby video monitors http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141223/ARTICLE/141229757 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141223/ARTICLE/141229757 Tue, 23 Dec 2014 11:04:27 -0500 MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - University Healthcare Berkeley Medical Center has installed a video system that allows new parents and family members to check in on their infants in the neonatal intensive care unit anytime and from anywhere.

A camera mounted bedside captures a live, password-protected video stream of the newborn. Parents may choose whether or not they want to use the system and have exclusive control over the password, which they may share with friends or family members.

Although the video stream can be accessed around the clock, nurses can turn off the camera when giving care to the baby.

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Waiting list for in-home care shortened http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141217/DM0104/141219313 DM0104 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141217/DM0104/141219313 Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:53:47 -0500 By Whitney Burdette

The Bureau of Medical Services has worked to substantially decrease the number of people on the waiting list for its in-home care program.

Cindy Beane, acting commissioner of the Bureau, told lawmakers Wednesday the agency has streamlined the application process. The program serves the elderly and disabled and allows participants to remain in their homes rather than seek expensive nursing home care.

Beane told lawmakers the agency verifies concurrently the applicant's medical and financial eligibility, including verifying the applicant has health issues that make it difficult to perform basic tasks. Applicants also must meet financial requirements to qualify for Medicaid. Previously, the agency verified the applicant's medical eligibility before verifying financial eligibility, dragging out the process.

Because of the change, the wait list has been shortened from 2,500 applicants last year to about 1,500 currently. Since July 1, the agency has sent more than 1,300 letters letting residents know they're eligible for the program.

About 5,500 people are enrolled in the program statewide.

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State employees have the option of taking off the Friday after Christmas, but Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has no plans to declare the day a state holiday.

Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said the governor will not make an official proclamation, and employees who want to take off Dec. 26 should contact their supervisors.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is a state holiday - referred to as Lincoln Day in honor of the 16th president - and has been since legislation was enacted in 2006.

Compiled by Whitney Burdette

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Health agency confirms flu death in southern Ohio http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/ARTICLE/141219447 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/ARTICLE/141219447 Tue, 16 Dec 2014 12:34:51 -0500 COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A wave of flu illnesses has forced some Ohio schools to shut down over the past week - and one even asked parents if they could volunteer and to help disinfect the school while students were kept home.

The Ohio Department of Health confirmed the first flu-related pediatric death of the flu season, saying that a 15-year-old girl from Ironton in southern Ohio died on Nov. 29 after being admitted to a hospital.

Across the state, 456 people had been hospitalized with the flu this year compared with 135 cases at this time last year, the department said.

Schools in the Cleveland and Toledo areas have been closed over the past week because of the large number of flu illnesses.

In Toledo, Maritime Academy wasn't holding any classes Tuesday and Wednesday while an elementary school was closed again Tuesday.

Most of the flu cases reported to the state health department were coming from northeastern Ohio.

St. Ambrose Elementary School in Brunswick closed last week for a couple of days for sanitizing.

"Honestly, the main concern for us was that at Christmas break, that we don't spread this among all the families," said principal Nathan Baxendale. "We are a close-knit community. It's almost like, let's keep them away from each other for a day."

Valley Christian Academy in Aurora asked parents to volunteer and help disinfect the school while students were kept home last week.

In central Ohio, the Olentangy School District sent a notice to parents this week warning them about a high number of flu cases.

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Crunch time again for health insurance sign-ups http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141214/ARTICLE/141219612 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141214/ARTICLE/141219612 Sun, 14 Dec 2014 17:02:13 -0500

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's push to cover America's uninsured faces another big test Monday.

This time, it's not only how the website functions, but how well the program itself works for millions who are starting to count on it.

Midnight Monday, Pacific time is the deadline for new customers to pick a health plan that will take effect Jan. 1, and for current enrollees to make changes that could reduce premium increases ahead of the new year.

HealthCare.gov and state insurance websites are preparing for heavy online traffic before the deadline, which gives consumers in the East three hours into Tuesday to enroll.

Wait times at the federal call center started creeping up around the middle of last week, mainly due to a surge of current customers with questions about their coverage for next year. Many will face higher premiums, although they could ease the hit by shopping online for a better deal. Counselors reported hold times of 20 minutes or longer for the telephone help line.

About 6.7 million people now have coverage through Obama's signature law, which offers subsidized private insurance. The administration wants to increase that to 9.1 million in 2015. To do that, the program will have to keep most of its current enrollees while signing up more than 2 million new paying customers.

People no longer can be turned down because of health problems, but picking insurance still is daunting for many consumers. They also have to navigate the process of applying for or updating federal subsidies, which can be complex for certain people, including immigrants. Many returning customers are contending with premium increases generally in the mid-to-high single digits, but much more in some cases.

Consumers "understand it's complicated but they appreciate the ability to get health insurance," said Elizabeth Colvin of Foundation Communities, an Austin, Texas, nonprofit that is helping sign up low-income residents. "People who haven't gone through the process don't understand how complicated it is."

Last year's open enrollment season turned into a race to salvage the reputation of the White House by fixing numerous technical bugs that crippled HealthCare.gov from its first day. With the website now working fairly well, sign-up season this year is a test of whether the program itself is practical for the people it is intended to serve.

New wrinkles have kept popping up, even with seemingly simple features of the Affordable Care Act.

For example, most current customers who do nothing will be automatically renewed Jan. 1 in the plan they now are in. At this point, it looks like that is what a majority intends to do.

While that may sound straightforward, it's not.

By staying in their current plans, people can get locked into a premium increase and miss out on lower-priced plans for 2015. Not only that, they also will keep their 2014 subsidies, which may be less than what they legally would be entitled to for next year.

Doing nothing appears to be a particularly bad idea for people who turned 21 this year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington group that advocates for low-income people.

Researchers at the center estimate that 21-year-olds will see a 58 percent increase in the sticker price for their premiums just because they're a year older. An age-adjustment factor used to compute premiums jumps substantially when a person turns 21. A 20-year-old whose premium was $130 per month in 2014 will see the premium climb to $205 a month in 2015, solely because of that year's difference.

Tax-credit subsidies can cancel out much or even all of the impact. But if consumers default to automatic renewal, their tax credits will not be updated and they will get the same subsidy as this year.

"Even in the best possible scenario of how many people we can expect to come in, we will still see a substantial number of people defaulting," said Judy Solomon, a health care policy expert at the center. She worries that some young adults may get discouraged and drop out.

Reviews of HealthCare.gov and state health insurance exchanges are mixed.

An Associated Press-GfK poll this month found that 11 percent of Americans said they or someone else in their household tried to sign up since open enrollment began Nov. 15. Overall, 9 percent said the insurance markets are working extremely well or very well. Twenty-six percent said the exchanges are working somewhat well, and 39 percent said they were not working well. The remaining 24 percent said they didn't know enough to rate performance.

So far it has been a frustrating experience for Marie Bagot, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She and her husband are in their 60s, but not yet old enough for Medicare. The husband, who works as a chef, will turn 65 around the middle of next year and qualify for Medicare. Bagot said they were happy with their insurance this year under Obama's law.

"As you get older, you worry about your health," she said. "I was very pleased with the price we got."

But Bagot said she received a notice from her insurer that her current plan will not be available next year in her community. The closest alternative would involve a premium increase of more than $350 a month, even with their tax credit subsidy. After days of trying to find a comparable plan through the federal call center and after visiting a counselor, Bagot said she opted to keep their current coverage, while hoping costs go down after her husband joins Medicare.

"I cannot afford it, but I'm going to try to," she said.

Monday is not the last chance for consumers like Bagot. Open enrollment doesn't end until Feb. 15.

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