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Familiar names on list of healthiest counties

Once again, suburban counties are the healthiest in Georgia, while rural counties remain the least healthy, according to a 2014 ranking released Wednesday.

Forsyth is ranked the healthiest county in Georgia in 2014, followed by Fayette, Oconee, Gwinnett, and Cherokee. The rankings were reported in the fifth annual County Health Rankings, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

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The same five counties were also at the top, and in the same order, in the 2013 rankings. All are in the northern or north-central part of the state, and all are in the Atlanta metropolitan area except for Oconee, which is in the Athens metropolitan area.

Numbers 6 through 10 in the 2014 county rankings are Cobb, Columbia, Morgan, Coweta and Rockdale.

The five counties in the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are Clay, Taliaferro, Warren, Stewart and Turner.

Clay, in southwest Georgia along the Alabama line, was also ranked last among Georgia’s 159 counties in the 2013 rankings. full story

Fight over food stamp drug tests may be just starting

During its journey through the General Assembly, a bill that would require drug testing for some applicants for food stamps and welfare generated controversy and drew fierce opposition from Democrats.

200px-Supplemental_Nutrition_Assistance_Program_logo.svgUltimately, though, House Bill 772 was approved on the final day of the legislative session last week, and has been sent to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

It would require people applying for this government assistance to be tested if they raise “reasonable suspicion’’ of illegal drug use.

A recent email from a federal official, however, shows that at least the food stamp portion of the bill may run into problems.

The email from Robert Caskey of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the food stamp program) to Georgia officials on March 7, citing federal law, said that “no state agency shall impose any other standards of eligibility” beyond the provisions of the federal Food and Nutrition Act, which does not require drug testing.

“The addition of a drug testing provision of any type is prohibited in the SNAP program,’’ the email said.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia), when contacted by GHN on Monday, said he had heard about the federal opinion during debate on the issue. Morris said he still believes the bill will pass legal muster.

Rep. Greg Morris

Rep. Greg Morris

“We can’t legislate by speculation,’’ Morris said. “We have to do what we believe is right.”

Morris added that he believes Georgia has “too many people’’ on the food stamp program.

The food stamp program in Georgia is already under federal scrutiny. full story

Senate hopefuls share views on health care

How do the U.S. Senate candidates in Georgia differ on covering the uninsured?

What are their ideas for improving health outcomes while controlling costs?

What would the candidates do about decreased federal funding for Georgia hospitals?

Seven candidates for the Senate seat in 2014 answer these and other health care questions in a newly released election guide from Healthcare Georgia Foundation.

The seven are Republicans Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, Karen Handel, Jack Kingston and David Perdue, and Democrats Michelle Nunn and Branko Radulovacki.

nelson

Gary Nelson

“The 2014 election of our United States senator will help define our path to better health and healthcare for all Georgians,” said Dr. Gary Nelson, Healthcare Georgia Foundation president. “Because Georgia ranks at or near the bottom among states on numerous measures of health, much is at stake as the path chosen by Georgia voters will help define for future generations the structure, delivery, and financing of our health care.”

Here is a link to the survey

Rural areas may get basic-service hospitals

Rural health care may get a needed boost under a proposed regulation change that would allow a hospital to downsize its services, the commissioner of a Georgia health agency said Thursday.

Clyde Reese, commissioner of the Department of Community Health, said he would ask the board of the agency to promulgate rules for such a “step-down’’ facility. Reese, speaking at a meeting of the board, said Gov. Nathan Deal would make an announcement on rural health care next week.

DCH Commissioner Clyde Reese

Commissioner Clyde Reese

Reese did not expand on those remarks. But industry officials told GHN that the Community Health proposal likely would allow a rural hospital that has recently closed — or one that’s currently struggling to survive — to downsize to a facility that includes an emergency room, surgery and childbirth services.

Rural health care has turned into an important topic at the General Assembly this year, fueled by the closing of four financially struggling rural hospitals in the state over the past two years. A total of eight have shut since 2000.

Jimmy Lewis of HomeTown Health, an organization of rural hospitals in Georgia, said rural health care “has become a major issue,’’ with hospital closings and the potential shuttering of others.

The state may be able to change licensing rules and regulations to allow rural communities to create a facility from “a buffet of options they may choose from,’’ Lewis said.

“This is a very necessary, forward-thinking proposal for the future of rural health care,’’ he added. full story

Panel OKs bill to ease access to medical marijuana

A Senate panel Wednesday unanimously approved a newly revised bill that would legalize marijuana derivatives in Georgia for treatment of patients with cancer, glaucoma and seizure disorders.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee amended HB 885, the original House version of the medical marijuana bill, to make it easier for Georgians to gain access to cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a non-psychoactive derivative of marijuana.

Anthony and Sarah Caruso and their daughter Britlyn

Anthony and Sarah Caruso and their daughter Britlyn

The major change would grant immunity from prosecution in Georgia for possession of CBD oil obtained legally in a state that permits the use of medical marijuana.

Twenty states have legalized medical use of marijuana, and recently two states, Colorado and Washington, have also legalized recreational use.

The original HB 885 was sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), who championed the legislation to help children who suffer from serious seizure disorders. CBD has proved effective in reducing the number and duration of seizures, according to parents and physicians. full story

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