What You Need To Know About 2016's Biggest Health Issues

Photo: Courtesy of HHS.
It's everyone's favorite time of year: open enrollment! Okay, maybe this isn't super exciting to you, but figuring out your healthcare is important, and it doesn't have to be confusing. We talked to Sylvia Burwell, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, to find out exactly what young women need to know about their care this year — and which health issues we should be on the lookout for in 2016.

What are the most important things for women to know about their health care in 2016?
"Probably one of the most important things for women to know is that they have until January 31st to enroll in quality affordable coverage if they don’t have it. So [women should know] that you can get that coverage, that it is affordable, and that financial assistance is available. Right now, seven in 10 of those in the marketplace can find a plan for $75 or less in premiums per month with financial assistance."

"The second thing for them to know is that signing up is easy. We have taken consumer feedback and [found] ways to make it simpler. And for folks that want to talk about it, help is available... There’s a number (1-800-318-2596) to talk to somebody by phone, or you can go to localhelp.healthcare.gov, put in your zip code, and find out where you can talk to somebody face-to-face."

"The other thing that women should know is that there are so many preventative services that are available to them — important things like pap smears, mammograms, and contraceptive services —at no extra cost. For so many women these services are extremely important, but they don’t know that they can get those services at no cost."

For so many women these services are extremely important, but they don’t know that they can get those services at no cost.

Secretary Sylvia Burwell
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What do you wish more women knew about their health care?
"Contraception is obviously very important for young women, but maternity coverage and related services are important, too... [That includes] things like breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling. Women who have just given birth are going to have access to lactation support and counseling, as well as breastfeeding equipment. For anybody who has done those things — which I have — those are very important services. Making sure you get that lactation support early and the equipment makes a tremendous amount of difference in care and the ability to breastfeed your child."

"The other thing is heart disease — the number one killer of women. But women between 25 and 34 have the lowest awareness of this fact, so those women aren’t necessarily doing the things they can do to prevent [heart disease]. But there are things you can do: You can learn about your risk factors for heart disease (smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight, being physically inactive, and having a family history)."

"Our Million Hearts initiative aims to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by doing things like increasing smoke-free environments, decreasing sodium in the food supply, and eliminating trans fats."

What will be the biggest health issues of 2016?
"The first is changing our healthcare system. The ACA [Affordable Care Act] was about access, affordability, and quality... In terms of quality, pre-existing conditions can’t keep you out of care. No longer can women be discriminated against based on their gender, and your children can stay on your plan until 26. But we need to do more, and I think you’re going to see that."

"One of the most important things is to change the way we pay. Right now our health care system is a fee-for-service. That leads to transactions, but not necessarily quality. So what we want to do is pay people for value — that you’re better, that you’re well, [rather than] that you had a blood test."

"I think 2016 is also an important year to focus on drug deaths and opioids, a problem that sadly exists across our entire country. And it's breaking apart families and communities [that are] trying to work on and deal with that. There are three things that we really really need to do: One is we need to improve prescribing, because much of it is affected by prescribing practices. In the U.S. in 2012, there were 250 million prescriptions of opioid painkillers. And when you think about the population of the U.S., that’s more than one for every adult. So we need to work on that prescribing."

"We also need to work on medication-assisted treatment for those who are addicted, and help them move to a different place. It’s one of the most effective ways to address opioid dependence. And the third thing is [expanding access to] naloxone, which is a drug which can help when someone is having an overdose — it can prevent them from dying."

This is an important year to focus on drug deaths, a problem that, sadly, exists across our entire country.

Secretary Sylvia Burwell
What's the biggest myth about health care?
"One myth is, 'I’m young, I’m invincible, [so I don't need to worry about healthcare].' But it’s important for prevention and also for those things that can happen that create great health and financial insecurity."

"I met a young gal over a year ago in Philadelphia. She was very young and healthy, she worked out every day, but she was not insured. Her mother kept telling her, 'You've gotta sign up,' and she finally did. Then, in January [of 2015], she was taken to the emergency room. After a series of tests over a month, they found that she had stomach cancer. She’s doing great right now, she just got married, and starting her life cancer-free. But without that health insurance, she might have delayed going to the doctor, having the necessary tests, and detecting the stomach cancer."

"I was with another couple — a gentleman in his 20s in graduate school and his wife, who works at a nail salon in Texas. Their second child was born with both a cleft palate and a heart abnormality. The baby is okay, but it was $3 million worth of surgery. [Having insurance] is both about prevention and making sure you’re being the healthiest you that you can be. But it’s also making sure that if something does happen that you're ready and you can handle it."
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