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Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion. Where and How to Get it.


medicaid cartoon

By Bob Aronson

I will start this post by saying that you are about to get more information about Medicaid than you wanted or likely have seen in one place before.  I am doing that so that you have to do as little homework as possible.

In order to eliminate confusion the reader should know that as of this writing every U.S. state provides some sort of Medicaid.  When you read stories that a state has opted out of “Expanded Medicaid” under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that doesn’t mean they have decided not to fund Medicaid at all.  It only means they will not participate in the expanded program offered by the U.S. Government.  It also means that fewer people will be treated for fewer medical problems.

Every state in the union currently has some sort of Medicaid program.  Medicaid is the largest source of funding for medical and health-related services for lomedicaid logow-income people in the United States. It is means-tested that is jointly funded by the state and federal governments and managed by the states, with each state currently having broad leeway to determine who is eligible for its implementation of the program.  Some states are far more generous than others but none are required to participate in the program.

Medicaid recipients must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, and may include low-income adults, their children, and people with certain disabilities.  Poverty alone does not necessarily qualify someone for Medicaid as poverty guidelines differ from state to state.

How to apply for Medicaid.  

Many states offer the ability to apply for Medicaid directly on their websites. These applications can generally take anywhere from a half an hour to an hour to complete. If your state doesn’t have an online application, you may be able to at least access a copy of it online that you can download and fill out at your convenience. If it doesn’t, you will need to take a trip to your local Department of Social Services and request their assistance with filling out your application. In most cases, you’ll have the option of taking the application with you and bringing it back in, or mailing it back in, or you will be seen immediately, if you wish.  More details can be found here http://tinyurl.com/kfg34bv

Do You Qualify for Medicaid?

If the previous link did not answer your questions this link should.   https://www.healthcare.gov/do-i-qualify-for-medicaid/#howmed

Medicaid Then and Now

Prior to Medicaid expansion on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 Medicaid was and is administered as a partnership jointly funded by the federal government and the states, with the feds contributing anywhere from 50 percent to 74 percent of expenses (the average nationwide is 57%). For states who sought to provide care to the disadvantaged and others it was a pretty good deal.

ACA expansion greatly increased the federal investment in state programs.  Under the ACA the federal match rate, starts at 100 percent in 2014 and gradually declines starting in 2017 until it reaches 90 percent for 2022 and beyond.

Unfortunately for those who need Medicaid 26 states have chosen not to participate in the expansion.  They have that option because of a U.S. Supreme court decision that upheld all other aspects of the Affordable Care Act except making the expansion mandatory. Again, Medicaid programs are only available to people with low incomes, limited resources, or certain diseases or disabilities

ACA otherwise known as Obamacare has been the subject of a bitter political battle since long before it was passed into law. The Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives  believes the law is ineffective and unaffordable.  As a result House Republicans not only voted against it they have unsuccessfully tried to repeal the law 40 times.  The great majority of states that have rejected expansion are Republican controlled.

Let us begin with where the states are with regard to Medicaid expansion.   The following states have said yes to the Medicaid expansion:

Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia

The following states have said no to the Medicaid expansion.

Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

I wish there was a way to tell readers exactly what to expect for their situation but that just can’t be done because there are so many variables.  Medicaid is a complex and often difficult to understand program.  If you are curious about your eligibility the best we can do is to refer you to links for more information but at least you won’t have to spend time searching for them, we’ve done that for you.  Once you begin your search though, be sure you have plenty of time and hot coffee because you will be doing a bit of studying.

National Public Radio has done a tremendous job of sorting out questions and answers about Medicaid.  Here’s just one of their many “Explainers.”

FAQ: Where Medicaid’s Reach Has Expanded — And Where It Hasn’t

http://tinyurl.com/l5nnxyr

October 11, 2013 3:00 PM

This is one of several explainers to help consumers navigate their health insurance choices under the Affordable Care Act, or as some call it, nprObamacare.  For answers to other common questions you can click here http://tinyurl.com/lwtqtsv Have a question we missed? Send it to www.health.npr.org  We may use it in a future on-air or online segment.

Could I be eligible for Medicaid now?

The Affordable Care Act greatly expanded the number of people who qualify for Medicaid, the state-run health insurance program for people with low incomes. Previously, it was difficult for anyone other than pregnant women, parents and children to qualify. The law expands eligibility in ways that will allow many more people, including single and childless men or women, to qualify.

How do I know if I’m eligible for Medicaid?

The law extends eligibility to all adults under the age of 65 whose modified adjusted gross incomes fall below just under $16,000 for individuals and $32,500 for a family of four.

In states that decided not to participate in the Medicaid expansion, the rules are different and vary from state to state. About half of the states opted out of the Medicaid expansion, which is something that the U.S. Supreme Court gave them permission to do. In those states, the income cutoff to be eligible for Medicaid is generally much lower than what was set in the Affordable Care Act, so fewer people will qualify. And if you’re a childless adult, you’re most likely not eligible in states that rejected the Medicaid expansion.

To find out the income cutoff in your state, you can check out the tables here http://tinyurl.com/n55suho

Or, just try signing up for coverage at your health insurance exchange. The exchange will calculate if you are eligible for Medicaid in your state, and if you are, direct you to the proper state agency to get signed up. http://tinyurl.com/meyyzgs

What if my state didn’t expand Medicaid?

If your income is too high to qualify for Medicaid under your state’s rules, you can still try enrolling at an insurance exchange. You may not qualify for subsidies, though. The subsidies are for people whose income falls between 100 percent of the ($11,490 for an individual) and 400 percent ($45,960).

If you make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for subsidies on the exchange, then you are exempted from the new mandate to carry health insurance. http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/13poverty.cfm

If that’s your situation — you’re poor and still have no health insurance — you can still seek health care with other safety net providers, such as federal community health centers and free clinics run by local nonprofits.

If I am sick and unable to work and have no income, can I get a plan on an exchange for free?

If you are disabled and have no income, you most likely won’t be shopping for insurance on the exchanges. Rather, you may qualify for Medicaid. In , if you qualify to collect Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, you also qualify for Medicaid. For more information on Medicaid eligibility and links to your state’s Medicaid office, click here http://tinyurl.com/7mevcmw

See other Frequently Asked Questions on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act:

While I would very much like to be able to provide details about every state’s Medicaid program neither time nor space allow for that undertaking.  I will, by way of this post, try to provide some general guidelines but it will be up to you to determine exactly what your state offers.

Although the federal government sets up general guidelines, each state runs its own Medicaid program. States establish what health care services are covered and which groups of people get coverage. As a result, Medicaid programs vary a great deal from state to state.

Keep in mind, too, that even if you can’t get Medicaid benefits, your child still may be eligible.

More Frequently Asked Questions About Medicaid

Q.        How Much Do Medicaid Programs Cost?

A.        The cost of a Medicaid program depends on the state. Some programs require you to make a small co-payment for medical services in addition to what Medicaid pays.

Q.        What Does Medicaid Cover?

A.        In general, Medicaid programs offer more comprehensive medical coverage than Medicare. They usually include hospital stays, visits to doctors, tests, some home medical care, and more. Again, the specifics vary from state to state.

Q.        What Else Do I Need to Know About Medicaid?

A.        Some people qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid programs. They are called “dual eligibles.” In these cases, Medicaid may pay some of your Medicare fees.

  • If you qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid and enroll in a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, you are eligible for help in paying your drug plan’s monthly premium, deductible, and co-pays.

To learn more about Medicaid programs, visit the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) web site. 

Fiscal Impact of the Medicaid Expansion on State Budgets

Medicaid as of September 4, 2013 The Supreme Court ’s decision on National Federation of Independent Business et al v. Sebelius1 upheld all provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) including the individual responsibility requirement, health insurance exchanges and subsidies, and the Medicaid expansion. However, the Court restricted the federal government’s ability to withhold federal Medicaid funds if a state

Emphasis on Primary Care and on Primary Care Physicians

The Affordable Care Act emphasizes primary care and seeks to increase the number of primary care physicians willing to provide services to Medicaid patients. To that end, Medicaid payments to primary care physicians will increase to 100 percent of the Medicare payment rates for the years 2013 and 2014. Current payment rates for primary care physicians under Medicaid vary markedly from state to state, but on average they are 66 percent of Medicare reimbursement rates.

Physicians who will be receiving the higher rates are those engaged in family practice, general internal medicine and pediatric medicine. As with the cost of making more individuals eligible for Medicaid, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the added costs for payments to primary care physicians. Payment rates after 2014, and the division of responsibility between the federal and state governments to pay them, has not been determined.

Additional Information Resources

http://www.medicaid.gov/

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 3,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our new music video “Dawn Anita The Gift of Life” on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYFFJoHJwHs.  This video is free to anyone who wants to use it and no permission is needed. 

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just email me bob@baronson.org and ask for a copy of “Life, Pass it on.“  This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. 

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

Obamacare — Your Questions Answered


Whether your agree with it or not, the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare” is one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever to pass the U.S. Congress. Some of it is already in effect but it will continue to unfold in years to come.

Politics aside, there are thousands of questions about this sweeping reform of American healthcare and this post only answers a few, but they are important questions.  Others will emerge as the act unfolds and people have real, day to day experience with it.

What you are about to read was developed by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan research organization.  This is what their website says about them:

The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation http://www.kff.org/

Who We are

A leader in health policy analysis, health journalism and communication, the Kaiser Family Foundation is dedicated to filling the need for trusted, independent information on the major health issues facing our nation and its people.  Kaiser is a non-profit, private operating foundation focusing on the major health care issues facing the U.S., as well as the U.S. role in global health policy.  Unlike grant-making foundations, Kaiser develops and runs its own research and communications programs, sometimes in partnership with other non-profit research organizations or major media companies.

We serve as a non-partisan source of facts, information, and analysis for policymakers, the media, the health care community, and the public. Our product is information, always provided free of charge — from the most sophisticated policy research, to basic facts and numbers, to information young people can use to improve their health or elderly people can use to understand their Medicare benefits.

The Kaiser Family Foundation is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.

A Post-election Consumer’s Guide to Health Reform

By Mary Agnes Carey and Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News

Now that President Barack Obama has won a second term, the Affordable Care Act is back on a fast track.

Some analysts argue that there could be modifications to reduce federal spending as part of a broader deficit deal; for now, this is just speculation. What is clear is that the law will have sweeping ramifications for consumers, state officials, employers and healthcare providers, including hospitals and doctors.

While some of the key features don’t kick in until 2014, the law has already altered the health care industry and established a number of consumer benefits.

Here’s a primer on parts of the law already up and running, what’s to come and ways that provisions could still be altered.

I don’t have health insurance. Under the law, will I have to buy it and what happens if I don’t?

Today, you are not required to have health insurance . But beginning in 2014, most people will have to have it or pay a fine. For individuals, the penalty would start at $95 a year, or up to 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, and rise to $695, or 2.5 percent of income, by 2016.

For families the penalty would be $2,085 or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater. The requirement to have coverage can be waived for several reasons, including financial hardship or religious beliefs.

Millions of additional people will qualify for Medicaid or federal subsidies to buy insurance under the law.

While some states, including most recently Alabama, Wyoming and Montana, have passed laws to block the requirement to carry health insurance, those provisions do not override federal law.

I get my health coverage at work and want to keep my current plan. Will I be able to do that? How will my plan be affected by the health law?

If you get insurance through your job, it is likely to stay that way. But, just as before the law was passed, your employer is not obligated to keep the current plan and may change premiums, deductibles, co-pays and network coverage.

You may have seen some law-related changes already. For example, most plans now ban lifetime coverage limits and include a guarantee that an adult child up to age 26 who can’t get health insurance at a job can stay on her parents’ health plan.

What other parts of the law are now in place?

You are likely to be eligible for preventive services with no out-of-pocket costs, such as breast cancer screenings and cholesterol tests.

Health plans can’t cancel your coverage once you get sick – a practice known as “rescission” – unless you committed fraud when you applied for coverage.

Children with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied coverage. This will apply to adults in 2014.

Insurers will have to provide rebates to consumers if they spend less than 80 to 85 percent of premium dollars on medical care.

Some existing plans, if they haven’t changed significantly since passage of the law, do not have to abide by certain parts of the law. For example, these “grandfathered” plans can still charge beneficiaries part of the cost of preventive services.

If you’re currently in one of these plans, and your employer makes significant changes, such as raising your out-of-pocket costs, the plan would then have to abide by all aspects of the health law.

I want health insurance but I can’t afford it. What will I do?

Depending on your income, you might be eligible for Medicaid. Currently, in most states nonelderly adults without minor children don’t qualify for Medicaid. But beginning in 2014, the federal government is offering to pay the cost of an expansion in the programs so that anyone with an income at or lower than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, (which based on current guidelines would be $14,856 for an individual or $30,656 for a family of four) will be eligible for Medicaid.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled in June that states cannot be forced to make that change. Republican governors in several states have said that they will refuse the expansion, though that may change now that Obama has been re-elected.

What if I make too much money for Medicaid but still can’t afford to buy insurance?

You might be eligible for government subsidies to help you pay for private insurance sold in the state-based insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, slated to begin operation in 2014. Exchanges will sell insurance plans to individuals and small businesses.

These premium subsidies will be available for individuals and families with incomes between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level, or $14,856 to $44,680 for individuals and $30,656 to $92,200 for a family of four (based on current guidelines).

Will it be easier for me to get coverage even if I have health problems?

Insurers will be barred from rejecting applicants based on health status once the exchanges are operating in 2014.

I own a small business. Will I have to buy health insurance for my workers?

No employer is required to provide insurance. But starting in 2014, businesses with 50 or more employees that don’t provide health care coverage and have at least one full-time worker who receives subsidized coverage in the health insurance exchange will have to pay a fee of $2,000 per full-time employee. The firm’s first 30 workers would be excluded from the fee.

However, firms with 50 or fewer people won’t face any penalties.

In addition, if you own a small business, the health law offers a tax credit to help cover the cost. Employers with 25 or fewer full-time workers who earn an average yearly salary of $50,000 or less today can get tax credits of up 35 percent of the cost of premiums. The credit increases to 50 percent in 2014.

I’m over 65. How does the legislation affect seniors?

The law is narrowing a gap in the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan known as the “doughnut hole.” That’s when seniors who have paid a certain initial amount in prescription costs have to pay for all of their drug costs until they spend a total of $4,700 for the year. Then the plan coverage begins again.

That coverage gap will be closed entirely by 2020. Seniors will still be responsible for 25 percent of their prescription drug costs. So far, 5.6 million seniors have saved $4.8 billion on prescription drugs, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The law also expanded Medicare’s coverage of preventive services, such as screenings for colon, prostate and breast cancer, which are now free to beneficiaries. Medicare will also pay for an annual wellness visit to the doctor. HHS reports that during the first nine months of 2012, more than 20.7 million Medicare beneficiaries have received preventive services at no cost.

The health law reduced the federal government’s payments to Medicare Advantage plans, run by private insurers as an alternative to the traditional Medicare. Medicare Advantage costs more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare. Critics of those payment cuts say that could mean the private plans may not offer many extra benefits, such as free eyeglasses, hearing aids and gym memberships, that they now provide.

Will I have to pay more for my health care because of the law?

No one knows for sure. Even supporters of the law acknowledge its steps to control health costs, such as incentives to coordinate care better, may take a while to show significant savings. Opponents say the law’s additional coverage requirements will make health insurance more expensive for individuals and for the government.

That said, there are some new taxes and fees. For example, starting in 2013, individuals with earnings above $200,000 and married couples making more than $250,000 will pay a Medicare payroll tax of 2.35 percent, up from the current 1.45 percent, on income over those thresholds. In addition, higher-income people will be taxed 3.8 percent on unearned income, such as dividends and interest.

Starting in 2018, the law also will impose a 40 percent excise tax on the portion of most employer-sponsored health coverage (excluding dental and vision) that exceeds $10,200 a year and $27,500 for families. The tax has been dubbed a “Cadillac” tax because it hits the most generous plans.

In addition, the law also imposes taxes and fees on several major health industries. Beginning in 2013, medical device manufacturers and importers must pay a 2.3 percent tax on the sale of any taxable medical device to raise $29 billion over 10 years. An annual fee for health insurers is expected to raise more than $100 billion over 10 years, while a fee for brand name drugs will bring in another $34 billion.

Those fees will likely be passed onto consumers in the form of higher premiums.

Hasn’t the law hit some bumps in the road?

Yes. For example, the law created high-risk insurance pools to help people buy health insurance. But enrollment in the pools has been less than expected. As of Aug. 31, 86,072 people had signed up for the high-risk pools, but the program, which began in June 2010, was initially expected to enroll between 200,000 and  400,000 people. The cost and the requirements have been difficult for some to meet.

Applicants must be uninsured for six months because of a pre-existing medical condition before they can join a pool. And because participants are sicker than the general population, the premiums are higher.

Enrollment has increased since the summer, after the premiums were lowered in some states by as much as 40 percent and some states stepped up advertising.

A long-term care provision of the law is dead for now. The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program (CLASS Act) was designed for people to buy federally guaranteed insurance that would have helped consumers eventually cover some long-term-care costs. But last fall, federal officials effectively suspended the program even before it was to begin, saying they could not find a way to make it work financially.

Are there more changes ahead for the law?

Some observers think there could be pressure in Congress to make some changes to the law as a larger package to reduce the deficit. Among those options is scaling back the subsidies that help low-income Americans buy health insurance coverage. The amount of the subsidies, and possibly the Medicaid expansion as well, could be reduced.

It’s also possible that some of the taxes on the health care industry, which help pay for the new benefits in the health law, could be rolled back. For example, legislation to repeal the tax on medical device manufacturers passed the House with support from 37 Democrats (it is not expected to receive Senate consideration this year). Nine House Democrats are co-sponsoring legislation to repeal the law’s annual fee on health insurers.

Meanwhile, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), one of the most contentious provisions of the health law, is also under continued attack by lawmakers. IPAB is a 15-member panel charged with making recommendations to reduce Medicare spending if the amount the government spends grows beyond a target rate. If Congress chooses not to accept the recommendations, lawmakers must pass alternative cuts of the same size.

Some Republicans argue that the board amounts to health care rationing and some Democrats have said that they think the panel would transfer power that belongs on Capitol Hill to the executive branch. In March, the House voted to repeal IPAB but that bill did not get past the Senate.

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to bob@baronson.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

Alcohol and Drugs The Organ and Child Killers


Alcoholism and drug abuse have haunted my family for years.  I’ve been in recovery for just about 30 years but I’m not alone in my family.  Anonymity disallows further disclosure but trust me, I know about addiction first hand and even as I write this another family member is suffering and causing suffering.  I hate the disease with every fiber in my body and I know how hard it is to fight it.

Alcohol is a drug. It is no different than heroin or cocaine or Dilaudid or Oxycontin.  They are all addictive drugs and they ruin lives and kill people.  Those are facts.  Here’s another fact.  There is an alcohol and drug abuse epidemic among young people in America today.

Here is some shocking information from the National Center On Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.  And if you are not shocked you should be.  http://www.casacolumbia.org/templates/Home.aspx?articleid=287&zoneid=32

  • Half of college students binge drink and or abuse other drugs and almost a quarter meet medical criteria for alcohol or drug dependence.
  •  Prescription drug abuse is the most rapidly increasing drug abuse among teens.
  • Each day more than 13,000 children and teens take their first drink
  • 7 million (26 percent) of public school students age 12-17 say their school is both gang and drug infected.
  • Teens who see their parents drunk are more than twice as likely to get drunk in a month and three times likelier to use marijuana and smoke cigarettes
  • In 2009 more than one third of teens (8.7 million) said they can get prescription drugs to get high within a day and nearly one in five said they could get them in an hour.

Now, you may ask yourself why a blog about organ donation and transplantation is focusing on alcohol.  The answer is simple.  Alcohol can and does destroy human organs.  If Americans could better control their alcohol consumption the number of people who need organ transplants would drop considerably.  Here are just a few of the effects of prolonged alcohol and drug abuse:’

  • The brain —  confusion and memory loss.  Changes in sensation and numbness.
  • Scarring of the liver called cirrhosis which can lead to death.
  • Disease of the pancreas and stomach even stomach cancer
  • Heart irregularities and weakening leading to death (my alcoholism could have contributed to my need for a heart transplant).
  • Upset the body’s natural control of blood fats and blood sugar levels.
  • Bone thinning called osteoporosis
  • Kidney disease

Long-term use of alcohol and drugs in excessive quantities is capable of damaging nearly every organ and system in the body.

Now, back to the epidemic amongst our youth.  Let’s just focus on alcohol.  Underage drinkers account for 11.4 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the U.S., according to Teen Tipplers: America’s Underage Drinking Epidemic, a report released by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

The report found that more than five million high schoolers (31 percent) say they binge drink at least once a month. The gender gap in alcohol consumption that for generations separated girls and boys has disappeared among younger teens: male and female ninth graders are just as likely to drink (40 percent vs. 41 percent) and to binge drink (22 percent vs. 20 percent), the news release said.

But let’s not depend on just once source.  Here’s what the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says about young teens and alcohol and the related risks.

“For young people, alcohol is the drug of choice. In fact, alcohol is used by more young people than tobacco or illicit drugs. Although most children under age 14 have not yet begun to drink, early adolescence is a time of special risk for beginning to experiment with alcohol.

While some parents and guardians may feel relieved that their teen is “only” drinking, it is important to remember that alcohol is a powerful, mood-altering drug. Not only does alcohol affect the mind and body in often unpredictable ways, but teens lack the judgment and coping skills to handle alcohol wisely. As a result:

  • Alcohol-related traffic crashes are a major cause of death among young people. Alcohol use also is linked with teen deaths by drowning, suicide, and homicide.
  • Teens who use alcohol are more likely to be sexually active at earlier ages, to have sexual intercourse more often, and to have unprotected sex than teens who do not drink.
  • Young people who drink are more likely than others to be victims of violent crime, including rape, aggravated assault, and robbery.
  • Teens who drink are more likely to have problems with school work and school conduct.
  • The majority of boys and girls who drink tend to binge (5 or more drinks on an occasion for boys and 4 or more on an occasion for girls) when they drink.
  • A person who begins drinking as a young teen is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than someone who waits until adulthood to use alcohol.

The message is clear: Alcohol use is very risky business for young people. And the longer children delay alcohol use, the less likely they are to develop any problems associated with it. That’s why it is so important to help your child avoid any alcohol use.

So you say, “Ok, but what can I do about it. If kids want to drink they’ll find a way.”  And you are right.  But often one of the ways they find to drink is through family members.  Over 70% of eighth graders say alcohol is easy to get and 30% of children age 12-14 get alcohol from a family member.

It’s also wise to use some common sense and remember that as parents you are role models. Your drinking habits are closely observed by your children whether you  think so or not.

There is help and advice from many sectors…SAMSHSA for one (SAMSHSA is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Government.)  http://underagedrinking.samhsa.gov/  Hers’ what they say.

Between the ages of 9 and 13, children start to think differently about alcohol. Many children begin to think underage drinking is OK and some even start to experiment. It’s never too early to talk to your children about alcohol, and encourage them to talk with you.  Over 70% of children say parents are the leading influence in their decision to drink or not.

Lots of little talks are more effective than one “big talk.”

Sitting down for the “big talk” about alcohol can be intimidating for both you and your child. Try using everyday opportunities to talk – in the car, during dinner, or while you and your child are watching TV. Having lots of little talks takes the pressure off trying to get all of the information out in one lengthy discussion, and your child will be less likely to tune you out.

When you do talk about alcohol, make your views and rules clear.

Take the time to discuss your beliefs and opinions about alcohol with your child. Be honest and express a clear, consistent message that underage drinking is unacceptable. When they feel that you’re being real and honest with them, they’ll be more likely to respect your rules about underage drinking.3

Family, peers, school, and the community all play a role in your child’s decision to drink. In fact, most children who use alcohol get it from a friend or family member.1 To ensure these people become positive role models for your child, let them know how you feel about underage drinking.

I have always contended that the best way to solve the organ shortage is to live healthier lives.  That means we have to start at a very early age.  Parents must teach their children about drugs and alcohol as soon and as often as possible.  If we don’t get a handle on this problem every other problem we have in our society will get worse.

Bob Aronson, a 2007 heart transplant recipient is the founder of Facebook’s 1700 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the writer of these donation/transplantation blogs on Bob’s Newheart.  

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

 Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have a PowerPoint slide show for your use free and for use without permission.  Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions.  This is NOT a stand-alone show, it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

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