Health Department Urges Residents to Get their Annual Flu Shot

Press Release from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department:


HAMILTON COUNTY, TN – The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department will offer flu shots at all their locations beginning October 9, 2017. Anyone 6 months or older is encouraged to get the vaccine. Medicare, TennCare, and select other insurance providers can be billed and some people may be eligible for vaccine free or at a reduced cost. For those who want to pay out-of-pocket for a standard flu vaccination, the cost is $35. 

“Getting a flu shot is the most effective way to prevent catching the flu,” says Connie Buecker, RN, Communicable Disease Clinics Program Manager at the Health Department, “It’s also the best way to protect those around you who cannot get the vaccine, such as babies under 6 months old and others who cannot get a flu shot for a variety of reasons.”

The influenza virus is easily spread from person to person. Sneezing, coughing, and talking produce infectious droplets that eventually contact the mouth, nose, and mucous membranes of another person. In this way, the virus moves rapidly through the population. When the virus reaches someone who is vaccinated, not only are they less likely to get the flu, but they are less likely to transmit the virus to others. The more people who are vaccinated, the more difficult it is for the virus to spread. 

Young children, adults aged 65 years or older, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions are at risk for more serious complications from the flu, requiring hospitalization or even resulting in death. In 2015, Hamilton County recorded 4 influenza deaths.

Other important flu preventive measures include:

  • Wash hands often with soap and warm water.

  • Avoid people who are sick.

  • If you become sick, seek medical care, and take anti-virals if prescribed by your health care provider.

  • Cover your cough or sneeze, and if you do so with a tissue, throw it away, do not carry it around.

  • Keep your immune system healthy by quitting tobacco, eating healthy, and being active.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.  These usually last from a few days to less than two weeks.  It is possible to infect others even when you do not show any symptoms.

Each year, the CDC estimates that nearly 111 million work days are lost due to the flu, resulting in approximately $7 billion per year in sick days and lost productivity.  Free tools for businesses and employers can be found here.

Flu vaccine will be available at all Health Department locations:

·        3rd Street Main Campus

o   Adults - call for appointment 209-8340

o   Children - walk-in; call 209-8050 for more information

·        Ooltewah Health Center - walk-in; call 238-4269 for more information

·        Sequoyah Health Center - walk-in; call 842-3031 for more information

·        Birchwood Health Center – walk-in or appointment; call 961-0446 to make appointment or for more information.

For more information:


TennCare Announces One-Time Penalty Adjustments for Episodes of Care

From Tennessee Medical Association website,

The TennCare Bureau recently announced it will make a one-time adjustment to reduce penalties for the CY 2016 performance period. Final performance reports for CY 2016 performance period were released on August 30, 2017. TennCare will require penalized providers pay just one-third of the shared risk penalty that is owed to a respective MCO. Providers who received a final performance report that showed a penalty will receive a separate letter that shows the reduced penalty amount. Providers who have an overall episodes reward or providers who had no change in payment as a result of their episodes will not see a change. Providers will not see a change to episodes from their commercial payers—episodes in the commercial market are rewards-only. 

The adjustment is being coordinated across the TennCare United Healthcare, Amerigroup, and Blue Care plans at the direction of the state. It is a one-time adjustment and should not be expected in future years.

Contact with any questions.


First Things First: Be vigilant with teens at risk for opioid abuse

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press,

By Julie Baumgardner, CEO/President, First Things First

Julie Baumgardner.jpg

Dr. Nita Shumaker, pediatrician and president of the Tennessee Medical Association, is on a mission. When she is not seeing patients, she is spreading the word far and wide about the danger of opioid use and its impact on the young and old across the state of Tennessee and nationally.

"There were 64,000 deaths in the U.S. last year due to opioid use, and that number is probably underreported," says Shumaker. "People do not realize how addictive opioids are and that it takes very little to become addicted. We have a very serious problem. It's like a bathtub overflowing, and my goal is to stop the spigot."

According to a Live Science magazine article, a new study found that most American teenagers who abuse opioid drugs first received the drugs from a doctor. Looking at trends in the use of prescription opioids among U.S. adolescents from 1976 to 2015, researchers found a strong correlation between teens taking the drugs for medical reasons and then taking them later for "nonmedical" reasons. In the journal Pediatrics, study author Sean McCabe, research professor at the University of Michigan, observed findings that over the past two decades, the majority of nonmedical users of prescription opioids also used prescription opioids for medical reasons in the past.

"According to studies, 1 in 4 prescriptions for opioids is misused. They are not taken, given to somebody else or taken in a manner different than prescribed," Shumaker says. "Furthermore, 1 in 10 who take opioids are at very high risk because the drug hits a sweet spot because of how their brain is wired. Probably one of the most shocking statistics is that it's not the dose of opioids but the length of time you take them. If you take them for more than three to five days, the risk of addiction doubles. These medications have their place, but they are horribly dangerous. You may be that one person that it trips that sweet spot, and it can destroy your life."

Shumaker encourages parents to be vigilant with their teens about the opioid epidemic.

"Changes in behavior, in the friends they choose to hang around or their grades — pay attention," Shumaker says. "When teens are abusing drugs, their behavior may become erratic and they may become secretive. As parents and those who care about young people, we must place the highest priority on their health and well-being and stop being so concerned about invading their privacy."

Shumaker strongly encourages parents to get rid of old medications in an effort to keep them out of the wrong hands. The FDA says opioids can be flushed or crushed and mixed in with cat litter or coffee grounds and thrown away. There are also designated drop-off locations in the community. Additionally, if your teen has an injury, seek out other methods that can be used instead of opioids to manage pain. Taking opioids is like playing Russian roulette with your child's life.

"I don't think people in general, much less teens, understand the magnitude of danger opioids pose to their life," Shumaker says. "The new Fentanyl on the streets, which is often being illegally made, is so powerful if you touch it you can stop breathing. Police officers are now having to wear haz-mat suits when making drug arrests.

"This is an enormous problem. Almost no one is untouched by this epidemic. It is in the best interest of our community and future generations for all of us to pay close attention to what is happening with our teens. It is vital that we not forget that teens' executive function, which helps all of us make wise choices, is not fully formed until age 25. We need to be checking in on our teens and helping them make good decisions."

How to Profit From MIPS, Explained in Plain English


By Elizabeth W. Woodcock, MBA, FACMPE, CPC

Learning the Best Ways to Earn

The Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) has made many doctors frustrated and others confused.

The program does have complexities: For example, you could earn a different number of points depending whether you've submitted your data via an electronic health record (EHR) or whether they are extracted through your claims. Or as another example, different quality measures that you report may not be able to be reported the same way. And to top that off, it's possible that even if you choose the way you want to report, your office system doesn't have the functionality.

Those are some of the issues that physicians are wrestling with. Let's take a look at these issues and gain a better understanding of what you need to do.

Click here to learn how to make the best of MIPS.

Dashboard tracks CMS moves toward regulatory relief

From the American Medical Association website,

By: Andis Robeznieks, Senior Staff Writer,

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) included several ideas for easing physician administrative burdens in its proposals for the second year of the Medicare Quality Payment Program (QPP) and the 2018 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, but there is still more that can be done to provide meaningful regulatory relief.

The AMA is tracking these measures in a 2017 regulatory relief dashboard.. The tool details where the AMA suggestions and CMS proposed rules are in agreement as well as the AMA’s “top asks” for regulation flexibility and burden reduction. It also cites the list of 21 prior-authorization and utilization-management reform principles that the AMA and more than 100 other organizations have endorsed.

“We believe reducing the administrative burden for physicians will reduce cost, improve quality, and create a more accessible health care system for patients,” wrote AMA CEO and Executive Vice President James L. Madara, MD, in a Sept. 11 letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma regarding the 2018 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule proposed rule.

“Regulatory wins” stemming from the fee schedule proposed rule listed on the dashboard include the delay in implementing the requirement that physicians consult appropriate use criteria (AUC) before ordering advanced diagnostic images, along with retroactive modification of legacy reporting programs such as Meaningful Use (MU) and the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) to reduce penalties physicians may face in 2018 under the QPP’s Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).

Regulatory wins originating from the QPP proposed rule include proposals to increase the low-volume threshold exempting practices with few Medicare beneficiaries from the MIPS program and postponing a mandate for physicians to upgrade to 2015 edition certified electronic health records (EHRs).

A number of victories were also secured with respect to EHRs. For example, a process is being established for physicians to register complaints with an EHR product directly to the federal government for action, and EHRs must now include enhanced interoperability technology and support for apps.

The dashboard’s top asks for QPP regulatory relief include: simplifying MIPS scoring methodology, allowing specialty practices to qualify as APM medical homes and creating new exemptions and safe harbors from anti-kickback statutes to facilitate coordinated care.