April 16, 2014

Dying with dignity

Governor Walker proclaims today, April 16, Healthcare Decisions Day in Wisconsin.

It’s about dying with dignity, explains Attorney Ben Adams, who is an adviser to the State Bar Elder Law Section. “As Ben Franklin famously said, ‘The only two certain things in life are death and taxes.’ So that’s why April 16th was selected to be National Healthcare Decisions Day,” he says, “So that you can file your taxes on the 15th and then think about the end-of-life decisions that you might want made on the 16th, and plan for that.”

All individuals older than 18 are being urged to complete an advance directive, which documents their preferences about issues surrounding end-of-life decisions, including deciding to accept or refuse medical treatment, and whether to be an organ and tissue donor.

“If you don’t appoint a decision maker,” Adams explains, “someone that you feel confident will know what your values are and will be able to advocate for you if you can no longer make decisions, then who is going to make those decisions?”

Many folks feel their spouse can make their decision on their behalf, though that’s not the case in Wisconsin. Arguably, it would be easier just to die peacefully in one’s sleep, but that’s unlikely. Adams explains approximately 80 percent of people die from a lengthy illness, many of whom don’t have a health care directive.

AUDIO: The case of brain-damaged Terri Schiavo in Florida made national news in the right-to-die battle several years ago. :47

According to Adams, an estimated 80 percent of Wisconsin residents have not completed an advance directive. If you want your wishes to be met at the end of your life, it’s important to have both the documents and the conversation with family and agents.

A consumer guide can be downloaded at no charge for just one week on the State Bar’s website, starting today. Keep those documents in multiple locations — with your family, agent, medical system. If you’ve got a health issue, you might want to keep copy of your directive in your glove compartment or briefcase. Also, he says, some software allows you to make wallet-sized information to keep in your purse or wallet.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 1:29

Walker signs anti-heroin bills

Nygren watches as Governor Walker signs heroin bills into law (PHOTO: Governor's office)

Nygren watches as Governor Walker signs heroin bills into law (PHOTO: Governor’s office)

Governor Walker tours the state Monday to sign the anti-heroin bills into law and draw attention to the heroin problem.

State Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette) is the author of the package of bills aimed at reducing heroin-related deaths in Wisconsin. The Marinette Republican says, as a legislator, he’s thrilled to see his legislation become law. As a parent and a resident of northeastern Wisconsin — which has been hit hard by heroin abuse — Nygren says he’s hopeful the legislation will prove to be successful.

“We realize that none of them are the silver bullet that’s going to make all these problems go away, but I do believe — and I hear from the advocates on a regular basis — they will make a difference.” One former addict and current advocate calls the package of bills a “light at the end of the tunnel” for folks dealing with Heroin.

Nygren drafted the legislation to help those battling heroin and opiate addictions — his own daughter among them. He managed to turn a tragedy into something positive. Nygren gives credit to his daughter, Cassie, for allowing him to use her story.

Wisconsin has a seen a growing trend of heroin abuse in all corners of the state, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Nygren says the biggest side effect of this legislation is bringing awareness and understanding to the significance of the heroin problem in our state.

The legislation moved quickly through the Capitol. Nygren says that’s because his colleagues realized this is an issue affecting many people in the state.

“And because of that, legislators on both sides of the aisle stepped up and were supportive. All seven bills passed unanimously. Not one negative vote in committee or on the floor … it’s a testament to my colleagues and them having a good understanding of what’s going on in their communities, as well, that made it possible to get it done so quickly.”

One of the bills allows EMTs to administer the antidote drug Narcan to those who overdose, and a Good Samaritan bill provides immunity for anyone reporting overdoses to 911. Nygren says he’ll continue to look for more ideas that can help fight the opiate battle.

The governor stops in Marinette, Stevens Point, Eau Claire, and Milwaukee to bring awareness to the bills.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 1:34

Renewed effort to prevent hospital-acquired infections

Hospital-acquired infections continue to be a big problem in health care. Gwen Borlaug is the hospital-acquired infections coordinator with the state Division of Public Health. She said the Centers for Disease Control have found that Wisconsin has greatly reduced some types of these infections. “When it comes to certain surgical site infections however, we have not made as much progress as we would like,” she said. “That’s true in Wisconsin, as well as across the country.”

Nationally, the CDC found four percent of patients getting a new infection while hospitalized, and 11 percent of those infections turn deadly. That translates to more than 70,000 deaths a year. In Wisconsin, Borlaug said they’ll be kicking off a prevention effort with a summit in Wausau on Thursday. “This is going to be the start of our collaborative efforts,” Borlaug said. “We really want as many hospitals there as possible, so we’re laying down that challenge.” So far 53 hospitals and 10 outpatient surgical centers have signed up.

Walker signs chemo bill into law

Governor Walker signs legislation (PHOTO Jackie Johnson file photo)

Governor Walker signs legislation (PHOTO Jackie Johnson file photo)

The legislation (SB-300) is designed to lower the costs of oral chemotherapy treatment for Wisconsin cancer patients. Under the new law, health insurance companies are required to cover expensive chemo pills, if they already provide coverage for traditional chemotherapy treatments. Supporters say some patients are paying $1,000 to $3,000 a month for their share of the out-of-pocket expense to cover this type of treatment. Opponents argue the bill, which caps co-pays at $100 a month, leaves too many loopholes for insurance companies to exploit and charge more.

Governor Scott Walker signed the so-called Cancer Treatment Fairness Act into law on Thursday. The Senate and Assembly authors of the measure — State Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and State Representative Pat Strachota (R-West Bend) — issued a statement thanking the governor for making this parity measure a top priority:

“His quick action will mean that the next health plan people get in January will fairly treat both oral chemotherapy and traditional intravenous chemotherapy. Wisconsin will become the 30th state that is keeping up with current technology in the fight against cancer. Treatment should be based on the disease and not your wallet. The Cancer Treatment Fairness Act makes sure life-saving decisions are between patients and their doctor.”

The governor signed the bill at the Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center in Wauwatosa.

Cannabidiol bill goes to governor’s desk

Wisconsin Senate

Wisconsin Senate (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

The state Senate passes a bill legalizing a drug that could improve the health of kids suffering from seizure disorders.

An extract from marijuana called cannabidiol, or CBD, helps to reduce seizures in children. State Senator Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) says this bill will bring some sense of peace to the parents and grandparents of children who are suffering unnecessarily.

“We have people in my district that have to travel across the country to get cannabidiol so that they can come home. And since they’ve been doing this, the seizure rate on this child … has been diminished tremendously.”

Ellis calls this breakthrough medical treatment a “gift” that shouldn’t be politicized. He says doctors he met with in his district support this bill “100 percent.”

Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) says it’s “very satisfying” to realize that this is one of the last bills on their legislative session.

“Because this is whey we’re here. This becomes the purpose in serving the public good, to make sure that we can do something that might improve the quality of life for people whose names we don’t know, faces we’ll never meet.”

The Assembly already approved the bill, which is on its way to the governor’s desk.