Gun Violence is a Public Health Issue

In 2016, there were 36,978 deaths in the United States involving guns. This includes 732 children and 3,234 teenagers; 21,386 were suicides and 346 of the events are considered mass shootings (the FBI defines mass shootings as when four or more people are shot and/or killed in a single event at the same general time and location, not including the shooter). Despite disagreements on certain measures among Americans, gun violence can certainly be considered a public health issue in the U.S.


Before 1996, the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) was charged with researching gun violence, much in the way that the CDC researched deaths from car crashes and the life-saving effects of seatbelts and child car seats. Following a 1993 study that connected gun ownership with a higher risk of being the victim of a homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance, the National Rifle Association (NRA) responded by lobbying for the elimination for the CDC’s Center for Injury Prevention. While the Center for Injury Prevention remained, the 1996 federal budget included an amendment proposed by Rep. Jay Dickey forbidding the CDC from “advocating or promoting gun control” as well as cutting their budget by the exact amount the CDC had spent on firearm injury research the year prior. While not explicitly barring the research of gun violence, the language of the Dickey amendment and budget cuts created an environment where few within the CDC were willing to risk their careers by pushing for research that could be misinterpreted as advocating for gun control laws as opposed to advocating for public health.


The CDC ranks gun violence as a leading cause of death in the United States. Americans are more likely to die by an assault with a firearm than riding inside an automobile, and only marginally more likely to die from an accidental gunshot as opposed to being the victim of a mass shooting. Any death by firearm is more likely in the U.S. than the combined risks of drowning, fire and smoke, stabbing, choking on food, airplane crashes, animal attacks, and natural disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, or lightning strikes. This appears to be a unique problem to the United States among countries not in open warfare or corrupted by criminal organizations. There are those that blame gun violence on depictions in movies or video games despite these same forms of entertainment being available throughout the developed world. The United States consists of less than 5% of the world’s population, though has more than 42% of the civilian-owned guns on Earth. When comparing crime on a whole, the United States has an average amount compared to similar countries; the only outlier in U.S. crime is gun violence.


The Public Health System

The Public Health System

The debate on gun rights in the United States is fraught with complexities and strong emotions from all points of view. As a nonprofit healthcare information resource, it is not appropriate for us to comment on all aspects of the debate. We at NeedyMeds prefer to remain apolitical—we work in a diverse office with people of varying backgrounds and views—however, NeedyMeds does support the open research into gun violence by the CDC and for recommendations to be made in the interest of public health. Without research, any governmental proposals to fix or prevent the gun violence issue in the United States could be formed by baseless conjecture or discouraged altogether. Jay Dickey, the author of the 1996 amendment barring the CDC from “advocating” gun control, later worked with Mark Rosenberg, the author of the 1993 study that incited the NRA lobbying against studies into gun violence, regretting his addition to the legislation and intimated that “We won’t know the cause of gun violence until we look for it.


NeedyMeds encourages Americans to be active in the legislative process: If you have an opinion on important public health issues in the United States, call 202-224-3121 to reach the U.S. Capitol switchboard; from there you can be connected to your elected House Representative or Senator’s office.


For those who have been the victim of a violent crime in the United States, there are victim compensation programs in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. These programs help victims of rape, assault, child sexual abuse, drunk driving, domestic abuse, as well as families of homicide victims. Compensation programs can cover medical bills, mental health treatment, and often includes crime-scene cleanup, travel costs to receive treatment, moving expenses, or even the cost of housekeeping or child care if the victim is unable to do so. The programs are often flexible with their eligibility, though most require reporting the crime to police within a specified time frame and cooperating with the investigation. You can find NeedyMeds’ listings for the crime victim compensation programs in our Diagnosis-Based Assistance Database under Violent Crimes. For more help finding information, call our toll-free helpline Monday-Friday 9am-5pm Eastern Time at 1-800-503-6897.

Connecting with others can lead to success

by Andrea Baer, MS, Director of Patient Advocacy and Program Management at Mended Hearts


“I have been where you are, I know how you feel” – That’s a powerful statement. The sense of connectiveness and bonding that can happen is soothing, and often a key to successful recovery. Individuals who are going through a medical crisis or learning to change their lifestyle can find success in these connections. When my son was born in 2009 with a congenital heart defect, I was scared, alone and feared our future. I was given lots of medical information from healthcare professionals, but what I lacked was the everyday “how am I going to get through this” answer. Questions from formula, or sleep, or what to pack for surgery. My questions were never-ending. The first person who reached out to me and said those words: “I know how you feel, I’ve been there,” changed my entire thought process and set us up for success. Nine years later, I still benefit from this community. I give advice sometimes, and sometimes I need advice.

According to author Charles Duhigg, a movement starts because of the social habits of friendships and strong ties to close acquaintances; it grows through the habits of the community, and it endures because individuals give each other new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership over their well-being. In personal health, individuals must be educated, empowered, and supported to make changes in their own care, and they should also feel they have some semblance of control. These habits are difficult for the healthcare industry to ingrain in such a fast-paced, impersonal world, as clinicians are often overwhelmed with caring for the complex medical needs of patients, which leaves them little time to provide personal support.

Social support systems are more likely to produce the social networks that can encourage an individual to adhere to treatment and make positive lifestyle changes, and provide additional resources for services for patients. This is where peer-to-peer support enters into the healthcare equation: peer supporters can be the social system that patients need to become educated on the importance of medication adherence and to provide encouragement for lifestyle changes that will impact their healthcare outcomes. It is easy to tell someone what they should do, but providing real-life answers to the question “How?” is where the social support especially comes into play.

Treatment plans, medication adherence, and general lifestyle changes can all see benefit in the connection of peer support. Peers who have experienced the same types of situations can be very important because they not only sympathize with the struggle, they can give powerful advice — advice on how they navigate lifestyle changes and how they stick to their treatment regimen. People who involve themselves within a peer support community can also see benefits of lower depression rates and a happier outlook on life. Peers can also be valuable in connecting you with resources in your local community. Building those positive social structures within communities is vital to empowering patients—an empowered patient is more engaged in their health care and more likely to make the right healthcare decisions.

Mended Hearts, the largest peer-to-peer cardiovascular support network in the world, has learned that connecting with others helps both the supporter and the one they are supporting. Case studies have shown us that peer-to-peer support can reduce re-admission rates and improve outcomes. But, to the regular patient, the proof is much larger than that. The connection and encouragement that comes from a circle of friends is invaluable.


Mended Hearts is a national and community-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has been offering the gift of hope to heart disease patients, their families and caregivers. To offer this hope Mended Hearts provides a variety of programs. Mended Hearts is presenting a webinar with us at NeedyMeds tomorrow (February 28) at 1:30pm Eastern Time. Register here:

Open Enrollment by the Numbers

Open enrollment for Affordable Care Act (ACA; aka Obamacare) coverage ended across the United States in mid-December, but the last few states ended their open enrollment period at the end of January. We wrote in November about the state of Open Enrollment, and discussed the impacts of confusion surrounding the healthcare law earlier this year. Now that the open enrollment period has ended, we’re able to look at the numbers of people who took advantage and those still left underserved.

health insuranceEven with enrollment period cut in half and other changes enacted by the Trump administration, nearly 11.8 million people signed up for healthcare on or through their state’s marketplace. Experts say that had Open Enrollment period not been so much shorter and outreach funding not been cut 90%, an additional 1.1 million Americans would have enrolled. Returning ACA enrollees marginally increased since last year, however new enrollment fell 29% with the Trump administration’s cuts. Of the ten states that extended their enrollment periods beyond the shortened 45-day period, seven of them surpassed the enrollment from the previous year.

There are still 39 million uninsured Americans. The uninsured rate rose for the first time since 2014, and by the largest single-year increase since 2008. In 2016 just over 9% of Americans were uninsured; now over 12% are without health insurance—an increase of over 3 million Americans.

Consumers who missed the open enrollment period can still enroll in an Obamacare plan if they have a qualifying life event such as losing insurance coverage (must have at least minimum essential coverage; cannot be a short-term or low-benefit “Trumpcare” plans with high out-of-pocket costs), becoming or gaining a dependent, getting married, becoming a U.S. citizen, or a permanent move to an area with different health insurance offerings.

There will be further developments in health care in America, and NeedyMeds will try to keep up-to-date on the details. We at NeedyMeds prefer to remain apolitical—we work in a diverse office with people of varying backgrounds and views—but we believe in being informed and that those in need deserve care. It should be clear that NeedyMeds supports improved access to care as well as lower costs for medications and healthcare services for all.

NeedyMeds also encourages Americans to be active in the legislative process: If you have an opinion on the future of the important healthcare issues in the United States, call 202-224-3121 to reach the U.S. Capitol switchboard; from there you can be connected to your elected House Representative or Senator’s office.

NeedyMeds will continue to provide information as the need for assistance navigating the often expensive landscape of health care rises. The NeedyMeds website has databases of Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs), Diagnosis-Based Assistance (DBAs), and Free/Low-cost/Sliding-scale Clinics to help those in need. The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card can save users up to 80% off the cash price of prescription medications for those without insurance or choose to use the card instead of insurance. In addition to the plastic card, the card is available in a printable form or the NeedyMeds Storylines smartphone app for Apple and Android devices. For more help finding information, call our toll-free helpline Monday-Friday 9am-5pm Eastern Time at 1-800-503-6897.

American Heart Month

February marks American Heart Month in the US.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, affecting Americans of all backgrounds. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds and someone dies from heart-disease related causes every minute. During American Heart Month, everyone is encouraged to examine their heart health and take charge with heart-healthy behavior.

There are a number of risk factors for heart disease. High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are major risk factors for one’s heart health. Almost half of Americans (47%) are affected by at least one of these risks. A diagnosis of diabetes also comes with increased risk of heart disease, as well as poor diet, obesity, and excessive alcohol use.

There are different types of heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common diagnosis, resulting from plaque buildup inside of arteries. Others are affected by arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat; congenital heart defects; cardiomyopathy, or weak heart muscles; heart valve problems; heart infections; or cardiovascular disease.

file4671234819876The first step in being aware of your heart health is to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Regular check-ups—even when you are not sick—can give great insight into one’s overall health and is a great opportunity to ask questions about improving your health. Check your blood pressure and cholesterol and set goals with your doctor if they are high. Regular exercise and healthy eating can greatly improve one’s heart health. Start walking every other day, control portion sizes with meals while eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting fats and sodium. Quitting smoking can cut one’s risk for heart disease and stroke, and not starting leaves one at a distinct advantage. Lastly, take any blood pressure or cholesterol medications as prescribed. It is important to take them as directed by your doctor to ensure the most benefit to your heart health. Getting a full night’s sleep and reducing stress can also have an impact on your overall heart health.

One out of every four deaths in the United States is from heart disease. Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States over $200 billion each year in healthcare costs, medications, and lost productivity. NeedyMeds’ Disease Information Page for Heart Disease has information on the assistance available for those in need, including Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) that offer medications for low or no cost as well as Diagnosis-Based Assistance. Support can also be found in our State Sponsored Program, including the CDC’s WISEWOMAN program to provide low-income, under-insured/uninsured women with chronic risk blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. For those working towards better heart health and need help remembering to take prescribed medications on time, NeedyMeds Storylines app can keep you informed on when you need to take your medicine and you can track your health. Use our website to find assistance or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.


Tips for Managing your Weight

Last week was National Healthy Weight Week in the United States. So close to the New Year, many are still chasing resolutions they made – often to lose weight. An estimated 80% of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by the first week of February, so we are offering some tips from our partners at Health Storylines.


Top 4 Tips to Manage your Weight

By: Zana Toulany, R.Ph, Director, Patient Experience

Health Storylines


It’s the new year, and for many of us, that means new goals.  The most common New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight!  See below for our top 4 tips to help you manage weight:

Eat Fat

You can’t live without fats.  Eating small amounts of good, or unsaturated fats, can keep you feeling fuller for longer.  Examples include nuts, fish, and olive oil.

Clean your Kitchen

It’s often easier to eat healthy if you place healthy snacks (fruits, vegetables, nuts) on your kitchen counter.  Clear the clutter in your kitchen to make it easier for you to reach for healthy options!

Temptation Bundling

This is a great way to reduce procrastination.  Temptation bundling is when you combine two activities together – one that you like doing, and one that you don’t like doing.  For example, you could watch your favorite TV show while running on the treadmill.

Track your Progress

It can be helpful to track your weight loss progress over time.  Simply use the ‘vitals tracker’ in the free NeedyMeds HealthStorylines app and track your weight daily (available online at, or on the Google Play or App Store).


For more tips and to learn how to manage your weight online using NeedyMeds HealthStorylines, tune into our webinar.


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