State Update

Reports of Interest - May 2014

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  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released a final recommendation statement on the prevention of dental caries in children from birth through five years of age. The USPSTF recommended the following: (1) that primary care clinicians prescribe oral fluoride supplementation starting at six months of age for children whose water supply is deficient in fluoride, and (2) that primary care clinicians apply fluoride varnish to the primary teeth of all infants and children starting at the age of primary tooth eruption. In addition, the USPSTF concluded that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of routine screening examinations for dental caries performed by primary care clinicians in children from birth to five years of age.
  • The Joint Committee on Higher Education’s Subcommittee on Student Loan and Debt within the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued a report finding that the primary driver of student loans is the considerable cost for attending a college or university, coupled with decreased federal and state support. In addition, the report cites the gross lack of financial literacy and understanding by students and their families about what student loans are and how best to pay for college. With 66% of Massachusetts students taking out loans to pay for college, the Commonwealth ranks 12th in the nation for number of students carrying debt. Nationally, the total amount of student loan debt has tripled in the past decade and currently stands at about $1.2 trillion. According to a press release issued by Sen. Eileen M. Donoghue (D-MA), Senate Chair of the Subcommittee on Student Loans and Debt, student loan debt has been the only type of consumer debt to rise during the Great Recession and is now the second largest form of household debt behind home mortgages.

    In its report, the subcommittee limited its recommendations to ideas that can be proposed and implemented at the state level. Recommendations include (this list is not exhaustive):
    • Decreasing the time it takes to earn a degree by making advanced placement course credit equally valuable for public and private colleges and promoting transfer agreements,
    • Expanding financial literacy for all Massachusetts students by requiring institutions of higher learning to uniformly describe financial aid information,
    • Advancing student loan forgiveness programs, and
    • Regulating for-profit schools by limiting state-based funds used by for-profit schools to classroom instruction.
    The report will be given to the full committee on higher education, which will decide if any legislation should be written.

    “As higher education becomes increasingly expensive, we see all too often how students and families struggle with high costs and considerable debt,” said Sen. Donoghue (D-MA). “Meaningfully reforming student debt will require a joint effort from every stakeholder, including students and their families, our institutions of higher learning, employers in our knowledge-based economy and our elected officials on the state and federal level. But it is critical that we work together now before the crisis gets any worse.”
  • The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report finding that over the past year, most states have started restoring some of the cuts they made to higher education funding after the recession hit. However, eight states are still cutting funding and in almost all states, including those that have boosted their support, higher education funding remains well below pre-recession levels. According to the report, the large funding cuts have led to both steep tuition increases and spending cuts that may diminish the quality of education available to students at a time when a highly educated workforce is more crucial than ever to the nation’s economic future. Specifically, after adjusting for inflation, the report noted the following:
    • 48 states—all except Alaska and North Dakota—are spending less per student than they did before the recession.
    • The average state is spending $2,026, or 23% less per student than before the recession.
    • Per-student funding in Arizona, Louisiana and South Carolina is down by more than 40% since the start of the recession (Louisiana is among the eight states that continued to cut funding over the past year).
    • Wyoming, West Virginia, Louisiana, Wisconsin and North Carolina cut funding the most over the past year. Of these, all but Wyoming have cut per-student funding by more than 20% since the recession hit.
     
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study finding that the number of calls to poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014. The number of calls per month involving conventional cigarettes did not show a similar increase during the same time period. More than half (51.1%) of the calls to poison centers due to e-cigarettes involved young children under age five, and about 42% of the poison calls involved people age 20 and older. The most common adverse health effects mentioned in e-cigarette calls were vomiting, nausea and eye irritation.