Tuesdays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

The brainchild of University of Tennessee associate professor Dr. Carole Myers, HealthConnections will bring the often-abstract world of health care, coverage and policy to a human level. What is access? How do marketplaces work? What's the future of health insurance? Dr. Myers and WUOT's Brandon Hollingsworth will sort through these issues and more, all to give you a toolbox for understanding what you hear on the news, or to separate fact from fiction in the health care debate.

Democrats in the Tennessee General Assembly say they haven’t given up on expanding Tennessee’s Medicaid program, called TennCare, to include more low-income people. But Republicans, who hold a supermajority of seats, are angling for a different approach, one that relies on block grants. They say their proposal would expand coverage without expanding TennCare. But there's a lot we don't know about the idea, or how it would work.

In this edition of HealthConnections: what block grants are, how they operate, and what they might mean for health coverage in Tennessee.

We take it for granted that pets are miracle workers for your health. In print, on TV and online, pets get credit for reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, reducing stroke risk and even extending our lives. If you’re a pet lover, you’ve probably shared a few of those articles on your social media accounts. As exciting and as affirming as those stories are, there’s a lot we don’t know about how animals affect their human companions. Today on HealthConnections, what we know and don’t know about the human-animal bond.

When you hear the word "mindfulness," what do you think about? A yoga studio, perhaps. Someone sitting, legs crossed, eyes closed, ommmmming their way to enlightenment. Or maybe something strange and unfamiliar. Specific definitions can vary, but in a general sense mindfulness is the experience of living through a moment free of distraction. Experiencing something without your mind veering off to some other tangent - which happens more often than you might think. And it doesn't necessarily require special techniques.

A 2017 survey showed more than half of Americans take prescription drugs. If you’re one of them, you probably know prescriptions can be very expensive. But that’s not the case in other industrialized nations. What makes the U.S. different, and how can national leaders address the growing cost of prescription drugs?

New Year's Day is the only major holiday dedicated to the passage of time. And just like clockwork, New Year's Day is when many Americans think about making big changes. Losing weight, quitting smoking, getting more organized - new year's resolutions are easy to make, but hard to maintain. Most people that make resolutions fail to keep them. That can feel like a personal failure, but it doesn't have to.

The 116th Tennessee General Assembly convenes next month. Some of the decisions legislators make will affect health and healthcare in the state. What's ahead for the uninsured? How will lawmakers address opioid abuse? And what kind of changes are needed to improve Tennessee's poor health rankings?

You can't teach an old dog new tricks, the saying goes. And for many years, people believed the brain was pretty much set in adulthood, unreceptive to change, growth and adaptation. We now know that's not strictly true. While not nearly as flexible as youthful brains, adults' grey matter can still be stretched and toned, just like a muscle.

Last week, WUOT News contributor Heather Duncan reported on efforts to fight food insecurity in East Tennessee, from farmer’s markets to food stamps. Today, we continue our look at hunger on HealthConnections. We take a special look at a group you might not think of as in need – college students. The University of Tennessee’s Dr. Betsy Anderson Steeves has been researching that very issue.

The flu feels familiar, doesn't it? It comes around every year, mainly in the winter. Most of us have had it at least once in our lives. And every year, we get the same admonition to get a flu shot. It all seems pretty routine.

But it isn't, really. More than 30,000 Americans were hospitalized for the illness during the 2017-18 flu season. And because flu strains mutate and evolve, there's no guarantee that healthy people won't catch it.

Conversations about health care and health policy are, unsurprisingly, characterized by divisions common to the current political climate. But one area of common ground is care for those with pre-existing conditions.

Before the Affordable Care Act in 2010, pre-existing conditions were a barrier to health insurance, and by extension, securing good medical care.