While many Americans are still willing to give the Affordable Care Act the benefit of the doubt, negative feelings about the health care reform law persist, two new surveys find.
According to Healthwatch, a new CBS poll revealed that 39% of the voters it surveyed want to repeal Obamacare, compared with 36% who said it should be left alone or expanded. The network noted it’s the most support its poll has ever found for repeal.
Results from the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll found a similarly high level of dissatisfaction, though many respondents said they aren’t ready to give up on the law quite yet. Given the choice to either repeal the ACA, wait and see how it takes effect, or add money to aid its implementation, 36% of adults picked outright repeal, while 30% chose to wait and see and 27% felt we should provide more money.
Asked their attitudes about the law in general, the CBS survey showed that the majority of respondents don’t think much of it: 54% said they disapprove of Obamacare, compared with just 36% who said they approve.
Menthol cigarettes may soon be in the government’s crosshairs. The Food and Drug Administration announced yesterday that the agency will consider stricter controls on the flavored cigarettes based on public feedback, the Hill’s RegWatch blog reports.
“Menthol cigarettes raise critical public health questions,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in a statement. “The FDA is committed to a science-based approach that addresses the public health issues raised by menthol cigarettes, and public input will help us make more informed decisions about how best to tackle this important issue moving forward.”
The agency is releasing data to the public to help it make an evaluation, including a study suggesting that menthol cigarettes could make it easier for people to begin smoking.
“While there is little evidence to suggest that menthol cigarettes are more or less toxic or contribute to more disease risk to the user than nonmenthol cigarettes, adequate data suggest that menthol use is likely associated with increased smoking initiation by youth and young adults,” the report found. “Further, the data indicate that menthol in cigarettes is likely associated with greater addiction.”
The report concludes that the data “make it likely that menthol cigarettes pose a public health risk above that seen with nonmenthol cigarettes.”
MedBen is pleased to announce the promotion of Erin Kelly to Group Leader of the Compliance Department. In her new role, Erin will manage the department’s daily operations in addition to working with clients to ensure that their group health plan documents adhere to federal and state regulations.
“As new health insurance regulations have been introduced under the Affordable Care Act, it’s crucial that we continually review our groups’ documents and make whatever changes are needed to keep them up to date,” said Annette McNair, MedBen Director of Compliance and Medical Management. “Erin has done a great job working with our clients in that role, and we know she’ll bring the same professionalism to managing the Compliance team.”
A 13-year veteran of the health care industry, Erin joined MedBen in 2007 as a Customer Service Representative. Prior to joining the Compliance Department last year, she also assisted clients as a Group Service Representative.
Erin is a graduate of George Mason University with a Bachelor of Arts in History. She resides with her husband Warren and two children in Heath, Ohio.
A new study contends that echocardiograms, while safe, are often unnecessary. Only one-third of patients who receive the noninvasive ultrasound heart tests see a change in treatment, HealthDay News reports.
“The majority of echocardiograms are appropriate in terms of current guidelines,” said lead researcher Dr. Susan Matulevicius, an assistant professor at Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “But no one has looked at what an echo does to change a patient’s management.
“If we keep using echoes all the time just because we can and we are not going to be doing something with that information, you are just using health care dollars that could have been used for someone else,” Matulevicius said.
Echocardiograms cost between $100 and $1,000, and account for almost half of all cardiac-imaging services performed in the country, according to the study. In 2010, echocardiograms accounted for more than $1.1 billion, or 11%, of total Medicare imaging costs, the researchers said.
Millions of dollars could be saved each year if only patients who needed the test got it, Matulevicius said.
The contraception mandate isn’t as broad as some critics make it out to be – but that doesn’t make the rule any less bewildering, POLITICO reports.
A provision of the The Affordable Care Act, the mandate require employers to cover birth control for female members. However, not every type of contraceptive approved by the Food and Drug Administration must be covered – and for some products, employers can charge a co-pay as long as they offer others for free.
Of course, while such flexibility may make the contraception mandate a less expensive proposition, it carries the potential for administrative headaches. And as the POLITICO article notes, a woman may not know precisely which category her specific prescription falls into until the pharmacy rings it up, as coverage costs may differ if a doctor gives her a specific prescription for health reasons.
Guidance on the mandate released by the federal government has so far done little to clear up the confusion. Instead, the rule permits plans to exercise “reasonable medical management.” That means the coverage requirement is satisfied if the plan offers options in each of five major contraceptive categories: barrier methods, hormonal methods, implanted devices, emergency contraception and permanent methods.
Employer Benefits News offers a timely reminder that most self-funded employers will need to file and pay by July 31 their first round of federal comparative effectiveness research fees imposed under the Affordable Care Act. The “PCORI fee", as it’s known, will fund comparative clinical effectiveness research to be conducted by the newly-established, non-profit Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.
For the first plan year ending on or after October 1, 2012, a self-funded employer is required to pay a $1 fee for each individual covered under the group health plan. The total amount must be reported on IRS Form 720 and paid by no later than July 31 of the calendar year following the end of the relevant plan year. The amount of the fee will increase to $2 per covered individual for the following plan year, and will be increased further for inflation in subsequent years.
The IRS Office of Chief Counsel recently confirmed that PCORI fees paid by an employer are tax-deductible.
While the MedBen team cannot file the Form 720 on behalf of our self-funded groups, we will gladly provide help and advice. Clients with questions about the PCORI fee may contact Vice President of Compliance Caroline Fraker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A recent Government Accountability Office report warns Americans about the risks of buying prescription drugs from Internet pharmacies, USA Today reports.
Federal investigators say that rogue Internet pharmacies skirt U.S. and state regulations and sell misbranded, adulterated and counterfeit drugs. Most of these operations are located overseas, which often puts them beyond U.S. enforcement action, and are also skilled at avoiding detection and identification.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, one in four online consumers has purchased medications online. Even though the agency has shut down thousands of illegal online pharmacies in recent months, there were more than 34,000 active rogue websites as of April 2013, according to Internet pharmacy verification service LegitScript.
To help educate the public, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy publishes on its website a list of legitimate and illicit Internet pharmacies as a consumers’ guide. Additionally, both Google and UPS have stopped doing business with rogue pharmacies.
Yet another good reason to follow doctor’s orders: A new study found that patients who don’t take their blood pressure medication as prescribed increase their risk of stoke and death, HealthDay News reports.
By following patients with high blood pressure, aged 30 and up, from 1995 through 2007, researchers determined that those who didn’t stick to the schedule had nearly four times the risk of dying from a stroke in the second year after being prescribed their medicines and three times the risk in the 10th year, compared to patients that followed their schedule.
The study also found:
“These results emphasize the importance of hypertensive [high blood pressure] patients taking their antihypertensive medications correctly in order to minimize their risk of serious complications such as fatal and non-fatal strokes,” said study first author Dr. Kimmo Herttua, a senior fellow in the Population Research Unit at the University of Helsinki in Finland.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has released some interesting statistics from its quarterly Small Business Survey. Based on the responses, many employers still haven’t warmed up to government-mandated health care reform:
It’s no secret by now that some of the ACA provisions are just downright confusing, and may even force small businesses to make difficult hiring decisions. That’s why MedBen is helping empolyer groups to navigate the maze of regulations that make up health care reform.
Throughout this year, MedBen University has traveled the Midwest to explain the provisions of the law that will affect businesses in 2014 and beyond. We’re also offering a series of webinars to our self-funded clients that look at specific elements of the law in even greater detail. To learn more about these webinars, contact MedBen Sales Analyst Sally Wood at email@example.com.
MedBen clients with questions regarding any aspect of the ACA are welcome to contact Vice President of Compliance Caroline Fraker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the supply of primary care doctors already lagging behind demand – and about to get even more strained when millions of additional Americans get health insurance in January, under the health care reform law – many states are turning to nurses to address the shortage.
According to MedCity News, at least 17 states have relaxed “scope of practice” laws to allow nurses to work without a supervising physician, so long as they have advanced degrees in family medicine. Lawmakers in five big states are considering similar measures.
Advocates for patients, hospitals and insurers say that nurse practitioners (NPs) have the skill set necessary to provide basic health services by themselves. But physician groups disagree, arguing that nurses lack the training to safely diagnose, treat, refer to specialists, admit to hospitals and prescribe medications for patients, without a doctor’s oversight.
Based on a study reported this month in the journal Health Affairs, relaxing NP licensing laws appears to improve patient access to care. The authors found that between 1998 and 2010, as more states relaxed their laws, the number of patients receiving care from NPs increased by a factor of 15. Moreover, earlier research has shown that primary care provided by NPs has been as safe and effective as care provided by doctors.
Despite the best efforts of politicians and nutritionists, Americans continue to stubbornly favor taste over calorie count when it comes to selecting restaurant food. Today Health reports that even when given detailed information about healthy eating, a new study found that most individuals tend to go – literally – with their gut.
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon enlisted over 1,100 customers at two New York City McDonald’s to see how real people responded to the menu nutritional labels, which are required by municipal law (and will soon by nationwide under the Affordable Care Act). Prior to ordering, one group received a sheet of paper with the recommended calories for a single meal (650 calories for women; 800 calories for men); a second group received information about recommended calories for a day (2000 calories for women; 2400 for men), and a third group received no instructions.
So, armed with the additional information, surely members of the first two groups made more sensible dining decisions, right? Uh, not so much. Regardless of group, the majority of men and women ate more than the recommended intake for a meal – and whether a participant was overweight or healthy-weight made no difference in their selection.
In spite of the results, the researchers still say providing nutritional information of menus is a helpful tool, albeit mainly to those already inclined to choose healthier food options.
In a move likely meant to make a statement, the House of Representatives yesterday followed a vote on legislation supporting the delay of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate with a second bill that would similarly postpone the law’s individual mandate until 2015. Both bills passed the Republican-led House but have little chance of approval in the Senate, The New York Times reports.
“Under the president’s policy, million-dollar corporations with access to the White House can be excused from Obamacare, but the struggling family gets left out,” said Representative Pete Olson (R-Tx). On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) called the Republican attacks “the height of irresponsibility and nihilistic obstruction.”
Today, during a speech to promote his signature legislative achievement, President Obama accused Republicans of “rooting for this law to fail” and urged them to end their efforts to repeal the ACA.
According to ABC News, the President also touted the $500 million in rebates that insurance companies are sending out to roughly 8.5 million Americans this summer. The rebate is a penalty to companies that spent too much on overhead, violating the requirement that they spend at least 80% of premiums on medical care. (Most insurers, including MedBen, met this requirement prior to the ACA’s passage.)
Concurrent with the President’s remarks, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report claiming that preliminary 2014 premiums for mid-range plans for insurance exchanges in 10 states are expected be 18% lower on average than earlier estimates for individuals and small groups. Reuters reports.
A new study suggests that long-term aspirin use may reduce a woman’s risk of colon cancer, even if not taken daily, Reuters Health reports.
Researchers found that women who took just 100 mg of aspirin every other day for at least 10 years ended up with about a 20% lower risk of colon cancer over the ensuing two decades, compared to women who took a placebo. The study did not show the same effect for other cancer types such as breast or lung.
The extended use of aspirin was not without risk, however. Study participants in the aspirin group had higher rates of stomach bleeding and ulcers.
“Aspirin use is recommended for most people who have had a heart attack, and has some benefits for colorectal cancer as well, but at this point the American Cancer Society does not recommend that people use aspirin specifically to prevent cancer,” noted Eric Jacobs, ACS’s strategic director of pharmacoepidemiology, who was not involved in the study
As we reported last week on this blog, any regular aspirin regimen should only be started under a family doctor’s care.
The health care industry hasn’t gone entirely paper-free yet, but it’s well on its way. USA Today reports that over half of the nation’s physicians and more than 80% of hospitals now use electronic health records (EHRs).
Since 2011, doctors or their assistants have filled more than 190 million prescriptions electronically, according to data provided by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Providers have also shared more than 4.3 million health care summaries with colleagues when patients change doctors.
Not only is the electronic storage and transmission of medical information more efficient, it also saves a bit of money. A recent study found that doctors’ offices that use EHRs would be expected to spend about $5 less on the care of each patient per month.
At MedBen, we’ve similarly made the transition to nearly “paperless” claims submission. About 80% of provider claims reach our office electronically, allowing for faster processing time and an even greater degree of accuracy.
We are also dedicated to ICD-10 compliance, which ensures that all of our system components are able to accept and process updated medical codes without interruption to our day-to-day processes. MedBen is well on schedule to meet the federally-mandated deadline of October 1, 2014.
To learn more about the ways that MedBen’s claims processing efficiency benefits can benefits your group, contact Vice President of Sales & Marketing Brian Fargus at email@example.com.
Average cholesterol levels in Americans have stopped falling since 2008 – a development that has pharmaceutical companies scrambling to come up with a new class of drugs, The New York Times reports.
A large analysis of patient records suggest that statins, the drugs that have contributed to reducing cholesterol levels throughout the population, may be reaching the limits of their effectiveness. Blood levels tested by the lab chain Quest Diagnostics found that LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, declined from 120 milligrams per deciliter of blood in 2001 to 104.7 in 2008 – a 13% drop. But in the next three years, average LDL levels flattened out.
While the study didn’t look at causes for the plateau, the researchers speculated that when the economy worsened in 2008, less people visited their doctors and, consequently, received statin prescriptions. The recession may also have affected stress levels, diet and evercise – factors that can contribute to higher LDL.
An LDL of 100 mg/dL is considered healthy, but experts say people at very high risk of heart disease should bring their levels down even further, to about 70 mg/dL or lower. However, a Times article from earlier this month notes that several drugmakers are working on pills that could drive LDL levels to new lows.
If you drink diet soda, chances are it’s for the low calorie count to help you lose weight, or keep it off. But a Purdue University study has found that the beverage may not be a healthier alternative to its sugary counterpart – and may actually contribute to weight gain.
According to USA Today, a review of recent studies found results that linked artificially sweetened sodas to a number of health problems. One large study found that people who drank diet soda were more likely to experience weight gain than those who drank non-diet soda. Others found those who drank diet soda had twice the risk of developing heart disease than those who abstained.
Some studies even suggested that diet soda, which contain such artificial sweeterers as aspartame, sucralose and saccharin, may be just as bad for our health as non-diet. Such findings may lead some to ask, are diet sodas worse for you that regular sodas?
“I think that’s the wrong question,” said Susie Swithers, Purdue University professor. “It’s, ‘What good are sodas for you in the first place?’”
In response to the study, the American Beverage Association said in an emailed statement, “This is an opinion piece not a scientific study. Low-calorie sweeteners are some of the most studied and reviewed ingredients in the food supply today. They are a safe and an effective tool in weight loss and weight management, according to decades of scientific research and regulatory agencies around the globe.”
Health care spending has slowed in recent years, but is still growing faster than the nation’s GDP, and amounts to nearly 1/5 of the total US economy. Carrington College (via MedCity News) identifies seven significant factors that contribute to health care spending growth – and if not kept in check, higher insurance costs:
At MedBen, we strive to find clients solutions to minimize the impact of rising health care spending. Our advanced surveillance system finds potential for large loss, inappropriate billing, and cost reduction opportunities. Our worksite wellness program promotes the use of your primary care doctor and personal coaching to members with chronic illness. And our fraud detection unit reviews questionable claims and other related information to help conserve plan assets.
Cutting back from a full pack to cigarettes a day to just half may help your pocketbook, but will do little to extend your lifespan, a new Scottish study suggests.
According to HealthDay News, the study, which tracked individuals’ smoking habits from the 1970 to 2010, concluded that only kicking by the habit altogether can a person hope to gain extra years. The researchers found no difference overall in death rates between those who smoked and those who only cut down.
“These inconclusive results support the view that reducing cigarette consumption should not be promoted as a means of reducing mortality, although it may have a valuable role as a step toward smoking cessation,” the researchers wrote.
Another tobacco-use researcher questioned the accuracy of the findings. “It is not possible to know the detailed smoking history of every subject, and there’s a myriad of subtle differences in consumption. There is little doubt that there is a difference in risk between one cigarette per day and 20, but it is not possible to measure all gradations in between,” said Brad Rodu, a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville. He added that participants who smoked fewer cigarettes may have underreported their habit, or compensated by “smoking more intensely.”
Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Tracy Weber and Charles Ornstein explain their concern about little patients know in regard to how their doctors determine what medications to prescribe:
“For most of us, evaluating a doctor’s prescribing habits is just about impossible. Even doctors themselves have little way of knowing whether their drug choices fall in line with those of their peers.
“Once they graduate from medical school, physicians often have a tough time keeping up with the latest clinical trials and sorting through the hype on new drugs. Seldom are they monitored to see whether they are prescribing appropriately, and there isn’t even universal agreement on what good prescribing is.
“This dearth of knowledge and insight matters for both patients and doctors. Drugs are complicated. Most come with side effects and risk-benefit calculations. What may work for one person may be absolutely inappropriate, or even harmful, for someone else.”
To give consumers greater inside into physician prescriving habits, the authors requested, and were given, a list of the drugs prescribed by every health professional to enrollees in Medicare’s prescription drug program, known as Part D. That information has been put into an online database that allows anyone to look up a doctor’s prescribing patterns and see how they compare with those of other doctors.
To learn more about Weber and Ornstein’s findings, visit latimes.com.
More employees prefer a lower-cost, high-deductible employer health insurance plan to traditional coverage, a new study reveals.
According to USA Today, data from 2,503 employees in New York and New Jersey showed that given a choice between a tradtional no-deductible plan, a higher-deductible health plan (HDHP) in conjunction with a health savings account (HSA), and a plan built around one primary care doctor or a limited network (also knows as an accountable care organization), 80% chose the non-traditional offerings. Benefits were the same regardless of the plan design; just the payment structure differed.
The number of people enrolled in HSAs has more than tripled in the last six years, from 4.5 million people in January 2007 to 15.5 million in January 2013, according to trade association America’s Health Insurance Plans. “HSA plans encourage individuals to take an active role in their health care decisions while stretching their health care dollars,” said Karen Ignagni, AHIP president.
MedBen offers consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) across all group sizes. In addition to the administration of a HDHP tied to an HSA, we offer HRAs and flexible spending accounts (FSAs). These plans can be offered on a stand-alone basis or in a variety of combinations.
To learn more about CHDP options available to your group, contact MedBen Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at firstname.lastname@example.org.