Employers are reporting greater satisfaction with health plan costs, based on the findings of the J.D. Power 2013 Employer Health Plan Study.
According to Employee Benefits News, the improved satisfaction is due in part to the increased availability of consumer-driven health plans. Over 80% of employers say that offering workers individual accounts to pay health case bills is helping to control costs.
Employer satisfaction with costs “went up significantly in all the attributes we measure. Significantly more employers are offering CDHP products to their employees and so that has been a cost shifting measure that they are satisfied with,” said Scott Hawkins, director of health care for J.D. Power.
Hawkins did note that employees need education on the proper use of the plans to ensure their higher satisfaction as well. “So I think it’s really important that employers work with the health plans to help their members understand how to manage those costs once they’re on those products or they’re going to have dissatisfied employees,” he said.
MedBen offers a complete line of CDHPs for self-funded and fully-insured groups. Plus, we offer on-site training to help ensure that plan members understand how to best use their account, and convenient online services that allow easy plan management.
As a Midwest leader in CDHP administration, MedBen the expertise to develop a health care plan that maximizes employer savings while still providing comprehensive benefits at competitive prices. To learn more, contact MedBen Vice President of Sales & Marketing Brian Fargus at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asking questions is part and parcel of being a doctor, so it should come as little surprise that many doctors have questions – and no small degree of skepticism – about the Affordable Care Act.
According to NBC News, a new survey reveals that nearly 90% of physicians don’t think that their state’s new health insurance exchanges will meet the October 1 deadline to begin enrolling the uninsured. Further, about two-thirds of doctors who do believe the exchanges will be operational that day said they are “not at all familiar” with how important aspects of them work.
Shane Jackson, president and COO of LocumTenens.com, which conducted the survey, noted that a lack of knowledge about how exchanges work could affect their bottom line as well as their patients, who “rely on their doctor for a lot of information.”
Among other survey findings:
A few weeks back, we highlighted an article by a family physician that cautioned individuals about the dangers of using the Internet to self-diagnose medical concerns. Dr. Kenneth Lin warned that many health websites contain “flawed, inaccurate, or biased” information, and that any advice found online should only be followed in conjunction with a doctor’s care.
Still, with our increased reliance on the Internet as a repository of information, it’s unrealistic to expect that people won’t research just what may be causing their sore throat and headaches. So rather than warn patients away from the web, some physicians are doing just the opposite:
“Now more health-care providers are turning the tables, steering patients to new and improved computerized symptom-checkers that make it easier for them to get reliable information about possible diagnoses, research their condition and even connect directly to a doctor. Doctors are adding these tools to their websites and incorporating them into electronic medical records, encouraging patients to use them before office visits to save time and make consultations more productive. Another benefit: Results turned up by a symptom-checker may actually help doctors think of something they hadn’t considered.
“‘Patients are experts on their symptoms and doctors are experts in working out their probable causes,’ and need to work together to formulate a list of possible diagnoses, says Jason Maude, chief executive of Isabel Healthcare, launched in 2001 as a professional online diagnostic checklist for doctors.’
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
MedBen clients with questions regarding any aspect of the ACA are welcome to contact Vice President of Compliance Caroline Fraker at email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.