A new study finds that getting a colonoscopy may reduce the risk of developing advanced colon cancer by 70%, including hard-to-detect forms of the disease.
HealthDay News (via WebMD) reports that the research team set out to answer a simple question: “If you ended up with late-stage cancer, were you more or less likely to have had a screening colonoscopy as many as 10 years before the disease was discovered?” Furthermore, is the test effective in evaluating the right side of the colon, which is more difficult to reach?
“Colonoscopy has the ability to identify both left- and right-sided colon cancers before they have progressed to an advanced stage,” said lead study author Dr. Chyke Doubeni, associate professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He did also note, however, that an annual “fecal occult blood test” performed annually at home may be equally effective in spotting the disease.
The American Cancer Society recommends that people with an average risk of developing colon cancer get screened starting at age 50. MedBen Worksite Wellness members can check their compliance with colonoscopies and other critical wellness examinations by visiting the MedBen Access website and clicking on the Wellness Plan link under “My Plan”.
Corporate employers expect to spend $521 per employee on worksite wellness incentives in 2013, according to a new survey by Fidelity Investments. That is 13% more than the employee average of $460 reported in 2011, and double the $260 average reported in 2009.
As Employee Benefits News reports, not only are the value of wellness-based incentives increasing, the number of employers who use them to promote better health is going up as well. The survey found that 86% of employees now offer such carrots, an increase from 73% in 2011 and 57% in 2009.
To a much smaller degree (15%), respondents said that they will require employees to complete a health risk assessment or biometric screening to determine health plan eligibility this year. Failure to complete such health activities would result in a reduced benefits package or even a loss of benefits.
At MedBen, we have found that offering incentives can indeed help to drive participation in your wellness plan. That’s why we work with our worksite wellness clients to develop an incentive program appropriate to the needs of your group.
Financial rewards to participate in the program, such as offering lower premiums to members who get annual checkup, have proven effective – but so have non-financial incentives. Sponsoring a team competition, giving recognition through the company newsletter, or sharing member success stories can be equally valuable, so long as management shows a shared wellness commitment.
Maximizing your health care dollars means getting the most out of your physician visits. Typically, your doctor has a packed patient schedule, and may resort to an established set of questions to ascertain your condition. So it’s important to take the initiative when necessary.
Leana Wen, MD offers six tips for getting your doctor to listen to you, which we summarize below. You can read the complete list at KevinMD.com.
Tip #1: Answer the doctor’s pressing questions first. Many doctors are so accustomed to relying on a checklist of questions that they have to get these answers before they move on. Help them out and answer these questions.
Tip #2: Attach a narrative response at the end of these close-ended questions. If your doctor persists on asking close-ended questions, add a narrative response at the end that may not so easily fit into a yes/no answer.
Tip #3: Ask your own questions. If you don’t understand why a particular question is relevant to your situation, ask about it.
Tip #4:Interrupt when interrupted. If your doctor cuts you off when you try to explain your full answer, [feel] free to interrupt. Pretend you’re having a conversation, even when it feels like you’re being interrogated.
Tip #5: Focus on your concerns. It’s your body and your duty to advocate for yourself if you don’t feel like your story has been understood and your concerns have been addressed.
Tip #6: Make sure you are courteous and respectful to your doctor. Your doctor is a professional, and is probably trying her best to help you. Your story has to be heard and your concerns addressed, but make sure you present your points in a respectful manner.
A stroke treatment that uses a device to clear a blocked artery is not as effective as hoped, three separate studies suggest.
According to NPR, endovascular (within-the-artery) treatment combined with an intravenous dose of a clot-busting drug called tPA, or Alteplase, works no differently than using tPA alone. The treatment was approved by the Food and Drug Administration without proof that it works, and is covered under Medicare.
Stroke specialists speculate that the reason the artery-clearing devises didn’t work better is that the treatment needs to be introduced sooner. Currently, the intravenous tPA must be tried first, and that sometimes takes over four hours to implement.
“Even a one-hour delay in the time to treatment negates the benefit” of a higher rate of artery clearance, Dr. Mark Chimowitz of the Medical University of South Carolina notes in an editorial accompanying online publication of the three studies in the New England Journal of Medicine.
But as the NPR article notes, to get the most optimal results from endovascular treatment, the specialized personnel needed to perform multiple imaging tests, not to mention the procedure itself, takes time. And most stroke patients don’t live close enough to a proper facility to allow the treatment to begin within four hours.
Consumer Reports may be best known for putting autos and big-screen TVs through their paces, but it sometimes turns its critical eye towards medical matters as well – including, recently, cancer screening tests.
According to WebMD Health News, the magazine recommends only three of 11 common cancer screening tests, for cervical, colon and breast cancer. It states that most people should not get screenings for cancers affecting the bladder, lungs, skin, mouth, prostate, ovaries, pancreas, and testicles.
“Consumers need to know that some screening tests are terrific, some are not good, and some can harm you,” says John Santa, MD, MPH, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.
Santa does caution that people at high risk for a particular cancer, or who are symptomatic, may still benefit from testing. “We’re not talking about what you should do if you have a mole that is changing or if you feel a breast lump,” he says.
Consumer Reports based its ratings on medical research, consulations with medical experts, and surveys of readers and screened patients.
Otis Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, has mixed feelings about the findings. “The truth is, certain tests do have some significant benefit, and every test has some limitations.” He advises that when making screening decisions, patients talk to their doctor “to understand both the potential for benefit and the potential for harm.”
MedBen follows American Cancer Society screening guidelines, which vary somewhat from the magazine’s conclusions. Brawley calls the differences “minimal".
A majority of workers whose employers sponsor a company wellness program believe it benefits them, a new survey finds.
Employee Benefits News reports that in 2012, 62% of workers agreed that a worksite wellness improves health while reducing health risk, an increase of 7% from the previous year. The survey by Principal Financial also revealed that 51% of respondents feel wellness benefits encourage them to work harder and perform better, and another 59% of program participants say the programs give them additional energy at work.
Employers, too, reap rewards from sponsoring wellness programs. Nearly half (45%) of workers surveyed agree that such programs would encourage them to stay in theior current job, while 43% say they’ve missed fewer days of work because of the company’s emphasis on better health.
Consistent with the growing employee popularity of wellness is an increased employer use of incentives:
MedBen offers worksite wellness with a simple concept – detect and treat health risks as early as possible. Employers who have put the program in place are now seeing real results: healthier employees and greater productivity at a lower cost.
For more information about MedBen Worksite Wellness, we invite you to call Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.
Immunizations in the news, courtesy of Reuters Health:
A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concludes that adult vaccinations should not be limited to the flu – immunizations to prevent prevent diseases including pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis, shingles and whooping cough are also critical.
In 2011, most of the 4,000 Americans who died from invasive pneumonia were over the age of 60, noted Dr. Howard Koh, an assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Far too few adults are getting vaccinated against these important diseases, and we need to do more,” he said.
Koh added that adults who don’t get vaccinated can also put others at risk. “We are encouraging all adults to talk with their health care providers about which vaccines are appropriate for them.”
The CDC also released a new vaccine schedule which encouraged expectant mothers to get immunized against whooping cough during each pregnancy. Doing so safeguards against the mother contracting the disease and passing it on to their infants, as well as helping the baby to build some immunity.
“Without boosting with each pregnancy, a mother’s immunity will wane and she will have much less immunity to pass on to the baby,” said Dr. H. Cody Meissner, a pediatrician from the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston who is on the CDC’s immunization committee.
Experts also recommend the people who are in close contact with the infant, including its father, sibling and other caregivers, also get immunized.
The Associated Press’ Mike Stobbe examines the impact that smokers and overeaters have on national health care spending, and the pros and cons of penalizing them with higher out-of-pocket costs:
“Annual health care costs are roughly $96 billion for smokers and $147 billion for the obese, the government says […]
“From an economist’s perspective, there would be less reason to grouse about unhealthy behaviors by smokers, obese people, motorcycle riders who eschew helmets and other health sinners if they agreed to pay the financial price for their choices.
“That’s the rationale for a provision in the Affordable Care Act - ‘Obamacare’ to its detractors - that starting next year allows health insurers to charge smokers buying individual policies up to 50 percent higher premiums. A 60-year-old could wind up paying nearly $5,100 on top of premiums.
“The new law doesn’t allow insurers to charge more for people who are overweight, however.
“It’s tricky to play the insurance game with overweight people, because science is still sorting things out. While obesity is clearly linked with serious health problems and early death, the evidence is not as clear about people who are just overweight.”
On the KevinMD.com blog, Dr. Davis Lui says there is more to the family doctor than meets the eye… and the numbers agree:
“If you view your primary care doctor as a person to simply get referrals from to get better care, think again.
“One health insurance plan focused on having patients see primary care doctors first to help them figure out how to proceed. Without primary care doctors helping patients, 60 percent of the time patients chose the wrong specialist. Selecting the wrong doctor wasn’t the only issue. On average, $1,500 was spent on various tests and diagnostic services visits over an eleven-month period before patients were told that the specialist could not help them. Result? Wasted time and money. By pairing patients with primary care doctors, the use of specialists fell by 14 percent, emergency room use decreased by 16 percent, prescriptions declined by 11 percent, and patients received the right care. Less time and money wasted.”
MedBen Worksite Wellness also believes in putting the family doctor first. Many wellness programs bring in outsiders to check your employees’ vital statistics and hand out health assessments. But afterward, employers still aren’t certain if employees have received essential care or if progress was made.
MedBen emphasizes physician office testing that keeps the primary care provider involved and eliminates the logistical headaches and potential redundancy of on-site screenings. And our progress reports and online services help members keep on top of their testing.
For additional information about MedBen Worksite Wellness, please call Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.
As more Americans have grown comfortable sharing personal information over the Internet, the medical profession is testing the waters a bit. Some physician’s offices now offer “e-visits", in which patients complete online forms and a doctor or nurse respond with treatment advice.
Convenient, to be sure. But is it effective? A recent study suggests it is, though the findings do raise some concerns.
According to Reuters, researchers compared all e-visits and office visits for sinus infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs) at four primary care practices in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, between January 2010 and May 2011. Out of 8,000 visits, 90% were office visits.
The study determined that the proportion of follow-up visits (7%) within three weeks was the same regardless of whether the doctor saw the patient in person or not. But people with both conditions who had e-visits were more likely to be precribed antibiotics – and practially all UTI e-visit patients received an antibiotic, compared to just half of office visit patients.
“There are several potential advantages of e-visits, including convenience and efficiency (avoiding travel and time), and lower costs,” wrote author Ateev Mehrotra from the RAND Corporation and University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and colleagues.
But Mehrotra added that the difference in prescribing is a concern, especially since over-prescription of antibiotics is tied to drug resistance. “That is something we really need to be careful about and watch for.”
What employees think about their personal health often differs from reality, based on the results of a new survey from Aon Hewitt, the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company. But the survey also revealed some positive news for employers who offer consumer-driven health plans.
Employee Benefit News reports that the survey of over 2,8000 employee and their dependents covered under employer-sponsored health plans found that while 87% of respondents claimed to be in good health, more than half (53%) have a body mass index in the overweight or obese categories based on their stated height and weight. Only 23% of all respondents believe they are actually overweight or obese, when in reality that number is 34%.
The survey results do suggest, however, that employers can help their workers manage their health as well as their health care costs by offering a consumer-driven health plan. Of the respondents currently in a CDHP, 60% say they have made changes for the better, such as getting more preventive care (28%), seeking lower-cost options (23%) and researching health care costs more frequently (19%).
MedBen has been helping CDHP members make positive behavior changes for over a decade. We offer a complete product line for the self-funded, split-funded and fully insured employer, and can seamlessly coordinate payments between multiple accounts so reimbursements are automatically adjusted in the order desired. And our online support tools allow plan members to manage their accounts from anywhere, anytime.
If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of CDHPs, we invite you to contact our Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.
Fewer Americans are dying from cancer, a new report finds.
According to WebMD, the report – which includes contributions by the American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control, National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries – says cancer death rates decreased by 1.8% per year among men and by 1.4% per year among women from 2000 to 2009. Declines were seen across all major racial and ethnic groups.
Deaths fell among 17 of the most common types of cancer including lung, colon, breast, and prostate cancers. However, increases were seen in the potentially fatal form of skin cancer, melanoma, in men; uterine cancer in women; and liver and pancreatic cancer in both sexes.
“There is substantial good news in this report,” says researcher Edgar P. Simard, PhD, MPH of the American Cancer Society. He cites earlier detection and better treatment as likely reasons for the decline.
MedBen Worksite Wellness encourages plan members to take advantage of free cancer screenings, to improve the chance that a cancer or other disease can be detected and treated successfully. Based on age and gender, we recommend getting a colonoscopy, mammography, PSA and Pap smear, as well as an annual wellness exam and cholesterol test.
Plan members can also check their compliance with critical wellness examinations by visiting the MedBen Access website and clicking on the Wellness Plan link under “My Plan”. To learn more about MedBen Worksite Wellness, contact Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at email@example.com.
We’ve noted on this blog that regular vision exams can help to identify the onset of diabetes. Now, new research emphasizes just how crucial early detection can be.
According to Employee Benefit News, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that higher diabetes rates in American are contributing to greater vision loss that can’t be corrected by glasses. From 1999-2002 to 2005-2008, the rate of non-refractive visual impairment jumped 21%.
“This is real, meaningful vision loss,” said David Friedman, a professor of public health ophthalmology and study author. “We need to do everything we can to try to avoid diabetes altogether and make sure people diagnosed with diabetes are getting repeat eye care to treat anything that develops.”
Meanwhile, a second study – this one published in the Archives of Ophthalmology – found that quality vision insurance is a key to maintaining healthy eyes. Reuters reports that people between 40 and 65 years old with vision insurance were twice as likely to see an eye doctor in the past year than those without coverage, and tended to have better vision status.
MedBen offers early detection and treatment of vision abnormalities through its MedBen VisionPlus plan. Emphasizing regular exams and featuring an extensive provider network, MedBen VisionPlus is an affordable and convenient option for employers with 10 or more enrollees.
To learn more about MedBen VisionPlus, contact Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.
Got plans for the weekend? If you’re a MedBen Health FSA member, we’d like to suggest the following itinerary:
Because FSA funds can’t be carried over from year-to-year, you’ll want to empty out your account before the ball drops in Times Square. Fortunately, there are a variety of medical products you can buy with your leftover – and, tax-free – FSA dollars. These include, but are not limited to:
To see a complete list, visit the IRS-eligible Expenses page at MedBen.com.
Those of you who are veteran FSA last-minute-spenders recall that the task was even easier when over-the-counter medications were considered qualified expenses. But the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act removed aspirin, ibuprofen cough syrups and other OTCs from the “approved” list – though you can still purchase these with a doctor’s prescription. Insulin and syringes are exceptions to this requirement.
Happy New Year… and happy shopping!
Endoscopy is frequently administered for sufferers of acid reflux. But according to new advice from one of internal medicine’s main professional groups, doctors rely on the procedure more than necessary.
“Overuse of upper endoscopy contributes to higher health care costs without improving patient outcomes,” doctors from the American College of Physicians write in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Published studies suggest that 10% to 40% of endoscopies don’t improve patients’ health, according to the authors.
WedMD says that doctors use endoscopy to check patients with chronic heartburn for a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which is linked to an increased risk of cancer. In the procedure a viewing tube is inserted down the patient’s throat and into the the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.
The authors find no supporting evidence to justify the routine use of endoscopy. But the fear of a malpractice lawsuit over a missed cancer, financial incentives, and expectations on the part of chronic heartburn patients and their primary care providers, who refer them to gastroenterologists for evaluation, contribute to its overuse.
A new study reveals that men who are diagnosed with cancer are more likely to die from it than women, Reuters Health reports.
In an analysis of cases of cancer that could be contracted by both men and women, researchers found men with any type of cancer were 6% more likely to die of their disease than women with cancer. When men and women with the same type of cancer were compared, that rose to more than 12%.
U.S. cancer registry data used in the analysis also showed that while the ratio of deaths to cancer diagnoses decreased 10% from 2003 through 2012, it was consistently higher among men than women.
The study doesn’t establish a reason for the disparity, but possible theories include men’s higher rates of smoking and drinking combined with less frequent doctor’s visits – which cause men’s cancers to be diagnosed in later, more advanced stages.
MedBen encourages men and women alike to be proactive when it comes to catching cancer early – or preventing it altogether. Our Worksite Wellness program promotes early detection of cancer and other chronic conditions.
The risk of many costly and deadly cancers can be reduced through education and lifestyle change, or cured through early detection. MedBen Worksite Wellness incorporates a multi-level approach, using both preventive care from family doctors and specialty treatment, to provide the best results possible.
To learn more about the benefits of early disease detection through worksite wellness, please call MedBen Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.
If you’ve been dragging your feet about getting a flu shot, it’s time to take some action. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this year’s flu season is arriving early – and it’s shaping up to be a bad one.
The Associated Press reports that five Southen states have already experienced a jump in suspected flu cases, and the primary strain circulating tends to make people sicker than other types. The flu season typically doesn’t see such increases until after Christmas.
Fortunately, plenty of flu vaccine is available for any procrastinators out there. And the vaccine formulated this year is well-matched to the strains of the virus seen so far – so getting the shot can definitely help to keep you healthy this holiday season.
The CDC recommends vaccinations for everyone 6 months or older. So if you’re among the two-thirds of Americans who have yet to get a flu shot, make an appointment to do so today!
The continuing popularity of consumer-driven health plans and worksite wellness programs have contributed to the lowest health care inflation in the past 15 years, according to the latest National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans.
Employee Benefit News reports that “[g]rowth in the average total health benefit cost per employee slowed from 6.1% last year to just 4.1% in 2012. Cost averaged $10,558 per employee in 2012. Large employers – those with 500 or more employees – experienced both a higher increase (5.4%) and higher average cost.”
Tha annual survey, conducted by the consulting firm Mercer, includes public and private organizations with 10 or more employees; 2,809 employers responded in 2012.
The survey also found that while employers expect inflation to remain low in 2013, they attribute it to countermeasures made in anticipation of new laws. “Employers are very aware that in 2014, when the health reform law’s provisions kick in, they will be asked to cover more employees and face added cost pressure,” said Julio A. Portalatin, President and CEO of Mercer. “They’ve taken bold steps to soften the impact and it’s paying off already.”
Whatever your reasons for changing your health care plan, MedBen can work with you to ensure that the decisions you make are based on sound information and solid reporting. And our compliance team will help to keep you informed of regulatory developments that may affect your plan design, as well as your bottom line. To learn more, call Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.
Employers trying to help their workers kick the tobacco habit may get the green light to spend a little more on the effort. According to Employee Benefit News, the Department of Health and Human Services has proposed new wellness rules – among them, a provision that would allow business to offer for smoking cessation a maximum of 50% of the total cost of health coverage, up from 20%.
The stop-smoking incentive is among several ways that, under the Affordable Care Act, the goverment is encouraging “health contingent wellness programs” to financially reward people who meet a particular standard. For example, people who reach realistic goals for body mass index or blood pressure level may get to pay a lower premium.
The rules also require wellness programs to offer alternative methods for people to achieve an incentive if they suffer from a physical disability or genetic condtion.
MedBen Worksite Wellness will work with you to develop an incentive program appropriate to the needs of your group. Our experience has shown that the most effective incentives are connected to your health plan, such as reduced premiums and employer contributions to HRAs.
That said, rewards don’t necessarily have to be monetary. Sponsoring a team competition, giving recognition through the company newsletter, or sharing member success stories can be equally valuable, so long as management shows a shared wellness commitment.
For more information about MedBen Worksite Wellness, please contact Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.
As 2012 quickly winds down, The Los Angles Times has put together some end-of-year tips to maximize your health care benefits. Among them:
Make the most of your deductibles. If you’ve met your annual deductible for 2012, now may be a good time to schedule any medical treatment you’ve been delaying.
And don’t forget the possible savings of ordering prescription drugs before year end. You may be able to order a 90-day supply now to get you through the first few months of the year.
MedBen plan members who need to check their current deductibles, available benefits or FSA account balance are encouraged to visit MedBen Access. You can also use this online service to view pending and processed claims, get prescription drug information and perform a variety of other tasks online. Log in anytime!