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10/14/10

  11:51:03 am, by MedBen5   , 226 words,  
Categories: News

Political Parties Taking Different Approaches to Health Care Reform

As we near the mid-term elections, the candidates are of two minds about health care reform: Democrats would rather not discuss it, while Republicans can’t say enough about it.

This campaign season’s political ads (perhaps you’ve seen one or two) demonstrate no small measure of reluctance on many Democratic candidates’ part to claim responsibility for the health care reform bills passed in March. In part, this has to do with public opinion on the subject, which is pretty much split down the middle. But it also is a reflection of the complexity of the new laws and the reality that most Americans will be required to buy health care coverage – a tough sell during a period of high unemployment and economic uncertainty. Conversely, Republicans have filled the airwaves with commercials portraying reform as a massive government takeover of the individual’s health care, with vows to totally repeal the reform acts.

Pollsters for the two parties consider both approaches a mistake. Democrats, they say, need to play up the aspects of the law that people claim to support, such as exclusions on pre-existing conditions. And Republicans would be better served to promise, as one pollster says, to “keep what’s good in the law and replace what’s not".

Read one Democratic pollster’s viewpoint at NPR, and a Republican pollster’s thoughts on the subject at Kaiser Health News.

  11:38:33 am, by MedBen5   , 109 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Walking Good for the Brain, Researchers Find

A University of Pittsburgh study says that walking is beneficial to the brain as well as the body.

Researchers initially reviewed the walking data of 299 dementia-free seniors, and nine years later took brain scans of the participants. After four more years, they were tested to measure signs of increased cognitive impairment.

At the nine-year point, the study found that participants who walked 6-9 miles per week had healthier brains that those who didn’t walk as much. Four years later, 40% of participants suffered from some level of dementia, but those who walked the most reduced the risk of developing memory loss by half.

Read more about the study at WebMD.

10/13/10

  05:28:07 pm, by MedBen5   , 104 words,  
Categories: Announcements

MedBen Launches New Online Portal for Vision Providers

Great news for MedBen VisionPlus providers: MedBen is currently rolling out a new online portal for its vision benefits plan! Available through our MedBen Access website, providers can use the vision portal to determine patient eligibility and submit claims (and view claims status) online.

Instructions on how to access and use the vision portal’s features will be available soon, and provider training will also be offered – check the MedBen Blog the the latest developments. In the meantime, if you have any questions about this new online service, please contact Rose McEntire, Vice President of Information Systems, at (800) 423-3151, Ext. 342 or rmcentire@medben.com.

  02:20:15 pm, by MedBen5   , 160 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Terminally Ill Cancer Patients Still Receiving Regular Screenings

Many incurable cancer patients still continue to get screenings even though they cannot change the outcome, according to a report released by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 9% of women suffering from terminal cancer were given mammograms after diagnosis, and 15% of men in advanced cancer states got prostate screenings.

In addition to the costs of unneeded testing, the report notes that such screenings could also result in overdiagnosis – detecting less severe cancers that would not play a critical factor in the patient’s eventual demise. The authors reason that excessive testing is due to providers and patients getting in the habit of conducting regular screenings, and continuing to do so even after they cease to serve a purpose (though they also acknowledge that screenings may be appropriate in specific cases).

You can read more about the study at NPR. The Wall Street Journal Health Blog also comments on it.

  02:06:01 pm, by MedBen5   , 130 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Some States Still Rejecting Federal Health Care Reform

Health care reform is in full swing, but several states have yet to get on board – either because they question the Constitutionality of the legislation, or they already have their own systems in place. While most states have applied for grants to develop health exchanges, the Politico website says that neither Alaska or Minnesota have made such a request, while Wyoming, Iowa and Georgia haven’t applied for an additional $1 million rate review grant offered this summer.

Addtionally, the article notes reticence on the part of Utah to take part in the federal plan, as the state already operates a health exchange and officials are concerned that new regulations could undermine reform activities currently in action. Massachusetts has also had statewide reforms in operation since 2006.

Read more about it here.

  02:01:30 pm, by MedBen5   , 172 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Corn Syrup and Sugar Promote Weight Gain Equally, Researchers Find

High-fructose corn syrup gets a pretty bad rap from nutritionists and personal trainers, but at least once group is speaking in its defense: The Corn Refiners Association. (Okay, perhaps that doesn’t come a great shock.) A study supported by the trade organization, and presented at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society, found little difference in the likelihood of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup to promote weight gain.

Researchers at the Rippe Lifestyle Research Institute tracked the weights of 105 overweight and obese people, half of whom used sugar, half using high-fructose corn syrup for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, the researchers found no appreciable differences in changes to either half’s body weight or body fat percent. So good news for fans of the sweetener, but given the source (plus the fact that the results have yet to be verified by outside experts), news that you may wish to take with a grain of salt… or sugar… or high-fructose corn syrup. Your call.

Read more about the study at MedicineNet.com.

  01:58:57 pm, by MedBen5   , 93 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

HHS Promotes Personal Wellness Through "Smallstep"

The Department of Health and Human Services have developed a rather nifty website. Called Smallstep, the site contains a wealth of health-related information for adults, teens and children, including health facts, recipes and nutrition advice, and an exercise activity tracker, just to stratch the surface. The kids even get wellness tips from the Looney Tunes characters – as if we grown-ups wouldn’t like to learn Bugs Bunny’s secret for staying so trim after 70 years! (Possibly the all-carrot diet has something to do with it.) Definitely worth a look at http://www.smallstep.gov.

10/12/10

  03:47:14 pm, by MedBen5   , 145 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Employer W-2 Health Care Cost Reporting Mandate Postponed

Earlier today, the IRS announced that employer W-2 health care cost reporting will NOT be mandatory for 2011, as originally scheduled. The Treasury Department and the IRS have decided to give employers additional time to make any needed changes to their payroll systems or procedures, to better prepare for compliance with the reporting requirement.

Had the mandate been enforced as written in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), employers would have been required to report on next year’s W-2s the aggregate cost of their group health plan coverage, including FSAs and HRAs, for each covered employee. The IRS has stressed that reported amounts are for data collection purposes only – they are not taxable. Reporting guidelines are expected to be ready later this year.

MedBen clients with questions regarding this change are welcome to call Vice President of Compliance Caroline Fraker at (800) 851-0907.

  12:58:05 pm, by MedBen5   , 135 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

U.S. Not Keeping Pace in Life Expectancy Rates

Despite greater spending on health care, the United States still lags behind other industrialized countries in regard to longer life expectancy. A Commonwealth Fund study revealed that 15-year survival rates of 45 year-old men and women in the U.S. to be significantly lower than those of 12 other wealthy nations. From 1975 to 2005, 45 year-old males dropped from a third place ranking to 12th. U.S. seniors also showed declining survival rates compared with the other nations examined.

While smoking and obesity would seem to be two likely explanations for the disparity, the evidence doesn’t bear it out. U.S. smoking rates are lower than other countries in the study, and while obesity rates are high, its prevalence has increased more slowly than other wealthy nations.

More information about the Commonwealth Fund study is available at MedicineNet.com.

  12:53:54 pm, by MedBen5   , 98 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Microsoft Will Require Employees to Contribute to Health Care Coverage

Even one of the world’s wealthiest companies is not immune to the rapidly-changing conditions in health care. Microsoft has announced that beginning in 2013, workers will be required to contribute to their health care benefits. Currently, about 95% of the software giant’s 90,000 employees receive coverage at no cost.

The 2013 start date is one year before major health care reform mandates for employers take effect, including a general prohibition on pre-existing condition exclusions and an automatic employee enrollee for large companies.

The Medical News Today website features article excerpts about the coverage change from The Wall Street Journal and Business Week.

  10:46:33 am, by MedBen5   , 152 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Study: Healthy Habits Reduce Risk of Breast Cancer

While the scientific community currently holds varying opinions on the effectiveness of mammograms to detect breast cancer (see yesterday’s MedBen Blog article on the topic here), women can take proactive steps to reduce the risk of developing the disease. A lifestyle study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research found that by maintaining such “breast-healthy” habits as exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and drinking alcohol in moderation, postmenopausal women – including those with a family history of breast cancer – can reduce their risk.

In the 5-year study, about 6 of every 1,000 women with a family history of breast cancer who followed all three habits got breast cancer, compared to 7 out of 1,000 for those who did not follow these behaviors. Among women without a family history, occurences of breast cancer were 3.5 of every 1,000 for women who practiced healthy habits, compared to 4.6 per 1,000 who did not.

Read more about the study at Yahoo! Health.

  10:05:15 am, by MedBen5   , 104 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Health Plan Management

Medical Cost Trends Projected to Hold Steady in 2011, Survey Says

Medical benefit plan cost trends in 2011 will remain relatively consistent with the past two years, according to The Segal Company’s annual cost trends survey. The projected trend rates for preferred provider organizations (PPOs) in 2011 are expected to reach 10.6%, compared to 10.5%. Most survey respondents felt that health care reform would impact the overall health care trend by more than 1%.

High-deductible health plans are projected to see slightly lower trends in 2011 with 11.2%, compared to 11.3% in 2010. Prescription drug trends (for retail and mail order combined) are expected at 9.2% for plan participants and early retirees.

Read more about the Segal Company survey on the Employee Benefits News website.

10/11/10

  11:57:45 am, by MedBen5   , 143 words,  
Categories: Announcements, Health Plan Management

MedBen Posts New Health Reform Documents to Plan Design, Regulatory Blog Areas

MedBen has added the following health care reform documents to the Plan Design section of the MedBen Blog:

  • Sample Required Notice for Grandfathered Plans
  • Sample Required Notice for Non-Grandfathered Plans
  • PPACA Plan Checklist

The Plan Design section is password-protected and accessible only to registered MedBen clients and consultants. To create a login name and password, click here. Please note that registry requests must be approved by MedBen before you can access the Plan Design section.

Additionally, we have added the following documents to the Regulatory area of the blog (no password required):

  • PPACA List of Essential Health Benefits
  • DOL Affordable Care Act Implementation FAQs (9-20-2010)
  • DOL Affordable Care Act Implementation FAQs (10-8-2010)
  • IRS Notice 2010-63 regarding Highly Compensated Employees under Fully-Insured Plans

Clients with questions regarding any of these documents may contact MedBen Vice President of Compliance Caroline Fraker at (800) 851-0907.

  11:17:01 am, by MedBen5   , 108 words,  
Categories: Prescription, Wellness

PBMs Analyzing Prescription Use to Anticipate Health Issues

Express Scripts and other pharmacy benefit managers are experimenting with “data diving” as a way to predict what prescription drug users are likely to skip doses or develop complications down the road. By examining such factors as prescription history, co-pay amounts and disease-specific issues, PBMs hope to be proactive in assisting those who may not be able to continue their medications or could potentially suffer side effects. This is one part of a broader effort by PBMs and health insurers to promote preventive action, as MedBen is doing with its Worksite Wellness program.

You can read more about these PBM initiatives on the Wall Street Journal Health Blog.

  10:53:13 am, by MedBen5   , 147 words,  
Categories: News

McDonald's Among Companies Receiving Gov't Health Care Waivers

When you’re the federal government and you enact sweeping health care reform legislation that will dramatically impact employers across the nation, you presumably understand that some businesses will not tacitly nod their heads “okay” and move on to other matters. So it should come as no surprise that the Department of Health and Human Services has granted health care coverage waivers to 30 companies and organizations, including such heavy hitters as McDonald’s and Jack in the Box.

With the waiver, these businesses – which typically employ part-timers, have a high turnover rate and offer low-cost health plans with limited benefits – will not be required to raise their minimum annual benefits. This will allow them to continue providing health insurance, which would have been increasingly difficult as minimum coverage amounts rise over the next three years.

You can read more about the waivers on the USA Today website.

  10:31:33 am, by MedBen5   , 117 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

All Quiet on the Influenza Front This Year

Last year at this time, you couldn’t read a newspaper or go to a health news blog without seeing the buzz words “swine flu". (Case in point here.) Thankfully, the news is much more positive on the flu front this year. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control reported “low levels of influenza activity” from the beginning of summer through late last month. Even so, the CDC still recommends that getting an annual vaccination is a good idea for everybody, especially children and pregnant women. And thankfully, plenty of vaccine is available, so we won’t see a repeat of the long lines and priority queuing like last year.

More from the Wall Street Journal Health Blog here.

  10:16:56 am, by MedBen5   , 87 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

New Mammography Studies Produce Conflicting Conclusions

Nearly a year since the U.S Preventive Services Task Force recommended new mammography guidelines for women under 50 (and were quickly admonished by the Department of Health and Human Services for doing so), several new studies have been published that will likely spur continued debate. Researchers in Norway and Denmark found mammographies had little to no effect on reducing breast cancer deaths, while a Swedish study found that regular screenings reduce such deaths by as much as 29%.

You can find the complete story on the NPR website.

10/08/10

  09:26:32 pm, by MedBen5   , 195 words,  
Categories: Announcements, News, Health Plan Management

Partners Plan Rollout Continues; Website Launched

MedBen’s recent launch of Partners Community Health Plan has been well-received by employer groups and participating agents alike. Now available as a fully-insured product in Marietta and Zanesville, Ohio, Partners will soon be offered in the Coshocton area as well. And MedBen is presently in discussions with hospitals in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky to expand the Partners concept still further,

One of the more distinctive aspects of Partners is its three-tiered benefit structure: The plan rewards members who choose to receive care locally from Partners doctors and facilities. These “Tier 1″ benefits feature a zero deductible and Dollar One benefits (with coinsurance and/or copayment for some services). Services that cannot be obtained locally are paid as standard ("Tier 2″) benefits, while out-of-network care ("Tier 3″) has a higher deductible and greater out-of-pocket maximum.

There’s a lot more to say about Partners, and we’ll regularly spotlight it here on the MedBen Blog. We’ve also created a dedicated website that offers additional information about Partners and lists participating agents. We invite you to take a look at www.partnerschp.com.

If you have any questions about Partners, please contact Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.

10/07/10

  04:04:12 pm, by MedBen5   , 63 words,  
Categories: Announcements

System Upgrades Postposed

The system upgrades MedBen originally scheduled for the coming weekend have been postponed until next week. Beginning on Friday, October 15 at 6:30 p.m. and continuing through late afternoon on Sunday, October 17, MedBen Access will not be available while upgrades are made.

Clients with questions regarding the upgrade may contact Rose McEntire, Vice President of Information Systems, at (800) 423-3151, Ext. 342 or rmcentire@medben.com.

10/05/10

  03:51:14 pm, by MedBen5   , 218 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

New Studies Find Americans Still Not Getting Enough Exercise

Two new studies reveal that a vast majority of Americans still favor the sofa over the treadmill:

  • Only 5% of Americans engage in vigorous physical activity on a daily basis, according to research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Using 2003-2008 data from the American Time Use Survey, the study found that vigorous activities like using cardiovascular equipment (2.2% of respondents) and running (1.1%) came in far below such sedentary activities as watching TV (80.1%). Among moderately vigorous activities, the most commonly reported were “preparing food and drink” (25.7%) and “gardening and taking care of houeseplants” (10.6%).
  • In a University of Tennessee walking study, researchers found that U.S. residents average just 5,117 steps per day – far less that people in Australia (9,695), Switzerland (9,650) and Japan (7,168). It’s probably not a coincidence that obesity levels are much greater in the U.S. (34%) than the other countries studied (Australia is the highest of the three, at 16%). The report also notes that single Americans walk more than those married or widowed, and men walk more than women.

Clearly, we Americans need to step up our workout regimens to bring the obesity level down. Another useful idea would be to move up our bedtimes – according to an Annals of Internal Medicine study published this week, dieters lose more fat when they get 8.5 hours sleep every night.

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