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  01:00:45 pm, by MedBen5   , 49 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

ARRA Employment Provisions: H-1B Visas

ARRA prohibits any employer receiving Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) funds or certain federal loans from obtaining H-1B Visas for two years unless they have made a good faith effort to recruit and employ United States citizens for the job for which the H-1B Visa is sought.


  03:49:02 pm, by MedBen1   , 38 words,  
Categories: Announcements, News

Dean to head HHS? Don't count on it

The Wall Street Journal Health Blog discounts rumours that former Governor and Democratic National Committee Chairman, Howard Dean will be tapped to run Health and Human Services. Kansas Governor, Kathleen Sebelius remains the front-runner. Read the article here.

  02:01:46 pm, by MedBen1   , 48 words,  
Categories: Announcements

MedBen Blog Upgrade

MedBen Blog will be down on Thursday morning between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. EST for an upgrade that will allow us greater flexibility in providing useful, actionable information to clients. Keep coming back to MedBen Blog for the latest in plan design, industry, regulatory and benefit news.


  04:01:55 pm, by MedBen1   , 185 words,  
Categories: Prescription, Discounts, Health Plan Management

Generic Drug Use Hits New High - MedBen Clients Beat Average

Generic drug use in pharmacy benefit plans reached an average of 60.4% in 2008 according to the Takeda Prescription Drug Benefit Cost and Plan Design Report, 2008-2009 edition. MedBen clients experienced generic drug use averaging nearly 10% greater than this benchmark for the same time period.
Generic drug use is a significant factor in prescription plan cost because generic drugs regularly cost a fraction of the cost of brand name drugs. Greater use of generic drugs translates to lower plan costs.
The report charts a number of drug trends and marked another year of lower pharmacy reimbursements. In 2008, according to the report the average retail brand reimbursement was 16.1% off of AWP (Average Wholesale Price - a standard mark for brand drugs). MedBen clients experienced average discounts on retail brand drugs that were 10% better than this mark.
The report marked average retail generic reimbursements at 41.8% off of AWP while MedBen clients averaged generic discounts over 1.75 times that number.
MedBen has acheived these results through its unique prescription plan that delivers the entire discount on retail and generic drugs to clients.
You can download a copy of the report here.


  01:26:12 pm, by MedBen5   , 384 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Combined Stimulus Bill Calls for Substantial Employer COBRA Subsidies

Capitol Building at Night

A follow-up to our earlier article on COBRA provisions in the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act", aka the stimulus plan: The negotiated House and Senate bill keeps the House’s proposed premium subsidy but reduces the length of eligibility. Among the plan’s COBRA provisions:

  • The combined stimulus bill will require group health plans with 20 or more employees to subsidize 65% of COBRA coverage for terminated workers – equal to the House bill’s amount and greater than the 50% proposed by the Senate.
  • The provision applies to individuals who would have been COBRA eligible due to termination of employment from September 1, 2008 through December 31, 2009.This would also include individuals whose COBRA qualifying event date (the termination of employment) is before 9/1/08, as long as their 18 month period of continuation of coverage had not expired.

    Additionally, the law allows individuals who are eligible, but did not elect COBRA within their initial election period, to have a new 60-day election period to elect the subsidized COBRA to begin with the effective date of the act.

  • Qualifying individuals will be eligible for 9 months of employer subsidies. This is a reduction from 12 months on both the House and Senate bills.
  • Terminated workers with annual incomes greater than $125,000 for singles or $250,000 for couples would not be eligible for employer subsidies.
  • As noted previously, employers will receive a credit against payroll taxes, which includes both employee withholding and FICA taxes. If COBRA payments exceed the employer’s payroll tax liability, they will be treated as an overpayments and credited on the payroll tax as such.

A “55/10″ provision in the House bill would have required employers to offer COBRA benefits to individuals 55 and over for 10 years or until they are eligible for Medicare, whichever comes first. This provision was not mentioned in the Senate bill and is, as of this writing, not included in the final plan.

To read a Legislative Update from the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC) on the combined bill, click here. Please note that the 60% employer subsidy indicated in the release has since been increased to 65%.

The combined stimulus bill is currently undergoing final Congressional review and, pending its approval, could be signed into law by President Obama as early as this weekend. Please check The MedBen Blog for updates on COBRA subsidies as well as other stimulus provisions that will affect employers.


  04:34:45 pm, by MedBen5   , 265 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Stimulus Bill May Adversely Affect Employer COBRA Costs

Capitol Building

Stimulus bills approved by the Senate and House of Representatives are currently winding their way through final Congressional negotiations en route to President Obama’s desk for approval. While many of the bills’ features have been discussed and debated in the media, gone comparatively unmentioned is a series of provisions that could have an adverse effect on employer health care costs.

Both House and Senate bills would require employers to subsidize a portion of COBRA costs for individuals who have been involuntarily terminated. The House bill calls for a 65% employer subsidy of COBRA for up to 12 months with up to an additional six months of unsubsidized coverage, while the Senate bill reduces the subsidy to 50%. Those employees terminated on or after 9/1/08 through 12/31/09 will be eligible for the subsidy.

In addition, the House bill would grant extended COBRA benefits to individuals age 55 and older who have 10 or more years of service with an employer. Such individuals could remain on COBRA until becoming Medicare-eligible or obtaining coverage through a different group health plan. The Senate bill does not contain a similar provision.

One potential bright spot to COBRA premium cost-sharing: Affected employers may be able to take a credit against payroll taxes for the rest of the premiums.

To read a Legislative Update from the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC) regarding these COBRA provisions, click here.

As of this writing, House and Senate negotiators have reached an agreement on a final version of the stimulus plan. When we have had a chance to review the compromise bill’s COBRA provisions, we will pass updated information on to you.


  04:40:44 pm, by MedBen5   , 286 words,  
Categories: Wellness, Health Plan Management

The Truth Behind Routine Cancer Screenings

Doctor with X-ray

“Why should I bother with a cancer screening? After all, I feel fine and I take care of myself. So why should I spend money when I don’t need to?” So goes the common wisdom about routine cancer screenings – when the odds are in my favor, it’s just not worth that extra expense!

But there are several reasons for promoting regular cancer screenings. The most important one is obvious – the sooner a cancer is detected, the greater the chance that it can be treated successfully. But there is also a significant financial consideration – the difference in cost between treating a limited cancer vs. a cancer in its advanced staged can be staggering. For example:

  • A stage I or II (limited disease) breast cancer typically requires a lumpectomy or simple mastectomy, plus chemotherapy, and costs between $30-$50,000. Should the cancer reach stage III or IV (advanced disease), the bills for modified radical mastectomy with major reconstruction, plus chemo and radiation therapies, can reach upwards of between $150-$300,000.
  • Colon cancer detected in its earliest stages will cost between $10-$50,000 for a colonoscopy and polypectomy. In its advanced state, the cancer usually requires a colectomy and a colostomy, plus chemo and radiation therapies, that will result in expenses totaling between $150-$300,000.

Truth is, a cancer caught in its earliest stages saves lives and money. And even when a screening shows a clean bill of health, its cost is more that offset by the potential expense should a cancer go undetected. That’s why all MedBen fully insured plans encourage routine screenings for breast, colon, cervical and prostate cancers by covering in-network screenings at 100%.

To learn more about MedBen fuly insured benefits, please contact MedBen Marketing Services at


  05:24:43 pm, by MedBen5   , 227 words,  
Categories: Prescription, Discounts, Health Plan Management

Breaking Down Drug Costs

Filling a Prescription

Just how do pharmaceutical companies price their products? As this article in the Employee Benefit News reveals, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it involves quite a bit of number-crunching.

Multiple considerations go into the drug pricing process, from the manufacturer’s research and development costs to market demand and competition. Manufacturers also negotiate with pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), who administer prescription plans and create networks with contracted pharmacies. In turn, the PBMs negotiate prescription prices with the pharmacies. On top of all that, generic drugs and mail order services factor into the total pricing equation.

Manufacturer discounts, rebates and other pricing concessions are common to larger PBMs. To quote from the article: “Successful PBMs are effective in leveraging their aggregated volumes and patient programs to achieve even deeper discounts.”

MedBen provides cost-effective retail prescription coverage to its clients through Pharmacy Data Management (PDM), a leader in pharmacy benefits management. The MedBen Prescription Plan passes 100% of paid formulary rebates onto the Health Plan through the PDM network. In addition, significant savings are generated by a cost pass-through approach to generic drugs.

Together, MedBen and PDM offer a level of transparency that equates to more plan savings for the employer. We have consistently beaten the odds by keeping annual Rx cost increases below the national average.

To learn more about MedBen pharmacy services, please visit the MedBen website.


  04:07:46 pm, by MedBen5   , 276 words,  
Categories: Wellness, Health Plan Management

A Healthy Internet Presence

Doctor on Computer Monitor

The Internet has become a virtual library of health information. Not to mention, a diagnostician, personal trainer, consumer watchdog and recordkeeper.

The Wall Street Journal highlights some of the more noteworthy sites available on the web. As you will see, there is a great deal of diversity out there, from a site that catalogs side effects of various medications to sites from Google and Microsoft that allow users to compile their medical records online, and share the information with physicians if they so choose.

MedBen has had a constant web presence since the launch of in 1997. In the ensuing decade, we have greatly expanded our content to provide clients with user-friendly, password-protected services featuring real-time data.

Our current websites include: MedBen Access, which offers 24/7 claims status and benefits information; MedBen Secure, which allows clients to receive reports with protected health information in a protected environment; and our MedBen FSA/HRA Online System gives participants an easy way to monitor plan activity. These and other customer service tools are available to MedBen clients anytime, anywhere.

Privacy concerns have been and will continue to be at the forefront of online health sites. That’s why MedBen makes client confidentiality its number one priority. On MedBen Secure, for example, your reports are downloaded over a secure line protected by Secured Socket Layering (SSL), the Internet standard for the transmission of secure data. This is on top of internal protection that double-checks the contact and content information in order to verify both are appropriate and accurate.

For more information about all of MedBen’s Internet services, visit our main website at and click on “Online Client Services".


  04:38:03 pm, by MedBen5   , 315 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

CDHP and HDHP Participants Better Informed, Healthier

Mom & Daughter Making Salad

A survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute finds that participants in a consumer-driven health plan (CDHPs), such as a flexible spending account (FSA) or a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA), or a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) make better informed health care decisions and are healthier in general. As reported in Employee Benefit News, nearly 10 million adults enrolled in such plans during 2008.

The survey showed that 3% of adults are enrolled in some type of CDHP, up from 2% in 2007. The number of adults enrolled in an HDHP held steady at 11%. Consumer satisfaction with the quality of care provided is similar in CDHPs to that of traditional plans, but lower for those participants only covered by an HDHP.

Of particular note is the survey finding that HDHP participants tend to be in better health than those with traditional coverage. On the one hand, it stands to reason that a plan with higher out-of-pocket costs would appeal more to those who stand less chance of incurring a major medical expense. But as the article points out, HDHPs also place a greater value on individual awareness of the cost of care, which in turn promotes a greater focus on personal wellness. So participants can benefit from HDHPs on a physical and emotional basis as well as a financial one.

The survey also revealed that HDHP participants sometimes delay or avoid getting care because of cost concerns. But 42% of the 13.4 millions consumers with a high-deductible plan report that they do not have a health savings account (HSA), despite their availability. By encouraging the addition of an HSA or an employer-funded HRA from which the participant can pay their deductible costs, the employer can go a long way toward preventing this behavior.

MedBen offers full-service administration of FSA, HRA and turn-key HSA, along with the administration of both fully insured and self-funded HDHPs. For more information, contact MedBen Specialty Services at (800) 297-1829.


  10:15:45 am, by MedBen5   , 225 words,  
Categories: Prescription, Discounts, Health Plan Management

Battling Back Against Rising Rx Costs

Pill Bottles and Drugs

Rising prescription costs may be an unavoidable reality of our health care system, but that doesn’t mean that consumers have to take the high prices at face value. This Wall Street Journal article offers some good ideas on how to keep out-of-pocket Rx expenses in check.

Asking your physician about generic alternatives to brand medications is always a good first step. Never assume that the prescription you’re given represents your best value. And with more and more discount stores and pharmacy chains boasting $4 generics to draw in business, it’s definitely to your financial advantage to check out what’s available!

Another money-saving alternative, not mentioned in the article, is the growing number of previous prescription-only medications, such as Claritin and Prilosec, now available in over-the-counter versions. Employers are increasingly covering most, if not all, of the cost for these OTC drugs, so long as a physician prescribes them.

For MedBen clients who use PDM for prescription management, you can also gather a good deal of information from our RxEOB website. This handy online service provides a variety of useful features, such as reviewing your medication history, reading detailed drug information, and comparing prices of equivalent generic or lower cost alternative drugs. To visit RxEOB, simply go to and click on “Online Client Services”, select “MedBen Access”, log in and click on “My Rx”.


  08:49:07 am, by MedBen5   , 162 words,  
Categories: Announcements, News, Health Plan Management

MedBen Saves Clients an Additional $5.4 Million in Just 12 Months!

Magnifying Money

Since MedBen added AWAC® advanced surveillance software to its claims review process last year, clients have benefited in a big way! From October of 2007 through September of 2008, MedBen clients have saved an additional $5.4 million using this physician-powered approach to claims cost containment – savings that go beyond MedBen’s plan provisions, network discounts and other cost controls.

The cumulative savings average out to be $13.23 per employee per month over 12 months. In August and September alone, MedBen clients saved over $1.2 million in claim costs. Even greater savings are expected in 2009 with more employers using this advanced cost control methodology.

Access to this surveillance system is made possible through the AWAC® Alliance, a select network of third party administrators, which MedBen joined in September of 2007. At a meeting of Alliance members in Minneapolis, MN this week, MedBen President Doug Freeman learned of our year-end savings results.

To read more about how clients are receiving significant savings with MedBen’s cost containment services, download this report.


  12:58:43 pm, by MedBen5   , 292 words,  
Categories: Wellness

C'mon, Get Happy!

Happy Girl and Dog

We’ve all heard that a regimen of healthy food and daily workouts will improve our physical well-being. But what steps can we take to better our mental health?

Foresight, a British government scientific think-tank, says people can exercise their minds by performing a “five-a-day” program of simple social and personal activities, according to an article in Times Online. Doing things that you enjoy, that challenge your intellect and that make you feel better about yourself will boost mental well-being. And should your chosen activities also happen to benefit other people, so much the better!

The group states that there are five specific measures that lead to increased happiness:

Connect: Developing relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbors will enrich your life and bring you support.

Be active: Sports, hobbies such as gardening or dancing, or just a daily stroll will make you feel good and maintain mobility and fitness.

Be curious: Noting the beauty of everyday moments as well as the unusual and reflecting on them helps you to appreciate what matters to you.

Learn: Fixing a bike, learning an instrument, cooking – the challenge and satisfaction brings fun and confidence.

Give: Helping friends and strangers links your happiness to a wider community and is very rewarding.

On the one hand, you really don’t need the British government to tell you that productivity promotes positivity – heck, Dr. Phil figured that out years ago. But as the economic climate grows more uncertain, staying active and aware certainly can benefit your well-being. And there’s no heavy lifting involved in improving your mental health – unless, of course, heavy lifting makes you happy. In which case, enjoy but remember to bend with your knees, not with your back!

You can read the complete article


  04:56:43 pm, by MedBen5   , 262 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Out of Balance

An illegal medical practice known as “balance billing” is costing consumers over $1 billion a year, according to an article in Business Week. When a health care provider believes that an insurer has not adequately compensated them for medical treatment, they may improperly bill the patient for the balance of the fee. Such overcharging has proven very profitable, as many patients either don’t know exactly how much of the bill they’re actually responsible for, fear alienation from the physician’s practice, or worry that their credit rating will suffer if the bill is not paid.

MedBen has multiple protection measures in place to guard against wrongful billing, including a physician-created electronic claims surveillance system. This proprietary software reviews every claim we receive against 80,000 financial and clinical algorithms, and flags those with questionable or potentially fraudulent charges. In its first year of use, MedBen surveillance software has saved clients an additional $4.7 million beyond standard plan provisions, network discounts and other cost controls.

Our claims system also analyzes claims for proper coding. In short, the system checks to ensure that the most appropriate American Medical Association codes were used in billing. When it finds errors, it adjusts the billing codes so plan members are charged appropriately.

Even with such safeguards, incidents of balance billing still do occur. And understandably, it can be difficult to sort out the fees you are responsible for on a physician bill from those being balance-billed. Should you ever have a question about any aspect of a provider invoice, talk to your group’s plan administrator or call MedBen Customer Service at (800) 686-8425.


  09:32:31 am, by MedBen5   , 177 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Executive, Heal Thyself!

Executives looking to trim health care costs from the company budget may need to start with their own personal maintenance programs. According to an article on The Wall Street Journal Health Blog, some upper-level businessmen receive physicals that go well beyond the standard checkup – these exams cost thousands of dollars, include a battery of tests and often provide all of amenities of a luxury spa.

Dr. Brian Rank, writing for the New England Journal of Medicine, says executive physicals are of dubious usefulness, as CT scans and other costly tests are “rarely meaningful as a predictor of disease.” In fact, such unnecessary testing may do more harm than good, with prolonged exposure to radiation and false alarms being among the consequences.

But bigger than potential health risks is the message that expensive testing sends to employees. In an economic climate where across-the-board belt tightening should be the order of the day, executive physicals send an unmistakable message that the well-being of top management is far more important than that of the people who work under them.


  06:18:37 pm, by MedBen5   , 205 words,  
Categories: Wellness

Battling the Chronic Disease Epidemic


Pity the poor family physician. As obesity cases – and the chronic diseases that frequently attend them – continue to rise across all age groups, it’s all a doctor can do to stay on top of the mounting health crisis.

One physician has written about his efforts to help patients manage their health against increasingly difficult odds. Ben Brewer, a family doctor and contributor to The Wall Street Journal, says that the high volume of business required to maintain a successful practice makes it difficult to provide the level of care chronic disease sufferers need to better their condition. In one instance, Dr. Brewer monitored a patient’s blood sugar through regular e-mail updates for two weeks, uncompensated, until levels returned to normal. But even though his office has invested in a medical record tracking system to monitor chronic cases, it has done little to improve the overall situation.

The upshot of Dr. Brewer’s comments: Medical treatment and pharmaceuticals cannot, and should not, be the lone remedies to battling chronic disease. Instead, he advocates exploring “new approaches to wellness” and emphasizes self-management to better control health problems – or to keep them from occurring in the first place.

You can read Dr. Brewer’s article here.


  04:24:16 pm, by MedBen5   , 203 words,  
Categories: Announcements, News, Wellness

MedBen Recognized as a "Fit-Friendly" Company

MedBen is among an elite group of organizations that have been awarded Gold Fit-Friendly Company status by the American Heart Association (AHA). This honor recognizes ongoing companywide efforts to promote physical, nutritional and cultural wellness initiatives.

MedBen has taken numerous measures to improve its fitness during the past year that were critical factors in reaching Gold status, like offering employee health club discounts, participating in charity walks and adding heart-healthy options to our vending machines. Our BeneFitness program, introduced in 2005, brings a variety of individual and team wellness challenges to employees.

MedBen President & CEO Doug Freeman believes that encouraging healthier employee lifestyles is just one part of its responsibility as a health benefits administrator. “I think that wellness is the next frontier of health care cost control, and if we’re going to promote that as a company to our clients, we’d better be walking the walk,” Freeman said.

MedBen was one of just four Central Ohio companies publicly recognized at the 2008 AHA Start! Heart Walk on August 23, sharing the stage with fellow Fit-Friendly companies OhioHealth, AEP and Nationwide. A MedBen team also participated in the 3-mile charity walk, which raises money to fund heart disease and stroke research and education.


  07:06:57 pm, by MedBen5   , 125 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

More Employers Offering CDHPs

Consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) now account for nearly 13 percent of all plans offered by employers, according to a survey conducted by United Benefits Advisors. From 2007 to 2008, the number of health plans offering a CDHP increased by 43 percent, and plan participation nearly doubled in the same period.

The survey of 12,860 U.S. employers also found that 10 percent of respondents have implemented a wellness program as an additional measure to reduce cost increases.

MedBen has been on the cutting edge of the CDHP movement for nearly a decade, and was among the fist to administer health reimbursment arrangements (HRAs). 1 out of every 2 MedBen TPA clients currently offer at least one CDHP.

You can read more about the CDHP survey, as reported in the Houston Business Journal, here.


  07:59:16 pm, by MedBen5   , 257 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription

Dog Days of Summer for Drug Makers

It’s turning out to be a less-than-sunny summer for members of the pharmaceutical industry. On the heels of their voluntary ban on promotional items for doctors, prescription drug companies are dealing with extra-strength headaches both external and internal, according to two recent reports in The Wall Street Journal Health Blog.

In something of an equal time initiative to presentations given by pharmacy reps, bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress proposing an “academic detailing” program. Under the plan, government-funded experts would speak to doctors about the “safety, effectiveness and cost of prescription drugs,” serving as a counterbalance to drug company messages. Selected healthcare professionals would be trained to present to physicians and pharmacists, and educational materials would be developed by nonprofit medical societies and schools. There’s no mention in the bills of how much such a program would cost.

Of course, such government oversight is necessary only when there is a steady supply of drugs on which to opine. But new medications are being introduced at a relatively slow rate nowadays, particularly when one takes into consideration the mounting costs of research and development. The problem, it would appear, is that while technology and design have made the process more efficient, drug companies are still limited by our collective understanding of what causes disease and the best ways to combat it. Simply put, there is still a high degree of luck when it comes to creating a useful (and profitable) drug – a reality that even the pharmaceutical giants (or government intervention) cannot easily overcome.


  10:40:13 am, by MedBen5   , 191 words,  
Categories: Prescription, Discounts, Health Plan Management

Generics and the "Pass-through" Principle

Pill Bottles and Drugs

The Wall Street Journal Health Blog reports on the practice of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) marking up the prices of generic drugs. The PBMs negotiate discounts with pharmacies, but rather than passing the full value of the discounts onto clients, they charge an inflated price to health insurance companies. The insurers, in turn, make up the difference in higher premiums to the patients.

MedBen doesn’t subscribe to the “big discount/bigger premium” pharmacy concept – in fact, we take the exact opposite approach. Our prescription plan is unique in offering “pass-through” benefits – we pass through 100% of any paid formulary rebates directly to our clients. That means no unnecessary mark-ups on generic drugs, resulting in significant savings to employer and employee alike!

This level of transparency also is notable for stemming the tide of rising Rx plan costs. Employers using the MedBen Prescription Plan – offered through our Rx partner, Pharmacy Data Management (PDM) – actually saw a 2.2% decrease in the amount they paid per member in 2007. And, all Rx clients have free access to a pharmacy consultant who will review your current prescription plan design and offer additional cost savings strategies.

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