Despite the uncertainly surrounding the future of health care reform, the Obama administration is moving forward. Reuters reports that the Department for Health and Human Services has announced a November 16 deadline for state governments to submit plan outlines for their health insurance exchanges.
The announcement comes at a time where the question is unresolved as to whether or not the Affordable Care Act will still exist in its current form – if, indeed, at all – by November. The Supreme Court could potentially strike down the law this summer.
Even if the ACA survives the judicial process, many states have been slow to develop an exchange, while others have refused outright. As Reuters notes, the main case before the Supreme Court was brought by 26 states that believe the health care reforms exceed the federal government’s constitutional powers.
And of course, there’s the small matter of the November 6 presidential election, which takes place just 10 days ahead of the new filing deadline. Should Mitt Romney win, the deadline likely becomes a moot point: The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has vowed to repeal the health care reform law.
Speaking to reporters, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted that all the uncertainty notwithstanding, 34 states – including some that want the ACA overturned – and the District of Columbia have accepted federal grant money to help establish the exchanges.
A long-held medical belief – that the more HDL, or “good cholesterol", you have in your blood, the lower your risk of heart disease – has been challenged.
According to The New York Times, new research has found that raising HDL levels may not affect heart disease risk one way or another. The study’s authors, backed by extensive databases of genetic information, determined that people with naturally higher HDL levels have no less heart disease than those whose genes give them slightly lower levels.
Researchers not involved with the study expressed concern about the findings. “I’d say the HDL hypothesis is on the ropes right now,” said Dr. James A. de Lemos, a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
“The current study tells us that when it comes to HDL we should seriously consider going back to the drawing board, in this case meaning back to the laboratory,” said Dr. Michael Lauer, director of the division of cardiovascular sciences at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
But Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, countered that because HDL is complex, it is possible that some types of HDL molecules might in fact protect against heart disease. “I am an optimist,” he said.
MedBen formally opened the C. Arthur Morrow Conference Center on Thursday, May 17, 2012. The company’s President and CEO Doug Freeman hosted the event.
“As MedBen has continued to grow, the need for an expanded meeting area has become essential,” Freeman said. “This state-of-the-art conference center offers us an easy way to bring together large numbers of clients, brokers or employees any time the occasion calls for it.”
The conference center was dedicated to Art Morrow, Chairman of the Board for MedBen. Morrow, a practicing attorney and lifetime resident of Licking County, has served on the MedBen Board of Directors since 1978 and as its Chairman since 1987.
“Art has been a key to our success during the past quarter century,” Freeman said. “His leadership has had a tremendous impact on our business direction, and MedBen is that much stronger for it. I can think of no person more deserving of this tribute.”
The center will serve as a venue for a variety of events, including sales meetings, employee gatherings and after-hour receptions. It will also function as the primary site for MedBen University, a series of seminars that educate clients about plan design strategies, new benefit technologies, and regulatory matters.
The center contains a large presentation area as well as smaller meeting space. Both rooms feature high-definition video projectors and multi-speaker audio systems. A situational lighting design allows users to brighten and dim specific areas of the presentation area as needed.
In addition, the center has a separate kitchen area, including regular and microwave ovens and a refrigerator, and a coat room. It has a maximum capacity of 170 people.
The center is located at 1821 W. Main Street in Newark, Ohio, next door to the MedBen Home Office.
There are more over-the-counter health products available than ever, and trying to figure out which one is best for your ailment can be a real head-scratcher. To raise your OTC intellect a few points, The Wall Street Journal Health Blog offers “The Medicine Cabinet Quiz“. Take a few minutes to check it out, but be forewarned: There may be a few trick answers in the mix.
Here’s the first question… the entire quiz is available at WSJ.com.
1. You have a headache. Should you take:
A. Advil (ibuprofen)
B. Tylenol (acetaminophen)
Answer: A, B or C
All of them will relieve a simple headache, but through different means and with different side effects.
Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen sodium) and aspirin all reduce pain by fighting inflammation, which also makes them particularly useful for combating arthritis, tooth pain, menstrual cramps and muscle sprains. But they can cause stomach bleeding, so people with peptic ulcers, liver, kidney or heart disease should talk to their doctors before taking them. Aspirin has the added benefit of preventing blood clots, which is why taking one daily can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. But aspirin shouldn’t be used by people who have low blood pressure or open wounds, or by children who have the flu or chickenpox due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare neurological disorder.
Tylenol (acetaminophen) works by calming pain signals in the brain. But it can cause liver damage if you regularly have three or more alcoholic drinks a day or take a higher dosage than recommended.
All in all, ibuprofen is arguably the strongest, but aspirin works faster, naproxen lasts longer and acetaminophen is safer if you have stomach problems (and aren’t a heavy drinker). A few brands contain both acetaminophen and aspirin, but don’t mix them on your own and don’t take any of them for more than five days straight, since they can cause “rebound” headaches, in which the body feels withdrawal when they wear off.
If you’re enjoying a piping hot cup o’ joe while you read this, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re adding years to your life.
WebMD reports that a 13-year study of coffee drinkers revealed that people who downed three or more cups a day had about a 10% lower risk of death overall compared to people who drank no coffee. They also showed a reduced risk of dying from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, accidents and injuries, diabetes, and infections, but not from cancer.
Sounds great. But there are a few caveats involved.
First, the researchers based their information on a questionnaire completed by 400,000 AARP members between 1995 and 1996. They continued tracking through 2008, but never asked if participants changed their coffee-drinking habits in the ensuing years. Nor did they inquire how the coffee was prepared. So while the results suggest an association between coffee and longevity, the study can’t say for certain that coffee caused people to live longer.
Second, coffee contains about 1,000 difference compounds. Caffeine is the best known ingedient, but apparently doesn’t influence mortality, because death rates liked to decaf were similar to those associated with caffeinated. More likely, antioxidants and other compounds might be important, the researchers write.
Finally, the researchers did correct for the effects of other risk factors for dying, such as smoking and drinking alcohol. But as many coffee drinkers also indulge in these habits, they may negate the positive effects of the daily dose of java.
Reuters reports that the first over-the-counter, in-home HIV test is one step closer to reality. A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel has unanimously recommended that the agency approve the product, known as the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test.
OraQuick uses a mouth swab for the test, which offers results with 20 minutes. But while the advisory panel said the test shows a high degree of effectiveness in the rapid detection of HIV infection, research data has raised concerns that it also produces a disturbing number of false positives.
The panel says the test’s benefits to HIV-positive people under-served by medical care outweighs the risks. However, some panel members did advise that the product carry strongly-worded labeling that warns about potential false results.
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has infected nearly 1.2 million people and increases by 50,000 new cases each year.
If the diabetes epidemic continues to progress at its current pace, 53 million Americans may have the disease by 2025, a new report states.
According to RedOrbit.com, researchers based their projections for specific states and population subgroups using the most current U.S. Census Bureau forecasts. Should the rate of diabetes (mainly type 2) grow as they predict, it would represent a 64% increase from 2010.
“Diabetes is now a national security issue as it threatens all aspects of our nation’s well-being,” noted Dr. David B. Nash, Editor-in-Chief of Population Health Management, the journal that published the report.
The authors of the report emphasized that if the lessons from the Diabetes 2025 Model are heeded, lifestyle changes can help to slow the growth of the disease, as well as the resultant costs.
“If our health care system were able to persuade 50% of Americans with prediabetes every year to seriously change their lifestyles for the rest of their lives, the result could be about 4.7 million fewer cases of diabetes in 2025 with a cumulative savings of about $300 billion. Yet even if this happened, there would still be 48.4 million Americans living with diabetes,” the authors explained.
While colon cancer can generally be prevented through timely screenings, the unpleasant aspects of pre-test preparations scares many people away. But a new method for performing a “virtual” colonoscopy may persuade those who have so far avoided this important procedure.
The Wall Street Journal Health Blog reports that in recent years, computed tomographic colonography – known as CT or “virtual” colonoscopy – have eliminated the need for invasive instrument, instead scanning the colon externally. But patients still need to take laxatives for the scanning machines to produce an accurate screening.
So to sidestep the laxative issue, researchers have developed a software program to electronically “cleanse” the bowel. In a study of the program, patients ate a low-fiber diet for several days prior to scanning, and drank a special fluid to “tag” the colon’s contents. This method accurately identified 91% of patients with polyps of 10 mm or larger – those at highest risk of becoming cancerous – but was less accurate for smaller lesions.
“No one should be dying from colon cancer, which is almost completely preventable with screening; and if it were sufficiently easy more people would do it,” said Dr. Michael Zalis, a radiologist and lead author of the study.
Dr. James Aisenberg, a gastroenterologist who wasn’t involved with the study, agreed that the laxative requirement can be a barrier to colorectal screening, and a virtual test is definitely better than nothing. But he added that a laxative-free CTC “will miss a subset of precancerous polyps and thus is unlikely to become the gold standard for colorectal-cancer prevention.”
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”.
According to the U.K. paper Mail, Americans currently consume 80% of the world’s supply of pain pills – enough drugs to give every single American 64 Percocets or Vicodin.
The article notes that opioid prescriptions have spiked 600% in the past 10 years. Therefore it’s hardly a shock that a growing number of individuals are using the drugs for purposes other than alleviating discomfort. And their abuse leads to 14,800 fatalities a year – more than from heroin and cocaine combined.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that when taken as prescribed, opioids can be used to manage pain safely and effectively. However, when abused, even a single large dose can cause severe respiratory depression and death.
Of course, even though who follow instructions to the letter will typically develop physical dependence to some degree. This is a normal adaptation to chronic exposure to a drug and is not the same as addiction – but it does highlight the importance of working with your family doctor to ensure a temporary need doesn’t progress into something much worse.
For additional information about pain pills, visit the NIDA website.
America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) recently released the first of four case studies that demonstrate the consequences of mandating health care reforms in the absence of a personal coverage requirement. It’s a scenario that has already played out on the state level – and one that could potentially occur nationwide if the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate.
“When thinking about the impact of potential Supreme Court rulings, there is no substitute for real-world experience. Washington state’s experience demonstrated that passing market reforms without requiring broad participation in the system does not work. The linkage is essential,” said AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni in a press release.
Washington state enacted health care reforms in 1993 that required individuals to buy their own policies while effectively eliminating waiting periods for pre-existing conditions. Within 18 months, the state legislature repealed the individual coverage requirement, so many healthy people dropped out of the program.
According to the press release, the reforms ultimately resulted in “substantial increases in the premiums charged for individually purchased policies; a dramatic reduction in the number of carriers writing policies for individuals in the state from 19 to only two; and a 30 percent increase in the number of uninsured between enactment of the initial reform law and the turn of the new century.”
Many people have two sets of sleep times – “weekend” and “weekdays". And typically, the former is a few hours longer than the latter.
But while the extra hours of shut-eye on Saturday and Sunday may provide some short-term relief, it’s not a good long-term solution. A new European study suggests that irregular sleep patterns – what the researchers authors refer to as “social jet lag” – triple your odds of being overweight, according to CNN.com.
Social jet lag is “the discrepancy between what our body clock wants us to do and what our social clock wants us to do,” says Till Roenneberg, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Munich’s Institute of Medical Psychology, in Germany. “It almost looks as if people on a Friday evening fly from Paris to New York, and on Monday morning they fly back again.”
The study of 65,000 adults also found that the the body mass index (BMI) of overweight people tended to rise as the gap between their weekday and weekend “time zones” widened. In addition, erratic sleep patterns leave individuals at a greater risk for cancer, diabetes and other diseases.
Poor lifestyle choices have led to an increased prevalence of expensive chronic diseases, according to Rayvelle Stallings, MD, Chief Medical Officer of inVentiv Medical Management. At MedBen’s recent Wellness Conference, Dr. Stallings highlighted the growing health crisis in America, and how a coordinated worksite wellness effort can reduce medical costs and foster a healthier workplace.
“Nearly 9 out of 10 medical claims can be traced to lifestyle decisions that individuals make, so clearly there is an opportunity to help people make smart health choices,” Dr. Stallings stated in her presentation. “That’s why over 70% of employers are looking for employee engagement solutions.”
MedBen, in partnership with inVentiv, offers the iHealth Wellness Education Program to employees. Dr. Stallings noted that through focused, interventional coaching for patients with high-risk, modifiable, and traditionally costly diseases, iHealth helps to educate employees and their family members about positive lifestyle changes and appropriate wellness prevention testing. The program also encourages the establishment of “medical home” for every plan member – specifically, their family doctor.
In contrast to other wellness programs that rely on personal health assessments from plan members, iHealth performs an an electronic analysis of medical claims data using the member’s company claims history. By doing so, iHealth detects health patterns that would benefit from specialized nurse coaching, as well as providing members with customized recommendations for certain wellness screening tests.
Dr. Stallings also discussed the positive effects of wellness incentives to members, such as reduced premiums and gym discounts. “Incentives have powerful behavioral effects,” and even small awards can spur greater participation in a wellness program, Dr. Stallings observed.
To learn more about MedBen Worksite Wellness, we invite you to contact Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.
It comes as no surprise that most people incur higher medical costs in their senior years. But new research suggests a potential way to bring those expenses down by over one-third.
According to HealthDay News, a Dallas, Texas-based study of more than 20,000 people determined that fit middle-aged men and women had, on average, 38% lower medical costs later in life compared to people who failed to stay in shape.
“We found that fitness confers dividends later in life even when other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and obesity are controlled for,” said study author Dr. Justin Bachmann.
Average annual claims for medical costs for the least-fit men, at $5,134, were about 36% higher than the average of $3,277 a year for the most-fit men. The average medical claims of $4,565 for the least-fit women were about 40% higher than the $2,755 average for the most fit.
Levels of fitness were determined by a treadmill test measuring metabolic equivalents (METs), Bachmann said. The higher the METs, the more fit a person is.
As we note the latest health care reform news on this blog, we often use the phrase “health insurance exchange” to describe a government-run place where individuals and small businesses can compare and purchase health care plans. Little did we realize, however, that its use may be confusing prospective consumers.
According to Kaiser Health News, Medicare officials would like to see a change in phraseology going forward. “We are recommending not using the word ‘exchange’” in enrollment materials, said Julie Bataille, director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of Communications. The word, she observed, gives the impression that consumers may have to swap something.
So noted. But what does CMS suggest we use in its place? While no definite substitutes were recommended, Bataille did add that “[w]ords like ‘marketplace’ resonate much more with the consumer and also tend to be something that is all inclusive.”
But really, is “marketplace” any better? It sounds rather antiquated to our ears, like a gathering of ancient Greeks selling goods from pushcarts. Perhaps “health insurance boutique” or “health insurance shopping district” instead? We shall see… and anyway, Bataille said that CMS plans to get public feedback on whether to use the word “exchange” before making any changes.
The Food and Drug Administration is all over the news today:
An FDA advisory panel has recommended approval of the drug Truvada to prevent the spread of HIV infection in high-risk, healthy people, WebMD reports.
The Antiviral Drugs Advisory Committee recommended the agency allow the drug’s use for men who have sex with men; uninfected partners of HIV-positive partners; and others at risk of infection through sexual activity. Truvada was approved in 2004 to treat people already infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The New York Times reports that FDA advisors have recommended approval of the weight-loss drug lorcaserin, saying that its benefits outweighed potential risks. If the agency approves the drug by its scheduled deadline of June 27, lorcaserin would be the first new prescription diet pill to reach the market in 13 years.
Earlier this year, an advisory committee recommended approval of the weight-loss drug Qnexa. The agency is expected to decide whether to approve it by July 17.
The FDA has warned against the use of an experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis, the Los Angeles Times reports. Known as liberation therapy, the treatment is meant to open narrowed veins in the head and neck via the insertion of balloons or stents.
The agency claims that the therapy has caused death, strokes, nerve damage and abdominal bleeding and has no proven benefits for MS sufferers.
Taking care of your teeth is one of the best investments you can make for better health… and you get a dazzling smile to boot. In WebMD the Magazine, David Leader, DMD offers eight ways to keep your mouth in great shape. We summarize his suggestions below.
One more tip: If you have a good dental plan, use it to your advantage. And if you don’t… well, we just happen to know where your group can get one. For information about MedBen Dental, call Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.
Lengthy commutes can do more than drive up your gas budget – it may raise your weight as well, according to a new study.
ABC News reports that people who drive long distances to work tend to be more overweight than non-commuters. In reviewing the medical records of nearly 4,300 Texas commuters, researchers discovered that the more people drove, the less they exercised. In addition, extended time in the car appears to contribute to higher blood pressure.
“It could just be a function of having less discretionary time to be physically active,” said Christine Hoehner of Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., lead author of the study. “Or it could be related to people burning fewer calories because they’re sitting longer.”
Hoehner theorized that because commuter have less time to cook and more time to snack in the car, diet could also be to blame.
“I think the message for folks who live a long way from work and have a desk job is to find ways to build physical activity into their day,” said Hoehner, adding that workplaces should “allow and even encourage physical activity breaks.”
Some larger employers are experimenting with a different take on pharmaceutical benefits – one that pays for drugs based on their potential to prevent higher medical costs in the future.
An NPR story says that the approach, known as value-based insurance design, is already popular for lower-cost generic drugs that manage chronic conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. By offering reduced copays, companies hope to make these medicines even more affordable for patients, with the goal of avoiding more expensive care down the road.
But how would the concept work with pricier specialty drugs, such as those used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and cancer? Coming up with a working model may be tricky.
One issue that would have to be addressed is whether all patients, regardless of income, should have to pay the same price for a specialty drug. Another challenge: determining a copay for a condition that is uncomfortable but not crippling, such as psoriasis, compared to a more disabling condition, like rheumatoid arthritis.
“If you’ve got psoriasis, maybe you pay a 30% coinsurance for the drug,” suggests James Robinson, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “But if you’ve got rheumatoid arthritis, there’s no copayment.”
But Robinson adds that there is no simple method of determining medicinal values. “This stuff is complicated.”
Some dire predictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Not only will the number of overweight Americans continue to grow, the proportion considered “severely obese” will be more than double the current rate by 2030.
The Wall Street Journal Health Blog reports that the a study by CDC, in partnership with researchers at Duke University and research firm RTI International, estimates that the percentage of obese Americans will climb to 42% within two decades. Currently, one-third of Americans have a body mass index of 30 or more.
Severe obesity – a BMI of 40 and up, which was extremely rare prior to the early 1970s – will increase to 11% of the population by 2030. A severely obese person is at least 50% over their ideal weight.
“The world has changed in a way that allows people to be that overweight,” Eric Finkelstein, lead author of the study and associate professor at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, told the Health Blog. “Sixty or seventy years ago you couldn’t sustain the excess caloric intake needed to be that heavy.”
The CDC is also concerned about the obesity epidemic in children, and how it affects them later in life. An earlier study tracking weights of children to adulthood found that about 50% of severely obese adults were obese as children, said Bill Dietz, director of the agency’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.
A recent Associated Press article says that if the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, employers and insurance companies will drive future health care reform law. And should that scenario come to pass, experts expect that: