As MedBen clients Park National Corporation and Fisher-Titus Medical Center noted at a recent Wellness Conference, incentives – in the form of lower premiums, HRA contributions, or even sharing success stories – can spur member participation in a worksite wellness program. Typically, such perks are aimed at the individual level. But health care provider Kaiser Permanente and a coalition of unions are testing how peer pressure works in promoting healthy lifestyles:
“The contract signed this month by negotiators for Kaiser and the union coalition […] sets a modest fitness goal for its members – a 5% improvement in body mass, cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking rates by the end of 2016 – and promises financial rewards if the workers collectively stay on target. Although the details have to be ironed out, the rewards will be pegged to the savings that Kaiser sees in its healthcare costs. It’s hard to say how much of a bonus workers stand to reap, but considering how much the company spends on employee healthcare, the savings could be significant.
“The incentive is unusual because it’s based on the group’s progress, not each employee’s. That’s a departure from the typical approach, which stresses individual responsibility and rewards (or, less often, punishments). The theory is that workers will be more motivated if they know that their efforts will affect their colleagues’ pay as well as their own, and that groups of people are more likely to stay committed to diets and exercise than individuals.”
In a rare display of near-unanimous bipartisanship, the Senate last week voted to approve a bill that will give the federal government greater oversight of drug companies.
According to The New York Times, the bill, which passed by a vote of 96-1, would impose new requirements to notify the Food and Drug Administration of potential drug shortages. Agency officials could then take steps to “help mitigate or prevent” the shortages, such as by importing additional medicine from foreign countries.
Additionally, the bill would reauthorize user fees for brand-name drugs and medical devices, as well as introduce fees for the review of generic drugs, in order to help finance FDA evaluation of their products.
The fees for generic drugs “are expected to slash review times to a third of current levels, from 30 months to 10 months, and will improve the speed with which generic products are made available to patients,” said Senator Tom Harkin (D-Ia.), the chief sponsor of the bill.
The lone holdout in approving the bill was Senator Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), who said the measure did “far too little” to make drugs more affordable.
The House of Representatives is expected to okay a similar bill this week. President Obama, consumer groups and pharmaceutical companies strongly support the legislation.
The staff of MedBen want to wish you and your family a happy and safe Memorial Day!
Our home office will be closed on Monday, May 28 in observance of the holiday. We will reopen at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, May 29, 2012.
During this time, please remember that clients can use the online services of MedBen Access to check on benefit coverage and the status of any pending claims. Simply go to www.medben.com and select “Online Client Services". On the left sidebar, click on “MedBen Access". For those who use Pharmacy Data Management (PDM) as their pharmacy benefits manager, you can check on prescription claims and find lower cost drug options through MedBen Access by clicking on the “Rx” button located in the “My Claims” section of this website.
If you’re a MedBen Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) participant in addition to having other coverage, you also can now use MedBen Access to see your FSA/HRA balances, claims submissions and payments. When you log in to MedBen Access, you’ll find an “FSA/HRA Online Inquiry” option (visible only to groups offering MedBen FSAs/HRAs) under the “My Plan” section located on the left sidebar. By selecting this option, users are automatically taken to the MedBen FSA/HRA Online System.
Plan members who still wish to log in directly to the MedBen FSA/HRA Online System can do so by going to the Online Client Services area of medben.com and selecting “FSA/HRA Employee Online System". Login requires a separate User ID and PIN.
Judging by some of our earlier blog posts, there must be weeks that supplement makers just dread reading the headlines. well, here’s another double-dose of bad news that will have ‘em reaching for the antacids…
According to USA Today, a report published in the journal Heart says that taking a calcium supplement to help prevent bones from thinning puts people at a greater risk for heart attacks. The study of approximately 24,000 people ages 35-64 found participants who took regular calcium supplements were 86% more likely to have a heart attack than those who didn’t take supplements.
“Calcium supplements have been widely embraced by doctors and the public, on the grounds that they are a natural and therefore safe way of preventing osteoporatic fractures,” the authors write. “We should return to seeing calcium as an important component of a balanced diet.”
WebMD reports that taking some supplements may increase the risk of liver damage. Using data from a national registry, researchers found that herbal and dietary supplement use may has contributed to 18% of liver injury cases between 2003 and 2011.
Bodybuilding and weight loss supplements were by far the biggest offenders, linked to 34% and 26% of 93 cases studied, respectively, says researcher Victor J. Navarro, MD, a professor of medicine, pharmacology, and experimental therapeutics at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
Navarro did note that the risk of liver damage by supplement use alone was very small, and many supplements are beneficial to your health.
Some positive news for diabetes patients: A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people with the disease are living longer.
According to My Health News Daily, the report states that “between 1997 and 2004, the percentage of people with diabetes who died from any cause dropped 23 percent, and the percentage of people who died from heart disease or stroke dropped 40 percent.”
Researchers attribute the decline in death rates to such factors as improved treatments for heart disease, better diabetes management and healthy lifestyle changes. People with diabetes smoke less and exercise more than in previous decades.
The report did note, however, that obesity rates among people with diabetes continued to increase. Also, because people with diabetes are living longer and the rates of new cases being diagnosed is increasing, the overall number of people with the disease will continue to go up as well.
MedBen Worksite Wellness members with diabetes receive individualized disease monitoring and nurse coaching to help them manage their condition. For additional information, contact Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.
Reuters reports that long-acting birth control methods are much more effective at preventing pregnancies than pills and other short-acting alternatives, a new study suggests.
“We found that participants using oral contraceptive pills, a transdermal patch or a vaginal ring had a risk of contraceptive failure that was 20 times as high as the risk among those using long-acting reversible contraception,” said the research team, led by Dr. Brooke Winner of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Long-term contraception methods include intrauterine devices (IUDs), hormone shots and skin implants.
Researchers allowed 7,500 women and teens from the St. Louis area to choose from a variety of contraceptive methods at no cost. Follow-up interviews were conducted for three years – and in the span, participants had a total of 334 unplanned pregnancies.
Age factored into the rate of unintended pregnancies: Women under 21 who used pills and other shi\ort-acting methods had almost twice as many unintended pregnancies as older women who used those methods, the researchers reported.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recently dropped some non-too-subtle hints that the screening guidelines for prostate cancer screening should be changed. Earlier this week, the government advisory panel finally announced that the PSA should be abandoned as a testing tool.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the task force said that only one will be saved for every 1,000 men screened over a 10-year period. But 100 to 120 men will have suspicious results when there is no cancer, resulting in biopsies that can carry complications such as pain, fever, bleeding, infection and hospitalization.
The task force also notes that if cancer is detected, 90% of men will receive surgery or radiation treatments even though the tumors are rarely life-threatening. And such side effects as impotence, urinary incontinence and even heart attacks may occur from the treatment.
The panel did acknowledge that “some men will continue to request screening and some physicians will continue to offer it.” They recommended that doctors and patients carefully discuss the benefits and risks.
Doctors are divided on the recommendations, the Times reports."PSA testing is really a boon to men, and they’re throwing it out because they underestimate the benefits and overstate the harms,” said Dr. William J. Catalona, a urologist. But professor of medicine Dr. H. Gilbert Welch disagreed: “There’s probably some benefit, but it’s so small and the harms are so much more common. And they matter.”
The Department of Health and Human Services recently launched a web-based tool that gives consumers access to a large collection of health care data. According to an HHS news release, the Health System Measurement Project allows “policymakers, providers, and the public to develop consistent data-driven views of changes in critical U.S. health system indicators.”
The website allows visitors to “quickly view data on a given topical area from multiple sources, compare trends across measures and compare national trends with those at the state and regional level areas,” the news relase notes. Topical areas available for review include access to care, cost & affordability, coverage and prevention, among others.
Some of the chart content is interactive, so the user can compare, for example, the Mean Total Premium for Employer Sponsored Insurance by level of coverage (single, employee-plus-one or family) and specific years.
“Ensuring all Americans have access to these data is an important way to make our health care system more open and transparent,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the release.
According to the site, “one important purpose of the project is to track the consequences of implementation of” the Affordable Care Act on the nation’s health care system. But in an article on the launch, Modern Healthcare observes that much of the initial data available only goes up to 2009 or 2010 – before the law took effect or had time to make any sort of impact.
Accusations that pharmacy sales reps have unduly influenced physicians to prescribe their products has led many doctors to say “no” to pitch meetings – and the free meals, trips and other gifts that often accompany them. But a new study suggests that cutting back on facetime or severing ties from sales reps altogether may have a downside. Blogger Ed Silverman writes:
“After the FDA approved the first-in-class Januvia diabetes pill, for instance, docs who had little interaction with reps took longer to write prescriptions than docs whose access to reps was not as restricted. Meanwhile, physicians who rarely, if ever, saw reps were slowest to change their prescribing habits after negative news emerged about the Avandia diabetes pill and the Vytorin cholesterol drug…
“’These findings emphasize that limiting access to pharmaceutical representatives can have the unintended effect of reducing appropriate responses to negative information about drugs just as much as responses to positive information about innovative drugs,’ the authors wrote in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension, adding that specialists were more responsive to changes in information than primary care docs. ‘This result has significant clinical implications given that primary care physicians represent the first line of medical treatment for patients in our health care system.’”
The Centers for Disease Control recently released its annual state of the union’s health. The federally mandated report serves as a benchmark for the current physical condition of the nation compared to past decades, as well as spending habits and access to health care.
Here are selected highlights from the report, according to WebMD (you can find more on their website):
A recent study by RAND Corp determined that a rise in the use of consumer-driven health plans could signficantly reduce U.S. health care costs, The Hill reports.
CDHPs currently account for about 13% of all health care coverage provided by employers, the study says. But if the plans’ market share rose to 50%, health care costs in the United States could drop by $57 billion annually.
The study’s authors did express concern as to whether CDHP savings would only be realized in the short term. But on John Goodman’s Health Policy Blog, Greg Scandlen cites some earlier research:
“First year savings are the least of it. The real value of consumer driven approaches is that trend is reduced and the savings mount up over time. The 2009 study by the American Academy of Actuaries, for one, found that the trend over time for CDHPs ranged from 12% to 17% lower than for traditional plans…
“Importantly these savings do not accrue solely to employers. The study looks at out-of-pocket costs as well as premiums, and concludes that families themselves reduced their costs by over 20%.”
At MedBen, our experience has shown that companies offering CHDPs can maintain long-term savings for employers and employees without sacrificing needed medical services. To learn more, please call Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.
Many communities offer prescription drug “take-back” programs to safely dispose of unused medicines. But a new study suggests that properly tossing the old drugs in the trash is just as effective.
According to WebMD, researchers used a complicated methodology called “comparative life cycle assessment” to estimate the environmental impact of flushing, incinerating, and trashing old medications. They found little difference between burning the drugs – which is what most take-back programs do – and having them end up in the landfill.
Steven J. Skerlos, PhD of the University of Michigan told WebMD that these programs may actually be worse for the environment than throwing drugs in the trash due to the greenhouse gases produced by transporting and burning the medications.
If there are no disposal instructions given on the drug label or patient information sheet, the FDA recommends throwing away some prescriptions by:
One major exception: expecially harmful medications, including pain relievers and other drugs that are widely abused, like methadone, morphine, OxyContin, and Percocet. These should should be flushed down the toilet or sink to eliminate any chance that a child or pet will find them, the FDA says.
The Centers for Disease Control has proposed that all baby boomers get tested for hepatitis C, the Associated Press reports.
In draft recommendations issued on May 18, the government agency stated that anyone born from 1945 to 1965 should get a one-time blood test to see if they have the blood-borne virus, which can destroy one’s liver over multiple decades. Baby boomers account for more that 2 of the 3.2 million Americans infected with the virus.
“The CDC views hepatitis C as an unrecognized health crisis for the country, and we believe the time is now for a bold response,” said Dr. John W. Ward, the CDC’s hepatitis chief. In its proposal, the agency noted that the number of Americans dying from hepatitis C-related diseases nearly doubled from 1999 to 2007.
Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants, and a contributing factor in more than 15,000 U.S. deaths annually. CDC officials believe that the testing could spur 800,000 more baby boomers to get treatment and could save more than 120,000 lives.
Doug Freeman, previously President and Chief Executive Officer of Medical Benefits Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MedBen), was elected Chairman of the Board and CEO of the health benefits management company at a meeting of its Board of Directors on May 17. Kurt Harden, previously Executive Vice President, has been named President, Chief Operating Officer and Treasurer.
Freeman succeeds Art Morrow, who has served on the MedBen Board since 1978 and as its Chairman since 1987. “Under Doug’s leadership, MedBen has grown from an established group health insurer to an innovative benefits manager offering a wide range of services,” said the former Chairman, who will remain on the Board as Secretary and General Counsel.
“These changes are part of a succession plan put in place several years ago and I believe make it clear that MedBen plans to have continued growth and even greater success in the future, “Morrow added. ”The company turns 75 years old next year and we’re all hoping for another 75.”
Prior to becoming Chairman, Freeman served as MedBen’s President and CEO since 1987. “Continuity is critical”, said Freeman. “We want our clients to know we’re here for them for the long run.”
Freeman emphasized that while the titles may have changed, the principal roles really haven’t. “Kurt remains primarily responsible for our product and service offerings, from sale through administration, although he’ll operate with more autonomy. And, of course, our roles will evolve over the next several years.”
Harden joined MedBen in May 1991 as Director of Public Affairs, and was named Vice President of External Affairs two years later. In 2002, he was named Senior Vice President, and promoted to Executive Vice President, COO and Treasurer in 2011.
“Kurt joined MedBen at a pivotal time in the company’s history, as we were making the transition from traditional insurance to community-focused health care plans, as well as third party administration,” Freeman said. “His business insight and creative spirit have been vital to everything we have accomplished in the past two decades.”
MedBen presently offers a variety of benefits management offerings, including fully-insured and self-funded options, consumer-driven health plans and worksite wellness programs. The 2010 passage of federal health care reforms will mean new challenges for MedBen, but the company looks forward to facing them.
“We’ve never been a company to rest on our laurels,” Harden said. “So regardless of whatever regulatory changes arise, we’ll continue to operate with an eye on increasing service efficiency while lowering client costs.”
The Newark, Ohio-based company has provided group health benefits management services since 1938.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved generic versions of the popular blood thinner Plavix. The Associated Press reports that seven generic dugmakers have been given permission to sell the drug in the standard 75-milligram dose, while four companies can sell a 300-milligram dose.
Plavix, the world’s second-best-selling medicine, is used by millions of people every day to prevent heart attacks and strokes. The drug prevents platelets in the blood from clumping together.
The patent for Plavix, which is marketed jointly by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Sanofi SA, recently expired. To encourage patients to stick with the brand-name version, the two drug companies are offering coupons that give a big discount off the retail price, which is about $200 per month.
Generic Plavix should be available beginning this weekend. Its average price is expected to be about $40 a month without insurance.
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.