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07/20/12

  12:12:08 pm, by MedBen5   , 318 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

New Weight Loss Drugs Generate Questions, Opinions

With two new weight loss drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration within three weeks of each other, questions about their comparative effectiveness are inevitable. In response, WebMD has developed a Belviq/Qsymia FAQ. Here, we highlight their response to the question likely on the mind of potential users:

Which works better, Belviq or Qsymia?

There’s no way to know for sure. Qsymia and Belviq have never been tested in a head-to-head clinical trial.

In the placebo-controlled clinical trials that led to approval:

  • People taking Belviq had an average weight loss that was 3% to 3.7% greater than people taking placebo.
  • After taking Belviq for one or two years, some 47% of people without diabetes lost at least 5% of their body weight. Only 23% of patients taking an inactive placebo lost this much weight.
  • People taking Qsymia for up to one year had an average weight loss of 8.9% over those taking an inactive placebo.
  • 70% of people taking Qsymia lost at least 5% of their body weight. Only 20% of patients taking an inactive placebo lost this much weight.

These numbers cannot be used to compare the two drugs, as the clinical trials had different designs.

Meanwhile, Healthday News talked to two health experts about how the drugs will affect the country’s obesity epidemic – and both said some perspective is needed:

“The bottom line is there’s no such thing as a magic pill and I hope that individuals do not think by taking this pill that it will ensure long-term weight loss,” said Keri Gans, a registered dietitian in New York City. “We need to be reminded that diet and exercise are still critical.”

And Dr. Michael Aziz, an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said, “The problem that all the drug companies are overlooking is the fact that obesity is really multi-factorial. It’s not only related to diet and exercise but also to hormonal imbalances, stress and lack of sleep.”

  11:38:30 am, by MedBen5   , 206 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

House Subcommittee Passes Bill To Defund ACA

Republicans in the House of Representatives are certainly not letting any moss grow beneath their feet these days. Just one week after the full legislature passed a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a House Appropriations subcommittee voted 8-6 to approve a spending bill that would defund the law.

According to POLITICO, the Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill would cut $1.3 billion in funding for HHS. It would also eliminate the 20-year-old Agency for Health Care Quality and Research, a move that upset Democratic committee members, all of whom voted against the bill.

AHRQ is “the only federal agency whose sole mission is to improve the quality, safety and cost efficiency of health care,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Ca.) She called it “our best weapon” to advance health research.

In response to the criticism, subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) told POLITICO, “It all boils down to, we have more government right now than we can afford. We were given an allocation of $150 billion. We did everything we possibly could to meet as many of the needs as we could,”

One lone Republican, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, joined Democrats in opposing the bill, saying it did not go far enough in reducing the federal deficit.

  10:37:32 am, by MedBen5   , 164 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Whooping Cough On Pace For Most Cases In 50+ Years

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that 2012 will probably experience the highest number of whooping cough cases since 1959, USA Today reports.

Known formally as pertussis, whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial disease that is particularly dangerous to infants and young children. It results in severe coughing that causes children to make a distinctive whooping sound.

As of July, almost 18,000 cases have been reported – over twice as many at this point last year. Public health officials theorize that a switch in vaccine types 15 years ago may be partially responsible for the increase.

While most infants are vaccinated against the disease, only 8.2% of adults are – and they are the one most lilkely to infect infants, said Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

In addition to ensuring infants and young children receive the tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine, CDC also recommends that adults get a booster shot every 10 years. Women should also get vaccinated before or early in pregnancy.

07/19/12

  03:25:49 pm, by MedBen5   , 207 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Health Plan Management

Some Physicians Doubling As Pharmacists

The New York Times recently reported on doctors who double as pharmacists, dispensing drugs to patients themselves – often at greatly inflated costs.

The way it works: Physician dispensing companies serve as middlemen, helping doctors set up in-office pharmacies. They’re aided by drug distributors who repackage medications for office sale. And the three parties share the profits from selling the drugs at huge markups – sometimes as much as ten times the retail price.

The practice is most common among doctors who treat injured employees, as the workers’ compensation insurance rules in many states contain loopholes that allow them to bump up the cost to patients. And indeed, it is the workers – as well as employers, insurers, and taxpayers – that end up paying the higher prices.

It should be stressed that the vast majority of physicians don’t practice in this manner. But this is a perfect example of why it can pay to understand the real costs of health care products.

MedBen prescription plan members have a great resource to check and compare medication prices: RxEOB. Available through the MedBen Access website to registered members, this service allows users to enter drug names and see their retail costs, and check if lower-cost alternatives are available.

  12:12:50 pm, by MedBen5   , 222 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Think Tank Calls Tax Credits For Federally-Run Exchanges "Illegal"

Have challengers of the Affordable Care Act found a way to get it back into a courtroom? According to NPR, it depends on who you ask.

The think tank Cato Institute, which opposes the health care reform law, says a oversight regarding health insurance exchanges merits judicial review. The law states that low- and middle-income individuals who get coverage through state-run marketplaces may receive financial assistance in the form of tax credits. And if a state doesn’t develop an exchange, the the federal government will set one up and run it instead.

All well and good. Except…

“The statute doesn’t authorize tax credits in federal health insurance exchanges; it authorizes them solely through state health insurance exchanges,” says Michael Cannon, head of health policy at the Cato Institute. As a result, IRS rules allowing tax credits to be offered in exchanges run by either the states or the federal govenment are “illegal.”

But not everyone agrees with that logic.

“This is an interesting theory, but it’s completely contrary to the structure of the legislation and even the language of the legislation,” saysTimothy Jost, a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law. He argues that the language of the law clearly infers that a federally run exchange will work just like a state exchange, and that includes providing tax credits.

  10:28:55 am, by MedBen5   , 206 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Prostate Surgery Doesn't Help Most Cancer Patients, Study Says

The best way to detect and treat prostate cancer – and whether either course of action is even necessary – has come under a fair amount of debate lately.

Earlier this week, an expert panel refuted U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines that recommend men don’t get prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests. And on its heels comes a new study that found prostate cancer surgery offers no benefits to most men with the disease.

According to NPR, researchers involved in the decades-long study detected no difference in rates of death from prostate cancer – or any other cause, for that matter – among men who had their prostates surgically removed compared to those who didn’t. In their published findings, the researchers concluded:

“Our findings support observation for men with localized prostate cancer, especially those who have a low PSA value and those who have low-risk disease. Up to two thirds of men who have received a diagnosis of prostate cancer have a low PSA value or low-risk disease, but nearly 90% receive early intervention – typically surgery or radiotherapy.”

The findings do suggest, however, that patients with high-risk cancers may have lower death rates than men whose PSA results also indicated high risk but didn’t have surgery.

07/18/12

  05:15:45 pm, by MedBen5   , 129 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Majority Of Doctors Now Use Electronic Health Records

According to HealthDay News, a new national survey found that 55% of U.S. doctors now use some type of electronic health record system. And among those don’t, nearly half said they plan to implement a system in the coming year.

Other findings in the survey, which was conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics:

  • About 75% of doctors with a system in place said it plays a “meaningful” role in their practice, as defined by federal legislation designed to promote electronic health record use;
  • 47% of users are “somewhat” satisfied with the integration of the system in their daily operations, while 38% are “very” satisfied; and
  • Younger physicians and those with larger practices are more likely to already have a system in place.
  03:47:51 pm, by MedBen5   , 168 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

FDA Approves Second Weight Loss Drug In Two Months

For over a decade, the pharmaceutical industry offered only one option for severely overweight people desiring a weight-loss drug – Xenical, which was rarely prescribed and only somewhat effective. But within the last three weeks, two competitors have entered the market.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved Qsymia (pronounced kyoo sim EE uh) for treatment of obesity, The New York Times reports. Clinical trials have demonstrated that the drug offers a greater potential for weight loss compared to Xenical and Belviq, which the FDA approved last month. Participants who took a regimen of middle-dose Qsymia lost an average of 8.4% of their weight after one year, while high-dose patients lost 10.6%.

However, like the two competing drugs, Qsymia has side effects that must be weighed against its benefits. Earlier tests revealed that usage raises the risk of birth defects if used by pregnant women and can cause elevated heart rates and cognitive problems.

Qsymia is expected to be available in the fourth quarter, according to Vivus, the drug’s manufacturer.

  12:59:10 pm, by MedBen5   , 230 words,  
Categories: Announcements

A Few Lesser-Known Health Care Reform Provisions

When you put together a health care reform law that’s 2,700 pages long, chances are they’ll be plenty of content that receives little notice. While the individual mandate and state health exchanges get all the headlines, many of the details are unknown to the general public.

David Schultz and Christian Torres recently compiled “Ten Things You Didn’t Know Were In The Affordable Care Act". we highlight several provisions below; you can find the complete list at Kaiser Health News.

Postpartum Depression: Urges the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct a multi-year study into the causes and effects of postpartum depression. It authorized $3 million in 2010 and such sums as necessary in 2011 and 2012 to provide services to women at risk of postpartum depression.

Power-Driven Wheelchairs: Revises Medicare payment levels for power-driven wheelchairs and makes it so that only “complex” and “rehabilitative” wheelchairs can be purchased; all others must be rented.

Oral Health Care: Instructs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to embark on a five-year national public education campaign to promote oral health care measures such as “community water fluoridation and dental sealants.”

Transparency on Drug Samples: Requires pharmaceutical manufacturers that provide doctors or hospitals with samples of their drugs to submit to the Department of Health and Human Services the names and addresses of the providers that requested the samples, as well as the amount of drugs they received.

  10:12:33 am, by MedBen5   , 152 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Lack Of Physical Activity Linked To 10% Of Premature Deaths

Smoking and obesity frequently get linked to reduced mortality. Now, a new study suggests that physical inactivity also factors into premature deaths – and is the primary contributor in about 10% of cases.

USA Today reports that a Harvard Medical School analysis concluded that of the approximately 57 million deaths worldwide expected this year, about 5.3 million of them will be premature deaths in which a lack of physical activity was the contributing factor.

Staying physically active benefits the body in a variety of ways. In addition to controlling blood pressure and lowering cholesterol, it reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke and developing type 2 diabetes.

According to the article, “[t]he U.S. government’s physical activity guidelines recommend that people do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types.”

07/17/12

  05:13:44 pm, by MedBen5   , 218 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Cancer Panel Disputes Federal Recommendations For PSA Screenings

Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that physicians no longer offer prostate cancer screenings to male patients. The panel’s rationale was that far more men would receive false positives than would actually benefit from the tests – and when cancer is detected, the tumors are rarely life-threatening.

Not so fast, says the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

According to HealthDay (via Medical Xpress), a panel of experts from the cancer organization countered that men with a life expectancy of 10 years or more should talk to their doctor about getting a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. The panel did agree that for men who would likely die earlier, the risks outweigh the benefits.

“We felt from our review that doing the PSA blood test does save lives in certain groups of men,” said panel co-chair Dr. Robert Nam, a uro-oncologist. “That’s where we differ from the task force recommendation.”

The panel based its conclusions on a study that suggested PSA screenings could reduce reduce deaths from prostate cancer by 20% among men with more than 10 years of life expectancy.

MedBen follows American Cancer Society guidelines, which recommend that men at age 50 who are at average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live at least 10 more years consult with their primary care physician about getting a screening.

  12:06:22 pm, by MedBen5   , 266 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Repeal Reform On Day One? Not Likely

If elected president, Mitt Romney vows that he will repeal the Affordable Care Act on day one of his administration. Which means that once the swearing-in is taken care of and the token appearances at all of the inaugural balls have been made, the health care reform law is as good as gone. Simple as that.

Or not.

As the Associated Press spells out, things in Washington, DC seldom work as quicky as promised. Remember President Obama’s pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on his “day one"? It’s still open, last time we checked. Likewise, rescinding health care reform will take more than just writing up a repeal document and signing it:

“Republicans have to first pass a budget. It’s the only way than [sic] can invoke special Senate rules that allow legislation to pass with just a simple majority vote – instead of the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate to beat a filibuster. […]

e first step is to pass a budget resolution – a nonbinding, broad-brush outline of budget goals like cutting or increasing taxes, or slowing increases in Medicare. A budget resolution sets the terms for follow-up legislation that’s called a reconciliation bill in Washington argot.

“Two years ago, Democrats used a reconciliation bill to finalize the health care law with a 56-43, party-line vote in the Senate.

“Republicans have a problem in that there’s a lot more on their agenda than just repealing the health care law, and it’s all going to have to be crammed into a budget resolution and follow-up reconciliation bill, too.”

Read more at Yahoo! Health.

  11:05:21 am, by MedBen5   , 199 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

FDA Approves Drug To Prevent Spread Of HIV

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of the drug Truvada for individuals who have tested negative for HIV, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Clinical studies have shown that if taken once a day, Truvada could reduce transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, by as much as 75% if used in combination with safe sex practices. The drug had previously been approved in 2004 to help treat people already infected with the virus.

Reaction to the approval has been mixed. Marjorie Hill, chief executive of the AIDS group GayMen’s HealthCrisis, called it a “big step” to preventing the spread of the virus. “It’s going to save lives,” Hill said.

But Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, worries that making Truvada available to those who have tested negative will take more risks. “If you look back five years from today, you will see this decision by the FDA will cause there to be more infections, not less,” Weinstein said.

The FDA will require that individuals first have an HIV test before receiving a prescription to ensure they are not infected, and get a follow-up test every three months thereafter. A year’s supply of the drug costs $13,900.

  10:37:44 am, by MedBen5   , 160 words,  
Categories: Wellness

When Buying Sunscreen, Check The Label

If you’re in the market for sunscreen, there’s a lot of options available. And just grabbing for whatever’s on sale usually isn’t the best solution.

According to HealthDay News, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that before buying sunscreen, read the label carefully and choose a brand that offers:

  • Broad-spectrum coverage (label may say “broad spectrum,” “protects against UVA/UVB” or “UVA/UVB protection").
  • SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Water resistance.

A higher SPF number provides greater protection, but to the uninformed, the numbers can be deceiving. A SPF of 30, for example, doesn’t provide twice the protection of an SPF 15. Actually, an SPF 30 screens out 97% of UV rays, while an SPF 15 screens 93%. By way of comparison, an SPF 2 screens just 50% of UV rays.

The AAD also advises that sunscreen users:

  • Re-apply sunscreen every two hours when outdoors;
  • Find shade whenever your shadow appears to be shorter than you are; and
  • Wear protective clothing, including long sleeves, pants, wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

07/16/12

  02:57:48 pm, by MedBen5   , 204 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Scammers Using ACA To Get Personal Info, FTC Warns

Con artists have proven time and again that they will leave no stone unturned in their quest to bilk unsuspecting individuals, so it should come as no surprise that they have latched onto the Affordable Care Act as a money-making scheme. The Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning to consumers that scammers are using the health care reform law as a means to gather personal information:

“[Scammers] say they’re from the government and that, using the Affordable Care Act as a hook, they need to verify some information. They might have the routing number from your bank, and then use that information to get you to reveal the entire account number. Or, they’ll ask for your credit card or Social Security number, Medicare ID, or other personal information.

“The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, advises consumers not to give out personal or financial information in response to unsolicited phone calls, emails, or knocks on your door. Scam artists want your information to commit identity theft, charge your existing credit cards, debit your checking account, open new credit card, checking, or savings accounts, write fraudulent checks, or take out loans in your name.”

Read the complete alert at the FTC website.

  01:10:11 pm, by MedBen5   , 249 words,  
Categories: News

Food Journals Help Dieters, But Skipping Meals Doesn't

When you spend the better part of your workday sitting in front of a computer, it’s easy to get into the habit of eating without thinking – you know, just grazing from the bag of whatever snack is on your desk. It’s also not uncommon to get so wrapped up in what you’re do (or so filled up from all the snacking) that you pass up lunch. Or when you do eat, you grab-and-go from a fast food drive-thru. But such tendencies typically contribute to unwanted pounds, according to new research.

Reuters reports that keeping tabs on daily food consumption helped study participants – all overweight and obese women ages 50 to 75 – lose weight. Women who kept journals dropped six pounds more than those who didn’t. And the more journals they completed, the more weight they lost.

The research, performed by scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, also found that women who skipped meals lost eight pounds less than those who ate regularly. And ladies who lunched in a restaurant at least weekly lost on average five fewer pounds.

“Knowing what you are eating and knowing how much you are eating seem to be the key,” Anne McTiernan, the director of the Hutchinson Center’s Prevention Center who conducted the study, said in an interview.

“For individuals who are trying to lose weight, the No. 1 piece of advice based on these study results would be to keep a food journal to help meet daily calorie goals.”

07/13/12

  04:32:48 pm, by MedBen5   , 182 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Study Shows Usefulness Of Online Compliance Checks

Reuters reports that online access to medical records may spur patients to stay up to date on recommended preventive care, according to a new study.

A clinical trial at eight primary care practices found that 25% of patients who could personally check electronic health records were current on screening tests and immunizations. That was double the rate of non-users.

Researchers randomly assigned 4,500 patients to either stick with normal care or have the chance to access their health records on a secure website. If the latter group went to the site, they could download a personalized list of preventive services they should get.

Wellness Complaince Info Screen

MedBen Worksite Wellness offers a similar online service. Wellness program members can check their compliance with six critical wellness examinations, based on age and gender: Annual Wellness Exam, Cholesterol, Colonoscopy, Mammography, PSA and Pap Smear.

If you’re a member of the wellness program, you can check your compliance simply by logging on to the MedBen Access website and clicking the Wellness Plan link under “My Plan” on the sidebar. From there, you’ll be taken to your personalized wellness information page.

  01:12:46 pm, by MedBen5   , 194 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Affordable Care Act A Tax, Voters Say

The Supreme Court ruled last month that a financial charge for Americans who don’t purchase health insurance constitutes a tax. But how do Americans feel about? Based on a new Quinnipiac poll, most people think the court got it right.

National Journal reports that 55% of voters polled say the Affordable Care Act is a tax increase, compared with 36% who say it isn’t. “President Barack Obama has worked mightily to avoid the ‘T’ word, but most American voters say the ACA is in effect a tax hike,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement.

As for whether the Supreme Court made the right decision in upholding the health care reform law, voters are pretty evenly divided, with those who agree with the decision edging out dissenters by a 48%-45% margin. But 49% voters also say Congress should repeal the law, while 43% oppose repeal.

“The big question is whether the Republicans can sell the idea to voters that the president’s Affordable Care Act breaks his promise not to raise taxes on those who make less than $250,000,” Brown said. “That’s why what voters believe on this issue matters.”

  12:20:20 pm, by MedBen5   , 240 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

In Extreme Heat, Electric Fans Won't Help

When the weather gets as hot as it’s been lately, most of us crank up the air conditioner – or, lacking that, an electric fan. But the latter option may do more harm than good, according to a new review published in the Cochrane Library:

“Unlike air conditioning, electric fans don’t actually cool the air, but bring in cooler air from outside if placed near a window. That backfires, however, when air temperatures rise over 95°F – using an electric fan when it’s that hot can actually increase your body’s heat stress by blowing air that is warmer than the ideal body temperature over your skin. You may still feel a cooling sensation as the fan’s breeze evaporates your sweat, but increases in hot-air circulation and sweat evaporation can actually speed heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion.

“’An increase [in] sweating can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. If these fluids and electrolytes are not replaced quickly enough, there is a possibility [that fans] may do more harm than good,’ say the authors of the review.”

Read more at Time.com. As the article notes, if the thermometer rises above 90 decgrees and you lack A/C, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking a cool shower or bath, avoiding stove or oven use, and seeking cooler temperatures at a mall, library or a heat-relief shelter.

The CDC website offers additional tips on extreme heat safety.

07/12/12

  03:41:46 pm, by MedBen5   , 205 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Health Plan Management

U.S. Will See Slow Rx Spending Growth, Data Firm Predicts

The Associated Press reports that the United States and other developed countries will experience slow growth in prescription drug spending over the next four years, according to a new forecast from IMS Health. The pharmaceutical data firm attributed the trend to a sharp rise in new low-cost generic drugs and slower increases in what those countries spend on brand-name medications.

Shed no tears for pharmaceutical companies, however… during the same period (2012 to 2016) emerging markets such as China, India and Russia will boost drugmakers’ bottom lines. Total spending worldwide will rise from about $956 billion in 2011 to just under $1.2 trillion in 2016, but rebates and discounts from drug companies will reduce the cost by about 15% that year, to a mere $1 trillion.

And while we’re on the subject… MedBen passes through 100% of negotiated discounts and delivers 100% of paid rebates back to the client. Additionally, we offer some of the most competitive generic drug discounts in the industry.

Our progressive approach to employee prescription benefits has consistently beat the odds by producing better-than-national results. Employers using the MedBen prescription program typically see cost trends of 5% lower than national trends, on average.

For further information about pharmaceutical planning, contract MedBen Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.

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