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06/01/12

  01:11:28 pm, by MedBen5   , 137 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Ways & Means Committee Approves Repeal Of Medical Device Tax

Yesterday, the House Ways & Means Committee voted 23-11 to repeal a tax on medical devices. Reuters reports that the measure is expected to pass the full Republican-controlled House of Representatives, but not the Democtrat-led Senate.

The provision of the Affordable Care Act, set to go into effect in 2013, would impose a 2.3% excise tax on the sale of medical devices by manufacturers, producers or importers. Eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and other retail devices are exempt from the tax.

All 21 Republicans on the Committee, and two Democrats, voted for the repeal, saying that it would hurt businesses and employment in the medical device industry. The 11 Democrats who opposed the bill countered that Republican sponsors had not an offset to make up for the $29 billion that repeal would cost the U.S. Treasury in lost tax revenue through 2022.

  12:25:04 pm, by MedBen5   , 185 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Health Care Costs Will Rise 7.5% Next Year, Report Predicts

Health care costs are expected to rise 7.5% in 2013, according to management consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers. In its annual report on the nation’s medical cost trend, the company’s Health Research Institute said that it would mark the fourth consecutive year that the annual cost increase is less than 8%.

The actual increase may be closer to 5.5% when accounting for changes in insurance benefits, such as higher deductibles and co-payments, the report said.

In 2010 and 2011, the Health Research Institute projected 9% growth in costs. It now estimates actual growth in those years came in as much as two percentage points lower.

In an article on the report, Bloomberg noted that such factors as inexpensive walk-up health clinics, lower costs for drugs and medical supplies and state laws requiring hospitals to publish prices may all contribute to the smaller cost increases of late.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-31/pace-of-rising-health-costs-may-slow-for-u-s-study-says.html

But upcoming years may see higher increases, due in part to health care reform. The report says that when the Affordable Care Act expands coverage to an additional 30 million Americans in 2014, it may cause “a spike in spending.”

  11:36:36 am, by MedBen5   , 331 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Lots Of Feedback On Proposed Big Beverage Ban

The announcement that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a prohibition on big-sized sugery drinks in restaurants, theaters and other venues – though, it should be noted, not convenience and grocery stores – has met been with a swift, and largely negative, reaction from private and public sectors alike.

Not surprisingly, high-profile representatives of the beverage and fast-food industries oppose the ban:

“New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase,” Coca-Cola said in a statement.

“Public health issues cannot be effectively addressed through a narrowly focused and misguided ban,” said Heather Oldani, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s.

Disapproval also came from New York lawmakers on both sides of the aisle:

“I understand where [Mayor Bloomberg’s] going with it,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.). “We do have an obesity problem, but where do we draw the line? Are we going to regulate how many cookies people can buy at the cookie shop, how many cakes people can buy at the cake shop, how many ice creams people can get from the ice cream shop?”

“I think there’s a point that some parental and individual responsibility should take hold, and I don’t want to regulate people’s lives to this extent – however good the purposes are, and the intent,” said Rep. Bob Turner (R-N.Y.).

But Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, praised the mayor’s efforts to combat obesity: “It’s really the responsibility of a health department to reduce chronic disease rates. New York City is saying that’s our responsibility and we’re going do it.”

And the Los Angeles Times editorialized:

“[T]elling the average person that he has to eat X or cannot eat Y goes a step further. It intrudes on personal decisions that consumers make with their own dollars that affect just their own bodies. That’s what makes even a relatively tame proposal such as Bloomberg’s big-cup ban so controversial.”

05/31/12

  11:28:34 am, by MedBen5   , 192 words,  
Categories: Wellness, Health Plan Management

Skipping Eye Exams No Bargain

When it comes to vision care, don’t trust your eyes.

Put another way: Just because you see fine, that doesn’t mean there may not be trouble lurking underneath the surface.

A WebMD article about eye care bargains notes that to save money, many people choose to skip regular optometrist exams. But short-term savings now can translate to big expenses – and, more importantly, potential vision problems down the road.

Blinding diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy – the top cause of blindness among U.S. adults – often don’t produce any notable symptoms until the damage becomes irreversible. But timely care allows doctors to treat such diseases before they can do permanent harm.

MedBen VisionPlus plan members have access to low-cost, high-quality eye care. In addition to covering regular exams and basic eyeglass lenses from network physicians in full, the plan offers generous allowances for frames and contact lenses. Best of all, regular check-ups from a VisionPlus provider greatly improves the chances of early detection and treatment of visual impairments.

For additional information about MedBen VisionPlus, please call Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.

  10:47:51 am, by MedBen5   , 179 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Exercise May Not Help Every Heart, Study Suggests

If you’ve been looking for a reason to justify your couch-potato lifestyle, science has delivered a bit of good news for you. A group of researchers have determined that exercise could actually increase your risk of heart disease, The New York Times reports.

In an analysis of six rigorous exercise studies involving 1,687 people, the group found that about 10% raised their blood pressure or levels of insulin, both indicators of heart disease. And 7% got worse on both measures.

It’s important to point out, however, that another 10% of study participants showed an exceptionally good response on at least one measure. Additionally, the research only provided a glimpse of participants’ health over a short period, so it’s not known if the 10% that showed bad results may not have improved over time if they maintained a less arduous workout regimen.

The study’s authors recommended that people continue to exercise, but get their heart disease risk factors checked on a regular basis. They also noted that exercise carries other benefits other than reducing heart risk, such as better mental health and improved physical functioning.

  10:16:02 am, by MedBen5   , 238 words,  
Categories: Announcements, News, Wellness

NYC Mayor Proposes Ban On Jumbo Sugary Drinks

In the ongoing battle against obesity, the Big Apple wants to take away your Big Gulp.

The Wall Street Journal reports that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed an amendment to the city health code that would prohibit the sales of sugary drinks in cups or container larger than 16 fluid ounces. The ban would apply to restaurants, mobile food carts, delis and concessions at movie theaters, stadiums and arenas in the five boroughs, aides to the mayor said.

According to the article, “a sugary drink is defined as any beverage sweetened with sugar or another caloric sweetener that contains more than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces and contains less than 51% milk or milk substitute by volume as an ingredient.” By that definition, a diet soda, a milk shake or sweetened latte larger than 16 ounces wouldn’t be banned.

In defending the proposed ban, the administration noted that more than half of NYC adults are obese or overweight, as are 40% of city public-school students in eighth grade or below. And the single largest driver, they claim, is sugary drinks.

Needless to say, the proposal did not sit well with the New York City Beverage Association. “The city is not going to address the obesity issue by attacking soda because soda is not driving the obesity rates,” said Stefan Friedman. He cited federal data that shows people take in less calories from sugar-sweetened beverages than they did in previous years.

05/30/12

  05:30:39 pm, by MedBen5   , 252 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Health Plan Management

House Committee To Consider Repeal Of OTC Provision

Remember back in 2010, when you could use your flexible spending account funds to buy over-the-counter medicines without a prescription? Good times, they were. Of course, thanks to the health care reform law, that’s all in the past.

But then again…

Not to get your hopes up too high, but there’s been an effort in Congress of late to turn back the clock and allow health FSA participants to purchase their aspirin, cough medicine and other OTCs without having to call their doctor first.

On May 31, the will markup on H.R. 5842, the Restoring Access to Medication Act. The bill would repeal the Afforable Health Care Act provision that disqualifies OTCs for non-prescription purchases.

Assuming the Committee approves H.R. 5842 – pretty much a certainty – it will then move on to the full House of Representatives. Majority Leader Eric Cantor has indicated that this could happen as early as the week of June 4 – and there’s a high likelihood that the bill will pass the House with flying colors.

Of course, that leaves the small matter of approving the bill (or similar legislation) in the Senate. But given the unpopularity of the OTC provision – and the fact that it’s an election year, to boot – don’t be surprised if, come 2013, FSA participants can once again purchase their ibuprofen tax-free.

H.R. 5842 is available for review at the Ways and Means Committee website.

UPDATE: On May 31, The House Ways and Means Committee passed the bill by a vote of 24 for to 9 against.

  12:11:53 pm, by MedBen5   , 84 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription

Counterfeit ADHD Drug Showing Up Online

A warning to those of you who buy medications through pharmaceutical websites: A counterfeit version of the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug Adderall is showing up online, the Food and Drug Administration reports.

According to MedCity News, the 30 mg tablets to treat narcolepsy as well as ADHD contain improper ingredients. The counterfeit Adderall tablets are round, white and do not have any type of markings, such as letters or numbers.

Adderall is among the medications that have experienced shortages in the past year.

  11:46:44 am, by MedBen5   , 177 words,  
Categories: Announcements, News, Prescription, Wellness

Aspirin, Other Painkillers May Reduce Skin Cancer Risk

Is there anything aspirin can’t do… assuming, of course, that you take all the studies extolling its virtues at face value?

HealthDay News reports that taking aspirin – or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Motrin and Aleve – may significantly lower the risk for developing several major forms of skin cancer, according to a new Danish study. And the longer you take them, the stronger the apparent protective impact appears.

“Our study showed that users of common painkillers, known as NSAIDs, have a lower risk of the three major types of skin cancer, [including] malignant melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma,” said study lead author, Sigrun Alba Johannesdottir, at the department of clinical epidemiology at Aarhus University Hospital in Aarhus, Denmark.

“The greatest effect,” she noted, “was found for squamous cell carcinomas and malignant melanoma, especially when [these painkillers were] taken frequently and over a long time period.”

The researchers noted that similar levels of protection were found in prescription medicines called COX-2 enzyme inhibitors, such as Celebrex, in addition to over-the-counter NSAIDs.

05/29/12

  04:06:43 pm, by MedBen5   , 212 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Claims Database Offers Glimpse Of National Health Care Trends

Average Share of Health Care Costs, 2010

The non-profit, non-partisan Health Care Cost Institute has compiled a database culled from over 3 billion medical claims, The Washington Post recently reported. The deidentified information from several large insurance companies provides a useful means of researching health care trends for Americans under 65 in employer-sponsored insurance plans.

A report distributed by the institute shows, among other trends, that people in group health plans are using less health care overall. Admissions to hospitals and other medical facilities dropped 3.3% from 2009 to 2010, as did outpatient visits to such facilities (3.1%). Procedures performed at medical facilities and use of prescription drugs both did go up slightly, however.

But what accounts for this trend? Certainly, the continued recession plays a role. But the report also cites the rising prices patients must pay for care – in part because of insureds paying a larger portion of their health plan (though the shift was modest, from 15.6% in 2009 to 16.2% in 2010), but mainly due to price increases by hospitals, doctors and other providers.

The chart displayed here shows the average plan member’s share for total health care spending in 2010, based on the claims data gathered by the institute. By way of comparison, MedBen’s own data for that year revealed that the average member responsibility for total health care spending was significantly lower, at 11%.

  02:47:25 pm, by MedBen5   , 251 words,  
Categories: Wellness

Trying A Group Approach To Better Health

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.”

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

  01:01:23 pm, by MedBen5   , 208 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription

Senate Approves Greater FDA Authority Over Drugmakers

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.

05/28/12

  09:27:10 am, by MedBen5   , 258 words,  
Categories: Announcements

MedBen Closed On Memorial Day, But Online Services Available

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.

05/25/12

  02:33:47 pm, by MedBen5   , 238 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

Supplement Studies Warn Of Heart, Liver Risks

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.

  08:44:33 am, by MedBen5   , 181 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

CDC: Life Expectancy For People With Diabetes Improving

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.

05/24/12

  03:29:34 pm, by MedBen5   , 164 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Birth Control Pills Less Effective Than Longer-Term Methods

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.

  09:39:55 am, by MedBen5   , 234 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Government Task Force Recommends Abandoning PSA Tests

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.”

05/23/12

  06:05:15 pm, by MedBen5   , 237 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

New HHS Website Offers Easy Tracking Of Health Care Trends

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.

  05:18:28 pm, by MedBen5   , 211 words,  
Categories: Prescription

Rx Sales Reps Don't Just Provide Freebies, Study Suggests

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.’”

Read more at Pharmalot.

05/22/12

  05:30:52 pm, by MedBen5   , 362 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness, Health Plan Management

CDC Report: Life Expectancy And Health Improve, But Obesity A Growing Problem

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):

  • We are living longer. Since 1980, men’s life expectancy rose from 70 to 76, while women’s increased from 77 to 81.
  • Heart disease remains the most common killer for both men and women. It causes about one-quarter of all deaths each year. But over the past 10 years, the number of heart disease deaths has dropped by 32%.
  • Deaths caused by stroke dropped by about a third for both men and women. Cancer deaths are also down – by 15% for men and 11% for women.
  • Nearly half of all adults with high blood pressure don’t have it under control, though this percentage has gone down significantly since the early 1990s. The number of adults with high cholesterol also dropped during this period.
  • Since 1994, obesity has gone up among all age groups. Nearly 20% of school-age children are now obese, while one-fifth of adults over 20 now have a BMI greater than 30 (which is considered obese).
  • Childhood obesity rates go down as parent education goes up: Nearly a quarter of children whose parents have less than a high school education were obese, which is two to three times more than kids whose parents (or heads of household) had finished college.
  • Americans visited a health care provider 1.3 billion times in 2009. That same year, $2.5 trillion dollars was spent on health care. That works out to average of $8,000 per person. Nearly a third of the money was spent on hospitals.
    Prescription drug costs went up more than 5% between 2008 and 2009 for a total of $249.9 billion, more than double what we spent in 2000.
  • Private health insurance covered a third of personal health care expenses in 2009. Consumers covered 14% out of pocket. The rest was paid for by Medicare, Medicaid, and others. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) cost less than 1% of the total of all health care costs. Along with Medicaid, CHIP insures 54% of children, up from 28% in 2000.

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