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07/12/12

  12:30:30 pm, by MedBen5   , 251 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

House Votes (Again) To Repeal Health Care Reform Law

As we noted would happen earlier this week, the House of Representatives voted yesterday on a bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act – just two weeks after the Supreme Court upheld it. And has been the case in previous instances where health care reform has come under legislative scrunity, a majority of the Republican-led House said the law should go.

According to The Washington Post, the vote marked the 33rd time that Republicans have moved to repeal all or parts of the legislation since the party took control of the House in January 2011.

Various media referred to the vote as “symbolic", since the bill stands no chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate. But the 244-to-185 vote did include five Democrats joining all Republicans present, an improvement on a repeal vote last year.

“For those who still support repealing this harmful health-care law, we’re giving our colleagues in the Senate another chance to heed the will of the American people,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Oh.). “And for those who did not support repeal the last time, it’s a chance for our colleagues to reconsider.”

Democrats countered the the issue of the health care reform was settled by the Supreme Court and it’s time for Congress to focus on other matters. But it’s likely there’s still more House votes to come – Representatives Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Michele Bachmann (R-Mn.) are gathering signatures for a letter asking GOP leaders to defund the ACA, The Hill reports.

07/11/12

  11:56:35 am, by MedBen5   , 203 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Extended Care Carries High Costs, Difficult Choices

The Crushing Cost of Care” is a sobering look at the financial realities of extended major care by The Wall Street Journal. The article follows the final months of Scott Crawford, a 41-year-old man who endured a heart transplant, various amputations and a lengthy intensive care stay before passing away in 2009. His story is interspersed with an analysis of health care costs for individuals with serious illnesses:

“A primary goal of the 2010 health-care overhaul […] is to slow the growth of costs. Even so, the law does little to address a simple fact: A sliver of the sickest patients account for the majority of U.S. health-care spending. In 2009, the top 10% of Medicare beneficiaries who received hospital care accounted for 64% of the program’s hospital spending, the Journal’s analysis found.

“Younger patients like Mr. Crawford were more expensive, representing just 18.5% of the beneficiaries who received hospital care but 23.7% of the total cost. Seniors vastly outnumbered them, however, and consumed 76% of the total hospital costs. […]

“Medicare patients rack up disproportionate costs in the final year of life. In 2009, 6.6% of the people who received hospital care died. Those 1.6 million people accounted for 22.3% of total hospital expenditures, the Journal’s analysis shows.”

It’s a sad, but definitely worthwhile, read.

  10:34:25 am, by MedBen5   , 194 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Sugar Substitutes May Benefit Obese People, Diabetics

A joint statement by American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association says that sugar substitutes may help people lose weight and help people with diabetes control blood sugar. provided they’re used wisely.

Non-nutritive sweeteners can benefit individuals who struggle with obesity and other health problems. But too often, people who use them compensate later in the day with other sugary drinks or food.

According to WebMD, the AHA asked a panel of experts to evaluate the role of the non-nutritive sweeteners in controlling weight and diabetes. The experts evaluated scientific studies on six such sweeteners – acesulfame-K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, stevia and sucralose – and concluded that while data is insufficient to say for certain the sweeteners help, some data does suggest they can benefit people with health issues.

While the experts didn’t address the safety of these products, the five artificial sweeteners are all regulated by the FDA (stevia is plant-based).

The AHA recommends that that most women eat no more than 100 calories of added sugars (about 6 teaspoons) a day and men no more than 150 calories (9 teaspoons) a day. “Added” sugars means sugar not naturally present in raw vegetables, fruits, and grains.

07/10/12

  01:12:18 pm, by MedBen5   , 222 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Health Plan Management

Customers Like Online Services, And MedBen Delivers

Consumers Like Online Services

Most people still prefer face-to-face communication with their doctors when discussing medical matters. But regarding other aspects of health care, online interaction is increasingly the way to go.

As the results of a Accenture survey (via MedCity News) show, patients like having the ability to make appointments, receive reminders and refill prescriptions through websites, e-mail and mobile devices.

At MedBen, we have our own set of online tools for client convenience, including:

MedBen Access: With MedBen Access, plan members can check the status of a health claim, review benefit coverages, and more. For plan administrators, MedBen Access makes management of the company health plan simple and convenient.

RxEOB: This valuable site, available through MedBen Access, allows plan members to review personal prescription detail and benefit coverage, and compare lower cost alternatives. Employers also can use RxEOB to generate timely reports that will help them keep on top of cost trends.

MedBen Secure: MedBen Secure ensures that the personal health information of your plan members is fully protected. Employers can review or download current member reports, while multiple safeguards maintain privacy.

FSA/HRA Online System: MedBen FSA and HRA members can use this site to review claim submissions, check payments issued, see total deposits posted to date and get answers to a variety of questions.

More online services are available at MedBen.com.

  12:14:37 pm, by MedBen5   , 170 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription

FDA Mandates Painkiller Makers To Fund Doctor Training

In an effort to counter the growing prescription painkiller abuse crisis in the United States, The Food and Drug will require opioid medicine makers to fund safety training programs for doctors, Reuters reports.

Companies that make long-acting or extended-release opiods – including painkillers like oxycodone and methadone – must also provide information sheets to patients that promote proper use of the pills.

“The problem of prescription drug abuse and misuse is very real,” said Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the head of the FDA. “Educating healthcare professionals on how to safely prescribe (the medicines) is essential to address this critical public health issue.”

Overdose from prescription drugs has passed car crashes and the combined impact of cocaine and heroin as the leading cause of accidental death in this country.

One stumbling block to the FDA’s good intentions: the law does not require doctors to take the classes, which are scheduled to begin in 2013. Neverthess, Hamburg expects half of the nation’s 320,000 prescribers of painkillers to get the training by the program’s third year.

  11:53:53 am, by MedBen5   , 221 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

House Republicans Ready Latest ACA Repeal Attempt

It’s deja vu all over again in Congress, as the House of Representatives is considering a proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act – which will mark the 31st time since 2011 that the Republican-controlled House has voted to defund, dismantle or strike down the law, ABC News reports. A vote on the bill is expected later this week.

When the Republicans took control of the House in 2010, they wasted little time in attempting to deep-six the ACA. The first repeal vote took place on January 19, 2011, and was passed almost completely along party lines, with just three Democrats siding with the entire Republican block in support of repeal. A month later, the Democrat-controlled Senate voted against repeal… and the process has been repeated numerous times since then.

The Supreme Court decision upholding the health care reform law has hardly taken the wind out of the Republicans’ sails – on the contrary, it appears to have strengthed their resolve. And the court’s opinion that the penalty for not buying insurance constitutes a tax has given the party fresh ammunition.

“I don’t think [the latest vote is] symbolic,” Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., told ABC. “Now that we know that the truth is out there that this is a tax, we need to be able to let the American people know where we stand.”

  10:30:39 am, by MedBen5   , 196 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

To Live Longer, Take A Stand

We’ve seen our share of “stop smoking” and “eat healthy” campaigns in the past couple decades. Is a “stand up” movement poised to join their ranks? Based on recent evidence, we wouldn’t be too surprised.

On this blog, we’ve noted studies that suggest sitting for prolonged periods increases your risk of cancer and heart disease. And now comes research that found sitting less than three hours a days may add two years to your life expectancy.

According to USA Today, many people currently spend six hours per day in a seated position, either working or watching TV. And simply restricting tube time to less than two hours a day would add about 1.4 years to overall life expectancy, researchers found.

The study doesn’t prove that sitting causes earlier death, but it shows a link, says lead author Peter Katzmarzyk, a researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.

As for sitting at work, James Levine of the Mayo Clinic encourages people to get out of their chairs frequently. “If you’ve been sitting for an hour, you’ve been sitting too long,” he says. “My gut feeling is you should be up for 10 minutes of every hour.”

07/09/12

  11:50:53 am, by MedBen5   , 254 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Massachusetts' Mandate Model May Not Work Nationwide

It’s well-known that the Massachusetts health care insurance reform law served as a blueprint of sorts for the Affordable Care Act. Enacted by then-governor Mitt Romney, it contains many of the same provisions that would later be adapted by the federal government.

Among the rules that the Massachusetts and federal laws share is the mandate that requires individuals to buy health coverage or pay a penalty tax. The Boston Globe examined how effective the provision has been in spurring people in that state to get insurance, and whether it will work on the national level:

“Massachusetts had the nation’s highest rate of health coverage even before passage of a pioneering 2006 law requiring most residents to have insurance. Yet tens of thousands of people […] go uncovered each year and pay a fine. […]

“Policy advocates say the Massachusetts law lays out a financial and moral incentive to get coverage. But it is not clear that this approach can be effectively replicated nationally.

“’Massachusetts is culturally more open to that kind of a bargain,’ said Alan Weil, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy. […]

People may be less persuaded to purchase a plan in states where politicians and others deride the federal law and encourage people not to comply, Weil said. Republican leaders in Florida, South Carolina, and elsewhere, have indicated they will resist major provisions of the law, including an expansion of Medicaid that would make government-funded coverage available to an estimated 17 million low-income people nationwide.”

Read more at Boston.com.

  11:11:02 am, by MedBen5   , 181 words,  
Categories: Wellness

Summer Footwear Can Cause Aches & Pains

Warm weather and comfortable footwear go together like peanut butter and jelly (or peanut butter and bananas, if you happen to be Elvis) – so it’s likely that when it’s sunny outside, your flip-flops get a good workout. But wearing them for extended periods of time may lead to ailments, orthopedic doctors warn.

According to HealthDay News (via MedicineNet.com), because flip-flops offer little in the way of arch support and coverage for the feet, pain and injury can eventually occur, especially while walking on concrete or playing sports.

The doctors from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine note that people tend to grip flip-flops with their toes when walking in order to keep them in place. This can lead to stress in certain muscles and strain in toes, ankles, legs, hips and the back. And the lack of foot support put wearers at risk for arch pain, plantar fasciitis and nerve problems.

Still another potential issue: sun damage. Anyone wearing flip-flops or other sandals should apply apply sunscreen to their feet in order to reduce their risk for skin cancer.

07/06/12

  01:01:17 pm, by MedBen5   , 243 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Numbers Show Need For Smart Health Benefits Planning

Reuters (via MedScape News) reports some sobering health and wellness numbers from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Compared to the OECD’s 33 other member countries, the United States ranks:

  • 1st in Spending. Annual healthcare spending totals $2.6 trillion, or $8,402 for every American man, woman and child.
  • 1st in Obesity. More than one-third of American adults are obese, up from 15% in 1980.
  • 2nd in Prevalence of Diabetes. 10.3% of the U.S. population suffers from diabetes, surpassed only by Mexico’s 10.8%. The OECD average is 6.5%.
  • 4th in Preventing Death from Stroke. The U.S. ranks behind Israel, Switzerland and France with 32 stroke-related deaths per 100,000 people.
  • 7th in Cancer Incidence. Cancer afflicts more than 300 people per 100,000 in the U.S., compared with an OECD average of 261 per 100,000.
  • 9th in Preventing Death from Cancer. At 185 deaths per 100,000, the U.S. is well above an OECD average of 208 per 100,000.
  • 25th in Preventing Death from Heart Disease. At 129 deaths per 100,000 people, the U.S. heart disease mortality rate is below an OECD average of 117 per 100,000.

These numbers demonstrate the usefulness of group health benefits coverage that emphasize better health while exercising cost control. MedBen meets both needs with a worksite wellness program designed to prevent chronic conditions or detect them at their earliest stages, and claims surveillance measures that can translate to big savings for employers.

To learn more about MedBen products and services, visit MedBen.com or call Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.

  12:31:23 pm, by MedBen5   , 240 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Affordable Care Act Still Faces Challenges

The law I passed is here to stay,” President Obama told supporters at a campaign stop in Ohio yesterday.

Last week’s Supreme Court action, in which the justices upheld most of the Affordable Care Act, was indeed a definite “win” for the President and his signature legislative achievement. But despite his optimism, the law still faces some challenges in the coming months.

The biggest hurdle is, of course, the upcoming elections. Presumptive Republican presidental candidate Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal the ACA on day one of his administration. And if Romney doesn’t win the office, a Repuplican majority in the Senate and House of Representatives could cause headaches for Obama – though because he has veto power, opposing legislators couldn’t bring down the law by themselves.

Even prior to November 6, however, the health care reform law could face additional legal threats. None of them will rise to the level of the individual mandate kerfuffle, but several of the law’s provisions will be disputed.

According to POLITICO, 23 lawsuits already filed in courts across the country challenge the law’s requirement that religious-affiliated institutions, such as schools and hospitals, provide insurance coverage for birth control and other contraceptives. And in 2010, a lawsuit was filed against the law’s Independent Payment Advisory Board – a Medicare panel that Republicans call a “rationing board”.

So while the law survived a major test, it still has a few more storms to weather. Stay tuned.

  11:33:16 am, by MedBen5   , 127 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

FDA Approves First At-Home HIV Test

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first in-home test for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. An advisory panel to the government agency recommended its approval in May.

Sold over-the-counter, the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test allows people to self-administer the test in the privacy of their home. Users simply swab their upper and lower gums and obtain results within 20-40 minutes.

The agency stressed that a positive result from the test does not mean the user is definitely infected with HIV, but that they should consult a medical professional for additional testing.

A Medical News Today story on the FDA announcement notes that based on clinical studies, the test produces one false positive out of every 50,000 results and one false negative out of every 12 results.

  10:46:13 am, by MedBen5   , 168 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Don't Get "Bristled" While Grilling This Summer

Grilling season is in high gear. And with all the basting, marinating and seasoning activity going on, it’s easy to overlook the little things… like those stray wire bristles on your grill.

Incidents of individuals accidentally digesting the bristles from grill-cleaning brushes are on the upswing, judging by a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to The Wall Street Journal Health Blog, the agency’s study of a single hospital in Providence, R.I., turned up six cases from March 2011 to June of this year of people swallowing bristles that broke off the brushes during cleaning and got cooked into steaks or burgers. Injuries ranged from punctures in the neck to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract, requiring emergency surgery.

The authors of the report warned grillers to carefully examine their grills before they start cooking. But by all means, continue to clean the grill – it keeps off gunk that can flare up dangerously, and minimizes the the risk of carcinogens from grilling meats.

07/05/12

  05:32:36 pm, by MedBen5   , 230 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Senior Eyesight Improved, But Vision Diseases Rising Overall

A bit of “good vision news – bad vision news": Older Americans have less serious eyesight problems compared to a generation ago, but eye diseases across all age groups have risen at a dramatic rate.

  • A new study published in the journal Ophthalmology found that reports of visual impairments for Americans over age 65 have declined significantly since a generation earlier. According to Medical News Today, seniors who experienced difficulty reading because of poor eyesight dropped 58%, and eyesight problems that stopped them from performing ordinary daily tasks declined by 46%.
  • Meanwhile, eye problems that could potentially cause severe vision loss or blindness have increased across the general U.S. population, a new report from Prevent Blindness America finds. WebMD reports that diabetic retinopathy – damage to the blood vessels in the retina – has skyrocketed 89% in the past 12 years. And age-related macular degeneration has increased 25%.

Together, these studies establish that people can maintain good vision throughout their lifetimes, but only if they’re willing to make the effort – and that starts with proper eye care.

MedBen VisionPlus emphasizes a proactive approach to vision through regular eye exams. Through prevention and early detection of impairments, sight can be improved or, in extreme cases, even saved.

The plan also provides highest quality ophthalmic materials at affordable prices. For additional information, please contact MedBen Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.

  04:11:06 pm, by MedBen5   , 203 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

Long-term Painkiller Users More Likely To Overdose

Long-term use of prescription pain killers greatly increases the risk of death by overdose, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

WebMD reports that the study found the number of people who abused opioid pain relievers for 200 to 365 days in the last year rose by nearly 75% between 2002-03 and 2009-10. In contrast, the overall number of people who used painkillers for less than 200 days and reported abuse or nonmedical use stayed constant over the two research periods.

(The WedMD article notes that “[n]onmedical use or abuse of prescription pain killers is defined as using the drug without a prescription or simply for the experience or feeling it causes.")

The biggest increases in abuse were seen among seen among men and young to middle-aged adults. People 35 to 49 years old saw a 135% increase, while abuse by 26- to 34-year olds was up 81%. Men reported a 105% increase between the two periods.

Based on their findings, researchers say about one million Americans 12 years and older would be classified as chronic prescription drug abusers in 2009-2010.

“These findings underscore the need for concerted public health and public safety action to prevent nonmedical use of these drugs,” wrote researcher Christopher M. Jones, PharmD, MPH.

  10:58:30 am, by MedBen5   , 185 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Poll Says Americans Want Health Reform Opponents To Move On

Even though Americans are still mixed in their opinions about the Affordable Care Act, most would prefer that the federal goverment take no further measures to halt its progress.

According to a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 56% of the public say opponents of the health care reform law should stop trying to block it and focus on other issues. Not surprisingly, opinions varied depending on political slant, with 82% of Democrats saying we should move on, compared to 51% of independents and 26% of Republicans.

As for the Supreme Court ruling to uphold the law, feelings split pretty much down the middle, with 47% approving of the decision and 43% opposing it. But the decision did boost Democratic approval of the ACA; the proportion of Democrats who say they have a “very favorable” view of the law jumped from 31% in May to 47% after the ruling. In contrast, 64% of Republicans hold a “very unfavorable” view.

Finally, the poll revealed that a lot of Americans apparently weren’t too concerned with the court’s action one way or another: Over 40% of those surveyed said they didn’t know a ruling had been made.

  10:08:55 am, by MedBen5   , 217 words,  
Categories: Wellness

When Temperatures Go Up, Slow Workouts Down

With temperatures nearing – and even reaching – triple digits, outdoor exercisers need to be extra cautious. According to HealthDay News, the American Council on Exercise strongly suggests forgoing outdoor workouts when the thermometer exceeds 90 degrees. But even when the heat isn’t quite so oppressive, take additional steps to be safe.

  • Staying hydrated is essential. Drink plenty of fluids (so much so, that you’re on the verge of feeling bloated) 30 minutes before exercising. Then drink at least six ounces of fluids every 20 minutes during exercise, and top it off with more fluids when you’re done. Water works fine, but for workouts of an hour or more, you may want to choose a sports drink.
  • Cut back at first. Gradually adapt your body to exercising in hot weather over a 10-14 day period. This will reduce your risk for heat injury by lowering your body core temperature.
  • Take it easy. Reduce your intensity level, and favor lightweight, loose clothing. Avoid rubberized sweat suits or any other clothing that is impermeable to water.

A few more guidelines from the American Council on Exercise:

  • Pay attention to factors other than temperature, including humidity.
  • Exercise early in the morning or late in the evening, to beat the hottest temperatures.
  • Listen to your body and take a rest when you need it.

07/03/12

  04:43:13 pm, by MedBen5   , 226 words,  
Categories: Announcements

Happy Independence Day From MedBen!

American flag

The staff of MedBen would like to wish you and your family a fun, relaxing and safe Independence Day!

MedBen will be closed on Wednesday, July 4 in observance of the holiday. We’ll reopen at 8:00 a.m. on July 5.

Hopefully, you won’t have a need for claims or benefits information during the holiday… but should you have a customer service question, we invite you to stop by MedBen Access. This online service is available anytime you need to check the status of a health claim, review benefit coverage for a health service, or determine if you’ve met your deductible, among other tasks.

If you’ve never visited the MedBen Access site, your first order of business will be to authorize MedBen to create an “electronic signature”. To do this, simply:

  1. Go to the MedBen Access home page at https://mbaccess.medben.com/Default.aspx.
  2. Click on the “First time? Please register here” link located in the Login box.
  3. After reading and accepting our Privacy Policy, type in the employee’s Social Security or Member Number, leaving out any dashes. You will then be asked to enter your personal data and create a User Name and Password. On future visits, just enter these into the Login box – remember, both are case-sensitive – and you will be taken straight to your information page!

Again, our best wishes for a happy holiday!

  04:17:31 pm, by MedBen5   , 168 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

Government Panel Recommends Weight Loss Without Drugs

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first prescription weight loss pill in over a decade. But prior to that, another government panel essentially said it was a bad idea.

The Boston Globe reports that the US Preventive Services Task Force recommended that doctors instruct obese patients to diet, exercise and get weight-loss counseling, but did not advise prescribing diet drugs.

“One of the problems with drugs is that the clinical trials just show short-term outcomes,” said Dr. David Grossman, a Seattle pediatrician who led the USPSTF panel that issued the updated recommendations. “Once a person stops taking the drug, we don’t know what happens with long-term weight gain.”

The Pharmalot blog, commenting on the Globe story, notes that the FDA is feeling the pressure from the growing obesity crisis in this country – so its approval last week of the diet drug Belviq could be interpreted as something of a desperation move, especially considering that the medication offers only minimal help in losing weight.

  12:54:02 pm, by MedBen5   , 230 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Chief Justice Initially Sided With Dissenters, Sources Say

Common wisdom expected that the conservative-leaning Supreme Court would most assuredly strike down the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. But as we learned last week, common wisdom whiffed it big-time.

Or did it?

In the sense that the Supreme Court did the opposite of what most legal experts were certain would happen, then yes, they got it wrong. But intially, they were spot-on, as CBS News reports:

“Chief Justice John Roberts initially sided with the Supreme Court’s four conservative justices to strike down the heart of President Obama’s health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, but later changed his position and formed an alliance with liberals to uphold the bulk of the law, according to two sources with specific knowledge of the deliberations.

“Roberts then withstood a month-long, desperate campaign to bring him back to his original position, the sources said. Ironically, Justice Anthony Kennedy - believed by many conservatives to be the justice most likely to defect and vote for the law - led the effort to try to bring Roberts back to the fold.

“‘He was relentless,’ one source said of Kennedy’s efforts. ‘He was very engaged in this.’

“But this time, Roberts held firm. And so the conservatives handed him their own message which, as one justice put it, essentially translated into, ‘You’re on your own.’”

Read more at CBS News.

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