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06/08/12

  12:30:43 pm, by MedBen5   , 187 words,  
Categories: Wellness

Don't Leave Common Sense At Home When Eating Out

Dining out this weekend? Well, enjoy your meal and be sure to tip appropriately. Oh, and while we’re on the subject… if you want to keep your weight in check, don’t leave healthy eating habits at home.

All too often, going to a restaurant can lead to ordering portions much larger than you would eat if you made the meal yourself. Of course, the restaurant itself may be equally culpable, as even a so-called “regular” entrée may contain enough food for two or even three people.

Forunately, many restaurants now offer “half-sized” or smaller serving options. And if you scan the menu, you can typically find some healthier fare that satisfies your appetite without expanding your waistline.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers these suggestions for weight-conscious diners (via HealthDay):

  • Skip the entree and order an appetizer and a salad for your meal.
  • Stick to a smaller serving, such as a cup of soup or a child-size portion.
  • Eat half of your meal at the restaurant and take half home to enjoy later.
  • Share each course with someone else, or just split an entrée.

06/07/12

  05:36:06 pm, by MedBen5   , 277 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

With Court Decision Looming, Health Care Reform Is A Hot Topic

The ruling from the Supreme Court on the fate of health care reform law may be only weeks or even days away, so it shouldn’t come a surprise that the number of stories on the topic has increased of late: Here’s a sampling:

USA Today: “According to a new CBS News/New York Times poll, 41% think the high court should completely overturn the law Obama signed in 2010.

“An additional 27% say the justices should strike down only the law’s key feature: The individual mandate, the requirement that nearly all Americans buy some form of health insurance […] The poll also shows 24% support upholding the health care law in its entirety.”

The Wall Street Journal Health Blog: “Around three quarters of [employers who offer health benefits to workers responding] to the May questionnaire from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans said they were taking a “we’ll know when we know” approach to the ruling, or have had only “general discussions” about what it might mean.

“Just 14% of the 1,027 American employers who responded said they’d had “organized discussions” about the possible outcomes of the decision. Six percent said they had or were developing specific plans for how to respond to whatever they thought the likely decision would be, while 9% had or were developing plans for each possible outcome.”

The Hill: “The Health and Human Services Department has missed nearly half of its legal deadlines while implementing President Obama’s healthcare law, according to an analysis by the American Action Forum.

“HHS has faced 42 statutory deadlines in the roughly two years since the Affordable Care Act became law — and it missed 20 of them, according to the AAF’s count.”

  04:53:07 pm, by MedBen5   , 189 words,  
Categories: Wellness

Before A Colonoscopy, Don't Be Shy About Asking Questions

Bringing up the subject of colon cancer screenings may provoke reactions of disgust, anxiety and questionable humor in equal measure. But there’s no getting around that it’s an important procedure and should not be taken lightly.

Key to a successful screening is finding a skilled physician with a good record of detecting polyps. “The biggest problem with colonoscopy is that it’s operator dependent,” says Dr, Douglas Rex, director of endoscopy at Indiana University Hospital.

The NPR Health Blog advises prospective patients to ask their doctor two questions before getting a colonoscopy:

  1. What is your polyp detection rate? A skilled physician should have a polyp detection rate of about 25% for men and 20% for women, says Dr. Durado Brooks, director of prostate and colorectal cancers for the American Cancer Society. Those figures correspond to the percentages of men and women over 50 who have polyps.
  2. How long do you take removing the scope after reaching the beginning of the colon? The “colonoscopy withdrawal time” should ideally take at least six minutes – a length of time associated with higher detection rates. Ten minutes is optimal, according to an analysis published last year.

06/06/12

  04:29:00 pm, by MedBen5   , 216 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

IRS Releases Health FSA Contribution Limit Guidelines

The Internal Revenue Service has given businesses that offer health flexible spending accounts a bit of breathing room before they must begin enforcing an annual $2,500 maximum salary reduction contribution.

Last week, the IRS offered an implementation timeline through Notice 2012-40, which states that the “taxable year” refers to the plan’s “plan year". That means any health FSAs with plan years beginning prior to January 1, 2013 will not be affected by the rule until next year.

More good news: Plans will have until the end of the calendar year 2014 to amend their plans with the $2,500 limit. And if the plan offers a grace period, unused employee contributions to the health FSA for plan years beginning in 2012 or later that are carried over into the grace period for that plan year will not count against the $2,500 limit for the subsequent plan year.

The IRS notes that the $2,500 limit only applies to salary reductions (including cashable credits); it does not apply to employer contributions that can’t be cashed out or received in the form of taxable benefits.

One final item of interest: The notice solicits comments on whether to modify (or even eliminate) the health FSA “use-it-or-lose-it” requirement.

MedBen clients with questions regarding these guidelines are welcome to contact Director of Administrative Services Sharon A. Mills at (800) 423-3151, Ext. 438.

  04:01:35 pm, by MedBen5   , 214 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

Risks Of Daily Aspirin For Heart Disease May Outweigh Benefits

Remember that study we wrote about last week that said taking aspirin reduces your odds of developing skin cancer? Well, because researchers like nothing more than to make other researchers look bad (no, just kidding), a new study suggests that unless you’re at high risk for cardiovascular disease, that taking an aspirin every day probably isn’t a good idea.

According to HealthDay, researchers determined that daily low-dose aspirin (300 milligrams or less) use may significantly increase the chance of major gastrointestinal or cerebral bleeding. Therefore, any benefits of benefit of low-dose aspirin in preventing heart disease could be offset by that risk.

“Aspirin is not effective in protecting a person from a first cardiac event – a heart attack or stroke,” said study author Dr. Antonio Nicolucci, head of the department of clinical pharmacology at nonprofit biomedical research organization Consorzio Mario Negri Sud in Santa Maria Imbaro, Italy. “In addition, taking aspirin has significant risks, and thus shouldn’t be part of primary prevention unless you’re at moderate to high risk of heart disease.”

It’s noteworthy that the study found an association an association between daily aspirin use and bleeding, but did not prove cause and effect. In either case, if you do take aspirin every day, it’s best to let your doctor know about it.

  01:25:00 pm, by MedBen5   , 193 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Hospital Safety Score Website A Tough Grader

Hospital Safety Score

The non-profit Leapfrog Group has introduced a website that grades hospitals using a system that all us former school kids are familiar with: A’s through F’s.

According to NPR, Hospitalsafetyscore.org offers single letter grades for 2,651 U.S. hospitals, based on 26 different measures collected by Leapfrog or Medicare. Leapfrog gave 729 hospitals an A grade, 679 hospitals a B and 1,111 hospitals a C. Another 132 hospitals were scored “Grade Pending,” Leapfrog’s euphemism for below a C.

Leah Binder, Leapfrog’s executive director, says the group will wait six months before introducing D’s and F’s, so as not too seem too harsh.

In determining its score, the group looks at numerous factors, including structural measures (ICU physician staffing, computerized prescriber order entry), safe practice measures, (leadership structures, teamwork training), and patient safety indicators (death from serious treatable complications after surgery, accidental cuts or tears from medical treatment), to mention just a handful.

The American Hospital Association disputed Leapfrog’s ratings, saying in a statement that it “has supported several good quality measures but many of the measures Leapfrog uses to grade hospitals are flawed, and they do not accurately portray a picture of the safety efforts made by hospitals.”

06/05/12

  03:37:35 pm, by MedBen5   , 266 words,  
Categories: Prescription, Health Plan Management

Get To Know Your Prescription Drugs

If you’ve never used a particular prescription medication, it’s a good idea to get to know it better before taking it. To that end, you should have your physician or pharmacist break the ice a bit.

At KevinMD.com, pharmacist Carlene Oleksyn suggests five questions to ask about your prescription, which we summarize below:

  1. What is this medication for? When someone doesn’t know what a medication is for, there is little motivation to take it correctly or even at all.
  2. What will happen if I don’t take this medication? There are many prescriptions that are unnecessary or could be avoided with ”watchful waiting” and there are some prescriptions that can be deadly if you do not take them exactly as prescribed.
  3. When can I expect this medication to work for me? Knowing what to expect is essential. Someone being treated for clinical depression needs to know that the medication they are getting may not start to work for 2 to 6 weeks.
  4. What do I do if I have a problem with this medication? Find out what some of the common problems or side effects of your medication are and what you can do about them if they happen.
  5. Can I take this medication with all my other medications? Mention all drugs that you’re taking, including non-prescription medications, vitamins and herbal products.

MedBen clients using Pharmacy Data Management (PDMI) as their PBM can also take advantage of RxEOB, a useful resource to research medications as well as search for equivalent, lower-cost drugs. Just go into MedBen Access and click on your name under “My Rx Claims".

  01:06:59 pm, by MedBen5   , 294 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

If Health Care Reform Goes Down, Will It Rise Again?

Of all the great unknowns regarding the upcoming Supreme Court decision on the health care reform law, among the greatest is: if the Affordable Care Act is struck down entirely, what happens to the provisions already in effect?

In one sense, there is already an answer to that question. If the law is thrown out, the rules that allow young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, and make prescription drugs for seniors more affordable – to name just two – get thrown out with it. But will lawmakers really permit that to happen? The Boston Globe recently sought opinion on the issue.

House Republicans have long promised to “repeal and replace” the ACA. But health economist Gail Wilensky speculated on what type of replacement would occur: “Is it a replacement that will substantially extend coverage for people who have been uninsured? At the moment it’s a little hard to see that happening.”

John McDonough, director of Harvard University’s Center for Public Health Leadership, believes despite public indifference to the law, taking away popular provision would result in a backlash: “It’s a standard rule of politics that people value losses more than hypothetical gains. If the court were to strike down significant parts of the law that are already in place, there could quite possibly be a potent public reaction against what is being taken away from people.”

Drew Altman, chief executive of the Kaiser Family Foundation, doesn’t see further action if the ACA is overturned: “It’s become such an ideological hot potato, it’s hard to imagine Republicans and Democrats in a polarized Congress agreeing on health reform legislation for the foreseeable future, which would leave us at the mercy of the states doing what they can.”

  12:13:15 pm, by MedBen5   , 228 words,  
Categories: Health Plan Management

Family Doctor Says Primary Care Is "Undervalued"

On the KevinMD.com blog, family physician Mark Ryan goes to bat for his fellow primary caregivers:

Physician Compensation In 2011

“[M]y intent is to note how undervalued primary care services are in our current system of healthcare delivery and payment. Primary care physicians — the physicians who provide comprehensive care, who provide preventive care, who coordinate care – are paid less than all other medical specialists. Radiology and anesthesiology make nearly twice what primary care doctors do; dermatology and anesthesiology make nearly 175% of the average primary care physician.

“This is not to say that these medical specialists do not have important roles in providing medical care; however, should a physician who views x-rays and imaging studies be valued at twice the level of the physicians who keep our children well, who monitor their development and intervene if necessary, and who ensure children are fully vaccinated? Should a physician who deals with skin problems be paid at nearly twice the level of a physician who can deal with many of the same skin problems…while also addressing patients’ diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease, and mental illness?

“[…] We have previously noted the importance of primary care to a high-functioning, efficient, and effective healthcare system. Despite the key role primary care should be playing, however, the chart above shows that primary care is not valued at a commensurate level.”

Read the rest at KevinMD.com.

  11:31:56 am, by MedBen5   , 287 words,  
Categories: Wellness

Smart Strategies To Avoid A Heart Attack

Most people have it in their power to avoid a heart attack. But while deaths from coronary heart disease have dropped dramatically in the past decades, cardiovascular disease still remains the leading killer of both men and women.

The Wall Street Journal recently published “The Guide to Beating a Heart Attack", which offers sone useful advice to keep your cardiovascular system running smoothly. Here’s a summary – you can read the entire piece at WSJ.com.

  • The Basics. Know your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers: For most people, optimal LDL, or bad cholesterol, is under 100; HDL, or good cholesterol, is over 60; and blood pressure is less than 120/80. Also, quit smoking: Within just one year, it reduces your heart-attack risk by 50%.
  • A 10-Minute Workout. If you can’t find 30 minutes a day for exercise, remember that every little bit helps. A brisk 10-minute walk a day results in a nearly 50% reduction compared with people who get hardly any exercise.
  • Keep Moving. “For people who sit most of the day, their risk of a heart attack is about the same as smoking,” says Martha Grogan, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic. So get up from your desk every 30 minutes or even work at your computer while standing up.
  • Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Research has linked emotional health to lower risk of cardiovascular disease. In contrast, depression, anger and hostility have a deleterious effect.
  • Eat Your Veggies. Amparo Villablanca, a cardiologist at University of California, Davis, advises patients to “not put mud in your engines. You have to get people to think of their bodies as a finely tuned machine.”
  • Get a Good Night’s Sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain and increase your risk of diabetes.

06/04/12

  11:27:00 am, by MedBen5   , 201 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Untreated Cavities An Ongoing Problem, Report Finds

More than one in every five Americans has untreated cavities, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It appears that we haven’t been able to make any significant strides during the last decade to reduce untreated cavities,” said report co-author Dr. Bruce Dye, an epidemiologist at the agency’s National Center for Health Statistics.

A HealthDay article about the report says that adults are more likely to address their children’s cavities than their own. Among kids aged 5 to 11, 20% had untreated cavities, while 13% of those aged 12 to 19 had untreated cavities. People aged 20 to 44 had the highest rate of untreated cavities, at 25%.

To reduce the odds of developing cavities, Dye recommended brushing and flossing daily, eating a healthy diet and going to the dentist at least once a year.

To address the latter suggestion: MedBen Dental provides affordable cavity-fighting care at an affordable cost. Every basic and major dental service, from x-rays and diagnostic casts to dentures and bridges, can be covered under the plan. And the flexible design helps employers put together a customized plan, at minimal cost.

To learn more about MedBen Dental, please call Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.

  11:04:11 am, by MedBen5   , 164 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Obama Prepping For Round Two Of Health Care Reform Wars?

Despite President Obama’s oft-cited contention that the Supreme Court will uphold his landmark health care reform law, he is leaving the door open to the possibility of having to revisit the issue in a second term, Bloomberg reports.

At a fundraiser in May, Obama conceded that he may be forced to revise part of his health care plan, depending on how the court rules later this month. A Democratic activist at the event revealed this information with the promise of anonymity, as smart phones and Blackberries were checked at the door.

Apparently, the president has made similar remarks at other recent fundraising events, belying his concern that the Supreme Court justices could strike down portions of the Affordable Care Act, or overturn it altogether.

However, in an e-mail to Bloomberg, Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney said, “While I won’t discuss in detail the president’s private conversations, I can say that your reporting, attributed to unnamed sources, inaccurately reflects the president’s views.”

  10:13:20 am, by MedBen5   , 199 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

Experimental Breast Cancer Drug Shows Promise

T-DM1 sounds like something out a “Star Wars” movie, but it’s actually an experimental drug that may prove a powerful tool in the fight against breast cancer.

CNN reports that T-DM1 is designed to treat women with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer. It combines the targeted drug trastuzumab (the “T” in T-DM1), better known by the brand name Herceptin, and a very powerful chemotherapy drug called emtansine (the “DM1″ part).

According to lead study author Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, Herceptin acts as a carrier pigeon, delivering emtansine to the cancer cell. (The chemo drug is too toxic to deliver directly into the bloodstream.) DM1 then kills the cell.

The experimental drug, it should be noted, doesn’t cure breast cancer. But in a clinical trial, women getting T-DM1 had 9.6 months of progression-free survival, the time between starting the treatment and the cancer getting worse again. That’s compared with 6.4 months in the standard therapy group – a median improvement of three months.

Blackwell says that after two years, 65% of women getting T-DM1 were still alive, compared with 48% in the control group. She added that women on the drug didn’t suffer from such common chemotherapy side effects as nausea, vomiting and hair loss.

  09:40:50 am, by MedBen5   , 152 words,  
Categories: Wellness

Know Your Limits When Working Out

You’ve probably heard that to improve your health, you should exercise a half-hour every day – or even an hour a day if possible. But is there a point where more exercise isn’t necessarily better?

Absolutely, says Geralyn Coopersmith, national director of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute. Speaking to Reuters, she noted that “[e]xercise is like a drug, if you don’t have enough, you get no benefits, if you have too much, you have problems,” she said.

Working out too much can overwork your joints, leading to shin splints, heel spurs, tendonitis and other injuries. And that’s in additional to such physical and mental ailments as extreme fatigue, irritability, moodiness, an elevated resting heart rate, fever, and an inability to work up to your earlier level.

“Some days should be intense, some days not so intense,” Coopersmith said. “Exercise is a stressor. If it’s too much, the body can break down.”

06/01/12

  05:03:37 pm, by MedBen5   , 141 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

13.5 Million Americans Have HSAs, Study Finds

The number of people covered by high-deductible health plans paired with health savings accounts increased 18.4% in 2012 to 13.5 million, according to a survey by Americas Health Insurance Plans. Large and small group markets account for 7.9 million and 3 million covered persons, respectively, with the balance in the individual markets.

Modern Healthcare reports that 11.4 million people had HDHP health benefits with an HSA in 2011, based on the trade group’s e-mail survey of nearly 100 insurance companies.

Complementing an HDHP with an HSA offers employers a unique way to save taxes while reducing health care costs. MedBen features a turn-key HSA service, a complete package that provides hassle-free set-up with a nationally recognized banking institution, sound investment advice, and debit card capability.

To learn more about HSAs and other consumer-driven health plan options, contact MedBen Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.

  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.

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