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  06:07:52 pm, by MedBen5   , 619 words,  
Categories: Health Plan Management

The Fallacy Of Private Insurance Exchanges

Earlier this month, in our discussion of health care reform following the presidential elections, we cited a post from the Health Care Policy and Marketplace Review that examined private health insurance exchanges. Sears and several other large companies made headlines when they announced that they would join exhanges and provide employees with a fixed allowance to buy insurance.

As we noted in our earlier post, any initial savings to be had from a private insurance exchange will likely be negated by higher administrative costs and the need to comply with state benefit mandates, which isn’t required under a self-insured arrangement. So in the long run, exchanges won’t make health insurance cheaper.

Bob Laszewski, the writer of the Health Care Policy post, had some additional thoughts that we felt were worthy of your attention. We highlight several of his passages from his blog below (our emphasis in bold and italics):

“Proponents of private insurance exchanges argue that by pitting many health plans against each other and giving employees these choices we will have a more robust market which will drive health insurance prices down. But its dog eat dog out there now in the group health insurance business. Ask a business owner or benefits manager how they market their health insurance and they will tell you they have their consultant or broker regularly get bids from a number of insurers to improve their plan. Most small employers do it every year.

You know, it’s ironic that the country’s biggest insurance intermediaries selling these new exchanges—who are the ones now in charge of making a health insurance market on behalf of their employer clients—now think the current market doesn’t encourage aggressive competition! Just what have employers been paying these guys to do for all of these years?

Full story »


  06:08:06 pm, by MedBen5   , 190 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Drop In Colon Cancer Rates Suggests Value Of Screenings

A recent study of colon cancer surgeries suggests that the increased use of colonoscopies have contributed to a significant decline in the disease, according to

While colorectal cancer cases and deaths have been falling for decades, the past few years have seen a particularly dramatic drop. Per 100,000 people, surgery rates decreased from 71.1 in 1993 to 47.3 in 2009. Researchers found that most of the decline occurred in the latter half of that period, which coincided with the advent of private insurers and Medicare covering colonoscopies.

MedBen Worksite Wellness recommends regular colonoscopy screenings for men and women age 50 and older. The program also stresses the importance of an annual wellness exam, as well as testing for cholesterol, mammorgraphy, PSA and pap smear, based on age and gender. Practicing timely preventive care greatly improves the chance a cancer or other disease can be detected and treated successfully.

Worksite Wellness members can check their compliance with critical wellness examinations by visiting the MedBen Access website and clicking on the Wellness Plan link under “My Plan”.

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

  12:29:41 pm, by MedBen5   , 143 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Ohio Will Let Federal Government Run Insurance Exchange

Ohio will let the federal government run its health insurance exchange, The Plain Dealer reports.

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor said that state officials will send a letter Friday telling the federal government that it can oversee the operation of the exchange, which would serve as a one-stop shop for individuals and small businesses to buy insurance. However, the state will ask to retain regulatory authority over Medicaid eligibility and other matters.

The news comes as little shock. State officials had made no substantive effort to create an exchange, and Gov. John Kasich said in July that his administration would “probably” let the federal government run the exchange.

Still undetermined is whether or not state officials will play a role in educating Ohioans about the exchange or helping people enroll.

Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance exchanges are expected to begin operations in 2014.


  09:56:03 am, by MedBen5   , 792 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

MedBen and the Future of Health Care Reform

White House

The days following a Presidential Election – for some victory, for others disappointment. But here at MedBen it’s business as usual. For almost 75 years MedBen has seen various politicians’ health care and employee benefits ideas come and go. What’s been constant? MedBen’s ability to bring clear and accurate benefits administration and regulatory analysis to its clients in a timely and concise fashion. Today is no different!

It is clear that, for now, Health Care Reform is here to stay. What is not clear is how the ObamaCare programs will ultimately function. There are still a lot of unanswered questions and massive government mandates yet to implement which, to date, have no supporting regulations. The next year will bring as much confusion as it hopes to bring in clarity.

In the meantime, be on the lookout for new cost-saving schemes and one-stop solutions for your employee health benefits business. We have already seen ideas floated with little substantive or legitimate backing. There will be plenty of companies attempting to get your business by professing to be experts on Health Care Reform – even those that offer options based on regulations which have yet to be written.

Full story »


  11:40:07 am, by MedBen5   , 436 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Obama Victory Means Full Steam Ahead For Affordable Care Act

After months – really, years – of campaigning, the political dust has finally settled, and Barack Obama has been re-elected President. Which means any further talk of repealing the Affordable Care Act has been effectively silenced.

So now that we know the law will stand, what’s next for health care reform? Here’s a sampling of the chatter on the Internet today:

Modern Healthcare: “While President Barack Obama’s victory Tuesday night ensured the continued implementation of the [ACA], it also added pressure on the administration to offer healthcare interest groups more clarity on several provisions of the landmark 2010 law.

“Ilisa Halpern Paul, managing government relations director at Drinker Biddle & Reath in Washington, said she thinks the U.S. healthcare industry can expect the Obama administration to release a wave of policies and regulations quickly, especially as states have just until the end of next week to decide if they will establish a health insurance exchange. Until now, states have been ‘working with a blindfold on,’ Halpern Paul said, so it’s important for HHS to issue a final rule on the insurance exchanges. She expects that rule to be among the first regulations released. Also expected to be issued are a rule on essential health benefits and guidance for employers about what constitutes part-time and full-time employees, as employers will face penalties for not offering coverage to their workers.”

Full story »


  05:49:05 pm, by MedBen5   , 295 words,  
Categories: Wellness, Health Plan Management

Teeth Upkeep Requires Personal, Professional Care

Did you know that one in four adults over the age of 65 have lost all their teeth? Pretty shocking statistic, there.

If you would prefer to remain part of the other 75%, it’s in your best interest to take care of your pearly whites. WebMD identifies some of the ways that people damage their teeth:

  • Sugar. Probably no surprise that sugar does more harm to teeth than any other substance. Sugar is consumed by acid-producing bacteria in your mouth, which in turn eats away at tooth enamel.
  • Soda. Doesn’t matter if it’s sugar-free or not. Even club soda contains acids that can do damage.
  • Alcohol. Again, its acids can erode the teeth. Plus, alcohol dries out your mouth, reducing production of saliva, which helps to remove plaque from the teeth’s surface.
  • Smoking and Tobacco. The nicotine yellows teeth and can also cause oral cancer.
  • Other Risks. Using your teeth as a bottle or bag opener is just a bad idea. And if you like to chew on ice or pencils, you run the risk of cracking and damaging the tooth structure.

One more thing: Even if you treat your teeth with tender loving care, you still need to give them professional attention as well. MedBen Dental emphasizes preventive care through regular checkups and dental hygiene, while offering full-scale coverage. Every basic and major dental service, from x-rays and diagnostic casts to dentures and bridges, can be covered under the plan.

The flexible design of MedBen Dental helps employers put together a customized plan, at minimal cost. The employer simply selects the covered services and benefit options, such as deductibles and coinsurance, that best fit the needs of the company.

For additional information about MedBen Dental, contact Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.


  12:12:52 pm, by MedBen5   , 173 words,  
Categories: Announcements, Health Plan Management

Partners Community Health Plan Debuts "How To" Video

Partners Community Health Plan was designed by MedBen and its hospital and business partners to provide plan members with better health care at a better cost. Now, in order to help members best realize this goal, Partners has created a short, simple and instructive video.

(If you don’t see the video above, it can also be accessed at the Partners website and directly from YouTube.)

The video features:

  • A brief overview of plan benefits that cost you nothing, plus copayments, deductibles, coinsurance and out-of-pocket limits
  • What makes Partners different
  • Explanation of the Partners Home Network and finding providers
  • The purpose of the Backup Network and how referrals work
  • Additional Partners features

As the video notes, plan members with further questions about how to best use their plan can contact Partners Customer Service at (866) 202-7247.

Employers who would learn more about what Partners can do for their group are invited to talk to a Partners agent (a list is available at the Partners website) or call the MedBen Sales and Marketing Department at (888) 627-8683.


  01:42:54 pm, by MedBen5   , 350 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Presidential Health Reform Comparison Reveals Differing Philosophies

With the elections just days away, MedPage Today examines the health platforms of the two presidential candidates:

Barack Obama: “Despite its passage a little more than a year into President Obama’s first term, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) won’t fully be in place until well into a potential second term.

“That’s why the ACA has been such a central focus of the president’s healthcare platform. He wants to remain in office to oversee the law’s final implementation.

“Major provisions don’t kick in until 2014. Among them:

  • A Medicaid expansion that increases the eligibility limit to 133% of the federal poverty level for states willing to participate
  • The individual mandate, which requires citizens and legal residents to have coverage from a qualified health plan or face a penalty
  • Assessing a fee of $2,000 per full-time employee, excluding the first 30 workers, on businesses with more than 50 employees that don’t offer health coverage

“Taken together, the policies aim to increase health coverage and access for millions of uninsured Americans.”

Mitt Romney: “While President Obama has tried in his 4 years in the White House to expand health coverage to as many people as possible, health policy experts describe his opponent Mitt Romney’s mission as one that will focus on controlling costs first.

“After that, the theory goes, more people would buy coverage in due time, Cato Institute Senior Fellow Michael Tanner told MedPage Today, noting the difference in philosophies between the two candidates.

“Romney has campaigned for months with the promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – full implementation of which is a clear focus for the president – but he’s been light on details about what he would replace the law with. The policy points and philosophies the Romney camp has articulated seem to be fixated on lowering cost and heightening competition in the health insurance marketplace.

“For example, the former Massachusetts governor supports allowing the sale of health insurance across state lines, a policy also once offered by President George W. Bush. That move aims to lower the cost of insurance by quickly increasing the number of insurers in each state.”


  10:49:44 am, by MedBen5   , 275 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

A Romney Presidency Could Take Small Steps To Scale Back Reform

Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act if elected president next week – a promise that, as we noted on this blog several months ago, is easier said than done.

So assuming that immediate and total repeal is off the table, what actions could President Romney take if he won? The Los Angeles Times asked lawyers John D. Kraemer and Lawrence O. Gostin their thoughts on the matter:

“Romney might have some wiggle room with some subsidies intended to help low-income people buy health insurance. The law gave states the power to create health insurance exchanges, and the federal government can step in if they don’t. For some reason — an oversight, apparently — the ACA offers subsidies for low-income customers if they buy a health insurance plan from a state-run exchange but not from one run by the federal government. If Romney refused to extend the subsidies to people shopping on the federal exchange, the courts would probably allow it, according to the lawyers.

“Another thing Romney could probably do is effectively eliminate one of the most-criticized pieces of Obamacare: the individual mandate. Since the penalty for failing to buy an insurance policy is actually a tax, a Romney administration could direct the Internal Revenue Service not to collect that tax, sending a signal ‘that individuals would not be penalized for failing to purchase qualifying insurance,’ they wrote.”

Kraemer and Gostin note that a complete repeal of the ACA would require the cooperation of Congress – an unlikely scenario unless Republicans gain a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate on November 6. So bottom line, smaller steps are a more realistic strategy.


  10:29:19 am, by MedBen5   , 229 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Health Plan Management

"Use-It-Or-Lose-It" Time Fast Approaching For FSA Members

A Wall Street Journal article serves as a convenient reminder to flexible spending account members that we’re fast approaching “use-it-or-lose-it” time for any remaining funds.

Qualified medical purchases made on or before December 31, 2012 can be reimbursed from your account using 2012 funds. Purchases made after December 31 will be reimbursed with 2013 FSA contributions, and any remaining 2012 funds will be forfeited by the plan member.

But just what is a “qualified medical purchase"? As the WSJ notes:

“What does and doesn’t count as a qualified medical expense […] can be confusing. Under Section 213(d) of the Internal Revenue code, cosmetic procedures such as plastic surgery and teeth whitening are off-limits for FSA funds, but laser eye surgery is allowed.

“Over-the-counter drugs, except insulin, qualify only if you have a prescription for them, says Tom Billet a health and group-benefits consultant at Towers Watson. So if you want to use FSA funds on, say, aspirin, check with a doctor.”

Need to know what purchases are considered “qualified"? The website features a broad list of IRS-eligible expenses. And remember: Reimbursement requests and substantiation for your 2012 purchases will be accepted by MedBen for a limited time in 2013 – check with your plan administrator for the precise cutoff date.

If you have any questions regarding your company’s MedBen FSA plan, please contact Sharon A. Mills, Director of Administrative Services, at (800) 423-3151, Ext. 438 or


  05:19:36 pm, by MedBen5   , 680 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

MedBen Provides W-2 Data Collection and Reporting Assistance

In January 2013, many employers will be required to report the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored group health plan coverage for the 2012 calendar year on their employees’ 2012 W-2s. (Note that employers who filed less than 250 separate W-2s for 2011 are excluded from reporting this aggregate health plan information on their 2012 W-2s.) The aggregate cost reported for each employee must include both employee and employer contributions to the applicable coverage. The requirement applies to private, governmental and religious employers so long as they provide applicable employer-sponsored health coverage. This does not make the amount taxable; it is informational only.

The Internal Revenue Service has revised the form and instructions for filing the 2012 W-2. Applicable employer-sponsored group health plan costs must be aggregated into one dollar amount and that amount must be reported in any of the four (4) slots in Box 12 (12a through 12d) followed by code “DD”. (See the 2012 IRS Form W-2 here.) As in past years, if you need to use more than the four Box 12 slots to report the various items required to be reported in Box 12, additional W-2s must be issued. (See pages 15 – 17 of the 2012 W-2 Instructions which can be found here.) To report one single dollar amount in a Box 12 slot, you must combine the total reportable costs of all the applicable plan coverages for each of your employees. For instance, if an employee has more than one type of reportable health plan coverage, the reportable cost of each must be combined for Box 12.

Full story »


  04:52:41 pm, by MedBen5   , 294 words,  
Categories: Health Plan Management

Cost Containment Measures Save Money While Maintaining High Care Standards

On its company blog, MedBen’s cost containment partner inVentiv Medical Management (iMM) recently shared the story of 49 year-old from Alabama who suffered recurring episodes of a major depressive disorder.

Following a request by an in-network behavioral health provider to approve 27 days of inpatient therapy, iProcert (iMM’s in-house utilization review service) referred the case on to iMM professional negotiators to address savings opportunities:

“With readmission rates high, especially in behavioral health, our iProcert RN involved our Case Management team early in admission to prepare for the member’s discharge. Our RN Case Manager and Social Worker worked with the in-patient provider team to ensure appropriate care and resources at time of discharge. This included finding out-patient services in locations beyond Alabama as the member traveled frequently.”

The outcome? Appropriate care at the right location, coupled with professional negotiation, resulted in savings to the plan of $76,407 above the PPO discount already in place. More importantly, the risk of readmission was reduced with proactive care coordination and successful transition of care to the outpatient setting.

As an iMM partner, MedBen has saved its clients money, too – nearly $28 million in the past five years! iMM’s claims surveillance system uses over 80,000 financial and clinical algorithms to determine an employer’s potential for large loss, risk of inappropriate billing or fraud, and opportunity for further cost reduction. This extensive claims screening is performed at no additional charge to our clients.

When the surveillance system flags a claim, the iMM medical team further evaluates it to determine the appropriateness of charges and whether the treatment met established clinical guidelines. On average, this physician-driven process saves 45% per selected claim.

To learn more about this and other MedBen cost containment tools, contact Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.


  10:39:46 am, by MedBen5   , 212 words,  
Categories: Wellness

Reducing Cancer Risk With A Dose Of Worksite Wellness

Writing for, internal medicine physician Toni Brayer reminds us that our risk of cancer is not “all in the genes”:

  • Smoking, of course, greatly raises one’s odds of developing lung, throat, kidney, stomach and other cancers. Over one-fifth of cancer deaths per year are linked to tobacco use.
  • In recent years, obesity has increasingly become a factor. High fat diets are linked to colon, lung and postmenopausal breast cancer.
  • Excess alcohol intake also makes the body vulnerable to the disease. Heavy drinking is responsible for 4.6% of cancer cases in men and is the sixth-biggest risk for women.

Suffice it to say, there are a fair number of ways to put yourself at risk for cancer. And having a wellness ally in your corner can help to reduce that risk.

MedBen Worksite Wellness focuses on your total employee population with the promotion of early detection testing for cancer and other chronic conditions. It also emphasizes the importance of members having an annual wellness exam through their primary care physician. Offered in partnership with iHealth and designed by medical professionals, MedBen Worksite Wellness uses both proven and cutting-edge techniques to deliver maximum impact.

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


  04:32:20 pm, by MedBen5   , 405 words,  
Categories: Announcements, News

MedBen Honors Freeman, Delcher and Harris for 25 Years of Service

Cara Delcher, Doug Freeman and Janice Harris

Three MedBen employees, including Chairman of the Board & CEO Doug Freeman, were honored for 25 years of service at an employee appreciation luncheon on Friday, October 5. Employees who had reached other anniversary benchmarks were also recognized for their achievements.

Freeman was hired as President in 1987 to lead MedBen as it made the transition from a hospital services association to a mutual life insurance company. He was elected to Chairman earlier this year.

From his previous employer Freeman enlisted Cara Delcher, who too was honored at the event. Delcher joined MedBen as a Systems Coordinator, and was named a Vice President in 1992. She currently serves as Vice President of Risk Management and Quality Systems.

Rounding out the quarter-century honorees was Janice Harris, who preceded Freeman and Delcher at MedBen by several months. Initially alternating between the Administration and Information System departments, she was soon working in IS exclusively – and continues to do so two decades later as an Operations and Security Administrator.

Full story »


  05:30:13 pm, by MedBen5   , 142 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

U.S. Cholesterol Levels Have Improved In Last Two Decades

Despite rising obesity levels, the cholesterol levels of Americans have improved significantly over the past 20 years, according to a new government study.

USA Today reports that the favorable trend may be attributable to a decreased intake of trans fats in people’s diets and the increased use of cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Among the findings reported in the Journal of the American Medication Association:

  • Average total cholesterol dropped from 206 in 1988 to 196 in 2010. In 1960, cholesterol levels were an average of 222.
  • Average bad (LDL) cholesterol fell from 129 in 1988 to 116 in 2010.
  • Good (HDL) cholesterol increased modestly from about 51 to 53 during that time period.
  • The percentage of adults taking cholesterol-lowering medications increased from 3.4% in 1988 to 15.5% in 2010.

The improvement in cholesterol has contributed to a 31% decrease in the rate of death from cardiovascular disease, from 1998 to 2008. However, the disease is still the leading cause of death in the U.S.


  05:36:49 pm, by MedBen5   , 206 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Reform Provision Hits Military In The Wallet

One of the health care reform’s more vaunted benefits – the ability to insure children up to age 26 – has resulted in higher costs to our men and women in uniform, Forbes magazine reports:

“As any actuary could have explained to Democrats had they taken the time to ask, this mandate will dramatically drive up the cost of health insurance for children. Of course, they didn’t ask. They believed that by expanding health coverage to millions of uninsured people health spending, and therefore premiums, would actually go down.

“Most workers with employer-based coverage won’t see much of an increase because the employer providing their health insurance often covers most of the premium cost. Except, it turns out, for the military.As the Wall Street Journal reports, ‘Families covered by Tricare, the health program for active and retired members of the military, must pay as much as $200 a month to let an adult stay on their plan until age 26.’ “That would be $2,400 for the first year of coverage for a family on a military salary. As President Obama might say, it’s arithmetic. If it’s two young adults, it’s $4,800 a year. Thank you for your service!”

Read more at the Forbes website.

  05:00:53 pm, by MedBen5   , 219 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Group Support Helps Weight Loss, Study Suggests

In the battle of the bulge, the team approach increases one’s odds of losing weight, a new report suggests.

“Group-based weight-loss treatment produced weight loss, whether delivered by a professional or peer counselor,” said study author Angela Marinilli Pinto, assistant professor of psychology at Baruch College of the City University of New York. “When people are in a group with others on the same journey, they feel there is that element of, ‘OK, this worked for him or her, perhaps it will work for me. Perhaps I can give it a try.’”

According to HealthDay News, researchers randomly assigned 141 overweight or obese men and women to one of three groups. The first group got 48 weeks of behavioral weight-loss treatment from a health professional; the second, 48 weeks in Weight Watchers; and the third, 12 weeks of the professional treatment followed by 36 weeks of Weight Watchers.

After 48 weeks, the researchers found that group only in Weight Watchers lost the most weight – 13.2 pounds, on average. Those in the professionally led group lost 11.9 pounds, while the combination groups lost only 7.9 pounds.

HealthDay notes that those in the Weight Watchers group were more likely to lose 10% or more of their starting weight than the other groups. Losing 10% of excess weight is viewed by experts as enough to make a difference in disease risk.


  11:53:30 am, by MedBen5   , 155 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription

FDA Closes Down 18,000 Illegal Pharmacy Websites

If the information superhighway feels a little safer to navigate lately, thank the Food and Drug Administration. Working with international regulatory and law enforcement agencies from about 100 countries, the FDA has taken action against more than 4,100 online pharmacies, resulting in the shutdown of 18,000 illegal websites.

Reuters reports that the effort was part of the fifth annual International Internet Week of Action, which took place between September 25 and October 2. During that time, the agencies made 79 arrests and seized 3.7 million doses of counterfeit medicines worth an estimated $10.5 million.

“Consumers in the United States and around the world face a real threat from Internet pharmacies that illegally sell potentially substandard, counterfeit, adulterated or otherwise unsafe medicines,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement.

Among the potentially unsafe and unapproved medicines confiscated were the antiviral Tamiflu and the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra. The FDA also sent warning letters to online pharmacies selling “female Viagra,” which does not exist.


  04:45:41 pm, by MedBen5   , 327 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Almost Half Of States Miss Deadline To Designate Essential Health Benefits

Ohio and Indiana are among 13 states that did not designate an essential health benefits, or EHB, benchmark by the October 1 deadline, according to a dispatch from the trade association America’s Health Insurance Plans. A provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), EHBs list the benefits covered under qualified health plans that will be offered in health insurance exchanges.

In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Ohio Lt. Governor Mary Taylor said that the state had not been given adequate information and guidance to set its list of essential health benefits. Indiana Department of Insurance Commissioner Stephen Robertson cited a similar reason, adding that the state won’t select an EHB plan until after a new governor takes office.

The other 11 states that failed to provide an EHB benchmark are Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Another 9 states (DC, KS, ME, MA, MN, MS, NC, TX, VT, and VA) and the District of Columbia told HHS they required further study before making a decision, while seven states (AK, GA, ID, MO, MT, SC, and WY) provided no public information as to their actions.

States that did not designate an EHB benchmark could ultimately default to the federal fallback option, which is the largest small group plan in the state. It remains uncertain whether HHS will permit states to select a benchmark plan past the expiration date.

As for the 21 states that did designate EHBs (AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IL, KY, MD, MI, NE, NH, NM, NY, ND, OR, RI, SD, UT, and WA), most selected one of their three largest small group plans as the benchmark. Three states (Arizona, Maryland and Utah) selected a state employee plan, while another three (Connecticut, Michigan and North Dakota) chose an HMO plan. And Nebraska selected a high-deductible plan, though that choice is currently under review by HHS to determine whether it satisfies the ACA requirements.

  10:53:39 am, by MedBen5   , 229 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Meningitis Outbreak Caused By Tainted Steroid Shots

An outbreak of fungal meningitis was apparently caused by tainted steriod injections, WebMD Health News reports.

As of October 10, about 13,000 people in 23 states got the fungus-contaminated steroid pain shots, resulting in a total of 137 people who have so far been stricken with the rare condition, according to Reuters. The Centers for Disease Control has linked 12 deaths to the injections.

Despite the grim news, most shot recipients have nothing to fear, notes John Jernigan, MD, director of the CDC’s office of health care infection prevention, research, and evaluation.

“The attack rate is still to be determined, but so far it appears that the vast majority of patients who received the injection have not developed evidence of meningitis,” Jernigan says in an email to WebMD. “But the investigation is ongoing, and exposed patients and their physicians should be vigilant for signs of illness.”

Meningitis is a fungal infection of the fluid surrounding a person’s spinal cord and brain. All the cases to date have been in patients who received spinal injections to relieve back pain. Symptoms vary, but include severe headaches and fever.

No patient who received a shot with the contaminated steroids in such joints as the knee or elbow has reported an infection. But the CDC is warning such patients to be on the lookout for such symptoms as swelling, increasing pain, redness and warmth at the injection site.

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