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08/16/12

  09:31:19 am, by MedBen5   , 162 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Obesity A Crisis In All 50 States

No matter what state you venture into, you’re going to run into a lot of obese people. That’s the finding in a new report from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Mississippi and Louisiana, over one-third of the population are obese, with another 10 states close behind at over 30%. But even the state with the lowest proportion (Colorado, at 20.7%) has an obesity rate of more than 1 in 5.

CDC based the numbers on the results of its annual self-report health survey. Participants weren’t asked specifically if they’re obese; rather, the survey asked their height and weight, and researchers calculated their body mass index, or BMI. A BMI of 30 or more was considered obese.

You can see the entire list of state obesity levels at WebMD, but here’s where some Midwest states rank:

  • West Virginia – Ranked #3, with a 32.4% obesity level
  • Michigan – #5, 31.3%
  • Indiana – #8 (tie), 30.8%
  • Kentucky – #9 (tie), 30.4%
  • Ohio – #11 (tie), 29.6%
  • Tennessee – #12 (tie), 29.2%
  • Virginia – #12 (tie), 29.2%
  • Pennsylvania – #16, 28.6%
  • Wisconsin – #22, 27.7%
  • Illinois – #24, 27.1%

08/15/12

  12:02:50 pm, by MedBen5   , 235 words,  
Categories: Health Plan Management

Reform Law Will Create "Two-Tier" Health Care System

Last week on this blog, we highlighted a New York Times story that discusses an unavoidable downside of the health care reform law: a shortage of doctors, resulting in longer wait times.

Taking this inevitability one step further, John C. Goodman, president of The National Center for Policy Analysis, opines that the shortage will produce a health care system that provides vastly different levels of service for the “haves” and the “have-nots":

“As physicians increasingly have to allocate their time, patients in plans that pay below-market prices will likely wait longest. Those patients will be the elderly and the disabled on Medicare, low-income families on Medicaid, and […] people with subsidized insurance acquired in ObamaCare’s newly created health insurance exchanges.

“Their wait will only become longer as more and more Americans turn to concierge medicine for their care. Although the model differs from region to region and doctor to doctor, concierge medicine basically means that patients pay doctors to be their agents, rather than the agents of third-party-payers such as insurance companies or government bureaucracies. […]

“I predict that in the next several years concierge medicine will grow rapidly, and every senior who can afford one will have a concierge doctor. A lot of non-seniors will as well. We will quickly evolve into a two-tiered health-care system, with those who can afford it getting more care and better care.”

Read more at The Wall Street Journal website.

  11:07:31 am, by MedBen5   , 200 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Task Force Doesn't Support Regular Hearing Tests For Older Adults

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has declined to recommend hearing tests for older adults without symptoms of hearing loss, The New York Times reports.

“We just don’t have enough evidence to show there would be a benefit,” said Dr. Albert Siu, a vice chairman of the task force and chairman of geriatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “Hearing loss hasn’t been adequately addressed in the research literature.”

In fact, only one randomized controlled trial has been conducted to examine the effect of screening for hearing problems in people age 50 and older – the Screening for Auditory Impairment-Which Hearing Assessment Test, or SAI-WHAT. (Who says researchers don’t have a sense of humor?) But while that study found a link between individuals who tested positive for hearing loss and the eventual use of a hearing aid, the effects were modest, and the use of participants who had already reported hearing problems limited its usefulness.

Jaynee Handelsman, vice president of the audiology practice at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, says the task force’s decision “is a call to action to researchers” for additional study. The organization currently recommends screening adults 50 and older every three years for hearing problems.

08/14/12

  05:07:29 pm, by MedBen5   , 223 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

IRS Interpretation Of Health Care Provision Raises Concerns

An Internal Revenue Service interpretation of the Affordable Care Act could make health care coverage subsidies unavailable to millions of lower-income Americans, The New York Times reports:

“Under the law, most Americans will be required to have health insurance starting in 2014. Low- and middle-income people can get tax credits and other subsidies to help pay their premiums, unless they have access to affordable coverage from an employer.

“The law specifies that employer-sponsored insurance is not affordable if a worker’s share of the premium is more than 9.5 percent of the worker’s household income. The I.R.S. says this calculation should be based solely on the cost of individual coverage for the employee, what the worker would pay for ’self-only coverage.’

“Critics say the administration should also take account of the costs of covering a spouse and children because family coverage typically costs much more.”

“The effect of this wrong interpretation of the law will be that many families remain or potentially become uninsured,” said a letter to the administration from Democrats who otherwise support the law. But Kathryn Wilber, a lawyer at the American Benefits Council, says the I.R.S. got it right: “Employers who offer health coverage do so primarily on behalf of their employees. Although many employers do provide family coverage to full-time employees, many do not.”

  04:19:38 pm, by MedBen5   , 182 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription

Many Drugs Prescribed For "Off-Label" Use, Study Reveals

According to HealthDay News (via MedicineNet.com), recent research shows that many patients are unknowingly taking “off-label” drugs – medications prescribed to treat illnesses other than which they were approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

In addition to prescribing for non-approved purposes, off-label drug use also refers to an improper dosage or form of dosage, or medication approved only for adults but prescribed for children. A 2006 report found that among the most common medications, one in five prescriptions was for an off-label use.

“Since the [FDA] does not regulate the practice of medicine, off-label drug use has become very common,” study lead author Dr. Christopher Wittich, an internal medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said in a clinic news release. “Health care providers and patients should educate themselves about off-label drugs to weigh the risks and benefits before a physician prescribes one or a patient takes one.”

MedBen pharmacy plan members who wish to research approved prescription drug usage have a convenient resource – RxEOB. Simply log on to the MedBen Access website and click on “My Rx”.

08/13/12

  05:13:50 pm, by MedBen5   , 130 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Tell IRS To Lose FSA "Use It Or Lose It"

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has asked for comments on eliminating the “use it or lose it” rule for Flexible Spending Plans. We need your help telling the IRS why the forfeiture rule is burdensome, outdated and needs to be modified.

MedBen has composed a sample letter to the IRS. Please feel free to use this letter, add in your own comments or write your own letter. Comments related to the “use it or lose it” rule must be received by the IRS on or before August 17, 2012.

Once completed, the comment letter should be submitted electronically to notice.comments@irscounsel.treasury.gov. Please reference “Notice 2012-40” in the subject line.

Ultimately, the more comments the IRS receives that encourage a rule change, the greater the chances it will get done.

  01:27:02 pm, by MedBen5   , 184 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Most Employers Anticipate Higher Costs From Health Care Law

Most businesses aren’t buying the claims that the Affordable Care Act will reduce health care costs. A new survey by the Mercer consulting firm found that 61% of employers expect to pay more for their group health coverage – and 1 in 5 thinks that increase will be at least 5%.

The Los Angeles Times reports that employers in retail and hospitality, which typically have large numbers of part-time and lower-paid employers, will see larger health care cost bumps than other industries. That’s because those business will be required to extend coverage to all employees working 30 hours or more per week or face possible penalties, according to Mercer.

“Extending coverage to more employees will be a significant new expense for these employers,” said Tracy Watts, Mercer’s U.S. health care reform leader, “especially because other provisions [of the law] regulate how much an employer can require employees to contribute to the cost and how good the coverage must be.”

The survey also revealed that 6% of respondents said they would drop employee coverage when government insurance exchanges become available in 2014. For retail and hospitality employers, the number jumps to 9%.

  01:07:05 pm, by MedBen5   , 199 words,  
Categories: News

Truthfully Speaking, Telling Lies Can Hurt Health

No kidding: Telling the truth improves your physical and mental health, a new study suggests.

According to USA Today, researchers monitored 110 adults for 10 weeks. Half the participants were told to refrain from telling lies for any reason; the other individuals received no such instructions. Throughout this period, the participants took lie detector tests, reported the number of major and minor lies they told each week, and answered questions about their health and relationships.

“When they went up in their lies, their health went down,” says lead author Anita Kelly, a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. “When their lies went down, their health improved.”

The study found that that the link between truth-telling and better health was particularly strong for participants in the no-lie group. For example, individuals who told three fewer minor lies reported four fewer mental-health complaints (i.e., feeling tense or melancholy) and three fewer physical complaints (sore throats, headaches).

Earlier research indicates that Americans lie an average of 11 times a week. Bringing that number down eases anxiety, says Linda Stroh, a professor emeritus of organizational behavior at Loyola University. “Being very conflicted adds an inordinate amount of stress to your life.”

08/09/12

  05:03:25 pm, by MedBen5   , 213 words,  
Categories: Prescription, Wellness

Got Insomnia? Skip The Sleeping Pills, Expert Says

If you’ve got insomnia, better you read a book than reach for a pill, suggests sleep expert Leon Lack of Flinders University.

According to Medical Xpress, Lack said that “hypnotic drugs” may provide short-term relief, but in the long term can lead to dependence. Moreover, people can still suffer from poor sleep even after taking the pill.

“Effectively you buy a bit of sleep on your credit card but then you have to pay it back later, sometimes with interest, so in the long-term you don’t gain anything you just offset the insomnia,” Lack noted.

It’s important to understand that not sleeping straight through the night doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem. “During the light sleep stage you’re likely to awaken – which is perfectly normal and increases with age – but the media’s constant reports about the importance of a solid eight hours sleep create anxiety and anxiety in the middle of the night is not conducive to sleep, so then it becomes ingrained,” he said.

The best way to prevent insomnia? Use the bedroom only for sleep and go to bed when tired. And if you can’t nod off within 15 minutes, get out of bed – “don’t lie there awake because that associates the bedroom with frustration and anxiety,” Lack said.

  04:40:51 pm, by MedBen5   , 172 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

CBO: 30 Million Will Remain Uninsured When ACA Rules Are In Place

Nobody ever promised that the Affordable Care Act would single-handedly solve all that ails health care (not that we recall, anyhow). But a new Congressional Budget Office report suggests that even when the law’s provisions are in place, we will still have a long way to go.

According to CNSNews.com, the CBO report estimates that in 2022, 30 million non-elderly Americans will still lack health insurance. Theat represents a decrease of 23 million from the current number, including uninsured illegal aliens.

The 2022 figure was slightly greater than a previous CBO estimate of 27 million. The number of uninsured was inflated following the Supreme Court decision that states cannot be obligated under the ACA to expand eligibility for their Medicaid programs.

“Some states will probably forgo the expansion entirely; some are likely to expand coverage to everyone whose income is below 138 percent of the FPL [federal poverty level]; and if the flexibility is allowed, some states may choose partial expansions. Further, states may be able to make those choices in any year after 2014,” the report said.

  04:13:42 pm, by MedBen5   , 177 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

More Americans Walking -- Just Not As Long

More Americans are walking around, but not for nearly as long as they should, according to the results of a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

USA Today reports that about 62% of adults in 2010 said they took at least one 10-minute walk in the past week, compared with 56% in 2005. In real numbers, that represents an increase from 130 million people to 145 million.

“The basic news today is that physical activity is the wonder drug, and more Americans are making a great first step in getting more physical activity,” said CDC director Thomas Frieden. “Walking is the easiest, most accessible way” to be more active, he added.

The big picture is somewhat less positive, however. The average time people reported they spend walking decreased from 15 minutes a day – roughly 105.5 minutes a week – in 2005, to 13 minutes a day or about 91 minutes a week in 2010.

The federal govenment currently recommends that adults get at least 2.5 hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, such as brisk walking, for at least 10 minutes at a time.

08/07/12

  05:24:10 pm, by MedBen5   , 191 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

With States Passing On Exchanges, Federal Government Faces Challenge

When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, President Obama and lawmakers took it for granted that every state would willingly establish its own health insurance exchange. A misguided assumption, to put it mildly.

According to The New York Times, roughly half of the 50 states are either unable or unwilling to set up the marketplaces, which allow individuals to shop for insurance and get subsidies to help pay for it, by 2014. And that leaves federal officials with the daunting task of getting the exchanges up and running.

Vastly complicating matters is the fact that the exchanges can’t be “one size fits all” – every state has its own rules regarding which benefits must be offered in health insurance plans. Moreover, officials want to avoid the appearance of a federal takeover of health care.

Federal insurance regulator Michael Hash says the exchanges are on track to go live when open enrollment begins for the individual and small group markets in October 2013. Much of the work will be outsourced to advertising agencies (to devise an “outreach and education campaign”) and private contractors (to provide “in-person assistance” to consumers and to operate call centers).

  12:30:46 pm, by MedBen5   , 172 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

New Swine Flu Strain Affects Fairgoers

While far from an epidemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is taking a new strain of “swine” flu seriously.

HealthDay News reports that the H3H2 strain has thus far only been spread from pigs-to-humans, rather than from person-to-person. But the virus does contain an element seen in H1N1, the pandemic 2009 swine flu strain.

“[A] H3N2 candidate vaccine has been prepared and clinical trials are being planned for this year,” said Dr. Joseph Bresee, from the CDC’s influenza division, at a press conference last week.

So far, 29 cases of the virus have been reported in the past year, but 16 have occurred in the last month alone. Ten of the most recent cases were reported in Ohio, involving people who had direct contact with pigs at county fairs. No hospitalization was required in any of the latest cases.

UPDATE (8/13/12): The Los Angeles Times reports that the strain of flu has infected at least 145 people, mostly children, since July 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  12:00:50 pm, by MedBen5   , 201 words,  
Categories: Wellness, Health Plan Management

Faster Lab Test Results Require Professional Follow-up

Kevin Pho, a primary care physician and blogger – and whose KevinMD.com website we frequently highlight here – recently wrote a column for USA Today regarding patient access to lab test results. He observes that while having to wait days or even weeks before getting results can negatively impact patients’ health, faster turnaround times also have a potential downside:

“Patients should have access to their lab tests. But it is crucial that a medical professional explains the results. Raw numbers without the benefit of context can also cause patient anxiety. Some abnormal results are due to chance or lab errors. Other results can be a normal variation for that individual patient. Many lab results are misleading and not indicative of any disease.

tients often assume the worst, so viewing results alone might cause unnecessary alarm.

“An unintended consequence of this approach could be that anxious patients flood doctors’ offices with telephone calls. Or they might go to the Internet for a general interpretation, which isn’t geared to a patient’s individual condition. A website could also provide the wrong information, which is sometimes based on opinion.”

Pho also suggests that at-home tests should always be followed up with “professional post-test guidance".

08/06/12

  05:15:15 pm, by MedBen5   , 596 words,  
Categories: Health Plan Management

SBC Requirements for HRAs

Several months ago, this blog examined what types of health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are excepted from Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) requirements under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. We now turn our spotlight on health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

Because an HRA is a group health plan, its benefits generally do not constitute excepted benefits. Therefore, HRAs are generally subject to SBC rules, which require that health care benefits be included in a standardized overview that individuals can use to uniformly compare health care plan offerings.

HRAs are account-based benefits which, by their very nature, impose upper limits on the dollar value of benefits. But several exceptions can allow HRAs the ability to avoid the annual and lifetime limit restrictions by design:

  • Retiree only HRAs, which are excepted under the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) mandates.
  • HRAs that provide only a limited scope of benefits, such as dental- or vision-only.
  • HRAs that have employer contributions and maximum balances of $500 or less per year.
  • HRAs with balances as much as 500% of the “annual value of the coverage” may be exempt. (In February 2012, HHS released guidance describing a proposed method for estimating the actuarial value (AV) of health plan benefits in 2014. They indicated that for purposes of calculating the AV of an employer health benefit plan, the annual employer contribution made available for the first time in a given year under an HRA that is linked to an employer health benefit plan shall be considered part of the benefit design of the health plan.)
  • HRAs that are integrated with other coverage as part of a more comprehensive group health plan will not violate annual limit rules as long as the other coverage on its own complies with the annual and lifetime limit restrictions. The guidance provided doesn’t elaborate on what is necessary to make an HRA “integrated”.

Full story »

  12:38:54 pm, by MedBen5   , 128 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription

FDA Approves Generic Versions Of Singulair

Singulair users can expect to pay less for their prescriptions soon. WebMD reports that the Food and Drug Administration has given 10 generic drugmakers approval to begin making generic versions of the popular asthma and allergy drug.

Formally known as montelukast, Singulair blocks the action of body chemicals that cause symptoms of asthma and hay fever. The drug is meant to suppress the onset of asthma, rather than stop sudden attacks.

Singulair is usually taken in tablet form, and nine of the ten drugmakers will produce a generic chewable tablet. Teva Pharmaceuticals has received approval for the oral granule form.

In clinical trials, common side effects in patients taking Singulair were upper respiratory infection, fever, headache, sore throat, cough, stomach pain, diarrhea, earache, flu, runny nose, and sinus infection.

  11:17:24 am, by MedBen5   , 202 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Doctor Shortage An Inevitable Result Of Reform Law

Whatever your feelings about the Affordable Care Act – whether it will benefit health care or hinder it, save the U.S. money or further strain the budget – there is one unavoidable outcome to providing coverage to tens of millions of previously insured individuals: a deficit of physicians. The New York Times offers some perspective:

“The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that in 2015 the country will have 62,900 fewer doctors than needed. And that number will more than double by 2025, as the expansion of insurance coverage and the aging of baby boomers drive up demand for care. Even without the health care law, the shortfall of doctors in 2025 would still exceed 100,000.

“Health experts, including many who support the law, say there is little that the government or the medical profession will be able to do to close the gap by 2014, when the law begins extending coverage to about 30 million Americans. It typically takes a decade to train a doctor. […]

“Experts describe a doctor shortage as an ‘invisible problem.’ Patients still get care, but the process is often slow and difficult.”

The shortage will likely send more consumers to in-store clinics. Read more about that on the Los Angeles Times website.

  10:35:20 am, by MedBen5   , 218 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Study: U.S. Adults' Perception Of Their Weight Ignores Reality

Many Americans live in denial regarding their excess weight, reveals a new study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

According to HealthDay News, the researchers are concerned about the national health implications of the findings. “If people aren’t in touch with their weight and changes in their weight over time, they might not be motivated to lose weight,” the study’s lead author, Catherine Wetmore, said in an institute news release.

Most disconcerting to the research team: Many of the 775,000 adults surveyed from 2008 and 2009 believed that had actually lost weight when data indicates that the prevalence of obesity grew during that period. That could indicate a troubling disconnect between the perception of the U.S. obesity epidemic and the reality.

A major part of the problem is that Americans underestimate their caloric intake because “our super size portions have become acceptable,” said Sharon Zarabi, nutritionist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Want to grab a 32-ounce soda at the movie theater with your medium-sized popcorn? Right there you just added almost 900 empty calories.”

Karen Congro, nutritionist and director of the Wellness for Life Program at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, New York City, sums up the dilemma: “When it comes to weight, there is a lot of magical thinking going on.”

08/03/12

  04:32:29 pm, by MedBen5   , 190 words,  
Categories: Announcements

Kirk Joins MedBen Sales Team

Lindsay Kirk

MedBen is pleased to announce the addition of Lindsay Kirk to the MedBen Sales and Marketing team. In her role as Regional Sales Manager, Kirk will serve current and prospective MedBen clients in Northern and Central Ohio. Kirk joined MedBen in 2011 as a member of the benefits management company’s Client Services department. Prior to that, she served six years in pharmaceutical sales.

“Lindsay’s background in pharmaceutical sales gives her a unique perspective on the health care business,” said Brian Fargus, MedBen Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “With prescription care increasingly consuming a larger portion of health care expenses, it helps current and prospective clients to have access to someone so knowledgeable about drug costs as well as lower-priced alternatives on the market.”

In addition to her pharmaceutical sales experience, Kirk has served in various sales positions. “As MedBen offers a variety of health benefits services, it’s ideal to have a representative like Lindsay who has wide ranging experience in sales,” Fargus said.

Lindsay is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science degree. She resides in Newark, Ohio with her husband, Wade.

  03:59:00 pm, by MedBen5   , 158 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Survey: 9% Of Employers Expect To Drop Coverage Under ACA

While most businesses will continue to offer group health plans to their employees, about 9% expect to drop their coverage in the next 1-3 years, according to a recent survey by the consulting company Deloitte. This is slightly higher than the Congressional Budget Office estimate that 7% of workers could lose employer coverage under the Affordable Care Act by 2019.

The Washington Times reports that the survey of 560 businesses currently offering health care benefits found that 81% of responding companies have no plans to stop offering coverage when insurance exchanges are introduced in 2014. The remaining 10% said they weren’t sure.

However, whether employers stick to their current course of action depends on another provision of the health care reform law – a tax on high-cost plans slated to take effect in 2018. One in three respondents said they would drop coverage if they determine it would be cheaper to pay the penalty for not providing insurance.

Deloitte conducted the study between February and April 2012.

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