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07/30/12

  01:12:41 pm, by MedBen5   , 125 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription

Ohio Providers Battle Painkiller Abuse With Military Technology

The Wall Street Journal Health Blog reports on high-tech efforts by southern Ohio health care providers to combat painkiller abuse:

“Starting this week, patients must submit to a fingerprint scan to see a doctor at one hospital system. At several pharmacies, patients must use fingerprint IDs to get their prescriptions filled.

“The one-year pilot program, announced Thursday, was green-lighted in recent weeks by the state’s Republican Gov. John Kasich. If the technology works, fingerprint scans could become more commonplace in Ohio – a state where an average of 67 opioid painkillers are prescribed to every resident each year, state data show.”

The biometric tools used to perform the scans are similar to those used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, the blog notes.

  12:41:59 pm, by MedBen5   , 193 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

CBO: Court Ruling Will Cut Costs But Add To Uninsured

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently reported that the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold most of the Affordable Care Act will save about $84 billion, but also means that 3 million more people will lack health insurance.

According to The Hill’s Healthwatch blog, the two changes result from the court’s decision that states must be allowed to opt out of the health care reform law’s Medicaid expansion.

CBO also estimated that a complete repeal of the ACA would increase federal deficits by $109 billion in 10 years, though that did mark a reduction from a previous estimate of $210 billion.

Both political parties found partisan ammunition in the report:

  • “Our Republicans keep talking about repealing the deficit, but they’ve now voted more than 30 times to bore a hole in the deficit by more than $100 billion,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
  • “CBO exposed the president’s partisan health law for what it is: a massive expansion of government paid for with over a trillion dollars in tax increases, while increasing costs on the backs of middle-class families, job creators and states during the worst economic downturn in a generation,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Ut.) said in a statement.
  11:54:21 am, by MedBen5   , 242 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Prostate Cancer Studies Offer Support For And Against Testing

The debate regarding the usefulness of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests rages on, with separate research offering evidence for both the “pro” and “con” camps:

  • According to WebMD, a study suggests that routine PSA tests can catch prostate cancer before it spreads, potentially sparing 17,000 Americans each year the worst form of the disease.

    Researchers compared data from the years 1983-85 – a period preceding widespread PSA testing – to 2006-08. They found that men getting their first diagnosis of the disease in the earlier period were three times more likely to learn they had late-stage metastatic prostate cancer, which is typically fatal within two years or less.

    “By not using PSA tests in the vast majority of men, you have to accept you are going to increase very serious metastatic disease threefold,” says study leader Edward Messing, MD, chief of urology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

  • Men with prostate cancer are more likely to die from heart disease or other conditions than from their cancer, a Harvard School of Public Health study finds.

    HealthDay News reports that, according to study researchers, men who live a healthy lifestyle that helps prevent chronic disease can prolong their lives even if they have the disease.

    “We hope it will encourage physicians to use the diagnosis as a teachable moment to encourage men to modify lifestyle factors, like losing weight, increasing physical activity and stopping smoking,” explained Mara Epstein, a postdoctoral researcher at the school.

07/25/12

  01:07:38 pm, by MedBen5   , 210 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Reform Rules Spur Employers To Explore Self-Funding

The Affordable Care Act will spur more small business to self-fund their health care coverage, says a new paper by the Center for Studying Health System Change.

According to Modern Healthcare, the report concluded that employers with fewer than 100 workers may accept the risk of employee health care cost because it exempts them from certain provisions of the reform law, such as state review of premium rate increases, community rating for premiums and essential health benefits.

The Center based its findings on interviews with health plans, stop-loss insurers and third-party administrators.

At MedBen, small employers can explore alternatives to fully-insured coverage. MedBen third party administration offers groups the advantage of having a custom plan design to provide greater control over their money. MedBen delivers the expertise and technology to manage your self-funded health plan in the most cost-effective manner.

Groups not yet ready to totally make the switch to self-funding may want to consider the advantages of a partially self-funded plan. MedBen Split Solution lets employers share in the savings that come from a favorable claims experience by partially self-funding their benefits, while retaining the security of a fully-insured contract.

To learn more about these funding alternatives, contract MedBen Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.

07/24/12

  05:13:58 pm, by MedBen5   , 212 words,  
Categories: Wellness

Waiting For Medical Results Can Be A Test Of Patience

Anyone who has had to wait for important medical test results knows how stressful the experience can be, as thoughts alternative between hoping for the best and fearing for the worst. Increased online availability of test results speeds up the process, but leaves the patient unassisted when interpreting the information.

The New York Times highlights the physical and mental effects of prolonged anticipation:

“The impact of waiting for test results on patient anxiety is significant. It has been studied in breast cancer biopsy patients, infertility patients and patients undergoing genetic testing, among others. Stress alone, these studies show, can affect recovery time and exacerbate side effects from medications. The psychological toll in households can also be harsh, especially among family members with clashing coping styles – if, say, one person has an optimistic bent, while the other tends to presume the worst.”

The Times also suggests some pretest questions to ask doctor and medical staff:

  • What precisely can this test reveal? What are its limitations?
  • How long should results take, and why? Will the doctor call with results, or should I contact the office?
  • If it’s my responsibility to call, what is the best time, and whom should I ask for?
  • What is the doctor’s advice about getting results online?
  04:37:13 pm, by MedBen5   , 189 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

Rise In Diabetes Spurs New Treatment Strategies

The rise in U.S. obesity over the past several decades has been accompanied by a increase in Type 2 diabetes. The best strategy for reducing the risk of the disease is a sensible weight loss program. But for those already afflicted, the solution is less clear.

The Wall Street Journal recently explored new strategies for treating diabetes. Revised guidelines for treating the disease suggest doctors eschew a one-size-fits-all program, instead varying treatments based on a patient’s age, general health and even personal preferences.

For example: Earlier standards advocated reducing the blood sugar of diabetes patients to a standard targeted level. But the new guidelines recommend that doctors reserve that strategy for younger patients, while using a less aggressive approach with older patients.

A more extreme approach for treating the disease is bariatric surgery, which results in dramatic weight loss. In spite of its potential complications, the treatment has increasingly found favor in the medical community as obesity rates have grown.

The latest guidelines do reaffirm a gradual boost in drug therapy dosage. But recent research suggests that hitting the disease early and hard may be a more effective approach.

07/23/12

  04:27:04 pm, by MedBen5   , 253 words,  
Categories: Prescription

All Pharmacies Are Not Created Equal

On the KevinMD.com blog, Medical student Arvin Akhavan argues for a more transparent pharmaceutical pricing system:

“I consider myself well educated. I’m a college graduate and in the throes of professional school – in healthcare nonetheless. I have an open mind and I read quite a bit. But I still wouldn’t have guessed that Coumadin would cost my uninsured father in Texas $15 for thirty pills at CVS, but only $4 for the same number of tablets at Walmart (I can actually vouch for this number).

“I would have thought it was safe to assume that drug prices are comparable across the board. After all, that’s how it usually works, right? When I buy gum, I have faith that I won’t pay triple the price at one convenience store compared to another. But with pharmacies, this just isn’t the case. […]

“That’s why transparency is so important to the prescription medication consumer. Few of us have any idea as to how much drugs should cost. And, since many states don’t require their pharmacies to release their drug costs unless someone is buying them, the consumer has no convenient way of amassing the information it needs to choose from the options.”

MedBen agrees that the more information about drug prices, the better. That’s why we encourage our pharmacy plan members to visit RxEOB online, to check retail costs of thousands of brand name and generic medications. Simply log on to the MedBen Access website and click on “My Rx”.

  01:08:47 pm, by MedBen5   , 125 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Senate Republican Efforts To Repeal ACA Thwarted

In an ongoing political tennis match, Senate Republicans have once again served up an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and Democrats have once again lobbed it right back at them.

According to The Hill’s Floor Action Blog, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) blocked a Senate vote on striking down the health care reform law. Republicans amended the repeal language to the Bring Jobs Home Act, which had a procedural vote last week.

This marks the second time this month that Republicans have offered an amendment to repeal the ACA. Earlier in July, they made a similar effort as part of a small-business bill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed to continue fighting for a repeal vote before the August break.

  12:25:31 pm, by MedBen5   , 163 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Do E-cigarettes Benefit Smokers? The Jury's Still Out

Electronic cigarettes are gaining in popularity among smokers, as both a tobacco substitute and a tool to hopefully wean them from the habit.

According to WebMD, the devices resemble regular cigarettes but work by means of a vaporizer filled with a nicotine-containing solution. Because they don’t contain the many other chemicals found in tobacco, they may be a safer alternative for smokers – emphasis on “may be".

“This is an unproven device and we know very little about its long-term health effects,” says researcher Jennifer Pearson, PhD, MPH. She is a research investigator at Legacy, an antismoking group in Washington, D.C. “E-cigarettes are probably less harmful than combustible cigarettes, [but] we don’t have data to say that and can’t talk about long-term effect.”

While e-cigarettes are not marketed as smoking cessation devices, it’s likely that some smokers made the transition from traditional cigarettes as a stepping stone to kicking the habit. But Pearson suggests smokers stick with FDA-approved smoking cessation tools instead.

07/20/12

  12:12:08 pm, by MedBen5   , 318 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

New Weight Loss Drugs Generate Questions, Opinions

With two new weight loss drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration within three weeks of each other, questions about their comparative effectiveness are inevitable. In response, WebMD has developed a Belviq/Qsymia FAQ. Here, we highlight their response to the question likely on the mind of potential users:

Which works better, Belviq or Qsymia?

There’s no way to know for sure. Qsymia and Belviq have never been tested in a head-to-head clinical trial.

In the placebo-controlled clinical trials that led to approval:

  • People taking Belviq had an average weight loss that was 3% to 3.7% greater than people taking placebo.
  • After taking Belviq for one or two years, some 47% of people without diabetes lost at least 5% of their body weight. Only 23% of patients taking an inactive placebo lost this much weight.
  • People taking Qsymia for up to one year had an average weight loss of 8.9% over those taking an inactive placebo.
  • 70% of people taking Qsymia lost at least 5% of their body weight. Only 20% of patients taking an inactive placebo lost this much weight.

These numbers cannot be used to compare the two drugs, as the clinical trials had different designs.

Meanwhile, Healthday News talked to two health experts about how the drugs will affect the country’s obesity epidemic – and both said some perspective is needed:

“The bottom line is there’s no such thing as a magic pill and I hope that individuals do not think by taking this pill that it will ensure long-term weight loss,” said Keri Gans, a registered dietitian in New York City. “We need to be reminded that diet and exercise are still critical.”

And Dr. Michael Aziz, an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said, “The problem that all the drug companies are overlooking is the fact that obesity is really multi-factorial. It’s not only related to diet and exercise but also to hormonal imbalances, stress and lack of sleep.”

  11:38:30 am, by MedBen5   , 206 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

House Subcommittee Passes Bill To Defund ACA

Republicans in the House of Representatives are certainly not letting any moss grow beneath their feet these days. Just one week after the full legislature passed a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a House Appropriations subcommittee voted 8-6 to approve a spending bill that would defund the law.

According to POLITICO, the Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill would cut $1.3 billion in funding for HHS. It would also eliminate the 20-year-old Agency for Health Care Quality and Research, a move that upset Democratic committee members, all of whom voted against the bill.

AHRQ is “the only federal agency whose sole mission is to improve the quality, safety and cost efficiency of health care,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Ca.) She called it “our best weapon” to advance health research.

In response to the criticism, subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) told POLITICO, “It all boils down to, we have more government right now than we can afford. We were given an allocation of $150 billion. We did everything we possibly could to meet as many of the needs as we could,”

One lone Republican, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, joined Democrats in opposing the bill, saying it did not go far enough in reducing the federal deficit.

  10:37:32 am, by MedBen5   , 164 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Whooping Cough On Pace For Most Cases In 50+ Years

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that 2012 will probably experience the highest number of whooping cough cases since 1959, USA Today reports.

Known formally as pertussis, whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial disease that is particularly dangerous to infants and young children. It results in severe coughing that causes children to make a distinctive whooping sound.

As of July, almost 18,000 cases have been reported – over twice as many at this point last year. Public health officials theorize that a switch in vaccine types 15 years ago may be partially responsible for the increase.

While most infants are vaccinated against the disease, only 8.2% of adults are – and they are the one most lilkely to infect infants, said Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

In addition to ensuring infants and young children receive the tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine, CDC also recommends that adults get a booster shot every 10 years. Women should also get vaccinated before or early in pregnancy.

07/19/12

  03:25:49 pm, by MedBen5   , 207 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Health Plan Management

Some Physicians Doubling As Pharmacists

The New York Times recently reported on doctors who double as pharmacists, dispensing drugs to patients themselves – often at greatly inflated costs.

The way it works: Physician dispensing companies serve as middlemen, helping doctors set up in-office pharmacies. They’re aided by drug distributors who repackage medications for office sale. And the three parties share the profits from selling the drugs at huge markups – sometimes as much as ten times the retail price.

The practice is most common among doctors who treat injured employees, as the workers’ compensation insurance rules in many states contain loopholes that allow them to bump up the cost to patients. And indeed, it is the workers – as well as employers, insurers, and taxpayers – that end up paying the higher prices.

It should be stressed that the vast majority of physicians don’t practice in this manner. But this is a perfect example of why it can pay to understand the real costs of health care products.

MedBen prescription plan members have a great resource to check and compare medication prices: RxEOB. Available through the MedBen Access website to registered members, this service allows users to enter drug names and see their retail costs, and check if lower-cost alternatives are available.

  12:12:50 pm, by MedBen5   , 222 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Think Tank Calls Tax Credits For Federally-Run Exchanges "Illegal"

Have challengers of the Affordable Care Act found a way to get it back into a courtroom? According to NPR, it depends on who you ask.

The think tank Cato Institute, which opposes the health care reform law, says a oversight regarding health insurance exchanges merits judicial review. The law states that low- and middle-income individuals who get coverage through state-run marketplaces may receive financial assistance in the form of tax credits. And if a state doesn’t develop an exchange, the the federal government will set one up and run it instead.

All well and good. Except…

“The statute doesn’t authorize tax credits in federal health insurance exchanges; it authorizes them solely through state health insurance exchanges,” says Michael Cannon, head of health policy at the Cato Institute. As a result, IRS rules allowing tax credits to be offered in exchanges run by either the states or the federal govenment are “illegal.”

But not everyone agrees with that logic.

“This is an interesting theory, but it’s completely contrary to the structure of the legislation and even the language of the legislation,” saysTimothy Jost, a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law. He argues that the language of the law clearly infers that a federally run exchange will work just like a state exchange, and that includes providing tax credits.

  10:28:55 am, by MedBen5   , 206 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Prostate Surgery Doesn't Help Most Cancer Patients, Study Says

The best way to detect and treat prostate cancer – and whether either course of action is even necessary – has come under a fair amount of debate lately.

Earlier this week, an expert panel refuted U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines that recommend men don’t get prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests. And on its heels comes a new study that found prostate cancer surgery offers no benefits to most men with the disease.

According to NPR, researchers involved in the decades-long study detected no difference in rates of death from prostate cancer – or any other cause, for that matter – among men who had their prostates surgically removed compared to those who didn’t. In their published findings, the researchers concluded:

“Our findings support observation for men with localized prostate cancer, especially those who have a low PSA value and those who have low-risk disease. Up to two thirds of men who have received a diagnosis of prostate cancer have a low PSA value or low-risk disease, but nearly 90% receive early intervention – typically surgery or radiotherapy.”

The findings do suggest, however, that patients with high-risk cancers may have lower death rates than men whose PSA results also indicated high risk but didn’t have surgery.

07/18/12

  05:15:45 pm, by MedBen5   , 129 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Majority Of Doctors Now Use Electronic Health Records

According to HealthDay News, a new national survey found that 55% of U.S. doctors now use some type of electronic health record system. And among those don’t, nearly half said they plan to implement a system in the coming year.

Other findings in the survey, which was conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics:

  • About 75% of doctors with a system in place said it plays a “meaningful” role in their practice, as defined by federal legislation designed to promote electronic health record use;
  • 47% of users are “somewhat” satisfied with the integration of the system in their daily operations, while 38% are “very” satisfied; and
  • Younger physicians and those with larger practices are more likely to already have a system in place.
  03:47:51 pm, by MedBen5   , 168 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

FDA Approves Second Weight Loss Drug In Two Months

For over a decade, the pharmaceutical industry offered only one option for severely overweight people desiring a weight-loss drug – Xenical, which was rarely prescribed and only somewhat effective. But within the last three weeks, two competitors have entered the market.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved Qsymia (pronounced kyoo sim EE uh) for treatment of obesity, The New York Times reports. Clinical trials have demonstrated that the drug offers a greater potential for weight loss compared to Xenical and Belviq, which the FDA approved last month. Participants who took a regimen of middle-dose Qsymia lost an average of 8.4% of their weight after one year, while high-dose patients lost 10.6%.

However, like the two competing drugs, Qsymia has side effects that must be weighed against its benefits. Earlier tests revealed that usage raises the risk of birth defects if used by pregnant women and can cause elevated heart rates and cognitive problems.

Qsymia is expected to be available in the fourth quarter, according to Vivus, the drug’s manufacturer.

  12:59:10 pm, by MedBen5   , 230 words,  
Categories: Announcements

A Few Lesser-Known Health Care Reform Provisions

When you put together a health care reform law that’s 2,700 pages long, chances are they’ll be plenty of content that receives little notice. While the individual mandate and state health exchanges get all the headlines, many of the details are unknown to the general public.

David Schultz and Christian Torres recently compiled “Ten Things You Didn’t Know Were In The Affordable Care Act". we highlight several provisions below; you can find the complete list at Kaiser Health News.

Postpartum Depression: Urges the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct a multi-year study into the causes and effects of postpartum depression. It authorized $3 million in 2010 and such sums as necessary in 2011 and 2012 to provide services to women at risk of postpartum depression.

Power-Driven Wheelchairs: Revises Medicare payment levels for power-driven wheelchairs and makes it so that only “complex” and “rehabilitative” wheelchairs can be purchased; all others must be rented.

Oral Health Care: Instructs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to embark on a five-year national public education campaign to promote oral health care measures such as “community water fluoridation and dental sealants.”

Transparency on Drug Samples: Requires pharmaceutical manufacturers that provide doctors or hospitals with samples of their drugs to submit to the Department of Health and Human Services the names and addresses of the providers that requested the samples, as well as the amount of drugs they received.

  10:12:33 am, by MedBen5   , 152 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Lack Of Physical Activity Linked To 10% Of Premature Deaths

Smoking and obesity frequently get linked to reduced mortality. Now, a new study suggests that physical inactivity also factors into premature deaths – and is the primary contributor in about 10% of cases.

USA Today reports that a Harvard Medical School analysis concluded that of the approximately 57 million deaths worldwide expected this year, about 5.3 million of them will be premature deaths in which a lack of physical activity was the contributing factor.

Staying physically active benefits the body in a variety of ways. In addition to controlling blood pressure and lowering cholesterol, it reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke and developing type 2 diabetes.

According to the article, “[t]he U.S. government’s physical activity guidelines recommend that people do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types.”

07/17/12

  05:13:44 pm, by MedBen5   , 218 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Cancer Panel Disputes Federal Recommendations For PSA Screenings

Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that physicians no longer offer prostate cancer screenings to male patients. The panel’s rationale was that far more men would receive false positives than would actually benefit from the tests – and when cancer is detected, the tumors are rarely life-threatening.

Not so fast, says the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

According to HealthDay (via Medical Xpress), a panel of experts from the cancer organization countered that men with a life expectancy of 10 years or more should talk to their doctor about getting a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. The panel did agree that for men who would likely die earlier, the risks outweigh the benefits.

“We felt from our review that doing the PSA blood test does save lives in certain groups of men,” said panel co-chair Dr. Robert Nam, a uro-oncologist. “That’s where we differ from the task force recommendation.”

The panel based its conclusions on a study that suggested PSA screenings could reduce reduce deaths from prostate cancer by 20% among men with more than 10 years of life expectancy.

MedBen follows American Cancer Society guidelines, which recommend that men at age 50 who are at average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live at least 10 more years consult with their primary care physician about getting a screening.

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