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07/17/12

  12:06:22 pm, by MedBen5   , 266 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Repeal Reform On Day One? Not Likely

If elected president, Mitt Romney vows that he will repeal the Affordable Care Act on day one of his administration. Which means that once the swearing-in is taken care of and the token appearances at all of the inaugural balls have been made, the health care reform law is as good as gone. Simple as that.

Or not.

As the Associated Press spells out, things in Washington, DC seldom work as quicky as promised. Remember President Obama’s pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on his “day one"? It’s still open, last time we checked. Likewise, rescinding health care reform will take more than just writing up a repeal document and signing it:

“Republicans have to first pass a budget. It’s the only way than [sic] can invoke special Senate rules that allow legislation to pass with just a simple majority vote – instead of the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate to beat a filibuster. […]

e first step is to pass a budget resolution – a nonbinding, broad-brush outline of budget goals like cutting or increasing taxes, or slowing increases in Medicare. A budget resolution sets the terms for follow-up legislation that’s called a reconciliation bill in Washington argot.

“Two years ago, Democrats used a reconciliation bill to finalize the health care law with a 56-43, party-line vote in the Senate.

“Republicans have a problem in that there’s a lot more on their agenda than just repealing the health care law, and it’s all going to have to be crammed into a budget resolution and follow-up reconciliation bill, too.”

Read more at Yahoo! Health.

  11:05:21 am, by MedBen5   , 199 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Wellness

FDA Approves Drug To Prevent Spread Of HIV

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of the drug Truvada for individuals who have tested negative for HIV, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Clinical studies have shown that if taken once a day, Truvada could reduce transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, by as much as 75% if used in combination with safe sex practices. The drug had previously been approved in 2004 to help treat people already infected with the virus.

Reaction to the approval has been mixed. Marjorie Hill, chief executive of the AIDS group GayMen’s HealthCrisis, called it a “big step” to preventing the spread of the virus. “It’s going to save lives,” Hill said.

But Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, worries that making Truvada available to those who have tested negative will take more risks. “If you look back five years from today, you will see this decision by the FDA will cause there to be more infections, not less,” Weinstein said.

The FDA will require that individuals first have an HIV test before receiving a prescription to ensure they are not infected, and get a follow-up test every three months thereafter. A year’s supply of the drug costs $13,900.

  10:37:44 am, by MedBen5   , 160 words,  
Categories: Wellness

When Buying Sunscreen, Check The Label

If you’re in the market for sunscreen, there’s a lot of options available. And just grabbing for whatever’s on sale usually isn’t the best solution.

According to HealthDay News, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that before buying sunscreen, read the label carefully and choose a brand that offers:

  • Broad-spectrum coverage (label may say “broad spectrum,” “protects against UVA/UVB” or “UVA/UVB protection").
  • SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Water resistance.

A higher SPF number provides greater protection, but to the uninformed, the numbers can be deceiving. A SPF of 30, for example, doesn’t provide twice the protection of an SPF 15. Actually, an SPF 30 screens out 97% of UV rays, while an SPF 15 screens 93%. By way of comparison, an SPF 2 screens just 50% of UV rays.

The AAD also advises that sunscreen users:

  • Re-apply sunscreen every two hours when outdoors;
  • Find shade whenever your shadow appears to be shorter than you are; and
  • Wear protective clothing, including long sleeves, pants, wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

07/16/12

  02:57:48 pm, by MedBen5   , 204 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Scammers Using ACA To Get Personal Info, FTC Warns

Con artists have proven time and again that they will leave no stone unturned in their quest to bilk unsuspecting individuals, so it should come as no surprise that they have latched onto the Affordable Care Act as a money-making scheme. The Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning to consumers that scammers are using the health care reform law as a means to gather personal information:

“[Scammers] say they’re from the government and that, using the Affordable Care Act as a hook, they need to verify some information. They might have the routing number from your bank, and then use that information to get you to reveal the entire account number. Or, they’ll ask for your credit card or Social Security number, Medicare ID, or other personal information.

“The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, advises consumers not to give out personal or financial information in response to unsolicited phone calls, emails, or knocks on your door. Scam artists want your information to commit identity theft, charge your existing credit cards, debit your checking account, open new credit card, checking, or savings accounts, write fraudulent checks, or take out loans in your name.”

Read the complete alert at the FTC website.

  01:10:11 pm, by MedBen5   , 249 words,  
Categories: News

Food Journals Help Dieters, But Skipping Meals Doesn't

When you spend the better part of your workday sitting in front of a computer, it’s easy to get into the habit of eating without thinking – you know, just grazing from the bag of whatever snack is on your desk. It’s also not uncommon to get so wrapped up in what you’re do (or so filled up from all the snacking) that you pass up lunch. Or when you do eat, you grab-and-go from a fast food drive-thru. But such tendencies typically contribute to unwanted pounds, according to new research.

Reuters reports that keeping tabs on daily food consumption helped study participants – all overweight and obese women ages 50 to 75 – lose weight. Women who kept journals dropped six pounds more than those who didn’t. And the more journals they completed, the more weight they lost.

The research, performed by scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, also found that women who skipped meals lost eight pounds less than those who ate regularly. And ladies who lunched in a restaurant at least weekly lost on average five fewer pounds.

“Knowing what you are eating and knowing how much you are eating seem to be the key,” Anne McTiernan, the director of the Hutchinson Center’s Prevention Center who conducted the study, said in an interview.

“For individuals who are trying to lose weight, the No. 1 piece of advice based on these study results would be to keep a food journal to help meet daily calorie goals.”

07/13/12

  04:32:48 pm, by MedBen5   , 182 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Study Shows Usefulness Of Online Compliance Checks

Reuters reports that online access to medical records may spur patients to stay up to date on recommended preventive care, according to a new study.

A clinical trial at eight primary care practices found that 25% of patients who could personally check electronic health records were current on screening tests and immunizations. That was double the rate of non-users.

Researchers randomly assigned 4,500 patients to either stick with normal care or have the chance to access their health records on a secure website. If the latter group went to the site, they could download a personalized list of preventive services they should get.

Wellness Complaince Info Screen

MedBen Worksite Wellness offers a similar online service. Wellness program members can check their compliance with six critical wellness examinations, based on age and gender: Annual Wellness Exam, Cholesterol, Colonoscopy, Mammography, PSA and Pap Smear.

If you’re a member of the wellness program, you can check your compliance simply by logging on to the MedBen Access website and clicking the Wellness Plan link under “My Plan” on the sidebar. From there, you’ll be taken to your personalized wellness information page.

  01:12:46 pm, by MedBen5   , 194 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Affordable Care Act A Tax, Voters Say

The Supreme Court ruled last month that a financial charge for Americans who don’t purchase health insurance constitutes a tax. But how do Americans feel about? Based on a new Quinnipiac poll, most people think the court got it right.

National Journal reports that 55% of voters polled say the Affordable Care Act is a tax increase, compared with 36% who say it isn’t. “President Barack Obama has worked mightily to avoid the ‘T’ word, but most American voters say the ACA is in effect a tax hike,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement.

As for whether the Supreme Court made the right decision in upholding the health care reform law, voters are pretty evenly divided, with those who agree with the decision edging out dissenters by a 48%-45% margin. But 49% voters also say Congress should repeal the law, while 43% oppose repeal.

“The big question is whether the Republicans can sell the idea to voters that the president’s Affordable Care Act breaks his promise not to raise taxes on those who make less than $250,000,” Brown said. “That’s why what voters believe on this issue matters.”

  12:20:20 pm, by MedBen5   , 240 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

In Extreme Heat, Electric Fans Won't Help

When the weather gets as hot as it’s been lately, most of us crank up the air conditioner – or, lacking that, an electric fan. But the latter option may do more harm than good, according to a new review published in the Cochrane Library:

“Unlike air conditioning, electric fans don’t actually cool the air, but bring in cooler air from outside if placed near a window. That backfires, however, when air temperatures rise over 95°F – using an electric fan when it’s that hot can actually increase your body’s heat stress by blowing air that is warmer than the ideal body temperature over your skin. You may still feel a cooling sensation as the fan’s breeze evaporates your sweat, but increases in hot-air circulation and sweat evaporation can actually speed heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion.

“’An increase [in] sweating can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. If these fluids and electrolytes are not replaced quickly enough, there is a possibility [that fans] may do more harm than good,’ say the authors of the review.”

Read more at Time.com. As the article notes, if the thermometer rises above 90 decgrees and you lack A/C, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking a cool shower or bath, avoiding stove or oven use, and seeking cooler temperatures at a mall, library or a heat-relief shelter.

The CDC website offers additional tips on extreme heat safety.

07/12/12

  03:41:46 pm, by MedBen5   , 205 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription, Health Plan Management

U.S. Will See Slow Rx Spending Growth, Data Firm Predicts

The Associated Press reports that the United States and other developed countries will experience slow growth in prescription drug spending over the next four years, according to a new forecast from IMS Health. The pharmaceutical data firm attributed the trend to a sharp rise in new low-cost generic drugs and slower increases in what those countries spend on brand-name medications.

Shed no tears for pharmaceutical companies, however… during the same period (2012 to 2016) emerging markets such as China, India and Russia will boost drugmakers’ bottom lines. Total spending worldwide will rise from about $956 billion in 2011 to just under $1.2 trillion in 2016, but rebates and discounts from drug companies will reduce the cost by about 15% that year, to a mere $1 trillion.

And while we’re on the subject… MedBen passes through 100% of negotiated discounts and delivers 100% of paid rebates back to the client. Additionally, we offer some of the most competitive generic drug discounts in the industry.

Our progressive approach to employee prescription benefits has consistently beat the odds by producing better-than-national results. Employers using the MedBen prescription program typically see cost trends of 5% lower than national trends, on average.

For further information about pharmaceutical planning, contract MedBen Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.

  01:23:14 pm, by MedBen5   , 237 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Moderate Drinking May Strengthen Women's Bones, Study Finds

As we grow, we’re frequently reminded that milk builds strong bones. But as we age, bones become weaker and need some reinforcement, in which case we should turn to… booze.

Really?

Well, if the findings of a new Oregon State University study are correct, moderate levels of alcohol can help build bone density in postmenopausal women. (Sorry guys, but the researchers focused on the fairer sex.)

According to Time, the remodeling process that breaks down and builds up bone sections starts to falter later in life, leaving bones thinner. But a daily drink appears to help keep the cycle running smoother.

The study monitored 40 healthy postmenopausal women under age 65 who drank between one-half to two standard drinks per day, such as a 5-ounce glass of wine. When the women abstained entirely from alcohol for two weeks, the researchers saw negative changes in bone remodeling. But once they started drinking again, the healthier levels were restored – usually in less than a day.

“Drinking moderately as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet and exercise may be beneficial for bone health, especially in postmenopausal women,” said lead author Urszula Iwaniec in a statement. “After less than 24 hours to see such a measurable effect was really unexpected.”

The authors did note that the key to the improvement was moderate amounts of alcohol. Heavy drinking increases the risk of falls and fractures, which obviously defeats the purpose.

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

House Votes (Again) To Repeal Health Care Reform Law

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

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

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

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

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

07/11/12

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

Extended Care Carries High Costs, Difficult Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sugar Substitutes May Benefit Obese People, Diabetics

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

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

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

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

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

07/10/12

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

Customers Like Online Services, And MedBen Delivers

Consumers Like Online Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More online services are available at MedBen.com.

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

FDA Mandates Painkiller Makers To Fund Doctor Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

House Republicans Ready Latest ACA Repeal Attempt

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

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

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

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

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

To Live Longer, Take A Stand

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

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

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

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

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

07/09/12

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

Massachusetts' Mandate Model May Not Work Nationwide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at Boston.com.

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

Summer Footwear Can Cause Aches & Pains

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

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

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

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

07/06/12

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

Numbers Show Need For Smart Health Benefits Planning

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

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

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

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

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