The latest opinion poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 54% of respondents feel that the Supreme Court should rule unconstitutional the individual mandate, The Wall Street Journal Health Blog reports.
Only 17% say that the provision requiring most Americans to buy health insurance should stand. The remaining 29% said they didn’t know or didn’t want to answer.
In other health care reform news:
During a Daily Show interview, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated that if the Supreme Court does strike down the individual mandate, they are other ways to convince healthy people to carry coverage. “[T]he mandate’s the fastest way to do it, and it just says, basically, everybody’s got some responsibility. But there are other ways to encourage people to come in,” she said.
According to Healthwatch blog, Sebelius also thinks that businesses will continue to provide coverage to employees even after insurance exchanges become available.
Healthwatch also reports that former senator Norm Coleman, an adviser to Mitch Romney, predicted that should a Republican win the presidency this November, the Affordable Care Act would not be repealed. “You can’t whole-cloth throw it out. But you can substantially change what’s been done,” he told BioCentury This Week television.
Romney’s campaign feels differently. “With all due respect to Sen. Coleman, he’s wrong,” campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said via e-mail. “Gov. Romney can and will repeal Obamacare and is committed to doing so.”
The Food and Drug Administration needs to enact more stringent safeguards to protect the users of dietary supplements, according to a physician writing in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Pieter A. Cohen, MD, of Harvard Medical School writes that the more than 100 million Americans who annually buy vitamins, minerals, herbal ingredients, amino acids and other natural products presume that they are “both safe and effective". But weak FDA oversight of supplements provides no such reassurances.
In an article about Cohen’s essay, MedPage Today notes that ingredients used and sold in supplements prior to 1994 can be legally marketed without proof of safety or efficacy. A law called the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) requires manufacturers of any ingredient introduced after 1994 to provide the FDA with evidence supporting “a reasonable expectation of safety.” But Cohen says that part of the law “has thus far not been enforced.”
There are currently over 55,000 supplements on the market, 51,000 of which were introduced after DSHEA became law. But since 1994, the FDA has received notification for just 170 new supplement ingredients – “undoubtedly a small fraction of the ingredients for which safety data should have been submitted,” Cohen writes.
Last year, the FDA did issue draft guidance regarding information supplement manufacturers must submit to the agency. Cohen says the guidance “provides a thoughtful framework” and is a step in the right direction, but further measures are needed to protect consumers.
Putting in overtime at work may impress the boss but does no favors to your mental disposition, a new study suggests.
Health.com reports that researchers followed over 2,000 British employees for six years, and found that workers who stayed at the office an average of 11 hours per day were more than twice as likely to develop depression than their colleagues who stuck to an 8-hour schedule. The risk remained constant even when such factors as workplace support, alcohol use and smoking were taken into account.
An worker’s position on the job ladder also impacted how he or she responded to longer hours. Junior and mid-level employees were more prone to depression than executives who burned the midnight oil. That’s likely due to the amount of control higher-ups have over their own work, said Alan Gelenberg, M.D., chair of the psychiatry department of Pennsylvania State University.
“I do mostly what I want to do, and when I put in an extra hard week, it’s my choice,” said Gelenberg, who was not involved in the study.
The researchers theorize that for workers lower on the food chain, long hours could create family or relationship conflicts that contribute to depression. Job insecurity and sleep deprivation may also be factors.
One of the more controversial provisions of the Affordable Care Act is the requirement that health insurance plans cover contraceptive for women at no cost. Last week, the Obama administration rejected an exemption request by the Roman Catholic Church for employees of Catholic hospitals, colleges and charities.
The New York Times reports that federal officials did grant one minor concession: Church-affiliated organizations have until August 1, 2013 to comply with the requirement – one year longer that most other employers and insurers. Also, certain “religious employers", such as houses of worship, would be exempt, provided they exclusively employ or serve people of a single faith.
In deciding whether or not to grant an exemption, President Obama heard personal appeals by leaders of the Roman Catholic Church. He also considered the arguments of family planning advocates and experts on women’s health, who have long championed inexpensive access to birth control.
Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, said the ruling “strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.” Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York reponded that “the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”
Better treatment for diabetics are likely responsible for a dramatic decrease in foot and leg amputations, new government research finds. The Associated Press reports that the rate has fallen by more than half since the mid-1990s.
According to MayoClinic.com, diabetics can suffer from nerve damage and poor blood circulation that make the feet vulnerable to ulcers. If these ulcers go untreated, they can cause severe damage to tissues and bone – potentially necessitating surgical removal of a toe, foot or part of a leg.
The comprehensive study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that for older diabetics – the population segment most suspectible to foot ulcers – amputations dropped from more that 11 to about 4 per 1,000 people. Officials noted that between 1988 and 2008, a greater proportion of diabetics got annual foot exams, and cited proper disease management as the main reason for the decline in amputations.
As the obesity rate has increased in the U.S., incidents of Type 2 diabetes have risen accordingly. But better treatment has led to declines in complications of the disease, including blindness and kidney failure in addition to amputations.
Health care reform got short shrift at last night’s State of the Union address by President Barack Obama. Medscape reports. In his 70-minute speech, he mentioned either “health care” or “health insurance” just 3 times, compared to 6 references in 2011 and 10 in 2010.
In his comments, Obama defended the Affordable Care Act by taking a couple jabs at health insurers: “I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny you coverage, or charge women differently from men.”
The President also shot back against the accusation the health care law represents socialized medicine medicine, by noting that it “relies on a reformed private market, not a government program.”
Article author Robert Lowes speculated that the Obama and his administration lawyers may be “saving their words for the Supreme Court in late March,” or that his silence may have reflected frustration with his ongoing squirmishes with Congressional Republicans about the ACA.
NPR recently examined the growing use of overnight tests to diagnose apnea. The number of accredited sleep labs in the U.S. has quadrupled over the past decade, and critics are worried that testing for the condition may be over-prescribed.
Apnea – abnormal pauses in breathing that can lead to snoring, restness sleep and low blood oxygen levels – may increase the risk of heart disease, dementia and other serious illness. The condition has become more common as our population has grown older and more obese.
Traditionally, apnea patients have worked with their family physican to decide on a treatment. A CPAP machine, which helps keep a snorer’s airway open during sleep, is sometimes necessary. In many cases, however, simply losing weight or sleeping on one’s side may help to reduce the condition.
But increasingly, patients are bypassing their doctors entirely and heading straight to the sleep lab – at a cost of upwards of $1,900 a night. And two-night lab stays – one for testing, the second to try the CPAP machine – are not unusual.
As sleep labs have become more lucrative, insurer spending on apnea treatment has jumped accordingly. Medicare payments for sleep testing increased from $62 million in 2001 to $235 million in 2009, according to the Office of the Inspector General.
“We are spending more and more money on sleep testing and treatment, and like anything else in health care, there are unscrupulous people out there who are more than happy to do testing and treatment that might be of questionable value,” says Dr. Fred Holt, an expert on fraud and abuse. “This might be because of naiveté on the part of the physician, or unfortunately, it could be done for the sake of improving the cash flow of the business.”
On the KevinMD.com blog, author Kohar Jones, MD poses two fundamental questions: What should be the stated aim of health care in America? And where would we need to put our money to reach that aim?
Jones finds curious the aims of health care as defined by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services: improve the experience of care, better the health of populations, and reduce the per capita costs of health care. As a family doctor, she believes her aims should be to prevent disease, promote health and cure sickness as needed. And the goals aren’t wholly compatible.
So what is the true purpose of a health care system? The answer matters, Jones says:
“How we define ‘health’ and what services we define as part of the ‘health system’ changes the way our society allocates scarce resources. Right now, our society devotes an enormous portion of our budget to the medical system – curing sickness and keeping people from dying. A medical system and a health system, however, are two different things.
“If we redefine a health system as any system within our society that delivers the goods that promote or destroy health, we can restructure our funding priorities to promote population health rather than individual medicine.”
Read the rest of Jones’ thoughts here.
Let’s get this out the way: People who exercise outdoors in cold weather aren’t crazy. They much prefer the term “eccentric".
But seriously, outdoor exercise during the winter is great for those who want to escape the confines of a stuffy gym. The lower temperature can be an effective pick-me-up, expecially for those who tend to get overheated when working out indoors. But prolonged exposure to the cold does require certain steps to stay safe, warns Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise,.
Chief among the risks of winter workouts is hypothermia, an excessive loss of body heat. Symptoms of hypothemia range from shivering to slurred speech, and can cause the victim to drift into unconsciousness.
Bryant offers these safety tips for colder-weather exercise (via HealthDay News):
Only about 1 in 5 American adults have an yearly checkup, according to a study appearing in the upcoming issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine. And of those who do, just over half receive or are advised of recommended preventive health services.
“The researchers captured audio recordings of 484 office visits by patients between the ages of 50 and 80 by 64 primary care physicians over a 2-year period in southeast Michigan. The goal was to see how often physicians delivered 19 national guideline-recommended preventive services, such as screening tests for cancer and hypertension, counseling on tobacco and alcohol use, and immunizations to patients who were eligible and due.
“Of the 2,662 services due during those visits, 54 percent were delivered. Those most likely to be given were screening tests for colorectal cancer (92.9 percent), hypertension (92 percent), and breast cancer (88.9 percent)… [P]atients were least likely to receive counseling about aspirin use, diet, flu immunization and vision screening.”
MedBen believes that an annual physical is one of the cornerstones of better health. We encourage our clients to visit their family doctors for regular preventive care, and discuss the preventive services that are appropriate for them. Additional information about recommended services is available at HealthCare.gov.
Some medications tolerate food with no problem. Others… well, let’s say if they don’t get along, there’s a good chance you’ll know in no uncertain terms.
Not that the combination of food and certain drugs will necessarily result in a physical reaction. The effectiveness of some medications can get diluted when taken immediately before or after a meal.
The American Academy of Family Physicians offers these tips to avoid negative drug-food interactions (via HealthDay News):
Over half of U.S. states have taken at least preliminary action in establishing a health insurance exchange as mandated by the Affordable Care Act, according to a new report by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Reuters reports that 14 states have enacted legislation or already have the authority in place to set up regulated insurance markets, while an equal number have acted through executive orders or authorized studies aimed at demonstrating their value.
Six other states, including Ohio, have shown “no significant activity” toward creating exchanges. And Wisconsin brought the number up to seven yesterday when Gov. Scott Walker declined $37 million from the federal government to help implement that state’s exchange.
The foot-dragging in these states isn’t necessarily due to political posturing, though that likely plays a role. More to the point, health care reform faces an uncertain future in 2012. With a pending Supreme Court ruling on the individual mandate and a November presidential election, some states are waiting to see what shape the ACA will be in when the year is over.
One problem with the strategy: Assuming the reform law makes it through 2012 intact, states would have to scramble to meet a January 1, 2013 deadline to act on an exchange or cede control to the federal government. However, Obama administration officials have said they will work with states who miss the deadline to ensure their participation.
Good news… Americans aren’t getting any bigger!
Bad news… we aren’t getting any smaller, either.
The Wall Street Journal Health Blog reports that adult male waistlines have held steady since 2003, according to a new study based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women have done even better, with no notable increase in obesity rates since 1999.
But what accounts for the slowdown in growth? Experts aren’t certain. Study author Katherine Flegal, a CDC epidemiologist, and her colleagues cite multiple possibilities, such as an expansion of the food supply, energy imbalance, or the possible effect of environmental endocrine disruptors. Nor do the researchers have any idea if the slowdown is permanent, or if obesity rates could spike again.
Of course, this positive trend doesn’t negate the realty that more than one-third of adult U.S. residents are still overweight. And childhood obesity also remains a crisis – about one in six kids are overweight.
To address the latter problem, the Affordable Care Act now requires health insurers and employers to pay the cost of screening children for obesity and providing them with appropriate counseling. The New York Times recently examined various efforts being made to help kids achieve and maintain a healthier weight.
New federal government initiatives could speed the process of getting generic drugs to consumers, Business Insider reports. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration submitted recommendations to Congress, including a Generic Drug User Fee Agreement.
Under the proposed agreement, the FDA could levy fees on drug manufacturers to help fund generic drug development and review. In exchange, the agency promises to complete inspections of foreign and U.S.-based drugmakers by 2017, which it says will help cut back on review times.
The generic program is similar to the Prescription Drug User Fee Agreement, which collects funds from brand name drugmakers in return for an expedited review process and increased drug and research development.
Allan Coukell of the non-profit Pew Health Group supported the FDA’s recommendations. “Under PDUFA, the FDA has reduced the time it takes to approve new drugs. Now thanks to the first ever agreement with the generic drug makers, industry has made an investment in greater oversight of U.S. medicines made overseas,” Coukell said.
Those little earbuds we pop in to enjoy music not only may be damaging our hearing, they’re putting many people at risk for bodily injury as well. According to NPR, a new study suggests that wearing headphones while walking outside increases the odds of being struck by a car or other vehicle.
Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine reviewed pedestrian accident data from a variety of sources between 2004 and 2011. In 116 instances, the cause of death or injury could be linked to the pedestrian wearing headphone or earbuds. Most of the cases occurred between 2008 and 2011, coinciding with the recent jump in ownership of MP3 players and smartphones that play music.
Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the pedestrians involved in accidents were male (68%) and under 30 (67%) More than half of the pedestrians were struck by a train – and in 29% of the cases, a horn or other warning was sounded before the crash occured.
The researchers cite two reasons for headphone users to become oblivious of their surroundings: inattentive blindness, caused by paying too much attention to the devise and not enough to traffic; and environmental isolation, in which headphone sounds overpower external noises.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reminding users of insulin pens not to share them with others. According to HealthDay News (via Yahoo! Health), the agency advises that use of the devices by more than one person raises the risk of hepatitis viruses, HIV and other blood-borne pathogens, even if the pen’s needle is changed.
Insulin pens are injector devices that enable patients to self-inject insulin, which controls the concentration of glucose in the blood. The CDC has repeatedly asked health care professionals to remind users that the pens are meant for use on a single patient, but despite the agency’s best efforts, reports of sharing have increased. One such incident last year required the notification of more than 2,000 potentially exposed patients.
The reminder also warns:
Entrepreneur has compiled a list of mistakes companies should avoid when choosing health care coverage. The entire list is available at the magazine’s website; we summarize several of their suggestions below.
From developing a health care plan that’s right for your employees to advising you on ways to keep your medical costs down, MedBen offers comprehensive health benefits management to employer groups of all sizes. Our services range from fully-insured coverage to third party administration, as well as consumer-driven plans and worksite wellness. And we keep you in the know on regulatory and industry updates.
For more information about what MedBen can do for your business or to learn about brokers in your area, please contact Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.
If you didn’t have enough reasons to kick the cigarette habit, you may soon have another – particularly if you find yourself on the medical job market. HealthDay News (via Yahoo! Health) reports that an increasing number of hospitals and other health care employers will not hire job applicants who smoke.
Such actions obviously pique the interest of workers’ rights organizations, some of which believe it to be a form of employment discimination. Health advocates counter that employing smokers cost businesses extra money through higher medical care costs and increased absenteeism. Currently, only 29 states legally prohibit employers from making hiring choices based on smoking or tobacco use.
The HealthDay article highlights Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Health System, which will, beginning in February, require a nicotine screen for all job applicants as part of standard drug testing. Those who fail the screening can reapply in six months, said Marcy Marshall, the organization’s director of clinical enterprise communications.
“Users of nicotine in Pennsylvania are not a legally protected class. We’re well within our rights according to Pennsylvania law to do this,” Marshall said. “We have a responsibility, being a health care organization, to encourage people to take good care of themselves.”
Tobacco users already employed by Geisinger won’t be affected by the new rule.
Without the individual mandate to finance health care reform, expect to see a major spike in individual insurance costs, according to a new analysis from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The Healthwatch blog reports that premiums could rise as much as 25% if the Supreme Court finds it unconstitutional to require most Americans to purchase health coverage, but other provisions in the Affordable Care Act remain intact. As the mandate was introduced to push young, healthy people into buying insurance, thus offsetting the cost of guaranteeing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, eliminating it would remove that incentive.
Actual premium increases would vary from state to state depending on the popularity of a given state’s health insurance exchanges. If participation in an exchange is high, the loss of the mandate would raise premiums about 10%. In states where fewer people use the exchange, individual policies would get at least 20% more expensive.
The analysis also finds that fewer people would be insured without the mandate, while Medicaid expansion would be only slightly smaller.
Expect to see significant price increases on brand name drugs in 2012, according to Sector & Sovereign Research. The Pharmalot blog reports that the Wall Street firm believes that after a 11% jump in 2010, we’ll see an even more substantial spike this year, as drugmakers need the higher prices to “generate needed revenue growth.”
SSR’s analysis goes against conventional wisdom. Usually in an election year, the pharmaceutical industry is reluctant to raise prices dramatically – even more so when the preceding year saw a double-digit increase. But the firm predicts that brand-name drugmakers will weigh the need for higher prices to offset declining volume against the risk of getting pilloried on the campaign trail, and ultimately vote for the bottom line.
However large or small pharmaceutical industry increases are in 2012, MedBen has the tools in place to buffer their impact on your group’s health care expenses. Through a combination of superior drug discount rebates, useful reports and formularies, and ongoing plan consultations, we keep your costs well below the average national trend. And we always pass through 100% of negotiated discounts and deliver 100% of paid rebates back to the client.
To learn more about MedBen pharmacy plans, please contact Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.