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04/11/11

  04:50:32 pm, by MedBen5   , 237 words,  
Categories: Wellness

Keep Your Back From Going Out Of Whack

“Lift with your knees, not with your back – that’s how you avoid lower back pain.” Definitely good advice, but there’s more to back pain than posture considerations.

As WebMD notes, genes may actually play a role. It’s entirely possible that you can do a lot of heavy lifting in your job and never experience back pain, while another person who rarely lifts anything heavier than a coffee cup suffers greatly.

More likely, general wear and tear on the discs that cushion the vertebrae in your spine leads to degenerative disc disease. Or, an individual disc can tear or become injured. And such conditions as arthritis and osteoporosis may contribute to low back pain.

Just about everyone gets that familiar flare-up in their lower back from time to time. But there are ways to reduce the discomfort as well as improve the odds of a recurrence in the future:

  • Smoking can lead to backaches, so get help to kick the habit.
  • Do exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your back – especially the abdominals, hips, back, and pelvic area.
  • Fight the urge to crawl into bed whenever your lower back acts up. Backs generally heal faster when the body is in motion.
  • See your doctor and get treated for low back pain early on.
  • And of course… when lifting something, lift with your knees, not with your back. (MedicineNet.com has a few additional posture-related suggestions.)

04/08/11

  01:55:05 pm, by MedBen5   , 227 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

IRS Releases Interim Guidelines For Health Insurance W-2 Reporting

The Internal Revenue Service recently released interim employer guidelines for informational reporting of employer-sponsored health plans. Beginning in calendar year 2013 (tax year 2012), the Affordable Care Act will require certain employers to report the cost of health insurance coverage on their employees’ W-2 forms. For tax year 2011, employers may voluntarily provide this information, but will not be penalized for failing to do so.

The IRS has repeatedly stressed that this information will not be used for purposes of taxation – it serves only to inform employees about the cost of their health coverage.

The formal notice as well as an FAQ regarding the interim guidelines are both available at the IRS website. Note that the agency is providing “transition relief” to certain classes of employers who will not be subject to the reporting requirement unless notified otherwise. These include:

  1. employers filing fewer than 250 Forms W-2 for the previous calendar year;
  2. multiemployer plans;
  3. Health Reimbursement Arrangements;
  4. dental and vision plans that are not integrated into another group health plan;
  5. self-insured plans of employers not subject to COBRA continuation coverage or similar requirements; and
  6. employers furnishing Forms W-2 to employees who terminate before the end of a calendar year and request a Form W-2 before the end of that year.

MedBen clients with questions about the interim guidelines are welcome to call Vice President of Compliance Caroline Fraker at (800) 851-0907.

  12:10:54 pm, by MedBen5   , 212 words,  
Categories: Wellness

How To Burn 5500 Calories (In 55 Easy Steps)

The Cool Health Tips website offers up “55 Ways to Burn 100 Calories”. Some of the suggestions fall under traditional types of exercsie, such as running for 5 minutes, doing aerobics for 11 minutes, 8 seconds, and working with weights for 13 minutes. But as all physical activities offer some form of a workout, you can also burn those same 100 calories by washing dishes for 15 minutes, typing on the computer for 48 minutes, or giving your partner 9,240 kisses. (Hmm, wonder who did the research on that one?)

Here’s an idea… print out the list and check off each activity as you complete it. When you’ve made it through all 55, you’ll have shed 5,500 calories and gotten a few things done in the process!

The complete list is available here, but here’s a few more selected sugestions to get you started:

1. Chop wood for 4 minutes, 22 seconds.
2. Ride a bike at a speed of 20 mph for 4 minutes, 52 seconds.
4. Skip the rope for 9 minutes, 30 seconds.
7. Swim for 8 minutes.
13. Slow dance for at least 26 minutes.
19. Make breakfast for 20 minutes for your partner and serve him/ her in the bed.
31. Talk to anyone for 52 minutes.
43. Change the diapers of your children for 52 times.
44. Iron 7 shirts.
52. Gather 623 cans for recycling.
55. Walk fast in the shopping mall while holding things in your hands for more than 19 minutes.

04/07/11

  10:57:30 pm, by MedBen5   , 170 words,  
Categories: Prescription

4 Out Of 5 Rx Patients Agreeable To Generics

As we noted on this blog last week, a small number of doctors and patients eschew generic drugs in favor of brand name medications – so much so they specifically request that pharmacists dispense their prescription as written. And more evidence that this is a minority opinion can be found in a new report on prescription drug spending.

According to the Pharmalot blog, 82% of patients say that they would willingly switch to generics if available… and seeing that the cost of generics continue to fall, while brand-name medication prices have steadily increased in recent years, that’s a sensible attitude.

MedBen encourages its prescription plan members to do their generic alternative homework. Groups with Pharmacy Data Management (PDMI) as their pharmacy benefits manager can utilize the RxEOB online service via the MedBen Access website. Among its useful features is a tool that allows you to easily check for generic and therapeutic equivalent availability and retail cost.

Plan members with questions about RxEOB are welcome to contact MedBen Customer Service at (800) 686-8425.

  09:52:40 pm, by MedBen5   , 167 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Too Much Overtime Increases Heart Disease Risk, Study Finds

Working a few extra hours a day may score you points with your boss, but it may not be doing your heart much good. That’s the conclusion of a British study just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, WebMD reports.

Using data from the British Whitehall II study as the basis for their research, scientists at University College London studied coronary heart disease rates in middle-aged civil service workers over a period of 12-13 years. They found that adults who worked 11 hours a day or longer increased their risk of developing heart disease by 67% compared to people who put in 7-8 hours daily.

The researchers note that psychosocial factors like daily work hours are not always taken into consideration by doctors who use the Framingham Risk Score, an assessment tool that uses age, gender, blood pressure and other basic factors to determine the risk of developing heart disease over a 10-year period. (Incidentally, if you’re interesting in measuring your risk, an online version is available here.)

04/06/11

  12:02:17 pm, by MedBen5   , 175 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Repeal of 1099 Reform Provision Headed To White House

The Affordable Care Act appears primed for a small but significant change. The Washington Post reports that the Senate has approved, by an 87-to-12 vote, a repeal of the health care reform law’s 1099 tax-reporting provision, which would have required businesses to report on their taxes every vendor transaction involving over $600. The measure, which was also passed by the House last month, will how head to the White House, where President Obama is expected to enact it into law.

In a statement, the White House said it was “pleased Congress has acted to correct a flaw that placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.”

This is actually the second time the Senate has repealed 1099. In February, a similar measure was passed, but its solution to cover the estimated $22 billion cost of eliminating the provision – reappropriating unused federal funds – was unpopular with some Senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The new bill follows its House counterpart, calling on taxpayers to repay federal health insurance subsidies if their financial condition is better than expected.

  10:37:46 am, by MedBen5   , 281 words,  
Categories: Wellness

Nip Spring Allergies In The Bud

Ah, spring! The flowers are in bloom, the grass is green and growing, and there’s a certain something in the air… though if you suffer from allergies, that’s not necessarily good news.

For most of the 40 million Americans who face seasonal allergies, spring means watery eyes and a stuffy nose, usually kept in check with medication. But for asthma suffers, allergies increase the risk of dangerous and even life-threatening attacks.

WebMD asked allergy expert James Sublett, MD, FACAAI to offer some tips for managing spring allergies. We’ve summarized his suggestions below, but you can read the complete list at the WebMD site.

Treat allergies early. Sneeze-triggering pollen can start filling the air as early as February in some areas. Sublett recommends beginning your medications at least a month before spring officially arrives in late March.

Know your OTC allergy medications. For mild seasonal allergy sufferers, nasal sprays and inhalants and oral over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines are the best defense. It may be useful to periodically switch your brands if symptoms aren’t under control. And avoid using OTC decongestants for allergies.

Control allergies by controlling your environment. Wear a protective mask when mowing the lawn or performing other outdoor tasks. While driving in the car, roll up the windows and set your ventilation to recirculate. And don’t use a humidifier indoors – it’s generally ineffective against allergies and may contribute to mold buildup.

Natural allergy remedies. Sublett says that neti pots, acupuncture and other natural remedies may be of some use, but do nothing to remove pollen from your system.

See an allergist for allergies. An allergist can discuss your symptoms and run skin tests to determine the source of your seasonal bugaboo.

04/05/11

  09:16:14 pm, by MedBen5   , 263 words,  
Categories: Announcements

MedBen Hospital Roundtable Provides Analysis, Actionable Information

MedBen Vice President Kurt Harden breaks down hospital health plan costs

Medical and pharmacy cost trends, reporting and coverage innovations, and health care reform were among the topics explored at MedBen’s 9th Annual Hospital Roundtable on April 5. Representatives from hospitals throughout the Midwest attended the free seminar, held at MedBen’s home office in Newark, Ohio.

MedBen Senior Vice President Kurt Harden led the presenters with a comparative analysis of hospital health care plans, including medical utilization and cost trends. Current MedBen groups were able to compare how their plans compared against other hospitals. Allan Zaenger, President and CEO of Pharmaceutical Horizons, followed Kurt with an examination of hospital prescription benefit trends and suggestions for structuring Rx plans for maximum effectiveness.

Leading edge services were the common theme for the next two presenters. Brian Fargus, Vice President of Sales and Marketing of MedBen, introduced a revolutionary medical intelligence reporting tool that helps employers better understand the underlying causes of costs and find opportunities for additional savings. Current MedBen clients received group-specific analyses. Brian was followed by Russ Jehs, Vice President of Transplant Product Management of Medical Excess, who gave an overview of his company’s comprehensive transplant insurance, a stand-alone benefit that can attach to any plan document.

The Roundtable concluded with a health care reform updated by MedBen Vice President of Compliance Caroline Fraker. Likening reform laws to the Lewis Carroll poem “Jabberwocky", Caroline recapped the first year of health care reform and discussed changes that hospitals can expect in the coming months.

MedBen will conduct a similar seminar for government employers on Thursday, April 28. For additional information, please contact Sally Wood at (800) 423-3151, ext. 502.

  04:45:01 pm, by MedBen5   , 173 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

FDA Calorie Count Rules Won't Include Movie Theaters

Good news for movie-goers who like to indulge in a big ol’ bucket of popcorn: The federal government won’t require theaters to tell you just how unhealthy your snack selection is.

The Food and Drug Administration has released preliminary rules that will require chain restaurants and similar establishments to post calorie counts on menus and menu boards (including drive-thru menus), The New York Times reports. The proposed new rules would supercede menu-labeling laws already in place throughout the country – laws that, based on initial research, have done little to sway customers’ food choices.

The FDA chose to only enforce the rules on those establishments whose primary purpose is food retail – thus the exclusion of theater concession stands from the ruling as well as bowling alleys, carnivals and airplanes. Also exempted were alcholic beverages served in restaurants. Convenience stores and supermarkets that sell ready-to-eat items will have to comply with the eventual law if part of a chain with 20 or more locations.

Finalized rules are expected to go into effect sometime in 2012.

04/04/11

  03:28:35 pm, by MedBen5   , 287 words,  
Categories: Wellness

Reduce Cancer Risk Through Basic Lifestyle Choices

A cure for cancer may not arrive any time soon, but that doesn’t mean that we’re totally defenseless against the disease – on the contrary, there are a number of preventive measures that make a big difference. The American Institute for Cancer Research has come up with 8 Ways to Lower Your Can Lower Your Cancer Risk. You can visit WebMD for the complete list, but we’ll provide a summary here.

Not surprisingly, kicking the cigarette habit ranks at the top of the prevention list, as smoking accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths. But carrying around extra weight is also a major factor – 14% of cancer deaths are linked to obesity. And going hand-in-hand with keeping the pounds off is regular exercise – 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily can cut the risk of many common cancers by 30-50%.

What we eat is just as important as how much we eat. In general, a diet rich in plant-based food, such as non-starchy vegetables and fruits, can help prevent a variety of cancers. And while a daily glass of wine can help the heart, it’s not helpful against cancer, so keep the alcohol consumption to a minimum.

Stress by itself hasn’t been proven to raise cancer risk, but it often leads to overeating, drinking and other unhealthy behaviors. Do what you can to alleviate your anxiety, be it through exercise, meditation, or talking it out with a friend.

Get the appropriate screening tests – mammograms, PSAs, colonoscopies and so forth. They won’t prevent cancers in and of themselves, but they will go a long way toward minimizing their impact. Finally, know your family history. Ask your relatives about past health problems and discuss the findings with your family doctor.

04/01/11

  06:00:20 pm, by MedBen5   , 166 words,  
Categories: Announcements

MedBen Claim Surveillance Reaps High Savings In 2010

Clients who utilized the claims surveillance system offered through MedBen realized a gross average of $16.84 per member per month in extra savings in 2010. And we say “extra” because the surveillance savings clients received were in addition to plan provisions, network discounts and other cost containment measures.

Administered in conjunction with AWAC, MedBen provides claims surveillance services to all clients at no additional fee. A specialized system throughly reviews every claim we receive, regardless of size, using over 80,000 physician-produced algorithms. Flagged claims are then reviewed, with the client’s consent, by a physician panel to determine the potential for further cost savings. The only cost for a review is a percentage of savings should the client wishes to use the service for claims negotiation or care management services.

In 2010, the average savings on these selected surveillance claims was 48.5% – a record achievement.

If you’re interested in joining in on the savings, we invite you to contact MedBen Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at 888-627-8683.

  04:38:19 pm, by MedBen5   , 227 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription

Experts Encouraged By FDA Approval Of Melanoma Drug

A small but significant step in battling skin cancer: The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug shown to prolong the lives of melanoma patients.

According to USA Today, the injectible drug Yervoy, which activates the immune system to fight cancer, has proven to extend the lives of melanoma patients up to an average of four months. While not a substantial increase – and while only about 15% of study subjects saw positive results from it – experts are encouraged about its ability to battle the deadliest from of skin cancer.

“Clearly this is not a home run, but it’s a solid base hit,” says Tim Turnham, director of the Melanoma Research Foundation. “And because we see other things in the pipeline, we think this the first in a series of important new therapies for melanoma.”

Yervoy – chemically known as ipilimumab – does come with a severe potential side effect. In clinical trials, 12.9% of patients suffered fatal immune reactions to the drug. The FDA has ordered manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb to create a risk evaluation strategy designed to identify and reduce risks assocated with ipilimumab.

Researchers theorize that prescribing ipilimumab earlier in the disease cycle may improve the patient response rate. Bristol-Myers Squibb adds that the drug has been shown to improve survival times in advanced melanoma patients when used prior to any other treatments.

  10:59:27 am, by MedBen5   , 150 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

No April Fool's Joke: Cocoa Good For Heart Health

It’s Friday, so we like to offer some good news as you wind your way into the weekend: A new Harvard Medical School study finds that cocoa consumption may contribute to lower blood pressure, improved blood vessel health, and lower cholesterol levels, among other benefits.

MedicineNet.com reports that Harvard researchers analyzed 21 studies comprising over 2,500 participants, and concluded that flavonoids – antioxidants found in cocoa as well as fruits, vegetables, coffee, tea and wine – help to prevent heart disease and decrease risk factors associated with diabetes. Most of the studies used sugar-free, dark chocolate.

In addition to reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol, flavonoid-rich cocoa also can improve good HDL cholesterol. Also, cocoa consumption did not elevate triglyceride levels or make participants obese. However, the researchers did caution that the high levels of fat and sugar in commercially available chocolate necessitate further study to ascertain the balance of risk and benefits.

03/31/11

  05:21:44 pm, by MedBen5   , 181 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription

Ohio Pharmacy Board To Reverse One-Transfer Rule

Well, that was fast. On January 1, a rule went into effect that limited pharmacy prescription transfer to one per year. Now, measures are being taken by the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy to reverse the rule.

Oh, did we mention that the same Board of Pharmacy enacted the rule that they now want to reverse?

MedCity News reports that, due in large part to complaints from consumers and newspapers, the Board of Pharmacy has filed paper with the Register of Ohio that would overturn the rule. If approved, patients would again be allowed to make multiple pharmacy transfers beginning in June.

Independent pharmacists also objected strongly to the one-transfer rule. Because transfers between locations in the same retail drug chain were excluded from the rule so long as records were stored in a common computer system, the rule gave heavy hitters like Walgreens and CVS a competitive edge over smaller stores.

The article notes that supporters of the one-transfer rule said it reduced the risk of miscommunication – a claim the author said isn’t collaborated by any Board of Pharmacy data.

  02:24:50 pm, by MedBen5   , 243 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Artificial Food Colorings Under FDA Scrutiny

Artificial dyes that make many foods all colorful and attractive to kids may come under scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administation, The New York Times reports.

Despite concluding years ago that food colorings had no effect on an individual’s health, the FDA have asked a panel of experts to review recent studies that suggest the colorings may exacerbate hyperactivity and other children’s behavior problems. Based on the panel’s recommendations, the government agency could require warning labels on food or make other policy changes. (You can read the FDA’s Background Document at their website.)

Consumer advocacy groups have long argued about the risks of food colorings. In 2008, the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a petition calling for federal food regulators “to remove those dangerous and unnecessary substances from the food supply.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association feels differently, saying in a statement, “All of the major safety bodies globally have reviewed the available science and have determined that there is no demonstrable link between artificial food colors and hyperactivity among children.”

In their report to the panel, FDA staff scientists did note that while food colorings may affect children with inherent behavioral issues, research doesn’t suggest that typical children are similarly influenced.

UPDATE: According to The Washington Post, the FDA advisory panel concluded “that there was not enough scientific evidence linking artificial colors with hyperactivity to warrant a warning label or new restrictions on thousands of processed foods colored by chemicals.”

03/30/11

  09:19:57 pm, by MedBen5   , 194 words,  
Categories: News, Prescription

"Dispense As Written" Requirement Leaves Prescriptions Unfilled, Increases Cost

Most prescription drug users have no problem with substituting a brand name medication for a generic equivalent. But a new study suggests that a handful of doctors and patients aren’t convinced that generics are as safe as brands – and their reluctance carries with it potential financial and health-related consequences.

Reuters (via Yahoo! Health) reports that roughly 3% of prescriptions are marked “dispense as written” by the physician, meaning that the pharmacist cannot provide a generic alternative if a brand name drug has been prescribed. Moreover, patients can make the same stipulation – and 2% of prescriptions are marked by patients as such.

The authors of the Harvard Medical School study found that patients were less likely to fill prescriptions when their only option is a brand name medication, even if the patients themselves made the request. About 8% of doctor-ordered “dispense as written” prescriptions went unfilled, as did almost 12% of patient brand requests.

In addition to putting patient health in jeopardy by not having needed medications, the authors estimate the practice costs the health system nearly $8 billion a year. Moreover, patients could save $1.2 billion a year if the prescribing doctors were more open to using generics.

  05:31:45 pm, by MedBen5   , 215 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

GAO Compiles Alternatives To Individual Mandate

The mandate that would require individuals without medical coverage to buy health insurance beginning in 2014 is unquestionably the most controversial aspect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Two federal judges have declared the provision unconstitutional (three have ruled otherwise), and in all likelihood the issue of its legality will be decided by the Supreme Court.

Complicating things is that the individual mandate is considered to be the linchpin of the ACA. Indeed, Florida federal judge Roger Vinson voided the entire law on the premise that it doesn’t work without the unconstitutional provision. So what happens if the Supreme Court feels the same way?

According to The Hill’s Healthwatch, The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has complied some alternative ideas to the individual mandate, proposed by health care experts. The most frequently cited suggestions include:

  • Modify open enrollment periods and impose late enrollment penalties, including increased costs and/or reduced benefits;
  • Facilitate auto-enrollment for employer-sponsored healthcare;
  • Conduct a public education and outreach campaign;
  • Provide broad access to personalized assistance for health coverage enrollment, for example by creating access points such as pharmacies, schools and grocery stores;
  • Impose a tax to pay for uncompensated care that would apply to people without insurance or employers who don’t offer it.

You can read the GAO’s full report at their website.

03/28/11

  09:55:41 pm, by MedBen5   , 169 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

New Bill Would Let FSA Members Retrieve Unused Funds

A flexible spending account (FSA) is a great way to pay for medical expenditures using pretax dollars, but the inability to roll over remaining funds from year to year means that participants have to be careful about their annual contribution. Now, lawmakers have introduced legislation that would allow participants to get those leftover dollars back – at a cost.

National Underwriter reports that Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., and Rep. John Larson, D-Conn. have cosponsored the Medical Flexible Spending Account Improvement Act bill. If passed, FSA participants could withdraw any remaining funds at the end of the year, provided they pay taxes on them.

The Save Flexible Spending Plans coalition says that the IRS created the “use-it-or-lose-it” provision so FSAs would not be used as tax shelters – a rule no longer needed because the Affordable Care Act will cap annual FSA contributions at $2,500.

For additional information about adding an FSA to your health plan, we invite you to call Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at (888) 627-8683.

  02:16:31 pm, by MedBen5   , 317 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness

Sit-ups And Shredded Wheat: Two Keys To Lower Blood Pressure

Looking to control your blood pressure? Sure, we all are! Here’s a couple recent news items that offer food (and exercise) for thought:

  • WebMD reports that regular exercise not only is an effective way to keep blood pressure down, it may also counteract the effects of high sodium consumption. A joint study of Tulane University and Chinese researchers revealed the most physically active adults had a 38% lower chance of being salt sensitive compared to those participants who got the least exercise.

    For the purposes of the study, “salt sensitive” was defined as a rise in blood pressure of at least 5% when salt intake went from relatively low (3,000 milligrams a day) one week to high (18,000 mg a day) the next. All 1,900+ study participants were Chinese adults with a family history of prehypertension or stage 1 hypertension.

    The American Health Association recommends a maximum of 1,500 mg of sodium daily.

  • That cereal in your cupboard is not only a tasty way to start your day, it also can help keep hypertension in check, according to Health.com. A 17-year study of middle-aged men found that a daily bowl of cereal can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure by up to 20%.

    Analyzing data of more than 13,000 men with normal blood pressure at the start of the study – more than half of whom developed hypertension in the ensuing years – researchers discovered that one serving of cereal a week lowered risk by 7% compared to those who didn’t eat cereal. Two to six weekly servings reduced risk by 11%, while a serving a day reduced risk by 19%.

    Of course, not just any brand will have the desired result. For instance, if your cereal box has a cartoon animal on the front cover, chances are its healthful benefits aren’t so great. For best results, stick with whole-grain varieties – and if it should contain high-fiber nuts, fruit or raisins, so much the better.

03/25/11

  05:15:24 pm, by MedBen5   , 207 words,  
Categories: Prescription

Got The Right Pills?

While it’s thankfully not something that happens very often, a pharmacist may accidentally fill a prescription bottle with the wrong pills. KevinMD.com offers a few ideas on what to do should you find yourself with a bum drug.

The most important tip given is to “confirm the medications, quantities and dosages at the pharmacy checkout.” It’s far easier to rectify a mistake if it’s caught at the point of purchase. Once you’ve left the pharmacy, returning the medication may be more problematic, as concerns about tampering means that pharmacists typically will not perform a straight swap. You’ll eventually get the proper pills, but you may end up paying more in the process, even if it’s not your fault.

Of course, if you don’t know what a particular drug looks like in the first place, then you may have no idea whether a mistake has occured. To familiarize yourself, we encourage you to visit our RxEOB website. Available through MedBen Access to clients who use PDM for prescription management (check your ID card if you’re not sure), RxEOB offers a database featuring thousands of medications, and includes images of virtually every prescription drug available. Plan members with questions about RxEOB can contact MedBen Customer Service at (800) 686-8425.

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