Archive by Month - January, 2010

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Health Insurance Debate leaves Health Needs in Limbo

Friday, January 29th, 2010

health insurance.

This is the predicament for an alarming number of Americans who are just hoping congress will do something to create more affordable health coverage including short term health insurance, family health insurance, and all other types of plans. President Obama used healthcare reform as a major platform during the presidential election. He promised to stop ignoring the health needs of uninsured Americans and make healthcare affordable for every individual who wants to have it.

However, things seem very uncertain for the healthcare bill backed by Obama. The House, Senate and White House seems to be in a tug a war match over the bill. And nothing is getting getting accomplished. At the State of the Union address Obama made it clear he is not giving up on healthcare reform and made a personal commitment to put his weight behind a comprehensive healthcare bill based on the legislation already approved by the House and Senate. “I took on healthcare because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans,” Obama said. “I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.”

Republican leaders insist however, that the bill has serious constitutional issues. “This will be the first time in history that individual citizens in this country will be forced to buy something they may not want. And they may be forced to buy a federal version of something they don’t want,” Senator Orrin Hatch said.

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Blue Cross Blue Shield Breaks Immediate Care Barrier

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Blue is now taken at Take Care.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida announced this week that effective right away, its four million subscribers can receive benefits under their health insurance plan for medical services provided at Take Care Health Health Systems immediate care centers located inside Walgreens drug stores throughout the state of Florida. With more than 80 percent of all insured Floridians now covered under BCBS health insurance plans, Walgreens is looking to boost visitors to its Take Care locations in hopes of creating a one-stop-shop for medical care.

Walgreens is rapidly playing catch-up in the trend toward walk-in medical care as its top competitor, CVS is rapidly boosting its retail healthcare presence in the Florida market. CVS’ MinuteClinic walk-in health care chains first started popping up inside its own pharmacies in 2002. The clinics boast over 4 million visits and accept health insurance coverage from most of the major health insurance companies in the nation. Last month, MinuteClinic announced it would begin accepting Humana insurance plans.

Insurance companies and medical care providers are encouraging patients to seek out medical care at so-called immediate care centers as a method of reducing overall healthcare delivery costs. When compared to a typical visit to a private physician or an emergency room, retail walk-in clinics are usually cheaper to use as they are typically staffed by nurses and nurse practitioners and confine their treatment to minor illnesses and injuries.

Health insurance companies are taking a cue from the retail pharmacy industry by becoming more of a retail brand themselves. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida is building a chain of its own “Blue” locations throughout the state. Initially, the insurance giant plans to provide consumer advice and consultations about its insurance plans. Nurses will also be available at the stores to provide simple physical exams and other routine medical care provided for under family health insurance. Look for BCBS to open new stores in Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando soon.

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Walmart offers Medications at $4 a Pop

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Many people still don’t know this money saving secret, but Walmart is offering prescription drugs at what appears to be an unbeatable price. For as low as $4, Walmart shoppers can fill prescriptions for many generic drugs or $10 for a 90-day supply at commonly prescribed dosages. The program is also available to those who don’t have affordable health insurance from companies such as Humana and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Walmart’s Prescription Program is available at all Walmart, Sam’s Club and Neighborhood Market pharmacies in the United States except in North Dakota. This program is helping people cutback on their medical expenses tremendously. Walmart says it has already saved customers over $1 billion.The program is particularly appealing for low income Americans who often have to trim their grocery list and other living expenses in order to have enough money to purchase medications. The retail giant is accepting health insurance plans, and uninsured shoppers can also fill prescriptions at the pharmacy.

“At that cost I can scrounge up the change from my kids piggy bank if I needed to,” said Christine Castro, a full-time secretary in Miami who recently learned about Walmart’s prescription program. Christine was paying a steep $80 for high blood pressure pills from Navarro Pharmacies every month. She said even though it was a financial burden having the pills was a matter of life and death. “At $4 I am willing to wait in line at Walmart for hours. It really is worth the savings,” said Christine.

The generic medicines represented are used to treat and manage conditions including high blood pressure, allergies, cholesterol, and diabetes; Some antibiotics, antidepressants, antipsychotics and prescription vitamins are also included. If you are interested in saving money of generic drugs, you should ask your doctor if one is available for you. Family health insurance, individual health coverage and all other types of health insurance plans

Some may be wondering if generic drugs are less safe than brand name drugs. Not to worry; generic drugs are only cheaper because the manufacturers have not had the expenses of developing and marketing a new drug because they are essentially identical to the original brand-name drugs that require massive R & D efforts to formulate and test.

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Student Health Insurance Recovers From Extended Illness

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Strapped by tuition increases and declining enrollment, U.S. colleges and universities are cracking the books in hopes of graduating and moving past their own health insurance reform crises.

According to a story appearing today on CMN – College Media Network, Portland State University’s voluntary student health insurance program is slowly dying.

PSU health insurance, currently underwritten by Aetna Life Insurance Company, provides two different plans: basic and supplemental.

The basic plan covers visits to the the university’s medical facilities. The supplemental plan is preferred for outside doctors and emergency room visits. PHU spokesman Walden
Poublon explained that since students who utilize the supplemental plan often need and seek expensive health care, the insurance providers lose money each year, causing rates to increase or coverage in the plan to decrease in order to stay affordable.

PSU is among a growing list of public and private colleges and universities extending health coverage to students at a lower premium than they could obtain for themselves. While considered by parents and students to be a benefit, the challenge for such schools is to make plans more affordable so more will purchase it, thus creating a larger pool of money available for everyone’s health care.

Over time, fewer students have elected to enroll in the supplemental plan while prices have increased. This trend has decreased the pool of money available to students, which is why insurance providers lose money and are forced to increase rates. This is the “death spiral,” Poublon said.

PSU recently signed with Aetna after receiving competing quotes from other health insurance companies. But was clear that the current plan with Aetna is merely a Band-Aid solution that is not sustainable and is on borrowed time. If the past is any indication of what to expect in the future, few students will elect optional supplemental plans, causing insurance companies to lose money and then increase rates or decrease coverage.

But student health insurance is recovering thanks in part to creativity on behalf of college administrators forced to either abandon coverage or grow their groups.

As for PSU, Oregon State University and University of Oregon are in talks about the possibility of pooling students at all three campuses to buy a mandatory hard-waiver health care plan as a group. This could lower insurance costs for all three schools.

A mandatory hard-waiver health insurance policy would require students to be covered by a comprehensive health insurance plan that would be a part of students’ tuition and fees. Students may be excluded from the plan if they have comparable health insurance through a parent or employer.

This would prevent students who already have health insurance outside of the school from paying a mandatory health fee each term—essentially “opting out.” Another benefit is that students could have access to better health insurance that could be paid by financial aid.

Other schools have successfully adopted hard-waiver programs. Aetna Student Health has implemented hard-waiver programs at approximately 80 institutions, including Boston College, Clemson University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Harvard University, Northwestern University, Miami University and the University of Pennsylvania.

The economy is partly to blame for the decrease in health coverage for students. Operational shortfalls have resulted in tuition increases at many schools, leaving less money for parents and students to put toward coverage.

“Some students have to make the choice between health and school. Meal or education,” Poublon said. “[It’s an] impossible choice to make.”

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Salt Cutback Challenge for US

Friday, January 29th, 2010

If the entire country, would commit to cutting back on a bit of salt, the number of heart attacks and strokes in the US would decrease considerably.

A new study by the New England Journal of Medicine says heart disease could decline by up to 13 percent if adults could just slash their daily salt intake by 3 grams, or about 1,200 milligrams of sodium. New cases of heart disease and the number of strokes could also be expected to decline, by up to 11 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Even a reduction in daily salt intake of just 1 gram (or about 400 milligrams of sodium) would produce “large declines” in the rates of cardiovascular events, according to the study. Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which triples your risk of developing heart disease, whatever your age.

“Just targeting slightly lower salt intake would have some benefit for everyone in the U.S.,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “This is the ideal type of intervention for those interested in public health to get behind, because the effects would be so dramatic.”

The study suggests that food manufacturers would need to be the primary target of the projected reduction in salt intake, since processed foods — and not the salt in your salt shaker — account for between 75 to 80 percent of American salt consumption.

Families are buying foods at the grocery store which are already loaded with unhealthy amounts of salt. Items such as ready meals, sauces, baked beans and pizza are just some of the foods with hidden salt. Almost everyone uses the foods even if they make most of their food from scratch. Consuming foods that are high in salt has a negative affect on your overall health and causes your medical insurance to go up. Americans make more than 72 million doctor visits every year for treatment and management of cardiovascular diseases, and medical insurance companies often increase everyone’s health insurance premiums to cover the cost.

Experts also say a quarter million deaths from strokes could be prevented if Americans start consuming less salt. The death statistics of eating too much salt is not the only burden; healthcare cost are also extraordinarily high. According the the Center for Disease Control, heart disease and stroke in the United States, including health care expenditures and lost productivity from deaths and disability, was projected to be more than $475 billion last year.

There are certainly initiatives the entire country can make to improve everyone’s health. In the meantime, there are lots of simple ways to reduce the amount of salt you eat which will in turn improve your health and also save money with health insurance plans from companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Health Care. Here are a few tips to help you cut back on salt intake:

  • If you’re choosing a ready meal or a ready-made pasta sauce, compare different types and choose the one that is lower in salt.
  • Try not to add salt automatically when you’re cooking or about to eat. Often people only use salt out of habit.
  • Buy reduced salt or low sodium whenever you can in meats and other foods.
  • Use herbs, spices, and salt-free seasoning blends in cooking and at the table.
  • Cut back on frozen dinners, pizza, packaged mixes, canned soups or broths, and salad dressings — these often have a lot of sodium
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    Health Bill Confusion

    Thursday, January 28th, 2010

    Things are looking bleak for the healthcare bill following the recent Massachusetts vote. Some political experts believe a large part of Americans in Massachusetts were voting against the health legislation led by President Obama. But other analysts believe voters are confused about the health bill, and President Obama agrees. He says once voters see the details of the health bill they will jump on board in support of it. “The American people will suddenly learn that this bill does things they like and doesn’t do things that people have been trying to say it does,” said President Obama. The President has been working without success to provide affordable student health insurance, family health coverage, so that every American will have the opportunity to invest in good health insurance plans within their financial reach. However, the President’s health bill has had a significant amount of congressional and now public resistance.

    There are many misconceptions from voters about the health bill. For example, many insured Americans believe health reform will take away their freedom and force them to change their current health insurance plans even if they are happy with it. To date their is nothing in the health proposal that requires anyone to give up their existing health plan. So if an insured individual has a Blue Cross Blue Shield or United Health Care policy which they are completely happy with, they can keep it. Medicare shows how public-private partnerships can result in individuals choosing their own plans and their own physicians.

    None of the proposed plans involve socializing medicine, creating a single payer system, or government run or owned hospitals. Many voters are under the impression that Obama’s health bill is heading in that direction. The bill intends to involve the government so the health insurance industry will have additional laws to follow. For example, under the bill it will be against the law for health insurance companies to deny anyone coverage even if they have pre-existing conditions. There will also be a limit on the amount of money insured individuals can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses.

    Another confusing part of the bill is whether tax dollars would be used for abortions. Federal dollars for abortions are currently quite restricted, and would continue to be. Coverage for abortion services would remain only for rape, incest and to protect the mother’s life.

    President Obama and other democratic allies have had a difficult time getting the bill to this point. The process was not handled well and the president has taken responsibility for not explaining the bill to voters. Regardless of who is to blame for the health bill confusion, the fact is, time is running out to make the bill clear to voters and pass it through legislation. With that said there is still no clear indication of opposition to health coverage from the public. President Obama was elected, after all, with the promise of change to the healthcare system.

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    Wellpoint Warns Obama: Expect Higher Health Insurance Premiums

    Thursday, January 28th, 2010

    Wellpoint Inc., the nation’s largest health insurance company by membership, posted record earnings to Wall Street on the same day it sent a carefully-worded warning to the Obama Administration that it expects to book more profits if health insurers are forced to cover people with pre-existing conditions.

    “The cost of premiums will rise if Democrats force plans to cover people with pre-existing conditions,” said Wellpoint CEO, Angela Braly. “Insurers went along with their practice of refusing coverage based on pre-existing conditions because the legislation also required 30 million more Americans to get coverage.”

    Since debate about how to reform healthcare has simmered in Congress, the pre-existing element was among the last meaningful legislative changes to survive. But the House and Senate essentially concede that the mandate for all Americans to purchase individual health insurance is all but dead. Without the mandate, Wellpoint and other major health insurance companies wouldn’t have a built-in guarantee of new business coming to pay for those with pre-existing conditions.

    “Without those added customers,” Braly added, “insurance companies will raise rates to cover the cost of the sicker people.”

    Wellpoint posted a $536 million profit in the last quarter, after adjustments for the sale of its former NetRx pharmacy benefits unit to rival Express Scripts in December. Insurance industry analysts had been bracing for a flat earnings report amidst news that membership in some of the biggest health insurance companies continues to decline.

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    Health Insurance in Obama’s Own Words

    Thursday, January 28th, 2010

    It took nearly 30 minutes into an hour-plus long speech for President Obama to mention healthcare reform. Some would accuse him of burying the issue to avoid further criticism, while others were heartened by his renewed focus on other issues. Here are Obama’s own words from last night’s state of the union address:

    • Why he decided to tackle healthcare reform: “By now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics. I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with pre-existing conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage, patients who’ve been denied coverage, families — even those with insurance — who are just one illness away from financial ruin.
    • Why he thinks the public is skeptical about his proposals: “This is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, the process left most Americans wondering, “What’s in it for me?””
    • What’s in it for the average American (most of whom already have health insurance)? “The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry. It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care….Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses.”
    • How will it affect the national deficit? “Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses. And according to the Congressional Budget Office — the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress — our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.”
    • Why he thinks health insurance plan reform can’t wait: “After nearly a century of trying — Democratic administrations, Republican administrations — we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. […] I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans and neither should the people in this chamber.”
    • His challenge to Republicans: “if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Let me know. Let me know. I’m eager to see it.”
    • Next steps: “As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed. There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. Here’s what I ask Congress, though: Don’t walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people. Let’s get it done. Let’s get it done”

    (Image: transplanted mountaineer under CC 2.0)

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    Learn Math to Save On Your Health Insurance

    Thursday, January 28th, 2010

    When it comes to buying health insurance, it is very important to compare health insurance plans. Doing so lets you find the best deal: affordable premiums and deductibles with the coverage you need. It only becomes more complicated when multiple family members need long- or short term health insurance. However, selecting among the various types of health insurance plans available is difficult when your math skills are not up to par.

    If you aren’t a math whiz, you’re not alone. Just one in seven Americans were found to be proficient in relevant mathematics skills–a figure that includes college graduates! Calculators and reputable advice are very helpful, but are sometimes not enough. Math allows you to better understand your purchases, as well as make sure that you got the right price. That applies whether it’s a washing machine, a car, or COBRA insurance.

    What impact does this have on buying health insurance plans? A sample question asks an employee to figure out the premiums he or she needs to pay under an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, given a table that shows how costs vary based on family size and annual income. Unfortunately, most respondents were unable to solve the problem. Brushing up on basic math (no complicated calculus or trigonometry needed) will help improve your life in many ways; making the purchase of individual health insurance easier is only one of them.

    (Image: woodleywonderworks under CC 2.0)

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    Public Employee Health Benefits Too Generous?

    Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

    State and federal employees have managed to avoid many of the economic problems that have befallen their private sector counterparts. A significant percentage of them have seen their income increase during the recession, in addition to their job stability. As it turns out, their group health insurance is also more generous.

    In the federal and state governments, employees’ health insurance plans are typically paid for in full by taxpayers. Unlike people who have employer-sponsored health insurance plans from private companies, public employees do not have to pay partial premiums. If you compare health insurance plans, those available to public employees often offer wider and more varied coverage than the PPO health insurance offered to the rest of the workforce. For example, they may recieve full health dental insurance, instead of the limited benefit plans offered elsewhere. Many of them also have their healthcare fully covered after retirement, a privilege most private sector employees lack.

    How is this possible? Labor unions, which are far stronger in the public sector, were able to negotiate agreements that include affordable health insurance in their contracts. However, more people are coming to the conclusion that something needs to change. In a nation where millions of people are suffering without health insurance, does this group of employees deserve to enjoy that high level of benefits while avoiding risk and maintaining an uncommon level of job security?

    (Image: robyn318 under CC 2.0)

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