Archive for the ‘Wellness Centers’ Category

Do Corporate Healthcare Incentives Work?

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Healthcare insurance incentives are somewhat successful, according to the National Business Group on Health, which says approximately 68 percent of its members either offer their employees discounts on premiums if they quit smoking or start eating more healthfully or begin exercise programs.  The companies have a vested interest in these programs because they keep healthcare costs down and add up to fewer sick days.

The impetus for healthcare incentives is the Safeway Amendment that is one part of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform legislation.  The amendment lets companies reimburse employees as much as 20 percent of their insurance premiums if they take part in wellness programs.  This percentage rises to 30 percent in 2014 and to 50 percent with special governmental approval.  The amendment is so named because of the support of Safeway CEO Steve Burd, who wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal in 2009 about how his company’s Healthy Measures program proved that incentives can slash healthcare costs by as much as 40 percent.

According to Harald Schmidt, a health policy expert and Harkness Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, “In principle, I think wellness incentives are a good idea.  But it all depends on how they are implemented.  If the focus is on just reducing the cost of healthcare rather than improving health, then you may have a problem.  The second issue is, we must make sure everybody has a reasonable chance of benefiting from incentive programs.  We really have a problem if some find it much harder than others, and especially if we hold people responsible for things that are in fact beyond their control.”

Kevin Volpp, a physician and director of the Center for Health Incentives at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, offers a slightly different perspective.  “The reality is that we have a healthcare financing system that pays to treat people once they are sick.  There’s a growing recognition that health behaviors are a major driver of premature mortality and healthcare costs.  We need to rigorously test approaches that can better align incentives for patients with other interests of the health system, such as employers and insurers, so that resources go to keep people healthy.  Wellness incentives are a piece of that and can be used in ways that provide positive feedback to patients.”

Living In a Flight Path Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Too much noise pollution from jet planes can impact heart health.Noise pollution from airplanes flying low over residential areas may be unhealthy for the heart.  This is the finding of a study of 4.9 million adults in Switzerland, which determined that death by heart attack was more widespread among people who lived under noisy flight paths.  “The effect was especially evident for people who were exposed to really high levels of noise, and was dependent on how long those people had lived in the noisy place,” said Matthias Egger, a University of Bern researcher.

Although this isn’t the first time that noise pollution from planes has been linked to cardiovascular risk, the new study could determine if other factors – such as air quality – are a contributing factor.  “It’s been a problem when you look at road traffic noise, there are both high levels of noise and high levels of air pollution,” Egger said.  “By looking at airports, we were in a position to disentangle these effects.”  Egger and his research team identified 15,532 deaths from heart attacks among 4.6 million Swiss residents between late 2000 and the end of 2005 with detailed information from a mortality study called the Swiss National Cohort.

The research team studied government records and environmental data to determine how close people lived to airports and highways, as well as how much particulate matter was in the air in these areas.  As a result, the researchers identified how much aircraft noise and air pollution each person experienced over 15 years.  Factoring in such elements as exposure to air pollution, education and income, the researchers determined that the level and duration of airplane noise increased the risk of suffering a heart attack.  “Noise probably does have effects on health and it is important that we gain a better understanding of these,” Egger concluded, noting that additional research is needed.

Older Americans Tend to Be Sicker than Britons – Until Their 70th Birthdays

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Americans are sicker than Britons until they are 70.  Older Americans tend to be sicker than their British counterparts.  Once they celebrate their 70th birthdays, however, Americans can expect to live longer.  This is one finding in a study conducted by RAND Corporation, the California-based research institute. American longevity could be due to their country’s expensive healthcare system, said James P. Smith, a Rand economist and demographics expert.  “We actually get something from it,” Smith said.  “We are sicker than the English and we have to spend a lot.”  Apparently, all those expensive tests “diagnosing chronic illnesses early, and how aggressive we treat those things” make the difference.

Healthcare spending in the United States ate up $2.3 trillion in 2008 – comprising 16 percent of the total economy.  By contrast, British healthcare spending was just 8.7 percent of that nation’s significantly smaller GDP.  According to James Banks, an economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London, mortality rates for cancer and stroke are higher in Britain than in continental Europe.  Healthcare spending in Europe is “a few percentage points higher” than in Britain.  Healthcare rationing is another issue.  “There is more rationing in the U.K. than there is here,” said Dr. Peter A. Meunnig, a health policy expert at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

According to Banks’ study, Americans in their 70s were twice as likely to have cancer and diabetes as their British counterparts.  Americans were also more apt to have high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and chronic lung disease.  In both countries, the groups studied were older, white and had insurance coverage.  Banks believes that more healthcare is “focused on the elderly” in the United States than in England, although this may be changing.  “The (British) government in recent years has been targeting cancer, heart disease and stroke,” he said.

Hospital Executives’ Priority Is to Control Costs

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Hospital CEOs’ top priority is to bring their costs in line with Medicare payment levels. The American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) tested the waters of how its members feel about the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act by conducting an in-depth survey.  The primary finding is that hospital executives are reacting to healthcare reform by slashing expenses. Their goal is to bring their per-patient costs into line with Medicare payment levels.

Based in Chicago, the trade association for hospital and healthcare system executives, queried 539 CEOs and learned that more than 75 percent plan to cut per-patient costs.  Additionally, they intend to study means to avoid penalties for preventable readmissions over the next year as a response to the healthcare reform law.

Thomas Dolan, ACHE President and CEO, said “Hospital CEOs are actively taking steps to ensure their communities are going to benefit from the advantages offered by healthcare reform legislation.”

Approximately 72 percent of executives who took the survey plan to build closer relationships with physicians so all can benefit from incentives for care coordination, enhanced quality, patient safety and reduced costs.  Another 68 percent plan to apply for subsidies through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to purchase electronic health record systems.  Fully two-thirds are investigating ways to prevent infections and avoid penalties.  Almost 50 percent of respondents plan to look into ways to decrease the average patient stay or partner with community organizations to promote wellness.

Healthcare Reform Promotes Breast Cancer Awareness Among Younger Women

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

New healthcare law provides grants to help breast cancer patients aged 15 to 44. One little-discussed provision in the healthcare reform law is designed to increase awareness of breast cancer risk in young women aged 15 to 44.   Under the law, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will create educational campaigns to focus on breast cancer risk in young women and to promote prevention and early detection  Additionally, the law provides grants to groups that help young women with breast cancer, and directs the National Institutes of Health to develop new screening tests aimed at enhancing early detection.  The law provides $9 million for these efforts on a yearly basis between 2010 and 2014.

Just 10 percent of the approximately 250,000 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer annually are aged 45 or younger, according to the American Cancer Society.  Breast cancer tends to be more aggressive in younger women, with an 83 percent five-year survival rate, compared with 90 percent for women older than 45.  The lower survival rate for younger breast cancer patients is partly due to deferred diagnoses and a lack of screening because of the low incidence.  Mammograms of younger women’s breasts can be hard to read because the tissue is often too dense to be evaluated effectively by X-ray.

The advocacy group Young Survival Coalition encourages women to act quickly if they notice a change in their breasts.  “Be familiar with the look, feel and shape of your breasts, so that if something develops you’re aware of it,” said Stacy Lewis, the group’s vice president of programming.  “If you see a change, go see a doctor, and if you’re told that it’s probably nothing, go to another provider.”

The healthcare reform law’s most significant provisions related to breast cancer in younger women may be those that encourage research.  Because screening women before age 40 isn’t always practical, identifying young women who are at risk is vital, said Dr. Therese Bevers, medical director of the cancer prevention center at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston.  “We’ve got to have a way of picking out the right young women,” she said. “Otherwise we’ll miss cases.”

CDC Sets Six “Winnable Battles” for Americans’ Health

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

 CDC sets six health priorities as "winnable battles". The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified six priorities to keep the nation healthy – or what its director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, calls “winnable battles”.  The six are smoking, AIDS, obesity/nutrition, teen pregnancy, auto injuries and healthcare infections. Although some healthcare experts consider this a bold move on Frieden’s part, others are angry that the six take priority over certain deadly diseases.

Bruce Burkett, past president of the National Hepatitis C Advocacy Council, believes that hepatitis B and C are “badly neglected” by the CDC.  “I was very disappointed that it wasn’t on there.  This is gong to affect millions by not being on there.”  Jeff Levi, who heads the research group Trust for America’s Health, also expressed concern, saying “I think everyone is going to be cautious in how the focus on winnable battles is balanced against other areas” that are considered crucial and may not be as easy to treat.

Frieden disagrees, noting that proven programs can save lives and reduce the risk of these health problems.  “In each of these areas, we know what to do to make a difference and we need to do it to a much greater extent,” Frieden said.  Additionally, the CDC has no intention of ignoring its other public health mission.  For one thing, it’s impossible, given that Congress directs the agency’s funding to certain causes.  Less than one-tenth of one percent of CDC’s $6.6 billion annual budget is discretionary and can be invested in the winnable battles initiative.

State health authorities are in agreement with Frieden’s priorities and will be happy to receive grant money from the CDC.  “We’re in the position of focusing pretty much on what we can get federal funds for,” said Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.  Humble believes that Frieden’s six winnable priorities are long overdue and welcomes the opportunity to better sell health improvement to Arizonans.  “You can’t market if your message is too diffuse.  If we’re all on the same page and working in the same direction, we can get a lot more momentum,” Humble said.

Some Healthcare Insurers Refuse to Sell Child-Only Policies

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Insurers who refuse to sell child-only policies are creating a political firestorm.  Some of the nation’s largest insurers are in open rebellion against a provision contained in the new healthcare reform law that is already in effect.  The shot across the White House’s bow is a decision by several insurers to stop selling child-only policies instead of complying with the law that blocks them from turning away kids with pre-existing conditions.  Anthem Blue Cross, Aetna, Inc., and others are refusing to sell the policies in states such as California, Illinois, Florida and Connecticut – even though the law requires that insurers cover children under 19 even if they have a history of illness.  Approximately 500,000 children nationally are impacted by this action.

The insurers claim that the new requirement will result in unforeseen costs related to covering eligible children.  The scenario they envision is that parents might buy policies for their children only after they get sick, creating a surplus of kids who suddenly need insurance coverage.  The decision by some of the big insurers to abandon this niche marketplace means that just a few firms will be forced to share what could be an enormous financial burden.  The good news is that relatively few child-only policies are sold.

The Obama administration immediately denounced the action.  White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters “It’s obviously very unfortunate that insurance companies continue to make decisions on the backs of children and families that need their help.”

The stakes are especially high in California.  Legislation awaiting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval would ban companies that refuse to sell child-only policies from selling insurance in the profitable individual market for five years.  Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), who wrote the bill, said “At a time when we are launching a national approach to ensure that all children have access to healthcare, Anthem’s actions represent a step backwards.  By threatening to drop child-only policies in California, the company jeopardizes the health of families and children.  I call on Anthem to reconsider its plan.”

High Heels Have Future Health Costs

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Those sexy high heels are hard on women’s ankles, knees and hips.  Despite the sexy and powerful image that high heels have thanks to such television programs as “Sex and the City”, there is a serious downside to wearing the shoes.  The damage can go well beyond blisters and tends to occur primarily in the ankle, knee and hip, according to a new study by the American Society of Biomechanics.

In a study conducted by Danielle Barkema, a masters kinesiology student at the University of Iowa, 15 female volunteers walked around the laboratory on a special platform designed to measure their joints’ motions and the forces acting upon them.  Sensors and motion cameras documented the force and pressure in the women’s legs when they wore flats, 2-inch heels and 3 ½-in heels.  As a result of the study, Barkema determined that knees and ankles absorb the most pressure.  The higher the heel, the greater is the compression inside the knee.  This creates joint pain and strain, according to Barkema.  Wearing heels also changed the women’s posture, forcing their ankles, knees and hips into unnatural positions that boosted their risk for future joint degeneration and osteoarthritis.

Although Barkema doesn’t think women should give up wearing heels, she thinks they should not be worn all the time.  “It’s pretty difficult to tell your friends not to wear high heels,” Barkema said.  “Just try to limit yourself as much as possible and not wear them every single day.”

Republican Senators Trying to Derail One Provision of Healthcare Reform

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Senate Republicans want to fast-track an amendment that repeals a portion of the new healthcare reform law. Whether or not they will be able to accomplish this is another question.Republicans make first attempt at scuttling healthcare reform legislation.

Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) has proposed legislation to rescind a provision in the new law that requires businesses to report purchases of $600 or more to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  Business lobbyists such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) both support the legislation.  Republicans want to attach the repeal provision to a broader bill intended to help small businesses.  According to the Chamber and the NFIB, the provision places a burdensome obligation on the nation’s 40 million small businesses.  Under this provision of the healthcare reform bill, businesses are required to file an IRS 1099 form for non-credit card purchases totaling $600 or more.  Johanns says that rule is “overly burdensome.”

To make up for the $17 billion that the provision would raise, Johanns has proposed reducing the individual mandate threshold and defer $16 billion in funding for wellness programs.  Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and other Republicans have introduced legislation that would kill the Independent Payment Advisory Board that the healthcare reform law created.  Democratic Senators who wrote the legislation counter that the board is needed to reduce consistently increasing healthcare costs.

Andy Griffith Tapped to Sell Healthcare Reform to Senior Citizens

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

A new sheriff in town, Andy Griffith is promoting support for healthcare reform law.  A familiar face is hitting the airwaves to promote the Obama administration’s new healthcare law to the nation’s senior citizens. The pitchman is 84-year-old Andy Griffith, a lifelong Democrat whose role as Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show made him a lasting symbol of small-town values.  Medicare is picking up the $700,000 tab for the advertisements.

In the commercials, which are airing on The Weather Channel, CNN, Hallmark and Lifetime, Griffith assures Americans that “good things are coming” as a result of the healthcare law.  He lists free preventive checkups and lower-cost prescriptions for Medicare patients as two of the benefits.  According to some polls, senior citizens are skeptical about the healthcare law because Medicare cuts will provide a significant share of the financing to cover the uninsured.

The ads come at a time when Medicare is celebrating its 45th anniversary. In the ad’s background is a photo of President Lyndon Johnson signing the Medicare bill into law. Griffith assures senior citizens that better protections are coming, thanks to the healthcare reform law.