Archive for December, 2012

Lowering Health Care Costs is Easy and Cheap

Friday, December 28th, 2012

We’re so focused right now on cutting health care costs and wasted spending, but there is one simple thing that we can all do to stay healthier.  It’s free and easy, but many people skip this simple step throughout their day.  In “The Easiest, Cheapest Way to Stay Healthy,” Lisa Collier Cool of Yahoo! Health says that washing your hands is the best way to fight colds, flu, and many other contagious diseases.  In fact, a 20 second hand washing can cut your risk of these illnesses in more than half.  What a simple way to cut down on health care expenses related to doctors visits, prescriptions, and other costs that may be unnecessary.

The Centers for Disease Control has actually estimated that one million people would not die every year if hand washing was simply a regular habit by everyone.  One million people!!  Your hands actually have 500,000 bacteria per square centimeter, bacteria which when spread causes missed days at work and school, in addition to the added health care costs.  Of the infectious diseases out there, 80% of them are spread through touch.  Kids who wash their hands regularly miss 1/4 fewer days than those who do not.  Navy recruits who washed their hands five times a day for a study had almost half of the respiratory infections of those who did not.  There have been many other study results showing significant decreases in illnesses with regular hand washing.

Do you wash your hands after going to the bathroom in a public place? When asked, 91% of people claimed that they wash their hands after using public restrooms.  But a study in six airports across the United States showed that only 17% of women and 26% of men really did wash their hands after going to the bathroom.  Gross.  In a secret observation, it was found that only 10% of PICU doctors washed their hands between patients, even though 73% of the doctors said they washed their hands.  I know that we are all busy, but taking 20 seconds to wash your hands can save you money, time lost from work, and countless other hassles.

CDC recommendations for when to wash your hands include after using the bathroom or changing a diaper, both before and after preparing food, before you eat, after you touch garbage or any animal, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.  Yes, it seems like a lot, but remember the consequences of spreading or getting some type of illness or disease.  Some tips include taking off rings before washing, using clean water to wash and rinsing with running water, rubbing hands for at least 20 seconds and rubbing dry on a clean towel to remove remaining germs.  Interestingly, the CDC says that you don’t need to use antibacterial soap because it doesn’t work any better and can even make the bacteria resistant to that microbial ingredient.  Bottom line, wash your hands to stay healthy and lower health care costs overall.

Montana Health Cooperative Gets Its License

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Insurance regulators in Montana have supported the Montana Health Cooperative’s plan to change the face of health care by issuing their license.  Federal money helped to establish this nonprofit health insurer, run by Jerry Dworak.  In “Montana Health Cooperative gets OK from state, will manage insurance exchange,” the Med City News staff says that this operating license is a big step for the health cooperative.  Dworak says that their goal is to help Montana’s residents get more affordable health care that is also higher quality and more coordinated across the different doctors.  This nonprofit health insurer is completely consumer-focused and Dworak is excited to get customers into the program starting in October of next year.

The $58 million federal loan received by the Montana Health Cooperative will help the insurer run until they meet their 40,000 member goal in their third year of business.  The co-op is going to sell policies in the new federally mandated health insurance exchanges.  Co-ops like this are coming about around the U.S. to help customers looking for health insurance that is more affordable.  Those being forced to purchase health insurance by 2014 should be able to find better value in the nonprofit competition space.  Too many states have a few dominating insurers setting the tone for pricing in the industry.  Montana’s insurance commissioner gave the co-op their certificate of authority because of the operating plans they have spelled out.  The Montana Health Cooperative’s chairman of the board is confident that Montana’s co-op will lead the way for other states setting up nonprofit health insurers to meet residents’ needs.

Why Health Insurance Premiums Rise, But Coverage Falls

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

If you’ve done any kind of cost analysis on your health insurance lately, you probably know that you are paying a lot more for less coverage.  I know that was the case for my family.  According to NBC News’ Maggie Fox in the article “Health insurance: US paying more for less, report finds,” premiums and deductibles have been increasing while coverage has declined.  Personally, our deductibles and co-pays have been increasing for years at the same time as less of our health care costs are covered.  Oh and our premiums have gone up too.  In the last eight years, health insurance premiums have actually increased 60%, according to the non-profit Commonwealth Fund.  Within eight years, average family health insurance premiums are estimated to be $25,000 a year.

Expenses rising are the main reason for the rising costs across the board.  But many of these rising expenses are unnecessary.  There is a ridiculous amount of waste in the industry.  An Institute of Medicine estimate in 2009 showed $750 billion wasted on unneeded administrative costs, services that are not necessary, fraud, and other expenses.  Both the private and public health insurance markets have to work to lower costs through better coordination of care, little to no duplication of services, and lowering administrative costs.  As sort of a double whammy on Americans, as their health insurance costs increased, their wages either stayed the same or increased at a lower level.  Most households have seen the percentage of their income taken up by health care expenses increase over the past eight years.

Adding fuel to the fire, many Americans have lost their jobs, and therefore their employer health insurance, in this same time frame.  Families are going into the insurance market on their own and comparing quotes from companies like Mercy health plans.  Only 55% or so of Americans have an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, leaving millions of Americans uninsured.  The Affordable Care Act is hoping to take some of the uninsured Americans out of the market by getting them better access to affordable health insurance, but the ACA has its opponents.  Some right wingers are worried that expenses will rise even further with the Affordable Care Act.  Regardless of what terms are used or who is supportive, the industry as a whole needs to work to eliminate this waste and lower expenses for health insurance.  It will simply not be good if everything but coverage keeps on rising.

Huge Employer Tax Breaks on Health Insurance

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

The cost of health care is expensive.  Someone has to pay, whether it be individuals, the government, or employers.  With President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, some employers will be forced to offer health care to full-time employees when they didn’t in the past.  This has caused the threat of many employers like Papa Johns and Applebees to say that they will be forced to cut hours so that they don’t have as many full-time employees and don’t have to offer health insurance benefits.  They say that it is too expensive.

But there is another side to the health insurance cost story, according to Bankrate’s Jay MacDonald in the article “Health insurance and tax breaks.”  Health insurance is actually the biggest tax break given out by the government every year.  Neither individuals or employers are taxed on the value of their health insurance, something that is unheard of in other aspects of the government.  That tax break actually makes the non-taxing of health insurance the third biggest health care program in the country.  The first two are Medicare and Medicaid.  Now I realize that these programs aren’t the exact same thing, but I find Mr. MacDonald’s article interesting because we don’t often see this side of health insurance costs or tax breaks.

One health economist estimates that the federal government actually gives back $250 billion each year by not taxing health insurance in the same way that they tax wages and most everything else.  In 2018, the government is looking to tax some of the “best” health insurance plans with low deductibles and high benefits.  These plans are usually reserved for the top jobs in corporate America.  The tax breaks are not likely to disappear anytime soon and they aren’t all good.  They actually add to the inflation of health care by encouraging more doctors visits, since they are covered, and helping those with good health insurance more than those without.

Eliminating the tax breaks on health insurance would essentially be considered a tax increase, which would definitely alert the masses and cause an outcry nationally.  This article questions whether Americans would be better off without employer health insurance.  The state run health insurance exchanges, that would help people find less expensive individual and family plans, will be active in 2014.  It begs the question of whether we would be better off as a country with private health insurance rather than employer plans and government help.  Maybe, maybe not.  It’s just another piece of the difficult problem of expensive health care.