Saturday, November 19, 2005

California Community Foundation Press Release 10/20/2005

Free or Low-Cost Health Insurance Now Available to Low-Income Children in Parts of Inglewood, Hawthorne, Lennox and South Los Angeles California Community Foundation Awards $4 Million Grant
Los Angeles — Uninsured, low-income children living in specified ZIP codes in Inglewood, Hawthorne, Lennox and South Los Angeles may be eligible to receive free or low-cost health care coverage through a $4 million grant awarded by the California Community Foundation’s Centinela Medical Care Fund to the Children’s Health Initiative (CHI) of Greater Los Angeles.More than 2,600 children ages six to 18 living in these communities are expected to be able to enroll in health care coverage from the CHI through this grant. The grant also funds outreach efforts to reach thousands of other children in these communities — including those ages zero to 18 who qualify for government programs such as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families — and sign them up for health care coverage under the appropriate program. “Asking parents to pay for expensive health insurance when they are stretching to put food on the table isn’t the solution,” said Antonia Hernández, president and CEO of the California Community Foundation. “And ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away: It shows up in our emergency rooms, in our children’s school attendance and in the rapid increase of chronic health problems such as type 2 diabetes.”“Here at the California Community Foundation, our goal is to create positive change in Los Angeles. And the CHI coalition — the only group in Los Angeles providing health care coverage to these children — will ensure that vulnerable children receive quality preventive care, regular check ups, comprehensive dental and vision care and education about healthy lifestyle choices. To me, having these children grow into healthy adults is the definition of positive change,” Hernández added. The grant was awarded through the foundation’s Centinela Medical Care Fund, one of two funds established at the California Community Foundation after the Centinela Hospital Medical Center was converted to a for-profit corporation to ensure that residents in the ZIP codes that had been served by the hospital would continue to have access to quality health care services. Including this grant to the CHI, the Centinela Medical Care Fund, along with the Centinela Medical Community Fund, has awarded more than $17 million to organizations providing health care services to low-income and uninsured residents of the Centinela Valley. This is the first time the Centinela funds have been used to support health care coverage for eligible children in these communities.“We decided to fund the Children’s Health Initiative because it’s the only group doing this type of work in Los Angeles County,” said William Miller, chair of the Centinela advisory board.Launched in 2003, the Children’s Health Initiative (CHI) of Greater Los Angeles is a coalition of more than 50 community organizations working to ensure that all children in Los Angeles County have health care coverage. Since its founding, the CHI has raised more than $100 million toward this goal and helped enroll an estimated 100,000 low-income children in health insurance through Medi-Cal, Healthy Families and Healthy Kids.“We are really excited by this grant from the California Community Foundation. Los Angeles County consists of many communities, and the Centinela Fund is acting locally to help its kids,” said Howard Kahn, co-convener of the CHI coalition and CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan. “This is a generous grant that we hope inspires others to help us meet our goal of health care coverage for all of Los Angeles’ children.” The co-conveners of the CHI are The California Endowment, L.A. Care Health Plan and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. The overarching goal of the coalition is to build support for a permanent, long-term funding solution through public policies so that no child in California has to go without health insurance.“Projects like this demonstrate the power of government entities, nonprofit groups, corporations and foundations collaborating with one another to make a difference in the lives of our children,” said Wendy Schiffer, director of children’s health initiatives at the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. “It’s my hope that this will prove to be a successful model for addressing current and future problems facing all Angelenos.” Established in 1915, the California Community Foundation is one of the largest and most active philanthropic organizations in Southern California, with assets of more than $760 million. In partnership with its donors, the foundation supports nonprofit organizations and public institutions with funds for health and human services, affordable housing, early childhood education, community arts and culture and other areas of need. To learn more, visit the California Community Foundation online at www.calfund.org.Editor’s Note: For information about CHI eligibility requirements, please visit www.chigla.org or call 1-888-4LA-KIDS. Callers who live in one of the specified Centinela Priority Area 1 ZIP codes are encouraged to state this resident status when they call. For more information about Medi-Cal, Healthy Families and Healthy Kids, please visit www.lacare.org.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Citizens' Council on Health Care 7/5/2005

Young People Face High Health Insurance Rates in Minneapolis Higher Than San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit and more...
Minneapolis - According to a new report from eHealthInsurance, Minneapolis isn't the best choice if a young person is looking for a large city that offers affordable health insurance, says Citizens' Council on Health Care (CCHC).
In fact, Minneapolis misses all three of the top ten lists for lowest monthly health insurance premiums available to healthy individuals. And although Minneapolis makes it onto the top 50 list, the city consistently ranks in the lower one-third of the list.
"If individuals in San Francisco can get a health insurance policy for $58.00 a month, the public should be asking why someone in Minneapolis can't get a policy below $121.00 a month. The difference is staggering," says Twila Brase, president of CCHC.
Lowest Premiums Nationwide:For a non-smoking single person aged 30 without pre-existing condition: $54.00 (Long Beach, CA).For a non-smoking single MAN aged 30 without pre-existing condition: $52.38 (Columbus, OH).For a non-smoking single WOMAN aged 30 without pre-existing condition is $54.00 (Long Beach, CA).
How did Minneapolis rank on the list of lowest monthly premiums?
Individual Policies: $121.00 - 38thSingle Man Policies: $121.00 - 42ndSingle Woman Policies: $121.00 - 35th
Why so high?
Ms. Brase offers several possible reasons:
"Minnesota has the highest number of government-mandated insurance benefits of any state in the country. Minnesota has a tax on health care. Minnesota has yet to adopt tax-deductibility for Health Savings Accounts. And a 1992 Minnesota law consolidated health insurance into three big health plans, leaving little room for competitive market forces to lower costs."
"There's little reason to think the special session is going to improve market forces or affordability of health insurance," says Ms. Brase. "When it comes to being competitive for young able-bodied workers, Minnesota continues to miss the boat."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

California Health Care Foundation Press Release 02/02/2005

California Employers View Health Care Cost-Sharing as Double-Edged Sword Employers believe cost sharing encourages workers to spend wisely, but may result in foregoing needed care February 02, 2005 Increasing employee cost-sharing is now the most common strategy used by California employers for reining in health care costs. But even as they shift costs, employers are concerned about the effects, according to recent surveys commissioned by the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF) and conducted by Harris Interactive® of California employers, residents, and adults who are chronically ill.
While the strategy has led a majority of employers to feel that their health care costs are more under control today than they were a couple of years ago, more than 75 percent of them now say cost-sharing causes consumers to forgo needed medical care and has a negative impact on individuals with chronic conditions. Over 40 percent of employers also believe that cost sharing reduces the productivity of workers.
Consumers confirmed employer concerns. The survey of the general population of adults in California found that one in seven adults had a medical condition but did not obtain care due to cost in the past year. Non-compliance with recommended medical treatment is particularly common among those with low incomes and those in fair or poor health, according to the survey.
"Employers in California and nationally are increasingly turning to cost-sharing as a way to rein in their own health care costs," said Jill Yegian, director of the Health Insurance Program at CHCF. "Cost-sharing doesn’t reduce the total health care bill, however. In fact, health care costs continue to increase at a double-digit pace."
Survey results from California employers reveal that many believe cost-sharing can encourage consumers to spend more wisely on health care and reduce unnecessary doctors’ visits, but they are slightly less likely to cite these positive advantages than they were in a 2002 Harris Interactive survey of California employers. Not surprisingly, the adult consumer surveys of Californians also found that many are less satisfied with their health benefits than they were a couple of years ago. However, a large majority of those with insurance are at least somewhat satisfied.
California employers’ concerns about the impact of cost-sharing on those adults with chronic illnesses also appear to be justified, based on a related survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, of chronically ill adults in California. Among this population, the survey found that individuals in especially poor health and those with lower incomes are more likely to have problems paying their medical bills than others.
“Chronically ill individuals, particularly those with low incomes, feel the effect of cost-sharing,” said Sophia Chang, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Chronic Disease Care Program at CHCF. “About 20 percent of adults with a chronic condition, such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, or arthritis, report not going to a doctor, skipping a recommended test or procedure, or not getting their annual check-up due to cost.”
According to the surveys, chronically ill adults in especially poor health or with low incomes are more likely to go without needed care due to cost (e.g., by skipping an annual check-up, not visiting a doctor for a problem, or not using a recommended medical device) than the general adult public in California.
The surveys also found:
Other employer strategies for controlling costs, but used less frequently than in 2002, include increasing premium contributions, changing health insurance carriers, and reducing the scope of benefits;
Employers are more likely to reduce retiree health benefits in the near future today than they were in 2002;
Adults in California are less worried about benefit cutbacks, and more concerned about being able to pay for services;
Adults in California with tiered prescription drug benefits are more likely than those with other types of drug coverage to request generics, use less expensive prescriptions, use mail order, or go without filling prescriptions altogether;
One out of four employers offer quality ratings to employees and many more are starting to encourage workers to choose better-quality hospitals based on factors such as frequency of procedures or use of electronic prescribing; however, few employees in California seem to be using available quality ratings; and
One-third of employers believe that disease management and wellness programs are effective when it comes to improving quality of care.
The survey findings also include consumer perspectives on their confidence in making health care decisions, use of the Internet, and awareness of prescription drug advertising.
The survey findings are summarized in two reports, Health Care in California: Perspectives from Employers and Consumers and California’s Chronically Ill: Coping with Rising Health Care Costs.
About the SurveysHarris Interactive conducted three surveys. The first survey was conducted by telephone between June 17 and July 14, 2004, among 301 California employers with five or more employees. The second survey was conducted by telephone between June 20 and August 1, 2004, among 1,000 California residents aged 18 and over. The third survey was conducted online between July 6 and 27, 2004, among 3,255 California residents aged 18 and over who have a chronic health condition. Additional details on survey methodology are available in the reports.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

American Federation of Teachers Press Release 7/15/2004

Teacher Salaries Remain Stagnant but Health Insurance Costs Soar AFT Releases Annual State-by-State Teacher Salary Survey
Washington, D.C. – Teachers’ salaries have stayed relatively stagnant while teachers’ health care costs have jumped to all-time rates, making it difficult to attract and keep good teachers at a time when they are increasingly needed, according to the American Federation of Teachers’ annual state-by-state teachers salary released Thursday.
The 2002-03 average teacher salary was $45,771, up 3.3 percent from the previous year, according to the report. The 2002-03 average beginning teacher salary was $29,564, up 3.2 percent from the year before. The AFT estimates that the average beginning salary for the most recent school year, 2003-04, was $30,496. But while teacher salaries rose an average 3.3 percent, health insurance benefits spiked an average 13 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"Exorbitant health insurance costs are taking an intolerable bite out of already inadequate teacher salaries. Even as teachers are being asked to do more, compensation packages are nothing short of insulting and fail to take account of growing health care and other out-of-pocket costs to teachers," said AFT Secretary-Treasurer Edward J. McElroy.
Furthermore, the AFT noted, superintendents’ average salaries are as much as four times higher than teachers’ average pay, according to the Educational Research Service.
"States and school districts are crying poverty when it comes to teachers’ pay, yet somehow find money for extravagant administrator salaries. Strong leadership without a quality teaching force won't improve education," McElroy said.
Average teacher salaries. California had the nation's highest average salary in 2002-03, at $55,693. States joining California in the top tier were Michigan, at $54,020; Connecticut, at $53,962; New Jersey, at $53,872; and the District of Columbia, at $53,194.
South Dakota had the lowest average salary in 2002-03, at $32,414. The other states in the bottom tier were Montana, at $35,754; Mississippi, at $35,135; North Dakota, at $33,869; and Oklahoma, at $33,277. Also in the lowest tier were the Virgin Islands, at $34,764; Guam at $34,738; and Puerto Rico, at $22,164.
Average beginning teacher salaries. Alaska had the highest average beginning salary in 2002-03, at $37,401. States joining Alaska in the top tier were New Jersey, at $35,673; District of Columbia, at $35,260; New York, at $35,259; and California, at $34,805.
Montana had the lowest average beginning salary in 2002-03, at $23,052. The other states in the bottom tier were Maine, at $24,631; South Dakota, at $24,311; North Dakota, at $23,591; and Arizona, at $23,548.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

BCBS Press Release 11/8/2005

Technology Evaluation Center Announces
New Technology Assessments

Contact: Teresa Alagna, 312.297.5634

(CHICAGO – November 8, 2005) – Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association's (BCBSA) Medical Advisory Panel (MAP) met on October 28th, 2005, to review five new technology assessments and two special reports prepared by BCBSA's Technology Evaluation Center (TEC). These assessments evaluate treatment applications for a wide range of conditions such as gastric bypass surgery, asthma, and age-related macular degeneration.For more than 20 years, TEC assessments have provided objective information to those who deliver and manage medical care. Assessments are based on clinical and scientific evidence and evaluate whether a technology improves health outcomes, such as length of life, quality of life and ability to function. TEC assessments are not recommendations for healthcare by providers or for coverage decisions by health insurance companies. TEC produces 20 to 25 assessments annually.The following assessments were acted on at the October 28th meeting:Laparoscopic Gastric Bypass Surgery for Morbid Obesity TEC reviewed whether the available evidence on whether laparoscopic gastric bypass (LGBY) results in similar improvements in health outcomes as does open gastric bypass (GBY). The MAP concluded that laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery for morbid obesity meets TEC criteria.
Full-Field Digital Mammography TEC updated the July 2002 Assessment on full-field digital mammography and compared cancer detection, recall and biopsy rates for full-field digital mammography versus screen-film mammography. The MAP concluded that full-field digital mammography meets the TEC criteria.Exhaled Nitric Oxide Monitoring as a Guide to Treatment Decisions in Chronic Asthma
TEC reviewed whether health outcomes in patients with asthma are improved by using ENO levels to monitor disease activity and assist in management decisions. The MAP concluded that the use of exhaled nitric oxide levels for monitoring patients with chronic asthma does not meet the TEC criteria.External Counterpulsation (ECP) for Treatment of Chronic Stable Angina Pectoris and Chronic Heart Failure TEC reviewed whether ECP therapy improves health outcomes for medically refractory chronic stable angina pectoris or chronic stable heart failure. The MAP concluded that ECP treatment of medically refractory angina pectoris and heart failure does not meet the TEC criteria.Screening for Vertebral Fracture with Dual X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA) TEC reviewed whether there is adequate evidence to demonstrate that screening for vertebral fractures using DXA results in improved health outcomes by more appropriately directing treatment. The MAP concluded that screening for vertebral fracture using DXA does not meet the TEC criteria.Special Report: Current and Evolving Strategies in the Treatment of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
The MAP voted to approve publication of this special report that evaluates the evidence on current and evolving strategies in the treatment of age-related macular degeneration; the special report does not address the question as to whether the TEC criteria are met.Special Report: Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) for Cancer of the Breast or Lung The MAP voted to approve publication of this special report that evaluates the evidence on IMRT in breast and lung cancer; the special report does not address the question as to whether the TEC criteria are met.Summaries of these assessments will be available within 4-6 weeks, and full reports will be available within 6-8 weeks on the TEC Web site http://www.bcbs.com/tec/index.html.Founded in 1985, TEC pioneered the development of scientific criteria for assessing medical technologies through comprehensive reviews of clinical evidence. TEC is recognized nationally for leadership in producing evidence-based technology assessments.Each TEC assessment is a comprehensive evaluation of the clinical effectiveness and appropriateness of a given medical technology. These assessments are written by TEC’s core staff.A 19-member Medical Advisory Panel (MAP), consisting of nationally-recognized experts in technology assessment, clinical research and medical specialties, reviews and approves all TEC assessments. The MAP includes appointees from the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Cardiology, the American College of Medical Genetics, and the American College of Surgeons.TEC evaluates drugs, devices, procedures and biological products using the following criteria:1. The technology must have final approval from the appropriate governmental regulatory bodies. 2. The scientific evidence must permit conclusions concerning the effect of the technology on health outcomes. 3. The technology must improve the net health outcome. 4. The technology must be as beneficial as any established alternatives. 5. The improvement must be attainable outside the investigational settings.For more information about TEC or to view assessments, visit www.bcbs.com/tec. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is made up of 39 independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide healthcare coverage for more than 93 million - nearly one-in-three – Americans. For more information on the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and its Plans, please visit http://www.bcbs.com/.

Monday, November 14, 2005

CareFirst Press Release 10/10/2005

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Extends DrFirst E-Prescribing Program for Eligible Physicians
Prescription drug management solution successful in first year
OWINGS MILLS, MD (October 10, 2005) – Encouraging results in its pilot program to provide handheld devices to enable its physicians to transmit prescriptions electronically have prompted CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield to extend the demonstration project into a second year.
Last August, CareFirst began providing free personal digital assistants (PDAs) to 500 primary care physicians, pediatricians and internists in CareFirst's provider networks who wrote the highest number of prescriptions. CareFirst partnered with DrFirst, whose Rcopia software enables participating physicians to confidentially electronically transmit prescriptions or prescription renewals directly to their patients' pharmacies.
The program's goal to improve patient safety has paved the way to better formulary compliance and avoidance of mis-fills, where the pharmacist misreads the physician's handwriting on the prescription and fills it incorrectly.
The software also automatically alerts physicians to potentially dangerous drug/drug and drug/allergy interactions from the medications they have prescribed. In August, for example, Rcopia intercepted 546 prescriptions that could have resulted in adverse reactions to patients. The software also allows physicians access to a patient's medication history for the past 10 years.
"The success we have seen with this pilot program convinces us that we should extend it into a second year," said Eric R. Baugh, M.D., Senior Vice President, Medical Affairs and Network Management. "CareFirst has been tracking the number of transactions between physicians and pharmacies, as well as calculating savings resulting from the program, and we are seeing significant improvements."
Although the demonstration project took several months to recruit and familiarize participating physicians and their staffs in the use of the new equipment, utilization of the PDAs began to increase sharply earlier this year. Over the last year, more than 387,000 have been written and usage is growing steadily. In July and August, nearly 87,000 "e-prescriptions" were transmitted.
As of August, CareFirst estimates savings of almost $624,000 from the e-prescribing initiative, based on a reduction of ADE's (Adverse Drug Events) resulting in improved patient safety. The system transmits legible prescriptions directly to pharmacies, minimizing the number of phone calls and faxes that often flow between providers and pharmacies. Some physicians and their staffs spend up to three hours a day on pharmacy issues.
The physicians participating in the program can use the system for all patients, not just those with health insurance coverage from CareFirst. CareFirst will continue to pay software licensing fees for those physicians who have met certain eligibility criteria.
Of the 500 physicians originally enrolled in the demonstration last August, about 300 used their PDAs enough to qualify to have CareFirst pay for the software license. Those eligible include physicians who averaged at least 50 prescriptions monthly over the course of the 12-month program and who averaged 50 monthly prescriptions over the last three months of the program. Those physicians who fell short of the eligibility may retain their PDAs but will have to pay a special discounted rate to renew their Rcopia subscription.
The CareFirst and DrFirst ePrescribing program was also recognized by QUALCOMM, Inc. on September 27 as one of the winners of the 3rd annual 3G A-List Awards for the innovative use of wireless technology in its e-prescribing effort. A-List solutions demonstrate creativity and exceed business objectives by introducing higher ROI, lower operating expenses, or increased user satisfaction.
In its 70th year of service, CareFirst, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, is a not-for-profit health care company which, through its affiliates and subsidiaries, offers a comprehensive portfolio of health insurance products and administrative services to more than 3.3 million individuals and groups in Northern Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Delaware. Through its CareFirst Commitment initiative and other public mission activities, CareFirst supports efforts to increase the accessibility, affordability, safety and quality of health care throughout its market areas.
About DrFirst
Utilizing the latest advancements in Internet, security, wireless, web and Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) technology, DrFirst provides the healthcare community Rcopia, a full featured stand alone electronic prescription management system. Rcopia can be interfaced with most Practice Management and Electronic Medical Records software, is affordable, intuitive and easily implemented into the provider's workflow. DrFirst is partnered with SureScripts, RxHub, FirstDataBank, NDC Health and Epocrates, to ensure that their clients have access to the most reliable and up to date information and services. DrFirst is committed to improving healthcare and patient safety by delivering technologies that enable medical professionals and their staff to quickly and easily access critical medical information at the point of care. More information about DrFirst can be found at www.drfirst.com.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

FamiliesUSA Press Release 6/8/2005

Health Care for Uninsured Will Add $922 to Family Insurance Premiums in 2005
New Report Projects Increased Cost of Premiums for
Washington, D.C. - Premiums for employer-provided family health insurance will cost, on average, an extra $922 in 2005 to cover the unpaid expenses of health care for the uninsured, according to a report released today that quantifies such costs for the first time. These added costs account for one out of every $12 spent for employer-provided health insurance.
The report, issued by the health consumer organization Families USA, projects that these costs will rise to $1,502 in 2010.
According to the report, health insurance premiums for family coverage in six states will be at least $1,500 higher in 2005 due to the unpaid cost of health care for the uninsured. These states are New Mexico ($1,875); West Virginia ($1,796); Oklahoma ($1,781); Montana ($1,578); Texas ($1,551); and Arkansas ($1,514).
"The large and increasing number of uninsured Americans is no longer simply an altruistic concern on behalf of those without health coverage but a matter of self-interest for everyone," said Ron Pollack, Executive Director of Families USA. "The stakes are high both for businesses and for workers who do have health insurance because they bear the brunt of costs for the uninsured."
By 2010, there will be 11 states in which employer-provided family health coverage will cost more than $2,000 extra to pay for health services to the uninsured. These states are New Mexico ($3,169); West Virginia ($2,940); Oklahoma ($2,911); Texas ($2,786); Arkansas ($2,748); Florida ($2,248); Alaska ($2,248); Montana ($2,190); Idaho ($2,152); Washington ($2,144); and Arizona ($2,028).
"These extra costs place unacceptable burdens on all families, as well as our small businesses, and our medical providers," said Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS). "We must find affordable ways to cover more workers and their families. States must work with the federal government to make such coverage a reality."
"Today's small businesses often face the harsh choice between ending employee health coverage or facing bankruptcy," said U.S. Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR). "Expanding health insurance will not only help millions of needy Americans, but will also lower health costs for everyone."
The Families USA report found that approximately one-third (35 percent) of the health care costs incurred by uninsured people are paid by the uninsured themselves. It is the remaining costs that are generally considered "uncompensated care."
Of those "uncompensated care" costs, a portion is picked up by federal, state, and local government sources. The remaining costs are shifted and added on to the insurance premiums for people who have health coverageand it is this hidden cost shift that the new report calculates for the first time.
The cost of health care provided to people without insurance that is not paid by the uninsured themselves will exceed $43 billion nationally in 2005. In 11 states this "uncompensated care" will exceed $1 billion in 2005. These states are California ($5.8 billion); Texas ($4.6 billion); Florida ($2.9 billion); New York ($2.7 billion); Illinois ($1.8 billion); Ohio ($1.4 billion); Pennsylvania ($1.4 billion); North Carolina ($1.3 billion); Georgia ($1.3 billion); New Jersey ($1.2 billion); and Michigan ($1.1 billion).
"This report underscores the importance of strengthening and protecting public programs such as Medicaid that are the health safety net for millions of Americans," said Pollack. "Medicaid cuts would only force more and more families into the ranks of the uninsuredthereby increasing insurance premiums for everyone who has health coverage."
The Families USA report was based on data compiled by Dr. Kenneth Thorpe, Robert W. Woodruff Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, and the data are derived from the U.S. Census Bureau, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the National Center for Health Statistics, and other sources.