Archive for the ‘Short Takes On News & Events’ Category

Frustrated AMA Pitches ‘Action Plan’ On Digital Records

Saying that electronic health records distract doctors, take time away from care and make physicians less productive, an influential doctors’ group called on vendors and government agencies to work with them to develop better, easier-to-use technology.

The American Medical Association asked the Obama administration to abandon its “all or nothing approach” requiring Medicare providers to go digital or be penalized. The group also wants the government  to develop better certification criteria for vendors selling electronic record systems.

It outlined eight areas for overhauling the record systems, with the top priority being to make sure the technology enhances, rather than disrupts patient care. Electronic health records should also promote coordination, enable physicians to delegate to other health care providers and be able to interact with patients’ mobile devices.

Under the 2009 economic stimulus package, Congress authorized $27.4 billion to incentivize doctors to switch from paper to electronic records with the goal of reducing costly errors and duplication and boosting coordination.  The law offers doctors who treat Medicare patients up to $63,750 over five years to help pay for the change if they can prove they’re making “meaningful use” of the systems by, say, submitting prescriptions electronically.  Those who do not go digital are supposed to have a percentage of their Medicare payments withheld beginning next year.  However, the government recently agreed to give certain providers more time and flexibility.

The AMA says that isn’t sufficient to address the problems.

“The meaningful use program and the regulatory structure associated with it initially has been a wonderful impetus to get health systems to adopt [electronic health records],” said Dr. Steven J. Stack, president-elect of the AMA, adding: But the “processes associated with it have become overly prescriptive, rigid and unreasonable and have themselves become a barrier.”

The group said that one of physicians’ chief concerns is that the programs often have clunky menus that require what it called “the collection of time-consuming information of questionable value” and data that is no more than “clutter,” such as lists that do not differentiate between a patient’s current and out-of-date medications.

That information distracts the physician, is often irrelevant to the care of the patient and leads to “excessive clicking and scrolling” on behalf of the doctor, the organization said.

(more…)

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

No Time To See The Doctor? Try A Virtual Visit

Patients looking for convenient medical appointments can now see UCLA Health System doctors using their cell phones, computers or tablets.

It’s part of an ongoing effort at UCLA and elsewhere to extend alternatives to the in-person doctor visit to busy consumers outside rural areas.

The doctors are available through LiveHealth Online, an already-existing service designed for business travelers and parents who may not have the time to show up for an appointment.

“There is a need for the entire health care industry to be a lot more responsive to what patients want,” said Samuel Skootsky, chief medical officer of the UCLA Faculty Practice Group and Medical Group. “One way to do that is to have multiple channels of access to doctors.”

The traditional medical appointment “is not convenient for everybody,” Skootsky said.

(more…)

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

CDC Survey Finds Drop In Uninsured

This KHN story can be republished for free. (details)

UPDATED AT 12:10 P.M.

The federal government’s first survey of the nation’s insured rate since the health care law’s new marketplaces began found a decrease in the number of adults without coverage, particularly among young adults.

The National Health Interview Survey of people during the first three months of this year found that the number of adults under 65 without health insurance dropped to 18.4 percent from 20.4 percent in 2013. Among all ages, the survey found that the uninsured rate dropped to 13.1 percent from 14.4 percent in 2013; 41 million people still lacked insurance.

(more…)

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

California Exchange Seeks To Enroll 500,000 More People

This KHN story can be republished for free. (details)

Covered California, the Golden State’s online health insurance marketplace, announced Monday that it will be spending close to $100 million as it aims to enroll 500,000 new people during the second round of open enrollment, which begins in two months.

The state also will be trying to help about 1.2 million Californians renew health plans they received thanks to the nation’s Affordable Care Act during the inaugural enrollment period last fall. The numbers do not include the roughly 2 million who signed up for Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor.

The renewal process hasn’t been finalized, but beginning sometime in early October, customers who bought plans through Covered California will get letters explaining the details, a Covered California spokesman said. People will have a chance to switch plans, and the state will re-examine consumers’ eligibility for government subsidies.

The state’s outreach efforts include a $46-million radio, TV, print, and social-media ad campaign that will target and feature African Americans, Latinos and Asians who have benefited from access to health insurance. Some ads have already started running in English and Spanish throughout the state. Ads in Asian languages are set to begin next week in the Los Angeles, Bay Area and Central Valley markets.

(more…)

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Apparent Retail Glitch Triggers Copays For Birth Control

CVS Health is investigating a potential glitch in its drug pricing system that appears to have charged women copayments for prescription birth control – though the scope of the error is unclear.

The problem came to the attention of Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., after one of her staffers attempted to buy generic prescription birth control in Washington D.C. and was charged a $20 copay.

The retailer’s error, highlighted in a letter to the company from Speier, runs counter to a provision of the federal health law that mandates insurance coverage of women’s preventive care – a category including generic prescription birth control – without cost sharing.

Speier’s office said it also has received similar complaints both from women in D.C. and in her California district. In these cases, the customers may have been covered by different insurance plans, but a coding error appeared to have accidentally attached the cost-sharing to the purchases, Speier’s office said. They added that the issue could have affected retailers other than CVS, but that it is still too early to tell who has been charged or where.

CVS did not comment on what may have caused the copays to be charged or how many people they may have affected. But the charges add up — women often shell out between $10 and $35 per month in copays for birth control pills. Under health law rules, insurers are allowed to charge copays for non-generic birth control pills but should not be charging them for generic versions.

(more…)

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Women’s Groups Challenge GOP Candidates On OTC Birth Control

Women’s health groups are launching a counterattack against suggestions by several Republican Senate candidates that making birth control pills available without a prescription is the answer to the dispute over contraceptive coverage rules in the health law.

At least four Republicans running for the U.S. Senate have proposed over-the-counter pills in recent weeks, including Ed Gillespie in Virginia, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Mike McFadden in Minnesota.  All four have advocated the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and its requirement that most insurance plans cover all FDA-approved contraceptives for women.

“I think over-the-counter, oral by contraception (sic), should be available without a prescription,” Tillis said in a debate with Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., last week. “If you do those kinds of things, you will actually increase the access and reduce the barriers for having more options for women for contraception.”

Women’s health groups, however, strongly disagree.

“When health insurance doesn’t cover birth control and women have to pay out of pocket at the drugstore, it won’t expand access to birth control but shrink it,” wrote Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards in an op-ed at CNN.com.

(more…)

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Open Payments Database: Despite Criticism, Still On Track To Let The Sunshine In

Despite technical glitches, the federal “Open Payments” database – which tracks pharmaceutical company contributions to doctors and teaching hospitals – remains on track for its scheduled Sept. 30 launch, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services confirmed.

Photo by jigpu via Flickr

It was mandated by a sunshine act included in the federal health law seeking to ease concerns that pharmaceutical interests could wield excessive influence over health providers. The database includes payments for research, gifts, meals or speaker fees. Consumer advocates have long called for the public display of such information, arguing that it is key to ensuring doctors don’t prescribe certain drugs out of financial incentives or loyalty.

As planned, the initial site will contain five months’ worth of payment information, spanning August 2013 through December 2013. But after a series of fits and starts, about one-third of the payment information for that period won’t be included because of questions that recently surfaced about its accuracy.

Here’s what happened. CMS made information about specific physicians and teaching hospitals available to those individual providers earlier this summer  so that they could confirm or contest payments and contributions listed. But at least one doctor saw payments that corresponded to a different provider, an error attributed to payment information that had been incorrectly submitted.

(more…)

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Health Law Not The Reason For Republican Election Enthusiasm, Poll Finds

This KHN story can be republished for free. (details)

Heading into the 2014 mid-term congressional elections, health care is not shaping up as a make-or-break issue, according to a new poll.

Health care trails jobs and the economy as a top issue on voters’ minds this fall, 21 percent to 13 percent. Only  3 percent of voters in the monthly tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation mentioned the health law by any name (Affordable Care Act/Obamacare) when asked about issues most likely to determine their vote. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation).

Health care is even less important to independent voters, those who frequently decide close races. While Democrats and Republicans both chose health care as their second ranked issues with 15 and 16 percent respectively, independents rank of health care tied for fifth with 9 percent.

The issue is, however, nonetheless playing a role in the current campaigns, particularly in key swing states where control of the U.S. Senate is at stake. Republicans need to capture a net gain of six seats to gain a majority in that chamber.

Nearly three-quarters of registered voters in the 11 states considered likely to decide Senate control said they saw or heard health-related election ads in the previous month. (The poll was conducted Aug. 25 to Sept. 2). In those states, 34 percent said they saw or heard more ads opposed to the health law, while only 4 percent saw more ads supporting the law. (more…)

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

$60 Million For 34 States To Boost Obamacare Enrollment

Two Planned Parenthood chapters, two United Way organizations, a food bank association and a Catholic hospital system are among 90 nonprofit groups that will receive a total of $60 million to help people sign up for health insurance, the Department of Health and Human Services announced today.

The money will help people in 34 states that rely on the federal government fully or in part for their Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges, where individuals can buy  Obamacare policies. States with their own exchanges have separate funding to help consumers get assistance.

On the phone and in person, navigators help people understand the health law’s new benefits, including evaluating health plans for sale on the marketplaces, also known as exchanges. They have to balance explaining what’s offered without expressly telling people which policy to choose.

The second year of the exchanges open enrollment runs from Nov. 15-Feb. 15. In the first year, despite the disastrous rollout last October, more than 8 million people signed up for private insurance. Enrollment in Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for the poor, grew by more than 7 million. (more…)

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Early Results: Average 2015 Exchange Premiums Decline Slightly

This KHN story can be republished for free. (details)

In preliminary but encouraging news for consumers and taxpayers, insurance filings show that average premiums will decline slightly next year in 16 major cities for a benchmark Obamacare plan.

Prices for a benchmark “silver” or mid-priced plan sold through the health law’s online marketplaces aren’t all moving in the same direction, however, a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) shows. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) In Nashville, the premium will rise 8.7 percent, the largest increase in the study, while in Denver it will fall 15.6 percent, the largest decrease.

But overall the results, based on available filings, don’t show the double-digit percentage increases that some have anticipated for the second year of marketplace operation. On average, rates will drop 0.8 percent in the areas studied.

“If you’re the government, this is great news,” said Larry Levitt, KFF senior vice president. “Competition in the marketplaces is helping drive down the cost of the tax credit” that subsidizes coverage for lower-income consumers.

That’s because the credits are based on the cost of the second least-expensive silver plan, known as the benchmark plan. That’s the one KFF studied. The lower the benchmark-plan rates, the lower the cost to taxpayers.

For consumers, the picture is also promising — but more complicated.

The main message: shop around, says Levitt.

The fact that average premiums in selected cities are declining doesn’t mean your rates will fall. Premiums may vary significantly within states. Premiums for plans with different benefit levels — higher platinum and gold and lower bronze — may behave differently than prices for silver plans. And just because your policy was the least expensive in your area for 2014 doesn’t mean it will stay that way for 2015.

Bottom line: There is increased competition as more insurers enter the marketplaces and tune prices to attract customers. But you may need to switch plans to take advantage of that.

Friday, September 5th, 2014

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