Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Obamacare Will Cause Medical Claims Costs To Jump 32 Percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Medical claims costs — the biggest driver of health insurance
premiums — will jump an average 32 percent for Americans' individual policies under President Barack Obama's overhaul, according to a study by the nation's leading group of financial risk analysts.
The report could turn into a big headache for the Obama administration at a time when many parts of the country remain skeptical about the Affordable Care Act. The estimates were recently released by the Society of Actuaries to its members.

While some states will see medical claims costs per person decline, the report concluded the overwhelming majority will see double-digit increases in their individual health insurance markets, where people purchase coverage directly from insurers.

The disparities are striking. By 2017, the estimated increase would be 62 percent for California, about 80 percent for Ohio, more than 20 percent for Florida and 67 percent for Maryland. Much of the reason for the higher claims costs is that sicker people are expected to join the pool, the report said.
The report did not make similar estimates for employer plans, the mainstay for workers and their families. That's because the primary impact of Obama's law is on people who don't have coverage through their jobs.

The administration questions the design of the study, saying it focused only on one piece of the puzzle and ignored cost relief strategies in the law such as tax credits to help people afford premiums and special payments to insurers who attract an outsize share of the sick. The study also doesn't take into account the potential price-cutting effect of competition in new state insurance markets that will go live on Oct. 1, administration officials said.
"It's misleading to look at only some of the provisions of the law because, taken together, the law will reduce costs," said Health and Human Services spokeswoman Erin Shields Britt.

But a prominent national expert, recently retired Medicare chief actuary Rick Foster, said the report does "a credible job" of estimating potential enrollment and costs under the law, "without trying to tilt the answers in any particular direction."
"Having said that," Foster added, "actuaries tend to be financially conservative, so the various assumptions might be more inclined to consider what might go wrong than to anticipate that everything will work beautifully." Actuaries use statistics and economic theory to make long-range cost projections for insurance and pension programs sponsored by businesses and government. The society is headquartered near Chicago.

Kristi Bohn, an actuary who worked on the study, acknowledged it did not attempt to estimate the effect of subsidies, insurer competition and other factors that could mitigate cost increases. She said the goal was to look at the underlying cost of medical care.
"Claims cost is the most important driver of health care premiums," she said.
"We don't see ourselves as a political organization," Bohn added. "We are trying to figure out what the situation at hand is."

On the plus side, the report found the law will cover more than 32 million currently uninsured Americans when fully phased in. And some states — including New York and Massachusetts — will see double-digit declines in costs for claims in the individual market.

Uncertainty over costs has been a major issue since the law passed three years ago, and remains so just months before a big push to cover the uninsured gets rolling Oct. 1. Middle-class households will be able to purchase subsidized private insurance in new marketplaces, while low-income people will be steered to Medicaid and other safety net programs. States are free to accept or reject a Medicaid expansion also offered under the law.

Obama has promised that the new law will bring costs down. That seems a stretch now. While the nation has been enjoying a lull in health care inflation the past few years, even some former administration advisers say a new round of cost-curbing legislation will be needed.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

TV Ads for Statins Drive Overdiagnosis and Overtreatment According to Study

The United States is one of only two countries, the other being New Zealand, that allows drugs to be advertised on TV, and it’s not difficult to understand why nearly every other country has given such ads the boot.

As with all commercials, the ads are intended to influence you to buy their products. In the case of prescription medications, the “product” is a potentially dangerous chemical drug that is loaded with side effects.

In a 2009 Harris Poll, 51 percent said that drug ads encourage them to ask questions when they go to their doctor, and a whopping 44 percent actually believe drug ads make them more knowledgeable about treatments for their ailments.

Now, a new study assessing the effect of direct-to-consumer drug advertising has concluded that TV ads for statins may be a driving factor of overdiagnosis of high cholesterol and overtreatment with the drugs.1

The reason is clear. People who dutifully ask their doctors about a drug advertised on TV usually end up receiving a prescription...

Is it any wonder then that one in four Americans over the age of 45 is now taking a statin drug, despite the fact that there are over 900 studies proving their adverse effects, which run the gamut from muscle problems to diabetes and increased cancer risk.

TV Ads for Statins Drive Overdiagnosis and Overtreatment
To determine the relationship between estimated exposure to direct-to-consumer advertising for statin drugs and two clinical variables: diagnosis with high cholesterol and statin use, the featured study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine,2 used logistic regression to analyze repeated cross-sectional surveys of more than 106,000 Americans, merged with data on the frequency of ads appearing on national, cable, and local television, between 2001 and 2007. Interestingly, those who reported seeing statin ads on TV were:
  • 16-20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with high cholesterol
  • 16-22 percent more likely to be using a statin drug
That’s quite a boost in diagnosis and treatment, and proof positive that advertising works, even when you’re selling something with greater potential harms than benefits, as is the case with statins.
Tellingly, both the diagnosis of high cholesterol and increased statin use was driven almost exclusively by those who were at LOW risk for future cardiac events, indicating that overdiagnosis and unnecessary drug treatment is quite real. Conversely, those at high risk of heart disease were not more likely to be taking a statin after seeing the commercials. According to the authors:
"Our findings raise questions about the extent to which direct-to-consumer advertising may promote over-diagnosis and over-treatment for populations where risks may outweigh potential benefits. In addition, we found no evidence of favorable associations between exposure to statins in television advertisements and statin use among those at high risk for future cardiac events."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Z-Pak May Cause Heart Attacks!

WEDNESDAY, March 13, 2013— Patients who take the antibiotic azithromycin, commonly known as Zithromax or Z-Pak, and have certain risk-factors may face life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias, the Food and Drug Administration warned Tuesday.
Patients with the preexisting conditions bradycardia, which is an abnormally slow heartbeat, QT prolongation, a condition that raises the risk for a specific type of irregular heartbeat, or with low blood levels of magnesium or potassium are at risk for the life-threatening arrhythmias, according to the FDA.
The FDA urged doctors to consider the arrythmia risk before prescribing the common antibiotic, and modified the language used to label the drug.
The warning comes after review of data published in the New England Journal of Medicine in May. Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that patients with the risk factors cited in the FDA warning who took azithromycin were at an increased risk of death.
“The study reported an increase in cardiovascular deaths, and in the risk of death from any cause, in persons treated with a 5-day course of azithromycin compared to persons treated with amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, or no drug,” the FDA said in a statement.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Milk Alert

The dairy industry has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to change their rules governing what is allowed to be put in milk and other dairy products. The industry's main goal is to be able to add synthetic sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose (Splenda), and other such chemicals, to dairy products without having to tell the consumer.

The articles that are coming out on this proposal have been confusing, but that's not surprising since the wording of the dairy industry's petition is vague and confusing!

The articles that are coming out on this proposal have been confusing, but that's not surprising since the wording of the dairy industry's petition is vague and confusing!

The petition discusses adding the sweeteners to flavored milks -- marketed widely to schools -- but without labeling the milk as being lower in sugar or calories because the children would not like that. (So they apparently believe that the typical student, with about 12 minutes to eat lunch, is going to actually read his milk carton!)

The dairy industry claims that this will help reduce childhood obesity, even though studies have shown that fake sweeteners actually increase the desire for sweet foods and can cause weight gain.

Moreover, the dairy industry claims consumers don't know that flavored milks are sweetened anyhow, and such changes will "promote honesty and fair dealing." What they have neglected to say is that with the sale of milk steadily declining, this is an effort to boost sales, especially in schools wanting to limit sugar.

The Federal Register says the FDA wants to know if you think this is a great idea.

To let the FDA know what you think, CLICK HERE.