Monthly Archives: February 2012

Quick Read: What to Think About When Setting “Essential Health Benefits”

The federal health reform law requires states to set up a health insurance exchange marketplace where individuals and small groups can purchase (hopefully more affordable) health insurance. In order for consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons among plans, the feds also require states to set a benchmark plan, with an essential health benefits package.

California and other states should consider the medical care used by the highest-cost patients who battle cancer and other chronic conditions when setting essential benefits under federal reform, according to a study.

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Heart Disease Treatment: Is Less … More?

(Rosmary: Flickr)

(Rosmary: Flickr)

It’s practically gospel in American health care–the more expensive and the more invasive a treatment is, the more people seem to believe it is the best option. But is it? A new study looks at America’s number 1 killer — heart disease — and finds that a regimen of fairly inexpensive pills works just as well as an expensive surgical procedure to implant a stent. Oh, and drug treatment has fewer risks in this case, too.

The study is published in this week’s Archives of Internal Medicine and it looks at stable coronary artery disease. In stable heart disease, patients experience angina –chest pain — at times of “high demand” such as during exercise or stress. Continue reading

Proposed Ballot Measure Seeks Tougher Health Insurance Rate Regulation

The ballot initiative would grant California's Insurance Commissioner the authority to reject health insurance rate increases. (Photo: Thinkstock)

The ballot initiative would grant California's Insurance Commissioner the authority to reject health insurance rate increases. (Photo: Thinkstock)

In more than 30 states, government insurance departments have the authority to reject what they determine to be excessive rate hikes for health insurance. But not in California. Earlier this month, consumer advocates launched a drive to put an initiative on the November ballot to let voters decide if California’s Insurance Commissioner should have this power.

“Right now, my sole authority over rates, if I find a rate to be unreasonable, is to sentence a health insurer to my website,” joked Dave Jones, California’s Insurance Commissioner, in an interview.

That’s a bit of an overstatement, as his department does review rates, making sure the math is right and ensuring there are no inaccuracies. Still, what the Department is left with is “whatever element of the bully pulpit we have to try to rein those rates in,” Jones says. Continue reading

Quick Read: Americans Split on Health Care Law

We’re now a month away from the Supreme Court hearing oral arguments about the Constitutionality of various aspects of the federal health care reform law. This poll from Gallup shows deep division among Americans.

PRINCETON, NJ — Americans divide evenly when asked if they favor (47%) or oppose (44%) a Republican president’s repealing the 2010 healthcare law if elected this November. Republicans overwhelmingly favor repeal (87%) and Democrats overwhelmingly oppose it (77%). However, Republicans hold their views much more intensely than Democrats, with 56% of Republicans strongly favoring repeal and 39% of Democrats strongly opposing it.

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High-Risk Insurance Pool Helps … But What About Cost?

By: Kamal Menghrajani

Because people who enroll in the pool have been uninsured, there is pent-up demand for health care, experts say. (D. Sharon Pruitt: Flickr)

Because people who enroll in the pool have been uninsured, there is pent-up demand for health care, experts say. (D. Sharon Pruitt: Flickr)

Thousands of California’s sickest residents are already benefitting from the federal health care law. The Affordable Care Act says that people cannot be denied health insurance for a pre-existing condition. Until the law goes into full effect in 2014, the government has created a bridge program to help–the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, or PCIP. But this high-risk insurance program is proving to be much more expensive than expected.

California is spending three times more than anticipated to insure the people who have enrolled in this program. Before the program launched in 2010, California projected that the program would cost about $12,000 a year for each member. But a year later the administrators of the program determined it was costing more than $37,000 per patient.

According to a report [PDF] from the White House, the cost of care for PCIP patients across the country is twice as much as originally projected. Continue reading

Quick Read: Is 8 Hours of Sleep a Myth?

References all the way back to Homer’s Odyssey show that people used to sleep in two distinct four-hour phases, interrupted by a one to two hour period of being awake. Researchers say modern society with its electricity and active nightlife has altered the understanding of a good night’s sleep.

22 February 2012 Last updated at 11:58 ET By Stephanie Hegarty BBC World Service We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night – but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.

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Avoiding a Colonoscopy? You’re Not Alone

If the sight of a colonoscope like this one makes you shudder, there are other options for colorectal cancer screening.

Colorectal cancer is one of the five most common cancers in both men and women, and it kills more than 43,000 Americans each year. As we learned today, colonoscopy is a successful screening method–it cuts the death rate of colorectal cancer in half.

Still, getting a colonoscopy has a problem: the yuck factor. That’s why a study in today’s New England Journal of Medicine caught my eye. Researchers in Spain looked at colonoscopy versus “FIT,” a non-invasive test to screen for colorectal cancer. FIT–fecal immunochemical testing–looks for the presence of blood in the stool, a marker for benign polyps or cancer. Patients have either one colonoscopy during the ten years of the study or FIT every other year. (Note that the American Cancer Society has a great explainer of the different screening methods available and pros and cons of each).

“In order to get a large proportion of a population screened, you have to offer an alternative to colonoscopy.”
In today’s study researchers say colonoscopy and FIT detected roughly the same number of cancers. The report comes at the two year point of what will be a ten year study. We have to wait the full ten years to see how death rates from colorectal cancer compare between the two types of screening. Continue reading

Quick Read: CA Health Insurers Raising Rates up to 14%

In the face of rate increases, a consumer group is leading an effort to put a ballot measure before the voters in November. The measure would give the California insurance department authority over health insurance rate increases–in the same way the insurance department now has for home and auto insurance. 

By Chad Terhune, Los Angeles Times California’s largest health insurers are raising average rates by about 8% to 14% for hundreds of thousands of consumers with individual coverage, outpacing the costs of overall medical care. The cost of goods and services associated with medical care grew just 3.6% over the last 12 months nationally, government figures show.

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New Supply of Cancer Drugs … from Abroad

(Zaldylmg: Flickr)

(Zaldylmg: Flickr)

Stories of critical drug shortages–including cancer drugs–have been making news for months. Now the Food and Drug Administration is announcing that replacement supplies of two of those drugs, Doxil and methotrexate, should be available within weeks.

Both drugs are used to treat cancer. Methotrexate is used for many conditions, but of particular concern is its use for a type of childhood leukemia. If a child does not get the drug, the cancer can easily recur.

As the New York Times reports, some experts say the new supplies are only a temporary solution: Continue reading

Really? Can Migraines Raise Your Risk of Having a Baby with Colic?

Women with migraines are 2.5 times more likely to have colicky babies, according to a new UCSF study. (Flickr: London looks)

Women with migraines are 2.6 times more likely to have colicky babies, according to a new UCSF study. (Flickr: London looks)

I had a 10-hour migraine yesterday. It was terrible (obviously). So I found it rather morosely coincidental when halfway through the day, as I lay on the couch feeling sorry for myself, I checked my email and noticed this press release from the University of California, San Francisco: “Babies’ Colic Linked to Mothers’ Migraines.”

Colic is excessive crying in a baby that isn’t caused by a medical problem. My mother used to get migraines, and I was a colicky baby. I definitely get migraines, so if I have a baby, will she have colic? According to the results of the UCSF study, I’m about two-and-a-half times more likely to have a baby with colic than a woman who doesn’t suffer from migraines. Great. Starting a family one day suddenly seems even more daunting.

“I hope no one will alter their family-planning based on these study results,” laughed lead author and UCSF child neurologist Amy Gelfand over the phone in response to my colicky baby concerns. “Remember that colic is a time-limited phenomenon, babies do grow out of it by three months of age, typically. And if they do go on to develop migraines later in life, we do have effective treatments to help.”

That’s comforting. But why is there a link between colicky babies and migraines?

Continue reading