Weekly Dose of Health News

In this week’s summary, a major court decision affecting the availability of emergency contraception, two new reports highlight the cost and availability of health plans in the US, and we continue to track the latest developments in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  

Affordable Care Act

The Wall Street Journal  writes that many small-business owners are preparing for the impact of the cost of providing insurance for employees will have on their bottom line. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with 50 or more full-time workers will be required to provide coverage for employees who work an average of 30 or more hours a week in a given month. An alternative to that mandate is for business owners to pay a $2,000 penalty for each full-time worker over a 30-employee threshold. The article finds that some small business owners are considering paying the penalty as a more cost effective alternative than providing insurance to employees (Maltby and Needleman, 4/7).

A new report from the Community Health Centers in New York outlines how federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) can build their capacity to serve the influx of new patients who will need access to primary care services once the Affordable Care Act is implemented.  The report offers ideas about increasing the number of patient visits per full-time equivalent employee, addressing workforce needs, increasing productivity and improving operations. The FQHCs could become more efficient by filling provider and staff vacancies, changing their care delivery model, updating their patient scheduling systems and better managing population health.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the availability of $54 million in new funding for community groups in 33 states to help people sign up for insurance in the new online health insurance marketplaces that were created by the Affordable Care Act.  States setting up their own marketplaces are getting separate funding from the federal government. Hospitals, county health agencies, religious group and chambers of commerce are among the kinds of groups expected to apply for the grants. Applications are due June 7th with awards being made in August.

Insurance Costs

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a new study this week on the availability of employer-sponsored insurance in America. The report found that the rate of employer based insurance has fallen by about 10% over the past decade, which has spurred an increase in the overall number of Americans without health insurance. Employer-sponsored coverage dropped from 69% to 60% between 1999 and 2010. The amount each employee paid annually for insurance more than doubled in that period from $435 to $1,056 for an individual and from $1,526 to $3,842 for a family.

The Wall Street Journal  features a report this week that shows health care costs in each state. Healthcare spending in the U.S. averaged $6,815 per person in 2009. The states that spend the most on health care for each resident are mostly in the Northeast. Experts generally attribute the region’s higher spending to its higher cost of living, greater proportion of elderly residents and number of high-profile hospitals (Radnofsky, 4/8).


The state Department of Health’s Public Health and Health Planning Council approved a new rule that will require face masks to be worn by health care workers who choose not to get vaccinated for influenza. The proposal was triggered by low voluntary flu vaccination rates among health workers. According to the DOH, only 48% of health care workers in hospitals and 45% in nursing homes were vaccinated during the 2011-2012 flu season.

Late last week, a federal judge ruled that the morning-after pill must be made available to women and girls of all ages without a prescription. NPR reports that the decision caps a 10-year-long battle over how to regulate the morning-after pill and negates a 2011 decision in which the HHS secretary overruled a similar recommendation from the FDA (Hensley, 4/6).

USA Today  reports the findings of a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows people younger than 65 are more likely to skip medications than older Americans.  The new CDC study found that about 13% of the Americans younger than 65 did not take their medications as prescribed to save money, while 6% of the older group skipped medications (Kennedy, 4/9).