Weekly Dose of Health News

In this week’s summary, you’ll find details on informative guides to all aspects of the Affordable Care Act, prescription drug savings for Medicare recipients, a report showing Americans are living longer but death rates have increased for certain diseases, and more!

Affordable Care Act

The Wall Street Journal features an interactive guide that explains provisions of the Affordable Care Act and its impact on industry, consumers and states, and includes maps showing state positions on Medicaid and the insurance exchanges, a subsidy calculator and a timeline of key dates in the rollout (7/9).

The New York Health Plan Association recently released a consumer guide that explains how the ACA will change the direct-pay and Healthy New York markets in 2014. Under the ACA, both direct-pay and the Healthy New York program for individuals are eliminated. For some people, premiums will fall, but they will rise for others. The HPA guide explains those changes.

A new report by the United Hospital Fund assesses issues of network adequacy in the provider network of health plans that will participate in New York State exchange.  The proposed networks must meet requirements under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act as well as withstand scrutiny from state regulators.  The report by United Hospital Fund presents detailed analysis of actual public-program and commercial HMO networks developed by health plans in four regions of the state, and concludes with a discussion of key short- and long-term policy and operational issues. Establishing the adequacy of provider networks is one part of the certification process health plans have gone through to participate in the upcoming health benefit exchange.

USA Today reports that since passage of the health care overhaul two years ago, 5.8 million Medicare patients have saved $5 billion from prescription drug discounts, and the government can now predict lower health care costs based on increased use of these cheaper drugs. The savings are a continuation of the Affordable Care Act’s attempt to close the “doughnut hole” — or the prescription drug coverage expenses that kick in once Medicare coverage runs out (Kennedy, 7/9).

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration has awarded a contract worth as much as $1.2 billion to a British company to help them process applications for health insurance and tax credits under the new health care law. The company, Serco, has experience as a government contractor with the Defense Department and intelligence agencies, and it also manages air traffic control towers in 11 states and reviews visa applications for the State Department. But it has little experience with the Department of Health and Human Services or the insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, where individuals and small businesses are supposed to be able to shop for insurance (Pear, 7/4).


The Wall Street Journal looks at how the role of a workplace health clinic has changed over the years. Workplace health clinics used to be a lot like the school nurse’s office, dispensing Band-Aids, treating occupational injuries, and serving as a first stop for emergencies like asthma attacks. But as companies face rising insurance costs and an aging workforce, they’re turning clinics into something new: A place to work with employees on addressing long-term, expensive conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol (Weber, 7/9).

The Los Angeles Times examines the trend by an increasing number of hospitals t to switch from paper to electronic medical records. The article highlights the findings of a new report on the use of electronic records by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Forty-four percent of hospitals had basic electronic health records in 2012, up from 27% the previous year, according to the report. Overall, the number of hospitals using such medical records has tripled since 2010. Some of the biggest jumps occurred in  rural hospitals, which increased from 1 in 10 in 2010 to 1 in 3 in 2012 (Gorman, 7/8).

A new report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that while Americans are living longer than they did two decades ago, they are losing ground on key measures of health. The findings, from the most comprehensive analysis of the health of the U.S. population in more than 15 years, show progress in reducing death rates, adjusted for age, across a variety of diseases. But death rates from illnesses associated with obesity, such as diabetes and kidney disease, as well as neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, are on the rise.

-Jaime Venditti, 7/12/13