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Health Care Fraud

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Today, health care fraud is all over the news. There undoubtedly is fraud in health care. The same is true for every business or endeavor touched by human hands, e.g. banking, credit, insurance, politics, etc. There is no question that health care providers who abuse their position and our trust to steal are a problem. So are those from other professions who do the same.

Why does health care fraud appear to get the ‘lions-share’ of attention? Could it be that it is the perfect vehicle to drive agendas for divergent groups where taxpayers, health care consumers and health care providers are dupes in a health care fraud shell-game operated with ‘sleight-of-hand’ precision?

Take a closer look and one finds this is no game-of-chance. Taxpayers, consumers and providers always lose because the problem with health care fraud is not just the fraud, but it is that our government and insurers use the fraud problem to further agendas while at the same time fail to be accountable and take responsibility for a fraud problem they facilitate and allow to flourish.

1. Astronomical Cost Estimates

What better way to report on fraud then to tout fraud cost estimates, e.g.

– “Fraud perpetrated against both public and private health plans costs between $72 and $220 billion annually, increasing the cost of medical care and health insurance and undermining public trust in our health care system… It is no longer a secret that fraud represents one of the fastest growing and most costly forms of crime in America today… We pay these costs as taxpayers and through higher health insurance premiums… We must be proactive in combating health care fraud and abuse… We must also ensure that law enforcement has the tools that it needs to deter, detect, and punish health care fraud.” [Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), 10/28/09 press release]

– The General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that fraud in healthcare ranges from $60 billion to $600 billion per year – or anywhere between 3% and 10% of the $2 trillion health care budget. [Health Care Finance News reports, 10/2/09] The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.

– The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association (NHCAA) reports over $54 billion is stolen every year in scams designed to stick us and our insurance companies with fraudulent and illegal medical charges. [NHCAA, web-site] NHCAA was created and is funded by health insurance companies.

Unfortunately, the reliability of the purported estimates is dubious at best. Insurers, state and federal agencies, and others may gather fraud data related to their own missions, where the kind, quality and volume of data compiled varies widely. David Hyman, professor of Law, University of Maryland, tells us that the widely-disseminated estimates of the incidence of health care fraud and abuse (assumed to be 10% of total spending) lacks any empirical foundation at all, the little we do know about health care fraud and abuse is dwarfed by what we don’t know and what we know that is not so. [The Cato Journal, 3/22/02]

2. Health Care Standards

The laws & rules governing health care – vary from state to state and from payor to payor – are extensive and very confusing for providers and others to understand as they are written in legalese and not plain speak.

Providers use specific codes to report conditions treated (ICD-9) and services rendered (CPT-4 and HCPCS). These codes are used when seeking compensation from payors for services rendered to patients. Although created to universally apply to facilitate accurate reporting to reflect providers’ services, many insurers instruct providers to report codes based on what the insurer’s computer editing programs recognize – not on what the provider rendered. Further, practice building consultants instruct providers on what codes to report to get paid – in some cases codes that do not accurately reflect the provider’s service.

Consumers know what services they receive from their doctor or other provider but may not have a clue as to what those billing codes or service descriptors mean on explanation of benefits received from insurers. This lack of understanding may result in consumers moving on without gaining clarification of what the codes mean, or may result in some believing they were improperly billed. The multitude of insurance plans available today, with varying levels of coverage, ad a wild card to the equation when services are denied for non-coverage – especially if it is Medicare that denotes non-covered services as not medically necessary.

3. Proactively addressing the health care fraud problem

The government and insurers do very little to proactively address the problem with tangible activities that will result in detecting inappropriate claims before they are paid. Indeed, payors of health care claims proclaim to operate a payment system based on trust that providers bill accurately for services rendered, as they can not review every claim before payment is made because the reimbursement system would shut down.

They claim to use sophisticated computer programs to look for errors and patterns in claims, have increased pre- and post-payment audits of selected providers to detect fraud, and have created consortiums and task forces consisting of law enforcers and insurance investigators to study the problem and share fraud information. However, this activity, for the most part, is dealing with activity after the claim is paid and has little bearing on the proactive detection of fraud.

4. Exorcise health care fraud with the creation of new laws

The government’s reports on the fraud problem are published in earnest in conjunction with efforts to reform our health care system, and our experience shows us that it ultimately results in the government introducing and enacting new laws – presuming new laws will result in more fraud detected, investigated and prosecuted – without establishing how new laws will accomplish this more effectively than existing laws that were not used to their full potential.

With such efforts in 1996, we got the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It was enacted by Congress to address insurance portability and accountability for patient privacy and health care fraud and abuse. HIPAA purportedly was to equip federal law enforcers and prosecutors with the tools to attack fraud, and resulted in the creation of a number of new health care fraud statutes, including: Health Care Fraud, Theft or Embezzlement in Health Care, Obstructing Criminal Investigation of Health Care, and False Statements Relating to Health Care Fraud Matters.

In 2009, the Health Care Fraud Enforcement Act appeared on the scene. This act has recently been introduced by Congress with promises that it will build on fraud prevention efforts and strengthen the governments’ capacity to investigate and prosecute waste, fraud and abuse in both government and private health insurance by sentencing increases; redefining health care fraud offense; improving whistleblower claims; creating common-sense mental state requirement for health care fraud offenses; and increasing funding in federal antifraud spending.

Undoubtedly, law enforcers and prosecutors MUST have the tools to effectively do their jobs. However, these actions alone, without inclusion of some tangible and significant before-the-claim-is-paid actions, will have little impact on reducing the occurrence of the problem.

What’s one person’s fraud (insurer alleging medically unnecessary services) is another person’s savior (provider administering tests to defend against potential lawsuits from legal sharks). Is tort reform a possibility from those pushing for health care reform? Unfortunately, it is not! Support for legislation placing new and onerous requirements on providers in the name of fighting fraud, however, does not appear to be a problem.

If Congress really wants to use its legislative powers to make a difference on the fraud problem they must think outside-the-box of what has already been done in some form or fashion. Focus on some front-end activity that deals with addressing the fraud before it happens. The following are illustrative of steps that could be taken in an effort to stem-the-tide on fraud and abuse:

– DEMAND all payors and providers, suppliers and others only use approved coding systems, where the codes are clearly defined for ALL to know and understand what the specific code means. Prohibit anyone from deviating from the defined meaning when reporting services rendered (providers, suppliers) and adjudicating claims for payment (payors and others). Make violations a strict liability issue.

– REQUIRE that all submitted claims to public and private insurers be signed or annotated in some fashion by the patient (or appropriate representative) affirming they received the reported and billed services. If such affirmation is not present claim isn’t paid. If the claim is later determined to be problematic investigators have the ability to talk with both the provider and the patient…

– REQUIRE that all claims-handlers (especially if they have authority to pay claims), consultants retained by insurers to assist on adjudicating claims, and fraud investigators be certified by a national accrediting company under the purview of the government to exhibit that they have the requisite understanding for recognizing health care fraud, and the knowledge to detect and investigate the fraud in health care claims. If such accreditation is not obtained, then neither the employee nor the consultant would be permitted to touch a health care claim or investigate suspected health care fraud.

– PROHIBIT public and private payors from asserting fraud on claims previously paid where it is established that the payor knew or should have known the claim was improper and should not have been paid. And, in those cases where fraud is established in paid claims any monies collected from providers and suppliers for overpayments be deposited into a national account to fund various fraud and abuse education programs for consumers, insurers, law enforcers, prosecutors, legislators and others; fund front-line investigators for state health care regulatory boards to investigate fraud in their respective jurisdictions; as well as funding other health care related activity.

– PROHIBIT insurers from raising premiums of policyholders based on estimates of the occurrence of fraud. Require insurers to establish a factual basis for purported losses attributed to fraud coupled with showing tangible proof of their efforts to detect and investigate fraud, as well as not paying fraudulent claims.

5. Insurers are victims of health care fraud

Insurers, as a regular course of business, offer reports on fraud to present themselves as victims of fraud by deviant providers and suppliers.

It is disingenuous for insurers to proclaim victim-status when they have the ability to review claims before they are paid, but choose not to because it would impact the flow of the reimbursement system that is under-staffed. Further, for years, insurers have operated within a culture where fraudulent claims were just a part of the cost of doing business. Then, because they were victims of the putative fraud, they pass these losses on to policyholders in the form of higher premiums (despite the duty and ability to review claims before they are paid). Do your premiums continue to rise?

Insurers make a ton of money, and under the cloak of fraud-fighting, are now keeping more of it by alleging fraud in claims to avoid paying legitimate claims, as well as going after monies paid on claims for services performed many years prior from providers too petrified to fight-back. Additionally, many insurers, believing a lack of responsiveness by law enforcers, file civil suits against providers and entities alleging fraud.

6. Increased investigations and prosecutions of health care fraud

Purportedly, the government (and insurers) have assigned more people to investigate fraud, are conducting more investigations, and are prosecuting more fraud offenders.

With the increase in the numbers of investigators, it is not uncommon for law enforcers assigned to work fraud cases to lack the knowledge and understanding for working these types of cases. It is also not uncommon that law enforcers from multiple agencies expend their investigative efforts and numerous man-hours by working on the same fraud case.

Law enforcers, especially at the federal level, may not actively investigate fraud cases unless they have the tacit approval of a prosecutor. Some law enforcers who do not want to work a case, no matter how good it may be, seek out a prosecutor for a declination on cases presented in the most negative light.

Health Care Regulatory Boards are often not seen as a viable member of the investigative team. Boards regularly investigate complaints of inappropriate conduct by licensees under their purview. The major consistency of these boards are licensed providers, typically in active practice, that have the pulse of what is going on in their state.

Insurers, at the insistence of state insurance regulators, created special investigative units to address suspicious claims to facilitate the payment of legitimate claims. Many insurers have recruited ex-law enforcers who have little or no experience on health care matters and/or nurses with no investigative experience to comprise these units.

Reliance is critical for establishing fraud, and often a major hindrance for law enforcers and prosecutors on moving fraud cases forward. Reliance refers to payors relying on information received from providers to be an accurate representation of what was provided in their determination to pay claims. Fraud issues arise when providers misrepresent material facts in submitted claims, e.g. services not rendered, misrepresenting the service provider, etc.

Increased fraud prosecutions and financial recoveries? In the various (federal) prosecutorial jurisdictions in the United States, there are differing loss- thresholds that must be exceeded before the (illegal) activity will be considered for prosecution, e.g. $200,000.00, $1 million. What does this tell fraudsters – steal up to a certain amount, stop and change jurisdictions?

In the end, the health care fraud shell-game is perfect for fringe care-givers and deviant providers and suppliers who jockey for unfettered-access to health care dollars from a payment system incapable or unwilling to employ necessary mechanisms to appropriately address fraud – on the front-end before the claims are paid! These deviant providers and suppliers know that every claim is not looked at before it is paid, and operate knowing that it is then impossible to detect, investigate and prosecute everyone who is committing fraud!

Lucky for us, there are countless experienced and dedicated professionals working in the trenches to combat fraud that persevere in the face of adversity, making a difference one claim/case at a time! These professionals include, but are not limited to: Providers of all disciplines; Regulatory Boards (Insurance and Health Care); Insurance Company Claims Handlers and Special Investigators; Local, State and Federal Law Enforcers; State and Federal Prosecutors; and others.

Steps to Begin Transforming Your Health & Body Today

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While yes, our team is born in a world of intense high athletic goals such as bodybuilding, it is not our goal to support people to become bodybuilders – FAR FROM IT!;-) So you can relax now!! But it IS our goal to share with you why the lessons from our experience of mastering human health & the body, & how developing a bodybuilder “mentality” for your own life can literally skyrocket you into a level of personal health you never thought possible, while showing you the shortcuts in how to get there! Sound good? Heck, it sounds GREAT to us, because we already know how it can CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

If you are serious about stepping into your greatness of feeling & looking great, take 3 minutes & glean our insight, because this is the single-most MISSING LINK that we see people repeatedly leaving out of their game plan to great health & why they continue to fail at achieving quality health for their lives.

When you have had an experience of taking your mental, emotional & physical self to the level that bodybuilding competition requires, as a coach for others it then allows you to see potential for your clients that they could never envision for themselves without you by their side AND TAKE THEM THERE, and that is the beauty of the gift that we REJOICE in offering others in order to achieve optimal health, energy, & joy for their lives. But to get there…to create a successful transformation of your health & body, you HAVE to begin INSIDE with our 5 MUST-HAVE Steps! Yes, that’s right – the focus begins in the MIND. Time & again we see this process work, and it’s our UNIQUE coaching psychology method that sets us apart, & why we are capable of producing jaw-dropping results with the level of motivational mentality we provide. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you fail to develop the DESIRE & MINDSET to IMPLEMENT it, you will never succeed.

Want the insider view to our winning approach to learn how to transform your own health & body? We’re here to offer you the scoop because it’s our desire to support you fully to achieve authentic, preventative health from the inside, out in your lifetime. So where do we begin? There is a prolific spiritual author named John Maxwell, maybe you’ve heard of him, maybe you haven’t – but he writes of numerous spiritual topics & speaks on how we create TRUE transformation for our lives. Below we adapt his words for our article today because it’s a brilliant synopsis of just why & how we work with clients to coach them through mastering their personal health, as there are so many levels to the process.

When we discuss transformation of the physical body, to be successful we cannot deny that mind, body & spirit are woven tightly together in our being & therefore EACH needs to be considered – not just one. Often people when wanting to conquer health or healing goals immediately BEGIN at the physical, they think weight loss, nutrition, exercise…but that is their first step to failure because they’re joining the race before they’ve even laced their shoes!! When we fail to address mind & spirit in the health process we eventually lose the vision of why we’re addressing the physical in the first place & sadly fall off course when interest wanes, times get tough, or we lose our way because the how-to’s become unclear or appear out of reach. But if we start INSIDE & work OUTWARDS friends, GAME ON!!

Our 5 Expert Insider Steps to Transforming Your Health & Body

So these 5 KEY STEPS must be addressed in order to achieve a complete & SUCCESSFUL health & body transformation, and they must also be achieved in order as follows…

1. When you change your (health & body) thinking, you change your (health & body) beliefs.

If you think what you’ve been taught is healthy by the mainstream media is where your learning stops, then don’t expect to achieve great illness-free, authentic preventative health because they don’t teach proactive health approach, they teach reactive wait til you get sick & then act health approach. Begin to change your thinking to change your belief system about your body and health potential.

2. When you change your (health & body) beliefs, you change your (health & body) expectations.

Once you begin to expand your thinking, start to also seek out experts in areas of health & body who have shown & continue to show PROVEN ABILITY TO CREATE TRANSFORMATION RESULTS in their own health & body that you would like to emulate. Begin to sponge knowledge from them vs. what mainstream media claims leads to great health results, & you’ll in turn raise the bar on what you expect from your own health. You’ll see your new mentor/s are just ordinary people too like you, who decided to blaze their own health path about the quality of health they wanted to achieve for their life by taking the road less followed for their own health in life, and YOU CAN TOO – if you follow in their footprints.

3. When you change your (health & body) expectations, you change your (health & body) attitude.

Once your mind becomes opened by experts to your new health possibilities, you’ll have a renewed attitude & confidence about your abilities & empowerment around your personal health & begin to realize that anything you put your MIND to, your BODY can achieve -with the right tools in your toolbox. And THAT is exciting!

4. When you change your (health & body) attitude, you change your (health & body) behavior.

Now that you come to the table with a revitalized health attitude of possibilities & an arsenal from your health mentor, your entire being & behavior begins to shift because your mentor connects you with your own personal ability to achieve great results for your health, and as that continues to happen over and over, your self-efficacy GROWS & GROWS around your capabilities to manage your own personal health, as you transition into your own personal mini-health-expert!

5. When you change your (health & body) behavior, YOU CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

Now that you’ve achieved health & body mastery, you will begin to see an entire energetic, mental & emotional shift in your life that FAR EXCEEDS the physical. Yes, you will look & feel great, but the ways optimal health radiate outwards to all facets of your life will be astounding, as you attain a personal joy in life through health that you’ve never experienced before. No pills, no roller coaster of energy, no food cravings, no more blah approach to life, no more hiding from life within your own body,…you emerge a renewed person, ready to take on your full potential in this life.

This list is the perfect example of why health coaching with experienced experts not only WORKS, but offers you AMAZING, permanent results you could never envision or achieve on your own. With the support of your coaches seasoned & proven mentality of success in health & body transformation, you develop a similar mindset, outlook & body of knowledge in order to reach external goals of physical health & body success!

Which Health Insurance Plan Is Best for Me

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Health insurance has proven itself of great help and financial aid in certain cases when events turn out unexpectedly. In times when you are ill and when your health is in grave jeopardy and when finances seem to be incapable to sustain for your care, health insurance is here to the rescue. A good health insurance plan will definitely make things better for you.

Basically, there are two types of health insurance plans. Your first option is the indemnity plans, which includes the fee-for-services and the second is the managed care plans. The differences between these two include the choice offered by the providers, the amount of bills the policy holder has to pay and the services covered by the policy. As you can always hear there is no ultimate or best plan for anyone.

As you can see, there are some plans which may be way better than the others. Some may be good for you and your family’s health and medical care needs. However, amidst the sweet health insurance plan terms presented, there are always certain drawbacks that you may come to consider. The key is, you will have to wisely weigh the benefits. Especially that not among these plans will pay for all the financial damages associated with your care.

The following are a brief description about the health insurance plans that might be fitting for you and your family’s case.

Indemnity Plans

Flexible Spending Plans – These are the types of health insurance plans that are sponsored when you are working for a company, or any employer. These are the care plans inclusive in your employee benefit package. Some of the specific types of benefits included in this plan are the multiple options pre-tax conversion plan, medical plans plus flexible spending accounts, tax conversion plan, and employer credit cafeteria plans. You can always ask your employer of the benefits included in your health care/insurance plans.

Indemnity Health Plans – This type of health insurance plan allows you to choose your own health care providers. You are given the freedom to go to any doctor, medical institution, or other health care providers for a set monthly premium. The insurance plan will reimburse you and your health care provider according to the services rendered. Depending on the health insurance plan policy, there are those that offers limit on individual expenses, and when that expense is reached, the health insurance will cover for the remaining expenses in full. Sometimes, indemnity health insurance plans impose restrictions on services covered and may require prior authorization for hospital care and other expensive services.

Basic and Essential Health Plans – It provides a limited health insurance benefit at a considerably low insurance cost. In opting for this kind of health insurance plan, it is necessary that one should read the policy description giving special focus on covered services. There are plans which may not cover on some basic treatments, certain medical services such as chemotherapy, maternity care or certain prescriptions. Also, rates vary considerably since unlike other plans, premiums consider age, gender, health status, occupation, geographic location, and community rated.

Health Savings Accounts – You own and control the money in your HSA. This is the recent alternative to the old fashioned health insurance plans. These are savings product designed to offer policy holders different way to pay for their health care. This type of insurance plan allows the individual to pay for the current health expenses and also save for untoward future qualified medical and retiree health costs on a tax-free basis. With this health care plan, you decide on how your money is spent. You make all the decisions without relying on any third party or a health insurer. You decide on which investment will help your money grow. However, if you sign up for an HSA, High Deductible Health Plans are required in adjunct to this type of insurance plan.

High Deductible Health Plans – Also called Catastrophic Health Insurance Coverage. It is an inexpensive health insurance plan which is enabled only after a high deductible is met of at least $1,000 for an individual expense and $2,000 for family-related medical expense.

Managed Care Options

Preferred Provider Organizations – This is charged in a fee-for-service basis. The involved health care providers are paid by the insurer on a negotiated fee and schedule. The cost of services are likely lower if the policy holder chooses an out-of-network provider ad generally required to pay the difference between what the provider charges and what the health insurance plan has to pay.

Point of Service – POS health insurance plans are one of the indemnity type options in which the primary health care providers usually make referrals to other providers within the plan. In the event the doctors make referrals which are out of the plan, that plan pays all or most of the bill. However, if you refer yourself to an outside provider, the service charges may also be covered by the plan but the individual may be required to pay the coinsurance.

Health Maintenance Organizations – It offers access to a network of physicians, health care institutions, health care providers, and a variety of health care facilities. You have the freedom to choose for your personal primary care doctor from a list which may be provided by the HMO and this chosen doctor may coordinate with all the other aspects of your health care. You may speak with your chosen primary doctor for further referrals to a specialist. Generally, you are paying fewer out-of-pocket fees with this type of health insurance plan. However, there are certain instances that you may be often charged of the fees or co-payment for services such as doctor visits or prescriptions.

Government-Sponsored Health Insurance

Indian Health Services – This is part of the Department of Health and Human Services Program offering all American Indians the medical assistance at HIS facilities. Also, HIS helps in paying the cost of the health care services utilized at non-HIS facilities.

Medicaid – This is a federal or s state public assistance program created in the year 1965. These are available for the people who may have insufficient resources to pay for the health care services or for private insurance policies. Medicaid is available in all states. Eligibility levels and coverage benefits may vary though.

Medicare – This is a health care program for people aging 65 and older, with certain disabilities that pays part of the cost associated with hospitalization, surgery, home health care, doctor’s bills, and skilled nursing care.

Military Health Care – This type includes the TRICARE or the CHAMPUS (Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services) and CHAMPVA (Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affair). The Department of Veterans Affair (VA) may also provide this service.

State Children’s Health Insurance Program – This is available to children whose low-income parents were not able to qualify for the Medicaid.
State-Specific Plans – This type of plan is available for low income uninsured individuals.

Occupational Health

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The rapid development of workplace health protective and preventive services has been driven by government strategies and recommendations, as well as by the European Union legislation in the areas of health and safety at work and by the European Commission programme in public health. This was also largely due to the new demands and expectations from employers, employees and their representative bodies as they recognize the economic, social and health benefits achieved by providing these services at the workplace, thus providing the available knowledge and evidence necessary for the continuous improvement of workplace health management. Comprehensive workplace health management is a process involving all stakeholders inside and outside any business. It aims at empowering them to take control over their own health and their family’s health considering environmental, lifestyle, occupational and social health determinants and quality of health care. It is based on health promotion principles and it creates a great challenge to health, environment and safety professionals providing services, advice, information and education to social partners at work. It involves also taking care of considerable socioeconomic interest of all involved stakeholders. It has been shown in several instances that the business utilizing a well managed research based occupational health service can gain a competitive advantage by:

  • Protecting human health against health and safety hazards occurring in the work environment.
  • Promoting human health workplaces for all ages and healthy aging by appropriate work culture, work organization and support to social cohesion.
  • Promoting mental health, healthy lifestyle and preventing major non-communicable diseases using specific workplace health policies and management tools.
  • Maintaining work ability thus also employability throughout working life.
  • Reducing health care costs caused by employees’ and employers’ injuries, diseases, illnesses and premature retirement resulting from or influenced by occupational, environmental, life style and social health determinants
  • Using resources effectively, protecting the natural environment and creating a health supportive environment.
  • Improving social communication and literacy on health, environment and ethics.

This article series describes the author’s observations of various roles undertaken by the occupational health nurse. Whilst recognizing the wide variation that exists in occupational health nursing practice between different industrial and blue collar environments this series reflects the standards that have already been achieved where occupational health nursing is at its most advanced. However it has to be recognized that the level of education, professional skills and the exiting national legislation determines what role can be actually undertaken by occupational health nurses. Even more important is to remember that no one professional out of the exiting workplace health professions is now capable to meeting all health needs of the working population. A multi-disciplinary approach is needed to effectively manage the growing workplace health and safety demands in business today.

The workplace health services use the skills of many professionals such as specialist occupational physicians, safety engineers, occupational hygienists, occupational health nurses, ergonomists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, laboratory technicians, psychologists and other specialists. The role and tasks actually performed for the companies by representatives of different health and safety professions vary greatly depending upon legislative needs, scope of the workplace health concept perceived by directors, enforcement practice, the level of their education, position in the occupational health infrastructure, actions undertaken by insurance institutions and many other factors. Occupational health nurses are the largest single group of health professionals involved in delivering health services at the workplace and have the most important role to play in the workplace health management. They are at the frontline in helping to protect and promote the health of the nations working population.

The role of the occupational health nurse in workplace health management is a new and exciting concept that is designed to improve the management of health and health related problems in the workplace. Specialist occupational health nurses can play a major role in protecting and improving the health of the working population as part of this strategy. Occupational health nurses can also make a major contribution to the sustainable development, improved competitiveness, job security and increased profitability of businesses and communities by addressing those factors which are related to the health of the working population. By helping to reduce ill health occupational health nurses can contribute to the increased profitability and performance of organizations and reduce health care costs. Occupational health nurses can also help to reduce the externalization of costs onto the taxpayer, by preventing disability and social exclusion, and by improving rehabilitation services at work. By protecting and promoting the health of the working population, and by promoting social inclusion, occupational health nurses can also make a significant contribution towards building a caring social ethos within the UK. This article provides guidance to employers and employees on establishing workplace health management systems within their own organizations. On how to determine and develop the role and functions of the occupational health nursing specialist within each enterprise and where to go for additional help and advice in relation to occupational health nursing.

Changing nature of working life and the new challenges

The world of work has undergone enormous change in the last hundred years. To a large extent the very heavy, dirty and dangerous industries have gone, and the burden of disease, which came with them, in most European countries, has declined. However, the new working environments and conditions of work that have replaced them have given rise to new and different concerns about the health of the working population. Exposure to physical, chemical, biological and psychosocial risk factors at work are now much more clearly linked to health outcomes in the mind of the general public. Expectations of society in regard to health at work have also changed, with increasing demands for better standards of protection at work and for the improvement of the quality of working life. Employers are also recognizing that health-related issues, such as sickness absence, litigation and compensation costs, increasing insurance premiums, are expensive; ignoring them can lead to serious economic consequences. The best employers’ emphasize the important message that good health is good business, and that much can be achieved in this field simply by introducing good management practices.

The Need for Workplace Management

There are approximately 400 million people who work in the EU Member States. The majority of whom spend more than one half of their waking life at work. However, fatal accidents at work are still common. The standardized incident rates per 100,000 workers in the European Union show that the fatal accident rate varies between 1.6 in the UK to 13.9 in Spain, with Austria, Greece, France, Italy and Portugal all above 5.0%. In the entire European region there are approximately 200 to 7500 non-fatal accidents per 100,000 employees per year, of which around 10% are severe leading to over 60 days absence from work, and up to 5%, per year, lead to permanent disability. It has been estimated that the total cost to society of work related injuries and ill health in the European Union is between 185 billion and 270 billion ECU per year, which represents between 2.6% to 3.8% of Gross National Product (GNP) in member states. The cost of workplace accidents and ill health, in both financial and human terms, remains an enormous, largely unrecognized burden in UK. The majority of those accidents and diseases could have been prevented if appropriate action had been taken at the workplace. Many responsible employers have consistently demonstrated that by paying attention to these issues this type of harm and the subsequent costs can be avoided, to the benefit of everyone concerned. Increasing concern is the growing awareness of occupational stress. Up to 42% of workers in a recent survey complained about the high pace of work. Job insecurity, fear of unemployment, lack of a regular salary and the potential loss of work ability are all additional sources of stress, even for those in employment.

The wide ranging social and health effects of occupational stress on the health of the working population are well documented, for example 23% of workers surveyed claimed that they had been absent from work for work related health reasons in the previous twelve months. The resulting cost of sickness absence in United Kingdom is considered to be substantial. In the UK 177 million working days were lost in 1994 as a result of sickness absence; this has been assessed at over 11 billion in lost productivity. HSE statistics are encouraging given in 2009; only 29.3 million days were lost overall, 24.6 million due to work-related ill health and 4.7 million due to workplace injury. Much of this burden of ill health and the resulting sickness absence is caused, or is made worse by working conditions. Even where ill health is not directly caused by work, but by other non-occupational factors such as smoking, lifestyle, diet etc. Interventions designed to improve the health of the working population, delivered at the workplace, may help to reduce still further the burden of ill health. At present the socioeconomic impact of environmental pollution caused by industrial processes on the working population is uncertain, but it is likely to contribute further to the burden of ill health in some communities.

Workplace Health Management

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Workplace Health Management (WHM) There are four key components of workplace health management:

  • Occupational Health and Safety
  • Workplace Health Promotion
  • Social and lifestyle determinants of health
  • Environmental Health Management

In the past policy was frequently driven solely by compliance with legislation. In the new approach to workplace health management, policy development is driven by both legislative requirements and by health targets set on a voluntary basis by the working community within each industry. In order to be effective Workplace Health Management needs to be based on knowledge, experience and practice accumulated in three disciplines: occupational health, workplace health promotion and environmental health. It is important to see WHM as a process not only for continuous improvement and health gain within the company, but also as framework for involvement between various agencies in the community. It offers a platform for co-operation between the local authorities and business leaders on community development through the improvement of public and environmental health.

The Healthy Workplace setting – a cornerstone of the Community Action Plan.

The Luxembourg Declaration of the European Union Network for Workplace Health Promotion defined WHP as the combined effort of employers, employees and society to improve the health and well-being of people at work

This can be achieved through a combination of:

  • Improving the work organization and the working environment
  • Promoting active participation of employees in health activities
  • Encouraging personal development

Workplace health promotion is seen in the EU network Luxembourg Declaration as a modern corporate strategy which aims at preventing ill-health at work and enhancing health promoting potential and well-being in the workforce. Documented benefits for workplace programs include decreased absenteeism, reduced cardiovascular risk, reduced health care claims, decreased staff turnover, decreased musculoskeletal injuries, increased productivity, increased organizational effectiveness and the potential of a return on investment.

However, many of these improvements require the sustained involvement of employees, employers and society in the activities required to make a difference. This is achieved through the empowerment of employees enabling them to make decisions about their own health. Occupational Health Advisors (OHA) are well placed to carry out needs assessment for health promotion initiatives with the working populations they serve, to prioritize these initiatives alongside other occupational health and safety initiatives which may be underway, and to coordinate the activities at the enterprise level to ensure that initiatives which are planned are delivered. In the past occupational health services have been involved in the assessment of fitness to work and in assessing levels of disability for insurance purposes for many years.

The concept of maintaining working ability, in the otherwise healthy working population, has been developed by some innovative occupational health services. In some cases these efforts have been developed in response to the growing challenge caused by the aging workforce and the ever-increasing cost of social security. OHA’s have often been at the forefront of these developments.

There is a need to develop further the focus of all occupational health services to include efforts to maintain work ability and to prevent non-occupational workplace preventable conditions by interventions at the workplace. This will require some occupational health services to become more pro-actively involved in workplace health promotion, without reducing the attention paid to preventing occupational accidents and diseases. OHA’s, with their close contact with employees, sometimes over many years, are in a good position to plan, deliver and evaluate health promotion and maintenance of work ability interventions at the workplace.

Health promotion at work has grown in importance over the last decade as employers and employees recognize the respective benefits. Working people spend about half of their non-sleeping day at work and this provides an ideal opportunity for employees to share and receive various health messages and for employers to create healthy working environments. The scope of health promotion depends upon the needs of each group.

Some of the most common health promotion activities are smoking reducing activities, healthy nutrition or physical exercise programs, prevention and abatement of drug and alcohol abuse.

However, health promotion may also be directed towards other social, cultural and environmental health determinants, if the people within the company consider that these factors are important for the improvement of their health, well-being and quality of life. In this case factors such as improving work organization, motivation, reducing stress and burnout, introducing flexible working hours, personal development plans and career enhancement may also help to contribute to overall health and well-being of the working community.

The Healthy Community setting In addition to occupational health and workplace health promotion there is also another important aspect to Workplace Health Management. It is related to the impact that each company may have on the surrounding ambient environment, and through pollutants or products or services provided to others, its impact on distant environments. Remember how far the effects of the Chernobyl Nuclear accident in 1986 affected whole neighbouring countries.

Although the environmental health impact of companies is controlled by different legislation to that which applies to Health and Safety at work, there is a strong relationship between safeguarding the working environment, improving work organization and working culture within the company, and its approach to environmental health management.

Many leading companies already combine occupational health and safety with environmental health management to optimally use the available human resources within the company and to avoid duplication of effort. Occupational health nurses can make a contribution towards environmental health management, particularly in those companies that do not employ environmental health specialists.

Occupational Health

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It is not possible to describe a highly complex and dynamic process such as occupational health nursing simply in terms of core activities or tasks. Occupational Health Nurse (OHA) are constantly learning new skills, adapting current practices to meet new needs and developing new approaches to solving problems and therefore their practice is not static but is constantly improving based upon a core range of skills.

However, within this limitation it is possible to describe those core areas of knowledge and competence that occupational health nurses use. The following list is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to give an indication of the wide range of competencies that occupational health nurses demonstrate in practice.

The Clinician

Primary prevention

The OHA is skilled in primary prevention of injury or disease. The nurse may identify the need for, assess and plan interventions to, for example modify working environments, systems of work or change working practices in order to reduce the risk of hazardous exposure. Occupational health nurses are skilled in considering factors, such as human behavior and habits in relation to actual working practices. The nurse can also collaborate in the identification, conception and correction of work factors, choice of individual protective equipment, prevention of industrial injuries and diseases, as well as providing advice in matters concerning protection of the environment. Because of the occupational health nurses close association with the workers, and knowledge and experience in the working environment, they are in a good position to identify early changes in working practices, identify workers concerns over health and safety, and by presenting these to management in an independent objective manner can be the catalyst for changes in the workplace that lead to primary prevention.

Emergency care

The OHA is a Registered Nurse with a great deal of clinical experience and expertise in dealing with sick or injured people. The nurse may, where such duties form part of their job, provide initial emergency care of workers injured at work prior to transfer of the injured worker to hospital or the arrival of the emergency services. In many instances, where hazardous conditions exist at work, or where the workplace is far removed from other health care facilities, this role will form a major part of an occupational health nurse’s job. Occupational health nurses employed in mines, on oil rigs, in the desert regions or in areas where the health care systems are not yet fully developed will be familiar with a wide range of emergency care techniques and may have developed additional skills in order to fulfill this role. For others, who are working in situations where the emergency services are on hand, they may simply provide an additional level of support beyond that provided by the industrial first aider.

Nursing diagnosis

Occupational health nurses are skilled in assessing client’s health care needs, establish a nursing diagnosis and formulating appropriate nursing care plans, in conjunction with the patient or client groups, to meet those needs. Nurses can then implement and evaluate nursing interventions designed to achieve the care objectives. The nurse has a prominent role in assessing the needs of individuals and groups, and has the ability to analyze, interpret, plan and implement strategies to achieve specific goals. By using the nursing process the nurse contributes to workplace health management and by so doing helps to improve the health of the working population at the shop floor level. Nursing diagnosis is a holistic concept that does not focus solely on the treatment of a specific disease, but rather considers the whole person and their health care needs in the broadest context. It is a health based model rather than a disease based model and nurses have the skills to apply this approach with the working populations they serve.

General Health advice and health assessment

The OHA will be able to give advice on a wide range of health issues, and particularly on their relationship to working ability, health and safety at work or where modifications to the job or working environment can be made to take account of the changing health status of employees.

In many respects employers are not solely concerned with only those conditions that are directly caused by work, but do want their occupational health staff to help address any health related problems that may arise that might influence the employees attendance or performance at work, and many employees appreciate this level of help being provided to them at the workplace because it is so convenient for them. In particular the development of health care services to men at work, younger populations and those from ethnic groups can be most effective in reaching these sometimes difficult to reach populations.

Research and the use of evidence based practice

In addition to utilizing information and knowledge produced by research in various fields to support activities that relate to the occupational health component of their role, occupational health nurses will also utilize fully research information available from many fields to help support the general health of the working population.

Specialist

Occupational health policy, and practice development, implementation and evaluation

The specialist occupational health nurse may be involved, with senior management in the company, in developing the workplace health policy and strategy including aspects of occupational health, workplace health promotion and environmental health management. The OH nurse is in a good position to advise management on the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of workplace health management strategies and to participate fully in each of these stages. Possibility to perform that role will depend upon level of nurse education, skills and experience.

Occupational health assessment

OHA’s can play an essential role in health assessment for fitness to work, pre-employment or pre-placement examinations, periodic health examinations and individual health assessments for lifestyle risk factors.

Collaboration with occupational physician may be necessary in many instances, depending upon exiting legislation and accepted practice. The nurse can also play an important role in the workplace where informal requests for information, advice on health care matters and health related problems come to light. The nurse is able to observe the individual or group of workers in relation to exposure to a particular hazard and initiate appropriate targeted health assessment where necessary. These activities are often, but not exclusively, undertaken in conjunction with the medical adviser so that where problems are identified a safe system for onward referral exists.

Health surveillance

Where workers are exposed to a degree of residual risk of exposure and health surveillance is required by law the OHA will be involved in undertaking routine health surveillance procedures, periodic health assessment and in evaluating the results from such screening processes. The nurse will need a high degree of clinical skill when undertaking health surveillance and maintain a high degree of alertness to any abnormal findings. Early referral to an occupational health physician or other appropriate specialist will be the responsibility of the occupational health nurse where any abnormality is detected. The nurse will be involved in supporting the worker throughout any further examination or investigation, and may help to monitor their health on return to work. Once alerted to the possibility of an adverse health effect the occupational health nurse is in a good position to co-ordinate efforts to re-evaluate working practices in order to help protect others who may be similarly affected.

A CEO’s Perspective on Health Information Exchanges

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Defining a Health Information Exchange

The United States is facing the largest shortage of healthcare practitioners in our country’s history which is compounded by an ever increasing geriatric population. In 2005 there existed one geriatrician for every 5,000 US residents over 65 and only nine of the 145 medical schools trained geriatricians. By 2020 the industry is estimated to be short 200,000 physicians and over a million nurses. Never, in the history of US healthcare, has so much been demanded with so few personnel. Because of this shortage combined with the geriatric population increase, the medical community has to find a way to provide timely, accurate information to those who need it in a uniform fashion. Imagine if flight controllers spoke the native language of their country instead of the current international flight language, English. This example captures the urgency and critical nature of our need for standardized communication in healthcare. A healthy information exchange can help improve safety, reduce length of hospital stays, cut down on medication errors, reduce redundancies in lab testing or procedures and make the health system faster, leaner and more productive. The aging US population along with those impacted by chronic disease like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma will need to see more specialists who will have to find a way to communicate with primary care providers effectively and efficiently.

This efficiency can only be attained by standardizing the manner in which the communication takes place. Healthbridge, a Cincinnati based HIE and one of the largest community based networks, was able to reduce their potential disease outbreaks from 5 to 8 days down to 48 hours with a regional health information exchange. Regarding standardization, one author noted, “Interoperability without standards is like language without grammar. In both cases communication can be achieved but the process is cumbersome and often ineffective.”

United States retailers transitioned over twenty years ago in order to automate inventory, sales, accounting controls which all improve efficiency and effectiveness. While uncomfortable to think of patients as inventory, perhaps this has been part of the reason for the lack of transition in the primary care setting to automation of patient records and data. Imagine a Mom & Pop hardware store on any square in mid America packed with inventory on shelves, ordering duplicate widgets based on lack of information regarding current inventory. Visualize any Home Depot or Lowes and you get a glimpse of how automation has changed the retail sector in terms of scalability and efficiency. Perhaps the “art of medicine” is a barrier to more productive, efficient and smarter medicine. Standards in information exchange have existed since 1989, but recent interfaces have evolved more rapidly thanks to increases in standardization of regional and state health information exchanges.

History of Health Information Exchanges

Major urban centers in Canada and Australia were the first to successfully implement HIE’s. The success of these early networks was linked to an integration with primary care EHR systems already in place. Health Level 7 (HL7) represents the first health language standardization system in the United States, beginning with a meeting at the University of Pennsylvania in 1987. HL7 has been successful in replacing antiquated interactions like faxing, mail and direct provider communication, which often represent duplication and inefficiency. Process interoperability increases human understanding across networks health systems to integrate and communicate. Standardization will ultimately impact how effective that communication functions in the same way that grammar standards foster better communication. The United States National Health Information Network (NHIN) sets the standards that foster this delivery of communication between health networks. HL7 is now on it’s third version which was published in 2004. The goals of HL7 are to increase interoperability, develop coherent standards, educate the industry on standardization and collaborate with other sanctioning bodies like ANSI and ISO who are also concerned with process improvement.

In the United States one of the earliest HIE’s started in Portland Maine. HealthInfoNet is a public-private partnership and is believed to be the largest statewide HIE. The goals of the network are to improve patient safety, enhance the quality of clinical care, increase efficiency, reduce service duplication, identify public threats more quickly and expand patient record access. The four founding groups the Maine Health Access Foundation, Maine CDC, The Maine Quality Forum and Maine Health Information Center (Onpoint Health Data) began their efforts in 2004.

In Tennessee Regional Health Information Organizations (RHIO’s) initiated in Memphis and the Tri Cities region. Carespark, a 501(3)c, in the Tri Cities region was considered a direct project where clinicians interact directly with each other using Carespark’s HL7 compliant system as an intermediary to translate the data bi-directionally. Veterans Affairs (VA) clinics also played a crucial role in the early stages of building this network. In the delta the midsouth eHealth Alliance is a RHIO connecting Memphis hospitals like Baptist Memorial (5 sites), Methodist Systems, Lebonheur Healthcare, Memphis Children’s Clinic, St. Francis Health System, St Jude, The Regional Medical Center and UT Medical. These regional networks allow practitioners to share medical records, lab values medicines and other reports in a more efficient manner.

Seventeen US communities have been designated as Beacon Communities across the United States based on their development of HIE’s. These communities’ health focus varies based on the patient population and prevalence of chronic disease states i.e. cvd, diabetes, asthma. The communities focus on specific and measurable improvements in quality, safety and efficiency due to health information exchange improvements. The closest geographical Beacon community to Tennessee, in Byhalia, Mississippi, just south of Memphis, was granted a $100,000 grant by the department of Health and Human Services in September 2011.

A healthcare model for Nashville to emulate is located in Indianapolis, IN based on geographic proximity, city size and population demographics. Four Beacon awards have been granted to communities in and around Indianapolis, Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, Indiana Health Centers Inc, Raphael Health Center and Shalom Health Care Center Inc. In addition, Indiana Health Information Technology Inc has received over 23 million dollars in grants through the State HIE Cooperative Agreement and 2011 HIE Challenge Grant Supplement programs through the federal government. These awards were based on the following criteria:1) Achieving health goals through health information exchange 2) Improving long term and post acute care transitions 3) Consumer mediated information exchange 4) Enabling enhanced query for patient care 5) Fostering distributed population-level analytics.

Regulatory Aspects of Health Information Exchanges and Healthcare Reform

The department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the regulatory agency that oversees health concerns for all Americans. The HHS is divided into ten regions and Tennessee is part of Region IV headquartered out of Atlanta. The Regional Director, Anton J. Gunn is the first African American elected to serve as regional director and brings a wealth of experience to his role based on his public service specifically regarding underserved healthcare patients and health information exchanges. This experience will serve him well as he encounters societal and demographic challenges for underserved and chronically ill patients throughout the southeast area.

The National Health Information Network (NHIN) is a division of HHS that guides the standards of exchange and governs regulatory aspects of health reform. The NHIN collaboration includes departments like the Center for Disease Control (CDC), social security administration, Beacon communities and state HIE’s (ONC).11 The Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Exchange (ONC) has awarded $16 million in additional grants to encourage innovation at the state level. Innovation at the state level will ultimately lead to better patient care through reductions in replicated tests, bridges to care programs for chronic patients leading to continuity and finally timely public health alerts through agencies like the CDC based on this information.12 The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act is funded by dollars from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. HITECH’s goals are to invest dollars in community, regional and state health information exchanges to build effective networks which are connected nationally. Beacon communities and the Statewide Health Information Exchange Cooperative Agreement were initiated through HITECH and ARRA. To date 56 states have received grant awards through these programs totaling 548 million dollars.

History of Health Information Partnership TN (HIPTN)

In Tennessee the Health Information Exchange has been slower to progress than places like Maine and Indiana based in part on the diversity of our state. The delta has a vastly different patient population and health network than that of middle Tennessee, which differs from eastern Tennessee’s Appalachian region. In August of 2009 the first steps were taken to build a statewide HIE consisting of a non-profit named HIP TN. A board was established at this time with an operations council formed in December. HIP TN’s first initiatives involved connecting the work through Carespark in northeast Tennessee’s s tri-cities region to the Midsouth ehealth Alliance in Memphis. State officials estimated a cost of over 200 million dollars from 2010-2015. The venture involves stakeholders from medical, technical, legal and business backgrounds. The governor in 2010, Phil Bredesen, provided 15 million to match federal funds in addition to issuing an Executive Order establishing the office of eHealth initiatives with oversight by the Office of Administration and Finance and sixteen board members. By March 2010 four workgroups were established to focus on areas like technology, clinical, privacy and security and sustainability.

By May of 2010 data sharing agreements were in place and a production pilot for the statewide HIE was initiated in June 2011 along with a Request for Proposal (RFP) which was sent out to over forty vendors. In July 2010 a fifth workgroup,the consumer advisory group, was added and in September 2010 Tennessee was notified that they were one of the first states to have their plans approved after a release of Program Information Notice (PIN). Over fifty stakeholders came together to evaluate the vendor demonstrations and a contract was signed with the chosen vendor Axolotl on September 30th, 2010. At that time a production goal of July 15th, 2011 was agreed upon and in January 2011 Keith Cox was hired as HIP TN’s CEO. Keith brings twenty six years of tenure in healthcare IT to the collaborative. His previous endeavors include Microsoft, Bellsouth and several entrepreneurial efforts. HIP TN’s mission is to improve access to health information through a statewide collaborative process and provide the infrastructure for security in that exchange. The vision for HIP TN is to be recognized as a state and national leader who support measurable improvements in clinical quality and efficiency to patients, providers and payors with secure HIE. Robert S. Gordon, the board chair for HIPTN states the vision well, “We share the view that while technology is a critical tool, the primary focus is not technology itself, but improving health”. HIP TN is a non profit, 501(c)3, that is solely reliant on state government funding. It is a combination of centralized and decentralized architecture. The key vendors are Axolotl, which acts as the umbrella network, ICA for Memphis and Nashville, with CGI as the vendor in northeast Tennessee.15 Future HIP TN goals include a gateway to the National Health Institute planned for late 2011 and a clinician index in early 2012. Carespark, one of the original regional health exchange networks voted to cease operations on July 11, 2011 based on lack of financial support for it’s new infrastructure. The data sharing agreements included 38 health organizations, nine communities and 250 volunteers.16 Carespark’s closure clarifies the need to build a network that is not solely reliant on public grants to fund it’s efforts, which we will discuss in the final section of this paper.

Current Status of Healthcare Information Exchange and HIPTN

Ten grants were awarded in 2011 by the HIE challenge grant supplement. These included initiatives in eight states and serve as communities we can look to for guidance as HIP TN evolves. As previously mentioned one of the most awarded communities lies less than five hours away in Indianapolis, IN. Based on the similarities in our health communities, patient populations and demographics, Indianapolis would provide an excellent mentor for Nashville and the hospital systems who serve patients in TN. The Indiana Health Information Exchange has been recognized nationally for it’s Docs for Docs program and the manner in which collaboration has taken place since it’s conception in 2004. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of HHS commented, “The Central Indiana Beacon Community has a level of collaboration and the ability to organize quality efforts in an effective manner from its history of building long standing relationships. We are thrilled to be working with a community that is far ahead in the use of health information to bring positive change to patient care.” Beacon communities that could act as guides for our community include the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County and the Indiana Health Centers based on their recent awards of $100,000 each by HHS.

A local model of excellence in practice EMR conversion is Old Harding Pediatric Associates (OHPA) which has two clinics and fourteen physicians who handle a patient population of 23,000 and over 72,000 patient encounters per year. OHPA’s conversion to electronic records in early 2000 occurred as a result of the pursuit of excellence in patient care and the desire to use technology in a way that benefitted their patient population. OHPA established a cross functional work team to improve their practices in the areas of facilities, personnel, communication, technology and external influences. Noteworthy was chosen as the EMR vendor based on user friendliness and the similarity to a standard patient chart with tabs for files. The software was customized to the pediatric environment complete with patient growth charts. Windows was used as the operating system based on provider familiarity. Within four days OHPA had 100% compliance and use of their EMR system.

The Future of HIP TN and HIE in Tennessee

Tennessee has received close to twelve million dollars in grant money from The State Health Information Exchange Cooperative Agreement Program.20 Regional Health Information Organizations (RHIO) need to be full scalable to allow hospitals to grow their systems without compromising integrity as they grow.21and the systems located in Nashville will play an integral role in this nationwide scaling with companies like HCA, CHS, Iasis, Lifepoint and Vanguard. The HIE will act as a data repository for all patients information that can be accessed from anywhere and contains a full history of the patients medical record, lab tests, physician network and medicine list. To entice providers to enroll in the statewide HIE tangible value to their practice has to be shown with better safer care. In a 2011 HIMSS editor’s report Richard Lang states that instead of a top down approach “A more practical idea may be for states to support local community HIE development first. Once established, these local networks can feed regional HIE’s and then connect to a central HIE/data repository backbone. States should use a portion of the stimulus funds to support local HIE development.”22 Mr. Lang also believes the primary care physician has to be the foundation for the entire system since they are the main point of contact for the patient.

One piece of the puzzle often overlooked is the patient investment in a functional EHR. In order to bring together all the pieces of the HIE puzzle patients will need to play a more active role in their healthcare. Many patients do not know what medicines they take every day or whether they have a living will. Several versions of patient EHR’s like Memitech’s 911medical id card exist, but very few patients know or carry them.23 One way to combat this lack of awareness is to use the hospital as a catch-all and discharge each patient with a fully loaded USB card via case managers. This strategy also might lead to better compliance with post in patient therapies to reduce readmissions.

The implementation of connecting qualified organizations began earlier this year. To fully support organizations to move toward qualification the Office of National Coordinator for HIE (ONC) has designated regional education centers (TN rec) who assist providers with educational initiatives in areas like HIT, ICD9 to ICD10 training and EMR transition. Qsource, a non-profit health consulting firm, has been chosen to oversee TNrec. To ensure sustainability it is critical that Tennessee build a network of private funding so that what happened with Carespark won’t happen to HIP TN. The eHealth Initiatives 2011Survey Report states that of the 196 HIE initiatives, 115 act independently of federal funding and of those independent HIE’s, break even through operational revenue. Some of these exchanges were in existence well before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. Startup funding from grants is only meant to get the car going so to speak, the sustainable fuel, as observed in the case of Carespark, has to come from value that can be monetized. KLAS research reports that 54% of public HIE’s were concerned about future sustainability while only 35% of private HIE’s shared this concern.

Hospital Implications of HIP TN (A Call to Action)

From a Financial perspective, taking our hospital into the future with EMR and an integrated statewide network has profound implications. In the short term the cost to find a vendor, establish EMR in and outpatient will be an expensive proposition. The transition will not be easy or finite and will involve constant evolution as HIP TN integrates with other state HIE’s. To get a realistic idea of the benefits and costs associated with health information integration. we can look to HealthInfoNet in Portland, ME, a statewide HIE that expects to save 37 million dollars in avoided services and 15 million in productivity reduction. Specific areas of savings include paper or fax costs $5 versus $0.25 electronically, virtual health record savings of $50 per referral, $26 saved per ED visit and $17.41 per patient/year due to redundant lab tests which amounts to $52 million for a population of 3 million patients. In Grand Junction Colorado Quality Health Network lowered their per capita Medicare spending to 24% below the national average, gaining recognition by President Obama in 2009. The Santa Cruz Health Information Exchange (SCHIE) with 600 doctors and two hospitals achieved sustainability in the first year of operation and uses a subscription fee for all the organizations who interact with them. In terms of government dollars available, meaningful use incentives exist to encourage hospitals to meet twenty of twenty five objectives in the first phase (2011-2012) and adopting and implement an approved EHR vendor. ARRA specified three ways for EHR to be utilized to obtain Medicare reimbursement. These include e-prescribing, health information exchange and submission of clinical quality measures. The objectives for phase two in 2013 will expand on this baseline. Implementation of EHR and Hospital HIE costs are usually charged by bed or by the number of physicians. Fees can range from $1500 for a smaller hospital up to $12,000 per month for a larger hospital.

Health Care Reform

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Why are Americans so worked up about health care reform? Statements such as “don’t touch my Medicare” or “everyone should have access to state of the art health care irrespective of cost” are in my opinion uninformed and visceral responses that indicate a poor understanding of our health care system’s history, its current and future resources and the funding challenges that America faces going forward. While we all wonder how the health care system has reached what some refer to as a crisis stage. Let’s try to take some of the emotion out of the debate by briefly examining how health care in this country emerged and how that has formed our thinking and culture about health care. With that as a foundation let’s look at the pros and cons of the Obama administration health care reform proposals and let’s look at the concepts put forth by the Republicans?

Access to state of the art health care services is something we can all agree would be a good thing for this country. Experiencing a serious illness is one of life’s major challenges and to face it without the means to pay for it is positively frightening. But as we shall see, once we know the facts, we will find that achieving this goal will not be easy without our individual contribution.

These are the themes I will touch on to try to make some sense out of what is happening to American health care and the steps we can personally take to make things better.

  • A recent history of American health care – what has driven the costs so high?
  • Key elements of the Obama health care plan
  • The Republican view of health care – free market competition
  • Universal access to state of the art health care – a worthy goal but not easy to achieve
  • what can we do?

First, let’s get a little historical perspective on American health care. This is not intended to be an exhausted look into that history but it will give us an appreciation of how the health care system and our expectations for it developed. What drove costs higher and higher?

To begin, let’s turn to the American civil war. In that war, dated tactics and the carnage inflicted by modern weapons of the era combined to cause ghastly results. Not generally known is that most of the deaths on both sides of that war were not the result of actual combat but to what happened after a battlefield wound was inflicted. To begin with, evacuation of the wounded moved at a snail’s pace and this caused severe delays in treating the wounded. Secondly, many wounds were subjected to wound care, related surgeries and/or amputations of the affected limbs and this often resulted in the onset of massive infection. So you might survive a battle wound only to die at the hands of medical care providers who although well-intentioned, their interventions were often quite lethal. High death tolls can also be ascribed to everyday sicknesses and diseases in a time when no antibiotics existed. In total something like 600,000 deaths occurred from all causes, over 2% of the U.S. population at the time!

Let’s skip to the first half of the 20th century for some additional perspective and to bring us up to more modern times. After the civil war there were steady improvements in American medicine in both the understanding and treatment of certain diseases, new surgical techniques and in physician education and training. But for the most part the best that doctors could offer their patients was a “wait and see” approach. Medicine could handle bone fractures and increasingly attempt risky surgeries (now largely performed in sterile surgical environments) but medicines were not yet available to handle serious illnesses. The majority of deaths remained the result of untreatable conditions such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, scarlet fever and measles and/or related complications. Doctors were increasingly aware of heart and vascular conditions, and cancer but they had almost nothing with which to treat these conditions.

This very basic review of American medical history helps us to understand that until quite recently (around the 1950’s) we had virtually no technologies with which to treat serious or even minor ailments. Here is a critical point we need to understand; “nothing to treat you with means that visits to the doctor if at all were relegated to emergencies so in such a scenario costs are curtailed. The simple fact is that there was little for doctors to offer and therefore virtually nothing to drive health care spending. A second factor holding down costs was that medical treatments that were provided were paid for out-of-pocket, meaning by way of an individuals personal resources. There was no such thing as health insurance and certainly not health insurance paid by an employer. Except for the very destitute who were lucky to find their way into a charity hospital, health care costs were the responsibility of the individual.

What does health care insurance have to do with health care costs? Its impact on health care costs has been, and remains to this day, absolutely enormous. When health insurance for individuals and families emerged as a means for corporations to escape wage freezes and to attract and retain employees after World War II, almost overnight a great pool of money became available to pay for health care. Money, as a result of the availability of billions of dollars from health insurance pools, encouraged an innovative America to increase medical research efforts. More Americans became insured not only through private, employer sponsored health insurance but through increased government funding that created Medicare and Medicaid (1965). In addition funding became available for expanded veterans health care benefits. Finding a cure for almost anything has consequently become very lucrative. This is also the primary reason for the vast array of treatments we have available today.

I do not wish to convey that medical innovations are a bad thing. Think of the tens of millions of lives that have been saved, extended, enhanced and made more productive as a result. But with a funding source grown to its current magnitude (hundreds of billions of dollars annually) upward pressure on health care costs are inevitable. Doctor’s offer and most of us demand and get access to the latest available health care technology in the form of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostic tools and surgical procedures. So the result is that there is more health care to spend our money on and until very recently most of us were insured and the costs were largely covered by a third-party (government, employers). Add an insatiable and unrealistic public demand for access and treatment and we have the “perfect storm” for higher and higher health care costs. And by and large the storm is only intensifying.

At this point, let’s turn to the key questions that will lead us into a review and hopefully a better understanding of the health care reform proposals in the news today. Is the current trajectory of U.S. health care spending sustainable? Can America maintain its world competitiveness when 16%, heading for 20% of our gross national product is being spent on health care? What are the other industrialized countries spending on health care and is it even close to these numbers? When we add politics and an election year to the debate, information to help us answer these questions become critical. We need to spend some effort in understanding health care and sorting out how we think about it. Properly armed we can more intelligently determine whether certain health care proposals might solve or worsen some of these problems. What can be done about the challenges? How can we as individuals contribute to the solutions?

The Obama health care plan is complex for sure – I have never seen a health care plan that isn’t. But through a variety of programs his plan attempts to deal with a) increasing the number of American that are covered by adequate insurance (almost 50 million are not), and b) managing costs in such a manner that quality and our access to health care is not adversely affected. Republicans seek to achieve these same basic and broad goals, but their approach is proposed as being more market driven than government driven. Let’s look at what the Obama plan does to accomplish the two objectives above. Remember, by the way, that his plan was passed by congress, and begins to seriously kick-in starting in 2014. So this is the direction we are currently taking as we attempt to reform health care.

    1. Through insurance exchanges and an expansion of Medicaid,the Obama plan dramatically expands the number of Americans that will be covered by health insurance.

    1. To cover the cost of this expansion the plan requires everyone to have health insurance with a penalty to be paid if we don’t comply. It will purportedly send money to the states to cover those individuals added to state-based Medicaid programs.

    1. To cover the added costs there were a number of new taxes introduced, one being a 2.5% tax on new medical technologies and another increases taxes on interest and dividend income for wealthier Americans.

  1. The Obama plan also uses concepts such as evidence-based medicine, accountable care organizations, comparative effectiveness research and reduced reimbursement to health care providers (doctors and hospitals) to control costs.

The insurance mandate covered by points 1 and 2 above is a worthy goal and most industrialized countries outside of the U.S. provide “free” (paid for by rather high individual and corporate taxes) health care to most if not all of their citizens. It is important to note, however, that there are a number of restrictions for which many Americans would be culturally unprepared. Here is the primary controversial aspect of the Obama plan, the insurance mandate. The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided to hear arguments as to the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate as a result of a petition by 26 states attorney’s general that congress exceeded its authority under the commerce clause of the U.S. constitution by passing this element of the plan. The problem is that if the Supreme Court should rule against the mandate, it is generally believed that the Obama plan as we know it is doomed. This is because its major goal of providing health insurance to all would be severely limited if not terminated altogether by such a decision.

As you would guess, the taxes covered by point 3 above are rather unpopular with those entities and individuals that have to pay them. Medical device companies, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, doctors and insurance companies all had to “give up” something that would either create new revenue or would reduce costs within their spheres of control. As an example, Stryker Corporation, a large medical device company, recently announced at least a 1,000 employee reduction in part to cover these new fees. This is being experienced by other medical device companies and pharmaceutical companies as well. The reduction in good paying jobs in these sectors and in the hospital sector may rise as former cost structures will have to be dealt with in order to accommodate the reduced rate of reimbursement to hospitals. Over the next ten years some estimates put the cost reductions to hospitals and physicians at half a trillion dollars and this will flow directly to and affect the companies that supply hospitals and doctors with the latest medical technologies. None of this is to say that efficiencies will not be realized by these changes or that other jobs will in turn be created but this will represent painful change for a while. It helps us to understand that health care reform does have an effect both positive and negative.

Finally, the Obama plan seeks to change the way medical decisions are made. While clinical and basic research underpins almost everything done in medicine today, doctors are creatures of habit like the rest of us and their training and day-to-day experiences dictate to a great extent how they go about diagnosing and treating our conditions. Enter the concept of evidence-based medicine and comparative effectiveness research. Both of these seek to develop and utilize data bases from electronic health records and other sources to give better and more timely information and feedback to physicians as to the outcomes and costs of the treatments they are providing. There is great waste in health care today, estimated at perhaps a third of an over 2 trillion dollar health care spend annually. Imagine the savings that are possible from a reduction in unnecessary test and procedures that do not compare favorably with health care interventions that are better documented as effective. Now the Republicans and others don’t generally like these ideas as they tend to characterize them as “big government control” of your and my health care. But to be fair, regardless of their political persuasions, most people who understand health care at all, know that better data for the purposes described above will be crucial to getting health care efficiencies, patient safety and costs headed in the right direction.

A brief review of how Republicans and more conservative individuals think about health care reform. I believe they would agree that costs must come under control and that more, not fewer Americans should have access to health care regardless of their ability to pay. But the main difference is that these folks see market forces and competition as the way to creating the cost reductions and efficiencies we need. There are a number of ideas with regard to driving more competition among health insurance companies and health care providers (doctors and hospitals) so that the consumer would begin to drive cost down by the choices we make. This works in many sectors of our economy but this formula has shown that improvements are illusive when applied to health care. Primarily the problem is that health care choices are difficult even for those who understand it and are connected. The general population, however, is not so informed and besides we have all been brought up to “go to the doctor” when we feel it is necessary and we also have a cultural heritage that has engendered within most of us the feeling that health care is something that is just there and there really isn’t any reason not to access it for whatever the reason and worse we all feel that there is nothing we can do to affect its costs to insure its availability to those with serious problems.

OK, this article was not intended to be an exhaustive study as I needed to keep it short in an attempt to hold my audience’s attention and to leave some room for discussing what we can do contribute mightily to solving some of the problems. First we must understand that the dollars available for health care are not limitless. Any changes that are put in place to provide better insurance coverage and access to care will cost more. And somehow we have to find the revenues to pay for these changes. At the same time we have to pay less for medical treatments and procedures and do something to restrict the availability of unproven or poorly documented treatments as we are the highest cost health care system in the world and don’t necessarily have the best results in terms of longevity or avoiding chronic diseases much earlier than necessary.

I believe that we need a revolutionary change in the way we think about health care, its availability, its costs and who pays for it. And if you think I am about to say we should arbitrarily and drastically reduce spending on health care you would be wrong. Here it is fellow citizens – health care spending needs to be preserved and protected for those who need it. And to free up these dollars those of us who don’t need it or can delay it or avoid it need to act. First, we need to convince our politicians that this country needs sustained public education with regard to the value of preventive health strategies. This should be a top priority and it has worked to reduce the number of U.S. smokers for example. If prevention were to take hold, it is reasonable to assume that those needing health care for the myriad of life style engendered chronic diseases would decrease dramatically. Millions of Americans are experiencing these diseases far earlier than in decades past and much of this is due to poor life style choices. This change alone would free up plenty of money to handle the health care costs of those in dire need of treatment, whether due to an acute emergency or chronic condition.

Let’s go deeper on the first issue. Most of us refuse do something about implementing basic wellness strategies into our daily lives. We don’t exercise but we offer a lot of excuses. We don’t eat right but we offer a lot of excuses. We smoke and/or we drink alcohol to excess and we offer a lot of excuses as to why we can’t do anything about managing these known to be destructive personal health habits. We don’t take advantage of preventive health check-ups that look at blood pressure, cholesterol readings and body weight but we offer a lot of excuses. In short we neglect these things and the result is that we succumb much earlier than necessary to chronic diseases like heart problems, diabetes and high blood pressure. We wind up accessing doctors for these and more routine matters because “health care is there” and somehow we think we have no responsibility for reducing our demand on it.

It is difficult for us to listen to these truths but easy to blame the sick. Maybe they should take better care of themselves! Well, that might be true or maybe they have a genetic condition and they have become among the unfortunate through absolutely no fault of their own. But the point is that you and I can implement personalized preventive disease measures as a way of dramatically improving health care access for others while reducing its costs. It is far better to be productive by doing something we can control then shifting the blame.

There are a huge number of free web sites available that can steer us to a more healthful life style. A soon as you can, “Google” “preventive health care strategies”, look up your local hospital’s web site and you will find more than enough help to get you started. Finally, there is a lot to think about here and I have tried to outline the challenges but also the very powerful effect we could have on preserving the best of America’s health care system now and into the future. I am anxious to hear from you and until then – take charge and increase your chances for good health while making sure that health care is there when we need it.

Health As Static and Those Who Don’t

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Introduction: We’re Not #1

I believe Americans need a new way of thinking about health. Look where our current perspectives on the subject have gotten us – we are last among the world’s 17 most industrialized nations in all the key indicators of health. It’s hard to believe but true: we’re last in life expectancy; we have the highest rates of obesity, infant mortality, low birth weights, heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, homicide rates, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

The lead author of the Institute of Medicine, NIH sponsored study that revealed this situation remarked that “Americans get sicker, die sooner and sustain more injuries than people in all other high-income countries.” (That’s a quote from the report.) Then he added this coup de grace: “We were stunned by the propensity of findings all on the negative side – the scope of the disadvantage covers all ages, from babies to seniors, both sexes, all classes of society. If we fail to act, life spans will continue to shorten and children will face greater rates of illness than those in other nations.”

Two Ways to Think of Health

I believe Americans are overly passive about their health. Good health can only be attained and maintained by conscious deeds. These deeds require planning and disciple. Examples include exercising regularly and vigorously, dining in ways that nourish the body without causing problems and otherwise behaving in positive, active ways.

The level of health you will enjoy is clearly affected by your lifestyle choices. Your health status depends to a great extent on whether you invest in your well being or not. If you make little or no such investments, your health will depend on chance, genetics, the aging process and the timeliness of the quality of medical care you receive.

If, on the other hand, you do invest, if you seek, protect and defend an advanced state of well being, the nature of the health status you will have will be dramatically different – and better.

Therefore, we need to distinguish these two kinds of health situations – one passive, one active.

The Institute of Health report that places America last reflects that segment of America that is passive. If the quite small segment of the American population that practices active health were separated, if their health data were compiled and compared, I’m sure we would be #1.

For these and related reasons, I propose we view health in two different ways – by making a distinction between static health – which is how most view and approach their health, and earned health. The latter is what you get when you invest wisely in your own well being.

It’s a way of life I call REAL wellness.

Health As Currently Perceived

The WHO definition of health is unrealistic (nobody, not even the most devout wellite, enjoys “complete physical, mental and social well-being,” at least not every day). Most think of health in far less exalted ways. Most think they are well if they are not sick. This is pathetic. It equates with not needing immediate medical attention. For the vast majority, this is a “good enough” view of health. Thinking that way is a self-fulfilling prophesy. It means that not healthy is the best you can hope for. This is the static definition of health and it must be reformed and at least accompanied by another, comparison perspective for those Americans willing to do their part. That would be earned health.

I think we need ideas about health that remind people of a key fact, namely, that a passive situation is not as effective, desirable, protective or rewarding as a dynamic earned state of health. We should all be aware that static health, the default setting you get for just existing and doing nothing special to enhance health, can and must be reinforced and boosted.

Employing a term like earned health might remind people that health can be much more than non-illness. The term earned health can signal the availability of a richer level of well being. It can remind everyone that health at its best is more than a static condition. Health is a dynamic state; it gets better with effort, worse if ignored.

Earned health represents a higher health standard. Earned health is more ambitious and more consistent with a REAL wellness mindset and lifestyle than the current norm of health as non-sickness.

The Static/Earned Health Continuum

This continuum is another way of expressing Dr. John Travis’ original, simple line drawing model of health along a continuum, with “premature death” on the far left side of his continuum) and an ever-changing dynamic of “high level wellness” at the other, right side extreme. The “0” in the middle represents a neutral point, which could be simple non-sickness.

The Static/Earned Health Continuum

-10 ______________ 0 ______________ +10

Earned health is what happens from the neutral point to the +10 indicator. Everyone moves along an imaginary continuum of this kind every day, because health is dynamic, under constant change. By living wisely with the right behaviors, we fuel a state of health that is better than if we allow health status to be determined by the passage of time (i.e., the aging process, chance, medical interventions, circumstances and events.

This continuum is a simple way of depicting the basic fact that earned health evolves largely due to our own efforts to improve and protect our well being; static health, on the other side is affected by what happens to you.

By the way, Dr. Travis made regular expansions to his original model. You can view the latest edition and read more the continuum here. A related construct that will interest wellness enthusiasts is Dr. Travis Wellness Energy System.

Earned health is not determined or advanced by medical interventions. Static health, that is, health along the continuum from the center to the left of the of the continuum, is so influenced.

The Path to REAL Wellness

To become healthier in an earned sense, it’s up to us to act so as to move along the right side of the continuum.

The failure to appreciate the different nature of health, earned from static, partly accounts for why America can have so much medical care and yet not enjoy the best quality of health status. After all, modern medicine is a wonderful thing but there are two problems: people expect too much of it and too little of themselves.

Understanding the difference between static and earned health might encourage people to be less passive – to realize the need for and value of REAL wellness lifestyles.

Health Care Reform

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In the last few months we’ve seen a lot of Health Care Reform rules and regulations being introduced by the Health and Human Services Department. Every time that happens, the media gets hold of it and all kinds of articles are written in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the TV network news programs talk about it. All the analysts start talking about the pros and cons, and what it means to businesses and individuals.

The problem with this is, many times one writer looked at the regulation, and wrote a piece about it. Then other writers start using pieces from that first article and rewriting parts to fit their article. By the time the information gets widely distributed, the actual regulations and rules get twisted and distorted, and what actually shows up in the media sometimes just doesn’t truly represent the reality of what the regulations say.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what is going on with ObamaCare, and one of the things that I’ve noticed in discussions with clients, is that there’s an underlying set of myths that people have picked up about health care reform that just aren’t true. But because of all they’ve heard in the media, people believe these myths are actually true.

Today we’re going to talk about three myths I hear most commonly. Not everybody believes these myths, but enough do, and others are unsure what to believe, so it warrants dispelling these myths now.

The first one is that health care reform only affects uninsured people. The second one is that Medicare benefits and the Medicare program isn’t going to be affected by health care reform. And then the last one is that health care reform is going to reduce the costs of healthcare.

Health Care Reform Only Affects Uninsured

Let’s look at the first myth about health care reform only affecting uninsured people. In a lot of the discussions I have with clients, there are several expressions they use: “I already have coverage, so I won’t be affected by ObamaCare,” or “I’ll just keep my grandfathered health insurance plan,” and the last one – and this one I can give them a little bit of leeway, because part of what they’re saying is true — is “I have group health insurance, so I won’t be affected by health care reform.”

Well, the reality is that health care reform is actually going to affect everybody. Starting in 2014, we’re going to have a whole new set of health plans, and those plans have very rich benefits with lots of extra features that the existing plans today don’t offer. So these new plans are going to be higher cost.

Health Care Reform’s Effect On People With Health Insurance

People that currently have health insurance are going to be transitioned into these new plans sometime in 2014. So the insured will be directly affected by this because the health plans they have today are going away, and they will be mapped into a new ObamaCare plan in 2014.

Health Care Reform Effect On The Uninsured

The uninsured have an additional issue in that if they don’t get health insurance in 2014, they face a mandate penalty. Some of the healthy uninsured are going to look at that penalty and say, “Well, the penalty is 1% of my adjusted gross income; I make $50,000, so I’ll pay a $500 penalty or $1,000 for health insurance. In that case I’ll just take the penalty.” But either way, they will be directly affected by health care reform. Through the mandate it affects the insured as well as the uninsured.

Health Care Reform Effect On People With Grandfathered Health Plans

People that have grandfathered health insurance plans are not going to be directly affected by health care reform. But because of the life cycle of their grandfathered health plan, it’s going to make those plans more costly as they discover that there are plans available now that they can easily transfer to that have a richer set of benefits that would be more beneficial for any chronic health issues they may have.

For people who stay in those grandfathered plans, the pool of subscribers in the plan are going to start to shrink, and as that happens, the cost of those grandfathered health insurance plans will increase even faster than they are now. Therefore, people in grandfathered health plans will also be impacted by ObamaCare.

Health Care Reform Effect On People With Group Health Insurance

The last one, the small group marketplace, is going to be the most notably affected by health care reform. Even though the health care reform regulations predominantly affect large and medium-sized companies, and companies that have 50 or more employees, smaller companies will also be affected, even though they’re exempt from ObamaCare itself.

What many surveys and polls are starting to show is that some of the businesses that have 10 or fewer employees are going to look seriously at their option to drop health insurance coverage altogether, and no longer have it as an expense of the company. Instead, they will have their employees get health insurance through the health insurance exchanges.

In fact, some of the carriers are now saying they anticipate that up to 50% of small groups with 10 or fewer employees are going to drop their health insurance plan sometime between 2014 and 2016. That will have a very large effect on all people who have group health insurance, especially if they’re in one of those small companies that drop health insurance coverage.

It’s not just uninsured that are going to be affected by health care reform, everybody is going to be impacted.

Health Care Reform Will Not Affect Medicare

The next myth was that health care reform would not affect Medicare. This one is kind of funny because right from the very get-go, the most notable cuts were specifically targeting the Medicare program. When you look at Medicare’s portion of the overall federal, you can see that in 1970, Medicare was 4% of the U.S. federal budget, and by 2011, it had grown to 16% of the federal budget.

If we look at it over the last 10 years, from 2002 to 2012, Medicare is the fastest growing part of the major entitlement programs in the federal government, and it’s grown by almost 70% during that period of time.

Because of how large Medicare is and how fast it’s growing, it’s one of the key programs that ObamaCare is trying to get a handle on, so it doesn’t bankrupts the U.S. Medicare is going to be impacted, and in fact the initial cuts to Medicare have already been set at about $716 billion.

Medicare Advantage Cuts And The Effects

Of that $716 billion cut, the Medicare Advantage program gets cut the most, and will see the bulk of the effects. What that’s going to do is increase the premiums people pay for their Medicare Advantage plans, and reduce the benefits of those plans.

Increased Medicare Advantage Costs

Right now, many people choose Medicare Advantage plans because they have zero premium. When given a choice on Medicare plans, they view it as an easy choice because it’s a free program for them, “Sure, I get Medicare benefits, I don’t pay anything for it; why not.” Now they’re going to see Medicare premiums start to climb, and go from zero to $70, $80, $90, $100. We’ve already seen that with some of the Blue Cross Medicare Advantage plans this year. It’s going to get worse as we go forward in the future.

Reduced Medicare Advantage Benefits

In order to minimize the premium increases, what many Medicare Advantage plans will do is increase the copayments, increase the deductibles, and change the co-insurance rates. In order to keep the premiums down, they’ll just push more of the costs onto the Medicare Advantage recipients. Increased premiums and reduced benefits are what we’re going to see coming in Medicare Advantage plan.

Fewer Medicare Physicians

And then if that wasn’t bad enough, as Medicare doctors begin receiving lower and lower reimbursements for Medicare Advantage people, they’re going to stop taking new Medicare Advantage recipients. We’re going to see the pool of doctors to support people in Medicare starting to shrink as well, unless changes are made over the course of the next five years. So Medicare is going to be affected, and it’s going to be affected dramatically by health care reform. Everybody’s kind of on pins and needles, waiting to see what’s going to happen there.

Health Care Reform Will Reduce Healthcare Costs

The last one, and probably the biggest myth about health care reform, is everybody thinking that ObamaCare will reduce healthcare costs. That’s completely hogwash. Early on in the process, when they were trying to come up with the rules and regulations, the emphasis and one of the goals for reform was to reduce healthcare costs.

But somewhere along the line, the goal actually shifted from cost reduction to regulation of the health insurance industry. Once they made that transition, they pushed cost reductions to the back burner. There are some small cost reduction components in ObamaCare, but the real emphasis is on regulating health insurance. The new plans, for example, have much richer benefits than many plans today: richer benefits means richer prices.

Health Care Reform Subsidies: Will They Make Plans Affordable?

A lot of people hope, “The subsidies are going to make health insurance plans more affordable, won’t they?” Yes, in some cases the subsidies will help to make the plans affordable for people. But if you make $1 too much, the affordable plans are suddenly going to become very expensive and can cost thousands of dollars more over the course of a year. Will a subsidy make it affordable or not affordable is really subject to debate at this point in time. We’re going to have to actually see what the rates look like for these plans.

New Health Care Reform Taxes Passed On To Consumers

Then there’s a whole ton of new health care reform taxes that have been added into the system to help pay for ObamaCare. That means everybody who has a health insurance plan, whether it’s in a large group, a small group, or just as an individual, is going to be taxed in order to pay for the cost of reform. Health care reform adds various taxes on health care that insurance companies will have to collect and pay, but they’re just going to pass it right through to us, the consumer.

Mandate Won’t Reduce Uninsured Very Much

During the initial years of health care reform, the mandate is actually pretty weak. The mandate says that everyone must get health insurance or pay a penalty (a tax). What that’s going to do is make healthy people just sit on the sidelines and wait for the mandate to get to the point where it finally forces them to buy health insurance. People with chronic health conditions that couldn’t get health insurance previously, are all going to jump into healthcare at the beginning of 2014.

At the end of that year, the cost for the plans is going to go up in 2015. I can guarantee that that’s going to happen, because the young healthy people are not going to be motivated to get into the plans. They won’t see the benefit of joining an expensive plan, whereas the chronically ill people are going to get into the plans and drive the costs up.

Health Care Reform’s Purpose Is Just A Matter Of Semantics

The last portion of this is, one of the key things – and it’s funny, I saw it for the first two years, 2010, and ’11 – one of the key things that was listed in the documentation from the Obama administration was: Health Care Reform would help reduce the cost that we would see in the future if we do nothing today. That was emphasized over and over again. That was how they presented health care cost reduction, that it would reduce the future costs. Not today, but it would reduce what we would pay in the future if we did nothing about it now.

Well, that’s great, 10 years from now we’re going to pay less than we might have paid. And we all know how accurate future projections usually are. In the meantime, we’re all paying more today, and we’re going to pay even more in 2014 and more in 2015 and 2016. People are going to be pretty upset about that.

Conclusion

Those three myths, that health care reform is only going to affect the uninsured, that it won’t affect Medicare beneficiaries, and that ObamaCare is going to reduce healthcare costs, are just that. They are myths. There’s nothing to them.

It’s really important that you pay attention to what’s happening with health care reform, because there are more changes that are coming as we go through this year, 2013. Knowing how to position yourself so that you’re in the right spot to be able to make the best decision at the beginning of 2014 is going to be really important for everybody.