Health Insurance Vital to Financial Security

If you’ve ever wondered just how important health insurance really is, consider this: A recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says that families without insurance can only afford to completely pay for about 12% of the hospital stays they may have to have, even when they’re in the higher income brackets. Even worse, the hospital visits that those uninsured folks can’t afford to pay for represent 95 percent of all the monies billed by hospitals.

In addition, some analysts believe that the tally for uncompensated health care for the uninsured is about $73 billion a year, much of which results in higher costs for those people with insurance, and their employers who provide insurance plans.

The report also found that the 50 million people in this country who have no insurance also have no savings. The median financial assets for all uninsured families came in at a mere $20, and even in those families who make good money, assets are sparse. Half of the families who earn 400 percent of the federal poverty level (about $89,400 for a family of four this year) have less than $4,100 in the bank

When you consider that two million uninsured Americans are hospitalized each year, and that fifty-eight percent of those hospital stays are billed at more than $100,000, it’s obvious that there’s a problem here: no insurance, no payments.

Sherry Glied, HHS assistant secretary for planning and evaluation put it this way: “Health insurance is critical in helping protect families from unexpected hospital costs. This report shows that even higher-income uninsured families are struggling to meet the high costs of health care. No family should bear the burden of being one illness or accident away from bankruptcy.”

Consider this the next time you hear any government official making a statement against health insurance. Consider also: what if it were you?

NIH Proposes New Financial Disclosure Regs for Scientific Investigators

The National Institutes of Health are proposing new rules for reporting and managing financial conflicts of interest among scientists and other investigators working on NIH-funded medical research.

Frances Collins, NIH Director, said in a press briefing earlier today that updated regulations are meant to promote transparency and ensure that scientists’ findings are not under any influence from financial interest in or payments from companies with their own investment in the outcome of their research. She also said, “Clearly to move forward with innovations, partnerships between scientists and industry remain important. At the same time, we have to protect patients and maintain the public trust.”

The NIH awards more than $23 billion in research grants annually to universities, medical schools and other research institutions.

Under the newly-proposed regulations, the threshold for reporting an investigator’s financial interest would be reduced from $10,000 to $5,000. The responsibility for disclosing and determining such conflicts would become that of the institution, such as medical schools, that have been awarded research grants from the NIH. In addition, institutions would be required to provide management plans for handling any identified financial conflicts, and they must set up a website for public disclosure of their investigators’ financial interests.

The proposed regulations, “Responsibility of Applicants for Promoting Objectivity in Research for which PHS Funding is Sought and Responsible Prospective Contractors,” will be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register and open for public comment until July 21.

No Rate-Hike for Anthem-BlueCross

Los Angeles, California-based health insurer Anthem Blue Cross announced this week that policyholders will not see an insurance rate hike on May 1st, after all.

Kristin Binns, speaking for Anthem’s parent company, Wellpoint, Inc, told the Los Angeles Times that clients will “…receive adequate notification of any rate change. Until they receive information indicating otherwise, rates remain unchanged.”

Last January, many individual policyholders who were clients of Anthem were told that they would be seeing a rate increase as great as 39% on March 1st. After a significant public protest, a two month delay was announced.

Under California state law, insurance companies must give at least thirty days’ notice before altering rates.

Anthem has not yet said how long this new delay will be.

Republican Leadership Fights Against HealthCare Reform at State Level

In the wake of the passage of the healthcare reform bills, many U.S. States have expressed concern that new requirements will tax their already thin budgets, and, in the words of Republican politicians, “usurp their sovereignty.” According to Reuters in at least 12 states, Republican attorneys general have announced the filing of lawsuits to prevent the Federal government from “overstepping its constitutional powers.”

The Federal plan includes providing funds to help states through the overhaul process, which would include the requirement that all Americans have health insurance, resulting in more people being pushed into the Medicaid system that the U.S. government and the states administer for the poor.

In addition to filing lawsuits, many state legislatures are attempting to pass their own constitutional amendments and laws to keep health insurance optional. As reported by Reuters, here is the list of actions being taken:

* Attorneys general in Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington plan to band together in a collective lawsuit.
* Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli also announced plans to file a lawsuit in federal court.
* At least 36 state legislatures are weighing legislation to limit, alter or oppose the federal healthcare reform, and 27 of those are considering amending their state constitutions by ballot. Arizonans will vote on an amendment in November.
* Tea Party groups and others in Ohio and Michigan hope to collect enough signatures to place constitutional amendments to fend off federal healthcare changes on their state’s November ballot.
* Virginia was the first state to react legislatively, by enacting a statute entitled “health insurance coverage not required.”
* Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter signed a bill on Wednesday allowing the state’s attorney general to file a lawsuit opposing federal healthcare legislation requiring individuals to buy medical insurance.
* Utah’s governor has signed into law a bill requiring a state analysis of federal healthcare reform prior to implementation.
* Texas Governor Rick Perry says the plan will cost the Lone Star state $24.3 billion over 10 years,
* Florida, Georgia and Missouri have begun embarking on constitutional resolutions.
* Massachusetts and Vermont are both in the unique positions of having their own healthcare plans already in place.
* The New Hampshire legislature has passed a bill prohibiting any expansion of Medicaid, the healthcare system for the poor, unless it is paid for by the federal government. The current version of the U.S. plan requires the federal government to cover 100 percent of all new Medicaid enrollees through 2016.

At this time, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont have no plans for legislative responses to the Federal bill, while Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Texas cannot consider action because those states don’t have regular legislative sessions this year.

Medical Schools Fail in Teaching of Patient-Safety

The National Patient Safety Foundation is concerned about the state of medical schools. Specifically, according a report released by the Foundation’s Lucian Leape Institute, med schools are not doing well at imparting , “basic knowledge and the development of skills required for the provision of safe patient care.” according to “Unmet Needs: Teaching Physicians to Provide Safe Patient Care,” a report issued by the National Patient Safety Foundation’s Lucian Leape Institute.

The report, entitled, “Unmet Needs: Teaching Physicians to Provide Safe Patient Care,” summarizes the 40-person roundtable discussions that met in October, 2008 and June 2009. It also includes twelve recommendations and two major points, at least according to Lucian Leape, the Institute’s namesake and a Harvard Medical School adjunct professor of health policy.

At a press conference, Leape said that the most obvious point in the report is that our medical schools need to improve their teaching of patient safety, including facets like “…the role of human-factor engineering and related patient-safety communication and collaboration skills.” He also sad that the less obvious point that must be corrected is that, “…too often, the students are being educated in a toxic environment….” He said up to 5% of physicians who mistreat students, nurses, and residents are allowed to “poison the well” by fostering a “shame-and-blame culture” that perpetuates medical errors.

The Association of American Medical Colleges chief academic officer, John Prescott, also spoke to the press, stressing that, “Educating new doctors about patient safety is a top priority…” of his organization. He also said that many of the article’s recommendations were already being implemented.

According to a third speaker, Harvard Medical School student Jordan Bohnen, teamwork training is scant, and “public belittling or humiliation” of students is still common practice in teaching hospitals.

It is generally understood that patient safety is an important part of medical care.