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Archive for the ‘Healthcare Reform’ Category

Cutting Healthcare Costs through Patient Advocacy

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

During a recent conversation with a colleague, she informed me how she has been responsible for taking care of her elderly mother, driving her to appointments, filling her prescriptions, etc. She mentioned that her mother’s previous doctor always ordered tests – looking at her bone density, mammograms, chest X-rays – the whole nine yards. Initially, this didn’t surprise me, her mother is 87 and has emphysema and osteoporosis – the doctor is just trying to keep her healthy. However, after my colleague enlightened me, I thought about the subject a little differently.

First of all, let’s look at the age. Her mother is 87. She has stated repeated that these tests hurt her (mammograms especially, and she has very sensitive skin that tears easily). Even if these tests were positive or showed some sort of abnormality, she would most likely elect not to have surgery, radiation, or other forms of treatment.  Her mother’s attitude, “I am 87, I want to live a pain free, non-complicated life. Going to the doctor every month isn’t fun for me, or my daughter who has to take work off in order to drive me.”

I mentioned previous doctor in the first paragraph because my colleague’s mother was so fed up with all these tests and appointments that she went to a new doctor. The new doctor was very candid. She said, “Yes, I can order these tests. Yes, I could see you once a month. However, you’re pretty healthy and these tests aren’t going to tell us anything that we don’t already know, or that we could fix.” Now, the doctor could have been reimbursed by Medicare and secondary insurance for these tests – the mother wouldn’t have had to “pay” out-of-pocket anything. But, in that sense, we all are paying for unnecessary tests and visits.

This is only part of the problem. Luckily my colleague and her mother were informed enough to understand that they can say, “No” to these unnecessary tests and procedures. Other individuals might be scared into participating. This is an instance were having a patient advocate on hand, informing the patient of his/her rights would be ideal. A second ear to listen to diagnoses and conditions, and a trained mind to realize that an elderly person who is sensitive might not want these tests because they hurt or the results won’t produce anything the person doesn’t already know.

The moral of this story is to speak up when communicating with your physician. If you find yourself wondering why your physician is ordering tests, consult with another physician. Patients can cut healthcare costs on the front end by being savvy consumers.

Thanks for reading!

Your healthcare resource – Rebecca Busch

To Be or Not to Be (a Whistle Blower) that Is the Question

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

A follow up blog to a post concerning a nurse who was jailed and fined for reporting a doctor… It looks like justice was served in the end.

An Unfair Complaint

A Texas nurse is waiting to stand trial. For what you might ask… Illegal prescription use? Theft? Wrongful death? How about none of the above? Anne Mitchell is facing trial because she is a whistle blower and the doctor in question protested to the sheriff in the small Texas town that he was being harassed and defamed for no reason.

Mitchell wrote an anonymous letter complaining about Dr. Arafiles practices and “mishaps” – including a failed skin graft performed without surgical privileges, suturing a rubber tip to a patient’s crushed finger for protection and a large affinity to herbal supplements which he sold as a side business – to the medical board.

This “anonymous” letter was brought to the attention of Dr. Arafiles who immediately filed a complaint to his friend the sheriff who then issued a search warrant to seize the nurse’s computer and found the letter.

Mitchell had worked for the hospital system for over 20 years. She is a much respected member of the nursing community. She loved her job and only wanted the best for patients. She was doing what every nurse should do – report wrongdoing and highly questionable (on numerous occasions) practices performed by Dr. Arafiles.

Mitchell was charged of misuse of official information, a third-degree felony punishable by prison time and was also fired from her job at the hospital.

A Just Outcome

A jury found Mitchell not guilty. Karma also reared her ugly head, with Dr. Arafiles, the sheriff, and a hospital administrator faced criminal charges in connection with the prosecution and with the firing of Mitchell. The defendants agreed to pay Mitchell and another nurse who was fired as well $375,000 a piece for the wrongful firing.

The state medical board also charged Dr. Arafiles with poor medical judgment, nontherapeutic prescribing, failure to maintain adequate records, overbilling, witness intimidation, and other violations.

Following Dr. Arafiles’ hearing, the board gave the doctor the choice of 2 remedial education programs for physicians along with 8 hours of continuing medication education in medical record-keeping and another 8 hours in evaluating and treating thyroid disease. He has also been put on probation for 4 years and fined $5,000.

Final Lesson

Putting whistle blowers in prison would seem to be a deterrent to those in the future that witness wrongdoing. While there are certainly those that “blow their whistle” in hopes to receiving a grand payday, there are also concerned individuals that do the right thing and report the wrongdoings and injustices they witness.

We have laws in place to protect whistle blowers from retaliation. These laws are necessary to protect individuals who do the right thing and are not afraid of being call “tattletales.”

The whole point of protecting whistle blowers is to give people an incentive to report. Without an incentive we can expect fraud, theft etc. to only increase in the healthcare system.

Thanks for reading!

Your healthcare resource – Rebecca Busch

Healthcare Reform and Businesses

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Current Healthcare Statistics:

•          Small businesses on average pay about 18% more than big businesses for the same health insurance policies

•          Small business health insurance premiums have risen 113% over nine years, a growth rate of nearly 9% annually

•          99% of large firms offer healthcare coverage, while 78% of firms with 10 to 24 workers offer coverage; that drops down to just 49% among firms with fewer than 10 workers

•          Of the 45 million uninsured Americans in 2007, 22.3 million (about half) were self-employed or worked for small businesses

Healthcare Reform Changes that Affect Your Business Right Now:

•          If you have 25 or fewer employees with annual wages of less than $50,000, you can get tax credits of up to 35% of the premiums paid under the new healthcare reform.

•          Catch: Employers need to cover at least 50% of the total premium cost for their employees

•          The credit will go up to 50% in 2014 and can be used for two consecutive years after that.

•          Businesses with 10 or fewer employees and annual wages of less than $25,000 will receive full access to the tax credit.

•          Small businesses that are tax-exempt are eligible for tax credits of up to 25% of the amount they contribute toward an employee’s health insurance premium.

•            4 million businesses are expected to be eligible for the credit this year

•          Holes: The IRS form that small business owners will fill out next year to claim the tax credit for 2010 is in draft form, and the IRS has not yet created instructions for how to use it

•          The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the credit could save small businesses $40 billion by 2019

What Can You Do to Trim Costs Right Now?

1.       Add a wellness or health management program

2.       Change plan design

3.       Perform a dependent eligibility audit

4.       Give incentives for employees to participate in wellness programs to improve the overall wellness of the group

Thanks for reading!

Your healthcare resource – Rebecca Busch

Patient Advocacy – More Tips on How to Be an Empowered Patient

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

What can you do if a doctor refuses to treat you as a patient?

First of all, if a doctor doesn’t want to treat you, is that the type of person you want in charge of your health? Probably not, so the best tip is to find a new doctor.

However, if you believe that this doctor is the only doctor in your area that can treat your disease, or you have heard such marvelous things about this doctor and you can’t give up just yet, you have a couple of options.

1.       File a complaint with the State. You can report the doctor to the State for refusing to treat you. You should be weary though, this will not likely result in any disciplinary action unless the doctor has discriminated against you due to sex or race.

2.       Report the doctor to the insurer. If you report the doctor to the insurer, the insurer might investigate and warn the doctor or even drop the doctor from its plan. Once again, this is unlikely unless there is some sort of discrimination attached.

Overall, patients should be careful when pursuing this avenue. If word gets around that you’re complaining about doctors, less and less doctors might be less willing to take you as a patient.

What is the “fail first” medication policy some insurers use?

Many insurers require the least expensive medication or treatments be exhausted first before they are willing to shell out more money for the more expensive medications and treatments. This might make sense, but many times, the less expensive medications and treatments do not work, wasting a patient’s time and resources before they can receive the drug they need to heal.

Advocates in New York are trying to stop this practice saying it puts the patient through unnecessary pain and suffering.

Is your insurer doing this to you? Write your Congressmen, join an advocacy, and spread the word that this is happening.

Thanks for reading!

Your healthcare resource – Rebecca Busch

Chicago – New Healthcare Fraud Hot Bed?

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Medicare fraud is hitting Chicago – hard. Chicago’s vulnerable population of senior citizens is receiving the brunt of the fraud, with the unethically targeting nursing homes and elderly living communities. A recent scheme involving elderly immigrants and durable medical equipment was snuffed out by authorities, but not before the fraudsters stole Medicare ID numbers.

Other recent Chicago healthcare fraud schemes include:

Dr. Jaswinder Rai Chhibber, owner of Chicago’s Cottage Grove Community Medical Clinic – charged with ordering unnecessary diagnostic tests for seniors and other patients in an effort to boost revenues from Medicare and Medicaid. Tests included echocardiograms, electrocardiograms and lung function tests, among others.

Marilyn Maravilla, a Chicago nurse, and four others were charged in a criminal complaint with paying kickbacks to various health care providers in exchange for referrals to her agency, Goodwill Home Healthcare Inc. of Lincolnwood. This fraud is part of a bigger, $200 billion scheme brought down by the HEAT taskforce.

Virgilio Orillo and Merigrace Orillo, owners of Chicago’s Chalice Home Healthcare Services Inc., were charged in a criminal indictment with falsifying documents in an effort to boost Medicare payments. The alleged scam, according to the government: Patients were listed as being homebound and in need of skilled assistance when it wasn’t true. (Medicare pays for home health care only for patients who meet these criteria.)

Thanks for reading!

Your healthcare resource – Rebecca Busch

Avoiding Fraud, Medical, and Billing Errors in the Healthcare Arena

Monday, March 21st, 2011

A HealthGrades report indicates that there have been between 400,000-1.2 million error-induced deaths during 1996–2006 in the United States. On top of that, $60 to $80 billion is lost each year in the healthcare system due to fraud, waste, and abuse. How can you protect yourself from these alarming numbers?

As a patient you have many resources at your fingertips. Before you even visit a healthcare facility or provider, perform a due diligence check on both the facility and the provider.

How to Research a Doctor

First, confirm your physician’s NPI number – all physicians are required to have a NPI number for Medicare billing. Even if a physician is not billing Medicare, they need to have a NPI number to refer patients to other physicians.

Here is a free site to find your physician’s and facilities’ (where you will be receiving the treatment) NPI number.

Second, authenticate your physician’s and facilities’ information with the NPI registry. Here you will be able to confirm the provider’s legal business name and/or location, contact information, and NPI number. The NPI Registry is a free service located here.

Third, research the background history of your provider to see whether he/she has been disciplined, fined, or has had a suspended license. The State of Illinois License Lookup allows you to confirm all licenses distributed by the State of Illinois including MD, RN, PharmD, DO, etc.

Finally, a simple Internet search on the provider/facility may garner surprising results. Oftentimes, pending lawsuits and court filings appear at the top of Internet searches if the provider/facility is involved.

If you suspect anything, remember to request a copy of your medical records and billing statements. By performing your own mini-investigation you will be able to determine if your provider is supplementing or omitting information from your medical records or billing statements.

Useful sites:

NPI Registry

NPI Number Lookup

State of Illinois License Lookup

Are Digital Computers the Doctors of the Future? Elementary My Dear (Dr.) Watson

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

IBM made a splash this week introducing the first computer competitor in the hit game show Jeopardy. Watson, as “he” is so affectionately called, won the battle Man vs. Machine besting champions Ken Jennings (highest Jeopardy earner) and Brad Rutten (highest amount for a single game). While Watson certainly provided much entertainment value (answering the same wrong as Jennings in one round and other slight glitches) there are higher implications for this robot.

How can IBM harness this power and intelligence to benefit the health community?  A collaboration is under way between Watson’s creators at IBM and experts at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine.

According to Dr. Siegel, director of the Maryland Imaging Research Technologies Lab at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Watson, “has incredible potential to revolutionize how we interact with medical records; to be a really valuable assistant to me; to read all the literature pertinent to my practice … to always be at my side and help suggest problems, things in the medical records I need to know about; to suggest diagnoses and treatment options I may not have considered.”

Are you ready for a Dr. Watson in your next operating room? I wonder what his bedside manner will be like.

Click here to read the full article.

Can Health & Wellness Programs Fight Obesity?

Friday, January 21st, 2011

According to a recent report titled, “Obesity and its Relation to Mortality and Morbidity Costs” almost 30% of the adult population is overweight, obese, or morbidly obese.

  • Overweight – 19.2% (Body Mass Index of 25.0 to 29.9)
  • Obese – 7.4% (Body Mass Index of 30.0 to 39.9)
  • Extremely Obese – 4.2% (Body Mass Index of 40.0 +)

Some other shocking finds concerning obesity and health from the New York Times:

  • Obese Americans spend about 42% more on health care than normal-weight Americans
  • Obese Americans spend about $1,429 more on health care each year than the roughly $3,400 spent by normal-weight Americans
  • The average American consumes 250 more calories per day than just two decades ago
  • Medical spending on obesity-related conditions is estimated to have reached $147 billion a year in 2008. A figure that represents almost 10% of all medical spending

How can health and wellness programs curb this epidemic? First, group programs and working with others on a common goal keep people on track (think Weight Watchers). If employees are accountable for their actions to others, they will more likely stay on task. This also builds comradery and teamwork skills.

Second, you can show your employees that you care for their well-being and want them to be healthy. You can also reduce absenteeism, increase employee loyalty and witness a major decrease in health insurance costs by offering health and wellness services.

What are some services you can offer? Weight management, healthy eating, healthcare financial services, patient advocate services, concierge visits, gym memberships, group fitness programs, counseling, etc. to name a few.

The major thing is to show your employees you care about their well-being and want them to be healthy and feel great. We can fight obesity by re-learning healthy eating/living habits and decrease healthcare spend exponentially.

More on Employers Pushing the Rising Cost of Healthcare onto Employees, Families

Friday, December 31st, 2010

The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET) perform an annual survey regarding the nature of employer-sponsored health benefits at nonfederal private and public companies nationwide. This is the twelfth such survey. The results are grim, for employees at least.

It’s no longer news that healthcare costs are on the rise. Most have begun to brace themselves for cost increases as a result of healthcare reform. In our recent blog post on the NNNN survey we reviewed the plans of large employers to pass the cost increase onto employees in 2011. For the most part, we are prepared to see our healthcare costs rise after the reform takes effect. But we don’t have to wait to feel these increases. Across the board, the average employee has already seen these increases. The survey certainly shows increases- especially in premiums for family and individual plans. The most notable increase may be that seen in the employee contribution.

Historically, employers and employees have shared the burden of rising premium costs. In 2010, however, employers did not increase their dollar-amount contribution. As a result, employee contribution rose 14% from 2009. Employer contribution did not rise.

The survey reports that 27% of employees have deductibles of $1,000 or more for single coverage. This is up from 22% in 2009. The average deductible is considerably less for workers with PPOs or HMOs. Prescription drugs, physicians visits, and preventative care are usually covered (with, of course, a co-pay or coinsurance) before a deductible is met. The out-of pocket maximum varies considerably for workers and plans.

Where are you better off, a large firm or a small firm? For the most part, it’s hard to tell. But, if you’re hoping to pay less of your premium, start sending your resume to small companies. 35% of employees at small firms pay nothing towards single coverage premium and 13% pay nothing towards family coverage. Only 6% at large firms pay nothing for single coverage and 1% towards family coverage.

Employers were not shy about reporting the changes nor the reasons for them.  Increased cost sharing, reduction in the scope of coverage, and increased employee contribution were all responses to the poor economy.

Keep in mind that this survey was conducted from January to May 2010. After our previous post on Large Employers passing rising health costs onto employees, we can only imagine what the survey will show in 2011.

Employers Reining in Costs: Cutting Ineligible Dependents Cuts Healthcare Spend

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

A recent Wall Street Journal article explained that employers are taking new initiatives to decrease healthcare costs. One simple solution employers are turning to – dependent eligibility audits. Dependents costs employers around $2,100 per year and an average of 2 – 10% of all dependents are ineligible.

Typically employers do not require employees to submit documents to confirm the eligibility of dependents – many currently use the honor system, entrusting that employees aren’t out the cheat their employers. However, times are tough and employers are viewing these dependent eligibility audits as an easy way to cut cost without laying off employers or decreasing health benefits.

So how do the audits typically work? Medical Business Associates, Inc. conducts electronic audits using a secure sever and email communication. Typically, there is an amnesty period for employees to drop dependents without penalty. Then employers receive information about required documents for each dependent. Employees then upload, mail or fax the required information to keep their dependents on the plan.

According to a CNN article, removing ineligible dependents could save companies between 4% to 6% of their annual healthcare costs. With Medical Business Associates, Inc. electronic solution, all required documents are stored, so if a company decides to conduct a follow up audit, employees will not be required to submit duplicate birth or marriage certificates if dependents status hasn’t changed.

For more information on MBA’s audit solution visit here.