Do Patient CoPayments Produce Better Health Outcomes?

Rising healthcare expenses in developed nations have made it difficult for many people to seek the medical care they need. From 2011 to 2012, healthcare costs in the United States increased 3.7 percent, costing consumers $2.8 trillion, or $8,915 each person. Some analysts estimated the latest figures to be closer to $3.8 trillion with government spending at a whopping 17.9% of GDP.

Australians spent $132.4 billion on healthcare, while people in the UK spent £24.85 billion. Government expenditure in both these countries sit at between 9-10% of GDP, which may seem more manageable compared to the US, however healthcare leaders in both these countries are taking a firm view of preventing any escalation of these percentages.

With the high costs of health care around the world, many stakeholders wonder if introducing or adjusting copayments will produce better health outcomes.

The topic is being hotly debated in Australia, where co-payments for General Practitioner visits have been proposed by the Liberal government in its most recent Federal Budget announcement. However, while healthcare stakeholders seem obsessed with costs, the question is do copayments actually improve health outcomes for these nations?

Copayments and Health Outcomes: Is There a Correlation?

Researchers have studied the effects copayments have on health outcomes for many years. The RAND experiment was conducted in the 1970s, but a recent report was prepared for the Kaiser Family Foundation. Jonathan Gruber, Ph.D., from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, examined the RAND experiment and brought to light that high copayments may reduce public health care utilisation, but may not affect their health outcomes. The study followed a broad cross section of people who were rich, poor, sick, healthy, adults, and children.

In a 2010 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found the opposite was true for senior citizens. Those that had higher copayments reduced their number of doctor visits. This worsened their illnesses, which resulted in costly hospital care. This was especially true for those who had a low income, lower education, and chronic disease.

Whilst intuitively we may feel that copayments in healthcare may make us value our own health more, these two studies signal that this is not necessarily the case. In fact, higher copays can lead to additional healthcare costs to the health system due to indirectly increasing hospital stays for the elderly.

Those that are not senior citizens may be able to avoid hospital care because they don’t have a high medical risk and hence be less adversely affected by such copayments. In making any conclusions about introducing copayment, we could also take learnings from the relationship of health outcomes and which is another consideration when studying the effects of copayments.

Copayments for Medication: Does It Affect Medication Adherence and Health Outcomes?

A study funded by the Commonwealth Fund, found that when US based insurance company Pitney Bowes eliminated copayments for people with diabetes and vascular disease, medication adherence improved by 2.8%. Another study examining the effects of reducing or eliminating medication copayments found that adherence increased by 3.8% for people taking medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and congestive heart failure.

Considering medication adherence is important when trying to determine if copayments affect health outcomes. When people take medications as prescribed to prevent or treat illness and disease, they have better health outcomes. A literature review published in the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (MIH/NLM) explains that many patients with high cost sharing ended up with a decline in medication adherence, and in turn, poorer health outcomes.

The correlation of medication adherence and health outcomes is found in other parts of the world as well. According to the Australian Prescriber, increasing copayments affects patients who have a low income and chronic medical conditions requiring multiple medications. When they can’t afford their medications, they either reduce or stop many of their medications, which can lead to serious health problems. These patients then need more doctor visits and in severe cases, hospital care.

Medication copayments effects on health outcomes were also found in a Post-Myocardial Infarction Free Rx Event and Economic Evaluation (MI FREEE) trial. Nonwhite heart attack patients were more likely to take their medications following a heart attack if copayments were eliminated, which decreased their readmission rates significantly.

Health Outcomes Based on Medication vs. Medical Care?

Is it possible that expensive copayments may only affect health outcomes for people who are on multiple medications? The research seems to reflect that may be the case. People seem to go to the doctor less when copayments are high, but it seems that senior citizens are the ones that end up suffering the poorer health outcomes due to the lack of regular medical supervision and possibly poor medication adherence. The decreased medication adherence seems to have the biggest effect on health outcomes, especially when the prescription drugs are for the treatment of an illness or disease. It seems as though the elderly and people needing multiple medications will benefit the most from lower copayments in terms of better health outcomes.

Should copayments for visiting doctors be introduced in countries like Australia?

My thoughts are therefore, if copayments are going to be introduced for visiting a doctor, we should provide exemptions for those that cannot afford it, e.g. senior citizens and pensioners. We also need to look at putting a cap on copayments, so that those with chronic conditions genuinely requiring multiple medical visits are not ridiculously out-of-pocket.

Human nature is such that when we receive something for free, it is often not valued appropriately. I do think that placing a nominal price on our healthcare is a good thing in Australia, as I do believe that the vast majority of people will appreciate the generally good quality of care we receive in this country.

Copayments are appropriate for those that can afford it, and should not be at the expense of those who cannot. This supports the premise of egalitarian healthcare systems that Australia aspires to continue.

Here is where we need to be careful about how we debate the issue, and not place the issue in one generalised basket. I am very much in favour of healthcare system that is adaptive and customised to individual needs, and this is what we should aspire to do in our discussions about copayments.

What do you think?

Energesse is a specialist consulting firm for the Healthcare & Wellness industry. We consult to hospitals, biotech, pharmaceutical, health insurance companies, not-for-profits, wellness businesses and governments on solving their big challenges through strategizing, introducing cutting-edge solutions and technologies as well as delivering improved health and economic outcomes.

Significance of Public Health for the Health Sector of Pakistan

Pakistan, as we all know is a developing country and we are currently going through lots of challenges and issues. These issues vary from terrorism, energy crisis and poverty to poorly developed education and health systems.

Health, which is the basic human right, has unfortunately not been our priority. This statement is supported by the fact that according to the World Health Organization 2013 statistics, the health system of our country is currently ranked as 122 out of 190 countries. This is a very alarming figure especially considering the fact that one of our neighboring countries Iran is ranked as 93 in the same list. This particular figure definitely draws our attention towards issues in the health sector which we are currently facing.

Firstly, we need to understand what is meant by health system. The health system does not only include hospitals and clinicians. It rather involves anything and everything which directly or indirectly affects the health of populations. The health system is composed of hospitals, environment, urban planning, food, nutrition and numerous other sectors which are directly or indirectly involved in determining the health of populations. What this means is the fact that by merely building new hospitals and producing more clinicians, we cannot make our health systems better. There has to be a multi-sectoral approach which needs to involve all the components of the health system.

The next and the most important factor to consider is that we need to reshape our current health system model. If we want to improve the health status of our population, we have to base our health system on the preventive approach rather than the curative approach, that is, we need to promote public health. The time has now come where we must come out of the downstream (clinician) approach and move towards upstream (public health) approach. This is the only way by which we can survive and can make the health status of our population better. We should reconsider and amend our current health policy and we will have to develop it on the model of public health. This is the need of the time and if we want to survive and compete with the world, we must follow the public health model instead of the clinician’s model.

At present, there are only a handful of institutes all across the country which offer professional studies in the field of preventive medicine. In order to produce skilled public health specialists, we need to have many academic institutes whose focus is solely on preventive medicine. The government should also support such institutes and provide appropriate funding to them, so that they can eventually become stable and sustainable. Thus the only way to make our health sector prosper is by working on public health. If this is not done on a priority basis and we are not able to shift our focus from clinicians model to public health model, it is feared that we will lag far behind as far as the health sector is concerned.

Health and Your Inner Teacher

When you travel the halls of your memory, who do you remember as your most influential teachers? How did these teachers influence your life and change it for the better? Great teachers spark more than math, literature, or science in your life. They spark something else as well, something deeper and long-lasting that stays with you. As an individual living your life, you have another teacher you may not have touched on in your memory. That teacher is you! When you’re trying to get healthy and support your body and mind better, your inner teacher is key toward achieving what you want.

Health involves learning. You learn about your body and which lifestyle habits foster balanced health, versus which habits derail health. But you also learn something else. You learn about yourself as a person, how you face challenges, and which obstacles are blocking your road to health. The journey toward health involves more than regimens for diet, exercise, and sleep. The journey is unique to who you are and where you’re at in life too.

Bringing out your inner teacher to learn about your health isn’t always easy. Everyone wants to believe they are perfectly healthy, and sometimes facing the reality that your health needs more support can be challenging. It means admitting that you’re not perfect and that you still have more to learn. It takes knowing that supplements, medications, or doctor’s visits alone can’t keep you healthy. You as a person are an essential part of your health, and acknowledging this fact takes honesty and courage.

When you call forth your inner teacher in an open and honest way, you can explore your physical and mental-emotional health through a unique lens. You can ask yourself if there are societal and personal expectations that are burdening you and blocking your health. You can explore whether some part of your past unfairly has a hold on your health and who you are today. You can explore your relationships with yourself and other people to see whether they are supporting or hindering health. You can also notice how you manage stress and emotions and whether your current approach could use some adjustment for better health.

Good teachers both challenge you out of your comfort zone and patiently support you through the discomfort that can result. Getting healthier can feel strange and uncomfortable at times. The body and mind are used to doing what they always do—in other words, homeostasis or equilibrium. They will maintain states of health, but they also maintain states of unbalanced health. To get healthy, your inner teacher has to push you beyond comfortably unhealthy habits. On the other hand, your inner teacher also has to patiently help you through these potentially awkward transition periods and regularly remind you: “I can do this!”

What steps have you taken lately to bring out your inner teacher on the road to better health? If you feel that it’s been a while since you’ve listened to your inner teacher, that’s okay. He or she is always there and you can turn to that side of yourself when your health feels neglected or stuck. Remember to give your inner teacher the same respect that you would any other great teacher in your life.

As you head into the autumn season, a period of time that is infused with transition in the air around you, encourage your inner teacher by asking yourself the following questions:

1) What are current strengths in my health?

2) What are some weaker points of my health that require more attention and learning?

3) Without focusing too much on the past or the future, what steps can I take today toward better health?

4) What are my obstacles to health in the present moment?

5) How can I create space in my life for my inner teacher to express itself and help me with health?

As you ask yourself these questions, you’ll find that your body and mind naturally know which direction to go in—if you listen to them. By paying attention to your inner teacher, you’ll learn new things about your health and how better to support it. And you’ll enter your own hall of fame of great teachers.

What Can You Do With A Health Promotion Degree?

Health promotion aims to enrich the health of individuals through awareness in environmental factors, education, and behavior. Health promotion can be described as a way to positively guide the psychological, environmental, biological, and physical health of individuals and communities. Health promotion can include behavior, skills, attitudes, and health knowledge. By being educated on this topic, individuals can help prevent disease and increase their quality of life through behavior changes. Through education and prevention, individuals may reduce financial costs for themselves, employers, and what insurance companies might spend for medical treatment.

Individuals working in the health field may be responsible to administer the following tasks: construct social marketing and mass media campaigns, organize community action, conduct research for scholarly articles, and assess, develop and implement health education programs. Workers may also be responsible for writing grants and advocating for community needs.

Those considering earning a degree in health promotion should be interested in issues in fitness and wellness and the health of others. They should want to advocate for healthy living and come up with creative ideas for healthy lifestyle changes. A career in promoting healthy living could include helping individuals manage and treat stress, physical inactivity, substance and alcohol abuse, insufficient nutrition, and unsafe sexual activity. In this field, workers may be responsible for offering behavior change suggestions, and setting realistic goals for their clients, and following up on medical screenings and appointments. Students may be suited for careers in hospital programs, fitness programs, government and nonprofit health agencies, hospitals, and schools. Those with a degree in health promotion may also be qualified to be a personal health coach, work in a health and wellness center, or in a pregnancy facility or program.

Promoting health goes a step beyond health education by requiring intensive-specific study. Students may take classes in stress management, anatomy and physiology, and health management. Those in this field may be employed through schools by teaching a health class, or working in health services to promote a healthy lifestyle for students. Colleges may hire individuals with a degree in health promotion to teach a course, promote community organizing, or train peers in disease prevention. Individuals deciding to pursue a health degree may take foundational courses such as nutrition, psychology, biology, and statistics. Through studying health education and promotion, participants should be able to help other improve their own wellness in order to live a longer and more satisfying life.

Government-Run Health Care Cannot Work!

It would be GREAT if our government could successfully manage American’s Health Care needs. I would be all in if the government guaranteed good health for everyone, and they were even remotely qualified to make such a guarantee. The truth is we all face different health issues at different ages. The recent health issues I faced were handled by doctors, hospitals, and nurses. I had made poor food and exercise choices and suffered a stroke because of those poor choices. Health professionals guided my recovery and no person from the government or from the health insurance company ever visited me while I was hospitalized or in recovery. The task of defining what a health care system looks should be determined by you and your doctor, not the health insurance companies, government, and lawyers that are currently the face of our health system.

The government, i.e. politicians, claim we all need health insurance, but who will pay for the premiums, co-pays, and not-covered illnesses and accidents? Will everyone enjoy good health because they a health insurance policy? Will everyone’s health insurance be free since the ACA has mandated everyone own a policy regardless of their individual health needs or financial position? Basically, at gun-point, ‘rhetorically speaking,’ the government is forcing everyone to purchase health insurance? If legal, where will the money come from to pay the health insurance premiums, or the health professionals who diagnose our illnesses? Where will the money come from to finance the equipment needed to diagnose and/or treat our health needs? Where will the money come from for the buildings needed to house the equipment and the facilities for the infirmed? These are just a few of the questions I have for those who profess the government should be responsible for our individual health needs. The last time I checked the government didn’t have any money to pay for anything unless they taxed you and me to get it.

What, you mean we already have a government-run health care system? Is that why my taxes are so high? Is that why I read in the newspaper recently that the government is paying millions of dollars every year for fraudulent health care claims? Is that why doctors are leaving the government-run health system for the more efficient private practices? Is that why the government is making criminals out of Americans who would rather not purchase health insurance policies? Golly, I hope the government does a better job of running Obamacare than they did managing health needs for our veterans through the Veterans Administration.

Health Savings Accounts – An American Innovation in Health Insurance

INTRODUCTON – The term “health insurance” is commonly used in the United States to describe any program that helps pay for medical expenses, whether through privately purchased insurance, social insurance or a non-insurance social welfare program funded by the government. Synonyms for this usage include “health coverage,” “health care coverage” and “health benefits” and “medical insurance.” In a more technical sense, the term is used to describe any form of insurance that provides protection against injury or illness.

In America, the health insurance industry has changed rapidly during the last few decades. In the 1970’s most people who had health insurance had indemnity insurance. Indemnity insurance is often called fee-forservice. It is the traditional health insurance in which the medical provider (usually a doctor or hospital) is paid a fee for each service provided to the patient covered under the policy. An important category associated with the indemnity plans is that of consumer driven health care (CDHC). Consumer-directed health plans allow individuals and families to have greater control over their health care, including when and how they access care, what types of care they receive and how much they spend on health care services.

These plans are however associated with higher deductibles that the insured have to pay from their pocket before they can claim insurance money. Consumer driven health care plans include Health Reimbursement Plans (HRAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), high deductible health plans (HDHps), Archer Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Of these, the Health Savings Accounts are the most recent and they have witnessed rapid growth during the last decade.


A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged medical savings account available to taxpayers in the United States. The funds contributed to the account are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. These may be used to pay for qualified medical expenses at any time without federal tax liability.

Another feature is that the funds contributed to Health Savings Account roll over and accumulate year over year if not spent. These can be withdrawn by the employees at the time of retirement without any tax liabilities. Withdrawals for qualified expenses and interest earned are also not subject to federal income taxes. According to the U.S. Treasury Office, ‘A Health Savings Account is an alternative to traditional health insurance; it is a savings product that offers a different way for consumers to pay for their health care.

HSA’s enable you to pay for current health expenses and save for future qualified medical and retiree health expenses on a tax-free basis.’ Thus the Health Savings Account is an effort to increase the efficiency of the American health care system and to encourage people to be more responsible and prudent towards their health care needs. It falls in the category of consumer driven health care plans.

Origin of Health Savings Account

The Health Savings Account was established under the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act passed by the U.S. Congress in June 2003, by the Senate in July 2003 and signed by President Bush on December 8, 2003.

Eligibility –

The following individuals are eligible to open a Health Savings Account –

– Those who are covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).
– Those not covered by other health insurance plans.
– Those not enrolled in Medicare4.

Also there are no income limits on who may contribute to an HAS and there is no requirement of having earned income to contribute to an HAS. However HAS’s can’t be set up by those who are dependent on someone else’s tax return. Also HSA’s cannot be set up independently by children.

What is a High Deductible Health plan (HDHP)?

Enrollment in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) is a necessary qualification for anyone wishing to open a Health Savings Account. In fact the HDHPs got a boost by the Medicare Modernization Act which introduced the HSAs. A High Deductible Health Plan is a health insurance plan which has a certain deductible threshold. This limit must be crossed before the insured person can claim insurance money. It does not cover first dollar medical expenses. So an individual has to himself pay the initial expenses that are called out-of-pocket costs.

In a number of HDHPs costs of immunization and preventive health care are excluded from the deductible which means that the individual is reimbursed for them. HDHPs can be taken both by individuals (self employed as well as employed) and employers. In 2008, HDHPs are being offered by insurance companies in America with deductibles ranging from a minimum of $1,100 for Self and $2,200 for Self and Family coverage. The maximum amount out-of-pocket limits for HDHPs is $5,600 for self and $11,200 for Self and Family enrollment. These deductible limits are called IRS limits as they are set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In HDHPs the relation between the deductibles and the premium paid by the insured is inversely propotional i.e. higher the deductible, lower the premium and vice versa. The major purported advantages of HDHPs are that they will a) lower health care costs by causing patients to be more cost-conscious, and b) make insurance premiums more affordable for the uninsured. The logic is that when the patients are fully covered (i.e. have health plans with low deductibles), they tend to be less health conscious and also less cost conscious when going for treatment.

Opening a Health Savings Account

An individual can sign up for HSAs with banks, credit unions, insurance companies and other approved companies. However not all insurance companies offer HSAqualified health insurance plans so it is important to use an insurance company that offers this type of qualified insurance plan. The employer may also set up a plan for the employees. However, the account is always owned by the individual. Direct online enrollment in HSA-qualified health insurance is available in all states except Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Contributions to the Health Savings Account

Contributions to HSAs can be made by an individual who owns the account, by an employer or by any other person. When made by the employer, the contribution is not included in the income of the employee. When made by an employee, it is treated as exempted from federal tax. For 2008, the maximum amount that can be contributed (and deducted) to an HSA from all sources is:
$2,900 (self-only coverage)
$5,800 (family coverage)

These limits are set by the U.S. Congress through statutes and they are indexed annually for inflation. For individuals above 55 years of age, there is a special catch up provision that allows them to deposit additional $800 for 2008 and $900 for 2009. The actual maximum amount an individual can contribute also depends on the number of months he is covered by an HDHP (pro-rated basis) as of the first day of a month. For eg If you have family HDHP coverage from January 1,2008 until June 30, 2008, then cease having HDHP coverage, you are allowed an HSA contribution of 6/12 of $5,800, or $2,900 for 2008. If you have family HDHP coverage from January 1,2008 until June 30, 2008, and have self-only HDHP coverage from July 1, 2008 to December 31, 2008, you are allowed an HSA contribution of 6/12 x $5,800 plus 6/12 of $2,900, or $4,350 for 2008. If an individual opens an HDHP on the first day of a month, then he can contribute to HSA on the first day itself. However, if he/she opens an account on any other day than the first, then he can contribute to the HSA from the next month onwards. Contributions can be made as late as April 15 of the following year. Contributions to the HSA in excess of the contribution limits must be withdrawn by the individual or be subject to an excise tax. The individual must pay income tax on the excess withdrawn amount.

Contributions by the Employer

The employer can make contributions to the employee’s HAS account under a salary reduction plan known as Section 125 plan. It is also called a cafeteria plan. The contributions made under the cafeteria plan are made on a pre-tax basis i.e. they are excluded from the employee’s income. The employer must make the contribution on a comparable basis. Comparable contributions are contributions to all HSAs of an employer which are 1) the same amount or 2) the same percentage of the annual deductible. However, part time employees who work for less than 30 hours a week can be treated separately. The employer can also categorize employees into those who opt for self coverage only and those who opt for a family coverage. The employer can automatically make contributions to the HSAs on the behalf of the employee unless the employee specifically chooses not to have such contributions by the employer.

Withdrawals from the HSAs

The HSA is owned by the employee and he/she can make qualified expenses from it whenever required. He/She also decides how much to contribute to it, how much to withdraw for qualified expenses, which company will hold the account and what type of investments will be made to grow the account. Another feature is that the funds remain in the account and role over from year to year. There are no use it or lose it rules. The HSA participants do not have to obtain advance approval from their HSA trustee or their medical insurer to withdraw funds, and the funds are not subject to income taxation if made for ‘qualified medical expenses’. Qualified medical expenses include costs for services and items covered by the health plan but subject to cost sharing such as a deductible and coinsurance, or co-payments, as well as many other expenses not covered under medical plans, such as dental, vision and chiropractic care; durable medical equipment such as eyeglasses and hearing aids; and transportation expenses related to medical care. Nonprescription, over-the-counter medications are also eligible. However, qualified medical expense must be incurred on or after the HSA was established.

Tax free distributions can be taken from the HSA for the qualified medical expenses of the person covered by the HDHP, the spouse (even if not covered) of the individual and any dependent (even if not covered) of the individual.12 The HSA account can also be used to pay previous year’s qualified expenses subject to the condition that those expenses were incurred after the HSA was set up. The individual must preserve the receipts for expenses met from the HSA as they may be needed to prove that the withdrawals from the HSA were made for qualified medical expenses and not otherwise used. Also the individual may have to produce the receipts before the insurance company to prove that the deductible limit was met. If a withdrawal is made for unqualified medical expenses, then the amount withdrawn is considered taxable (it is added to the individuals income) and is also subject to an additional 10 percent penalty. Normally the money also cannot be used for paying medical insurance premiums. However, in certain circumstances, exceptions are allowed.

These are –

1) to pay for any health plan coverage while receiving federal or state unemployment benefits.
2) COBRA continuation coverage after leaving employment with a company that offers health insurance coverage.
3) Qualified long-term care insurance.
4) Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, including deductibles, co-pays, and coinsurance for: Part A (hospital and inpatient services), Part B (physician and outpatient services), Part C (Medicare HMO and PPO plans) and Part D (prescription drugs).

However, if an individual dies, becomes disabled or reaches the age of 65, then withdrawals from the Health Savings Account are considered exempted from income tax and additional 10 percent penalty irrespective of the purpose for which those withdrawals are made. There are different methods through which funds can be withdrawn from the HSAs. Some HSAs provide account holders with debit cards, some with cheques and some have options for a reimbursement process similar to medical insurance.

Growth of HSAs

Ever since the Health Savings Accounts came into being in January 2004, there has been a phenomenal growth in their numbers. From around 1 million enrollees in March 2005, the number has grown to 6.1 million enrollees in January 2008.14 This represents an increase of 1.6 million since January 2007, 2.9 million since January 2006 and 5.1 million since March 2005. This growth has been visible across all segments. However, the growth in large groups and small groups has been much higher than in the individual category. According to the projections made by the U.S. Treasury Department, the number of HSA policy holders will increase to 14 million by 2010. These 14 million policies will provide cover to 25 to 30 million U.S. citizens.

In the Individual Market, 1.5 million people were covered by HSA/HDHPs purchased as on January 2008. Based on the number of covered lives, 27 percent of newly purchased individual policies (defined as those purchased during the most recent full month or quarter) were enrolled in HSA/HDHP coverage. In the small group market, enrollment stood at 1.8 million as of January 2008. In this group 31 percent of all new enrollments were in the HSA/HDHP category. The large group category had the largest enrollment with 2.8 million enrollees as of January 2008. In this category, six percent of all new enrollments were in the HSA/HDHP category.

Benefits of HSAs

The proponents of HSAs envisage a number of benefits from them. First and foremost it is believed that as they have a high deductible threshold, the insured will be more health conscious. Also they will be more cost conscious. The high deductibles will encourage people to be more careful about their health and health care expenses and will make them shop for bargains and be more vigilant against excesses in the health care industry. This, it is believed, will reduce the growing cost of health care and increase the efficiency of the health care system in the United States. HSA-eligible plans typically provide enrollee decision support tools that include, to some extent, information on the cost of health care services and the quality of health care providers. Experts suggest that reliable information about the cost of particular health care services and the quality of specific health care providers would help enrollees become more actively engaged in making health care purchasing decisions. These tools may be provided by health insurance carriers to all health insurance plan enrollees, but are likely to be more important to enrollees of HSA-eligible plans who have a greater financial incentive to make informed decisions about the quality and costs of health care providers and services.

It is believed that lower premiums associated with HSAs/HDHPs will enable more people to enroll for medical insurance. This will mean that lower income groups who do not have access to medicare will be able to open HSAs. No doubt higher deductibles are associated with HSA eligible HDHPs, but it is estimated that tax savings under HSAs and lower premiums will make them less expensive than other insurance plans. The funds put in the HSA can be rolled over from year to year. There are no use it or lose it rules. This leads to a growth in savings of the account holder. The funds can be accumulated tax free for future medical expenses if the holder so desires. Also the savings in the HSA can be grown through investments.

The nature of such investments is decided by the insured. The earnings on savings in the HSA are also exempt from income tax. The holder can withdraw his savings in the HSA after turning 65 years old without paying any taxes or penalties. The account holder has complete control over his/her account. He/She is the owner of the account right from its inception. A person can withdraw money as and when required without any gatekeeper. Also the owner decides how much to put in his/her account, how much to spend and how much to save for the future. The HSAs are portable in nature. This means that if the holder changes his/her job, becomes unemployed or moves to another location, he/she can still retain the account.

Also if the account holder so desires he can transfer his Health Saving Account from one managing agency to another. Thus portability is an advantage of HSAs. Another advantage is that most HSA plans provide first-dollar coverage for preventive care. This is true of virtually all HSA plans offered by large employers and over 95% of the plans offered by small employers. It was also true of over half (59%) of the plans which were purchased by individuals.

All of the plans offering first-dollar preventive care benefits included annual physicals, immunizations, well-baby and wellchild care, mammograms and Pap tests; 90% included prostate cancer screenings and 80% included colon cancer screenings. Some analysts believe that HSAs are more beneficial for the young and healthy as they do not have to pay frequent out of pocket costs. On the other hand, they have to pay lower premiums for HDHPs which help them meet unforeseen contingencies.

Health Savings Accounts are also advantageous for the employers. The benefits of choosing a health Savings Account over a traditional health insurance plan can directly affect the bottom line of an employer’s benefit budget. For instance Health Savings Accounts are dependent on a high deductible insurance policy, which lowers the premiums of the employee’s plan. Also all contributions to the Health Savings Account are pre-tax, thus lowering the gross payroll and reducing the amount of taxes the employer must pay.

Criticism of HSAs

The opponents of Health Savings Accounts contend that they would do more harm than good to America’s health insurance system. Some consumer organizations, such as Consumers Union, and many medical organizations, such as the American Public Health Association, have rejected HSAs because, in their opinion, they benefit only healthy, younger people and make the health care system more expensive for everyone else. According to Stanford economist Victor Fuchs, “The main effect of putting more of it on the consumer is to reduce the social redistributive element of insurance.

Some others believe that HSAs remove healthy people from the insurance pool and it makes premiums rise for everyone left. HSAs encourage people to look out for themselves more and spread the risk around less. Another concern is that the money people save in HSAs will be inadequate. Some people believe that HSAs do not allow for enough savings to cover costs. Even the person who contributes the maximum and never takes any money out would not be able to cover health care costs in retirement if inflation continues in the health care industry.

Opponents of HSAs, also include distinguished figures like state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, who called them a “dangerous prescription” that will destabilize the health insurance marketplace and make things even worse for the uninsured. Another criticism is that they benefit the rich more than the poor. Those who earn more will be able to get bigger tax breaks than those who earn less. Critics point out that higher deductibles along with insurance premiums will take away a large share of the earnings of the low income groups. Also lower income groups will not benefit substantially from tax breaks as they are already paying little or no taxes. On the other hand tax breaks on savings in HSAs and on further income from those HSA savings will cost billions of dollars of tax money to the exchequer.

The Treasury Department has estimated HSAs would cost the government $156 billion over a decade. Critics say that this could rise substantially. Several surveys have been conducted regarding the efficacy of the HSAs and some have found that the account holders are not particularly satisfied with the HSA scheme and many are even ignorant about the working of the HSAs. One such survey conducted in 2007 of American employees by the human resources consulting firm Towers Perrin showed satisfaction with account based health plans (ABHPs) was low. People were not happy with them in general compared with people with more traditional health care. Respondants said they were not comfortable with the risk and did not understand how it works.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, early experience with HAS eligible high-deductible health plans reveals low satisfaction, high out of- pocket costs, and cost-related access problems. Another survey conducted with the Employee Benefits Research Institute found that people enrolled in HSA-eligible high-deductible health plans were much less satisfied with many aspects of their health care than adults in more comprehensive plans People in these plans allocate substantial amounts of income to their health care, especially those who have poorer health or lower incomes. The survey also found that adults in high-deductible health plans are far more likely to delay or avoid getting needed care, or to skip medications, because of the cost. Problems are particularly pronounced among those with poorer health or lower incomes.

Political leaders have also been vocal about their criticism of the HSAs. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. issued the following statement criticizing the HSAs “The President’s health care plan is not about covering the uninsured, making health insurance affordable, or even driving down the cost of health care. Its real purpose is to make it easier for businesses to dump their health insurance burden onto workers, give tax breaks to the wealthy, and boost the profits of banks and financial brokers. The health care policies concocted at the behest of special interests do nothing to help the average American. In many cases, they can make health care even more inaccessible.” In fact a report of the U.S. governments Accountability office, published on April 1, 2008 says that the rate of enrollment in the HSAs is greater for higher income individuals than for lower income ones.

A study titled “Health Savings Accounts and High Deductible Health Plans: Are They an Option for Low-Income Families? By Catherine Hoffman and Jennifer Tolbert which was sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported the following key findings regarding the HSAs:

a) Premiums for HSA-qualified health plans may be lower than for traditional insurance, but these plans shift more of the financial risk to individuals and families through higher deductibles.
b) Premiums and out-of-pocket costs for HSA-qualified health plans would consume a substantial portion of a low-income family’s budget.
c) Most low-income individuals and families do not face high enough tax liability to benefit in a significant way from tax deductions associated with HSAs.
d) People with chronic conditions, disabilities, and others with high cost medical needs may face even greater out-of-pocket costs under HSA-qualified health plans.
e) Cost-sharing reduces the use of health care, especially primary and preventive services, and low-income individuals and those who are sicker are particularly sensitive to cost-sharing increases.
f) Health savings accounts and high deductible plans are unlikely to substantially increase health insurance coverage among the uninsured.

Choosing a Health Plan

Despite the advantages offered by the HSA, it may not be suitable for everyone. While choosing an insurance plan, an individual must consider the following factors:

1. The premiums to be paid.
2. Coverage/benefits available under the scheme.
3. Various exclusions and limitations.
4. Portability.
5. Out-of-pocket costs like coinsurance, co-pays, and deductibles.
6. Access to doctors, hospitals, and other providers.
7. How much and sometimes how one pays for care.
8. Any existing health issue or physical disability.
9. Type of tax savings available.

The plan you choose should according to your requirements and financial ability.


1 Questions and Answers about Health Insurance- A Consumer Guide’ published jointly by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)
3 2002 AHIP Survey of Health Insurance Plans
4 “How High Is Too High? Implications of High-Deductible Health Plans” Davis, Karen; Michelle Doty and Alice Ho. The Commonwealth Fund, April 2005
6 HSA/HDHP CENSUS 2008 by Hannah Yoo, Center for Policy and Research, America’s Health Insurance Plans
7″HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNTS Early Enrollee Experiences with Accounts and Eligible Health Plans” John E. Dicken Director, Health Care.
8 Thomas Wilder and Hannah Yoo, “A Survey of Preventive Benefits in Health Savings Account (HSA)Plans, July 2007,” America’s Health Insurance Plans, November 2007
9 Gladwell, Malcolm, “The Moral Hazard Myth”, The New Yorker (29-08-2005)
10 2008 Benchmark Survey HAS Bank
11. Employer Health Benefits 2007 Annual Survey, Kaiser Family Foundation
12. Health Savings Accounts and High Deductible Health Plans: Are They An Option for Low-Income Families?Catherine Hoffman and Jennifer Tolbert for Kaiser Family Foundation, October 2006
13. Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003

I am an ardent reader who also loves to write as well. I am an MBA with specialization in finance.

Occupational Health: Core Areas of Knowledge and Competence, Part 2

OHA’s can contribute by helping managers to manage sickness absence more effectively. The nurse may be involved in helping to train line managers and supervisors in how to best use the OH service, in how to refer staff, what type of information will be required, what to expect from occupational health. By developing transparent referral procedures, ensuring that medical confidentiality is maintained and that the workers’ rights are respected the OHA can do much to ensure that employees referred for assessment due to sickness absence are comfortable with the process.

OH nurses, with their close relationship with workers, knowledge of the working environment and trends in ill-health in the company are often in a good position to advise management on preventing sickness absence. In my experience referral to General Practitioners have a limited use for work related issues, and gain best results by as well as keeping the GP aware, referring to a specialist occupational physician.

Planned rehabilitation strategies, can help to ensure safe return to work for employees who have been absent from work due to ill-health or injury. The nurse is often the key person in the rehabilitation programme who will, with the manager and individual employee, complete a risk assessment, devise the rehabilitation programme, monitor progress and communicate with the individual, the OH physician and the line manager. Nurses have also become involved in introducing proactive rehabilitation strategies that aim to detect early changes in health before such conditions result in absence from work. Improving and sustaining working ability benefits many groups, the individual, the organization and society, as costly absence and other health care costs are avoided.

In many cases the OH nurse has to work within the organization as the clients advocate in order ensuring that managers appreciate fully the value of improving the health of the workforce. OH nurses have the skills necessary to undertake this work and may develop areas of special interest.

The occupational health nurse may develop pro-active strategies to help the workforce maintain or restore their work ability. New workers, older workers, women returning to work following pregnancy or workers who have been unemployed for a prolonged period of time may all benefit from health advice or a planned programme of work hardening exercises to help maintain or restore their work ability even before any health problems arise. Increasingly the problems faced by industry are of a psychosocial nature and these can be even more complex and costly to deal with. OH nurses, working at the company level, are in a good position to give advice to management on strategies that can be adopted to improve the psycho-social health and wellbeing of workers.

Health and safety

The OHA can have a role to play in developing health and safety strategies. Where large, or high risk, organizations have their own in-house health and safety specialists the OHA can work closely with these specialists to ensure that the nurses expertise in health, risk assessment, health surveillance and environmental health management is fully utilized into the health and safety strategy. Occupational health nurses are trained in health and safety legislation, risk management and the control of workplace health hazards and can therefore make a useful contribution to the overall management of health and safety at work, with particular emphasis on ‘health’ risk assessment.

Hazard identification

The nurse often has close contact with the workers and is aware of changes to the working environment. Because of the nurses expertise in the effects of work on health they are in a good position to be involved in hazard identification. Hazards may arise due to new processes or working practices or may arise out of informal changes to existing processes and working practices that the nurse can readily identify and assess the likely risk from. This activity requires and pre-supposed regular and frequent work place visits by the occupational health nurse to maintain an up to date knowledge and awareness of working processes and practices.

Risk assessment

Legislation in Europe is increasingly being driven by a risk management approach. OHA’s are trained in risk assessment and risk management strategies and, depending upon their level of expertise and the level of complexity involved in the risk assessment, the nurse can undertake risk assessments or contribute towards the risk assessment working closely with other specialists.

Advice on control strategies

Having been involved in the hazard identification and risk assessment the occupational health nurse can, within the limits of their education and training, provide advice and information on appropriate control strategies, including health surveillance, risk communication, monitoring and on the evaluation of control strategies.

Research and the use of evidence based practice

Specialist OHA’s utilize research findings from a wide range of disciplines, including nursing, toxicology, psychology, environmental health and public health in their daily practice. The principal requirement for an occupational health nurse in practice is that they have the skills to read and critically assess research findings from these different disciplines and to be able to incorporate the findings into evidence based approach to their practice. Research in nursing is already well established and there is a small, but growing, body of evidence being created by occupational health nursing researchers who investigate occupational health nursing practices. OHA’s should ensure that they have access to and the skills necessary to base their practice on the best available evidence. At the company level occupational health nurses may be involved in producing management reports on for example sickness absence trends, accident statistics, assessment of health promotion needs and in evaluating the delivery of services, the effectiveness of occupational health interventions. Research skills and the ability to transfer knowledge and information from published research to practice is an important aspect of the role.


OHA’s, along with other health, environment and safety professionals in the workplace health team, are in a privileged position in society. They have access to personal and medical information relating to employees in the company that would not be available to any other group. Society has imposed, by law, additional responsibilities on clinical professionals to protect and safeguard the interest of patients. The ethical standards for each discipline are set and enforced by each of the professional bodies. Breaches of these codes of conduct can result in the professional being removed from the register and prevented for practicing. Nurses have a long and well-respected tradition in society of upholding the trust placed in them by patients. This level of trust in the occupational health nurse’s professional integrity means that employees feel that they can be open, honest and share information with the nurse in the confidence that the information will not be used for other purposes. This allows the nurse to practice much more effectively than would ever be possible if that trust was not there. The protection of personal information enables a trusted relationship between employees and the nurse to be developed and facilitates optimum working relationships and partnership. The International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) has published useful guidance on ethics for occupational health professionals’. This guidance is summarized below “Occupational Health Practice must be performed according to the highest professional standards and ethical principles. Occupational health professionals must serve the health and social wellbeing of the workers, individually and collectively. They also contribute to environmental and community health the obligations of occupational health professionals include protecting the life and the health of the worker, respecting human dignity and promoting the highest ethical principles in occupational health policies and programs. Integrity in professional conduct, impartiality and the protection of confidentiality of health data and the privacy of workers are part of these obligations. Occupational health professionals are experts who must enjoy full professional independence in the execution of their functions. They must acquire and maintain the competence necessary for their duties and require conditions which allow them to carry out their tasks according to good practice and professional ethics.”

Patient Abandonment – Home Health Care

Elements of the Cause of Action for Abandonment

Each of the following five elements must be present for a patient to have a proper civil cause of action for the tort of abandonment:

1. Health care treatment was unreasonably discontinued.

2. The termination of health care was contrary to the patient’s will or without the patient’s knowledge.

3. The health care provider failed to arrange for care by another appropriate skilled health care provider.

4. The health care provider should have reasonably foreseen that harm to the patient would arise from the termination of the care (proximate cause).

5. The patient actually suffered harm or loss as a result of the discontinuance of care.

Physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals have an ethical, as well as a legal, duty to avoid abandonment of patients. The health care professional has a duty to give his or her patient all necessary attention as long as the case required it and should not leave the patient in a critical stage without giving reasonable notice or making suitable arrangements for the attendance of another. [2]

Abandonment by the Physician

When a physician undertakes treatment of a patient, treatment must continue until the patient’s circumstances no longer warrant the treatment, the physician and the patient mutually consent to end the treatment by that physician, or the patient discharges the physician. Moreover, the physician may unilaterally terminate the relationship and withdraw from treating that patient only if he or she provides the patient proper notice of his or her intent to withdraw and an opportunity to obtain proper substitute care.

In the home health setting, the physician-patient relationship does not terminate merely because a patient’s care shifts in its location from the hospital to the home. If the patient continues to need medical services, supervised health care, therapy, or other home health services, the attending physician should ensure that he or she was properly discharged his or her-duties to the patient. Virtually every situation ‘in which home care is approved by Medicare, Medicaid, or an insurer will be one in which the patient’s ‘needs for care have continued. The physician-patient relationship that existed in the hospital will continue unless it has been formally terminated by notice to the patient and a reasonable attempt to refer the patient to another appropriate physician. Otherwise, the physician will retain his or her duty toward the patient when the patient is discharged from the hospital to the home. Failure to follow through on the part of the physician will constitute the tort of abandonment if the patient is injured as a result. This abandonment may expose the physician, the hospital, and the home health agency to liability for the tort of abandonment.

The attending physician in the hospital should ensure that a proper referral is made to a physician who will be responsible for the home health patient’s care while it is being delivered by the home health provider, unless the physician intends to continue to supervise that home care personally. Even more important, if the hospital-based physician arranges to have the patient’s care assumed by another physician, the patient must fully understand this change, and it should be carefully documented.

As supported by case law, the types of actions that will lead to liability for abandonment of a patient will include:

• premature discharge of the patient by the physician

• failure of the physician to provide proper instructions before discharging the patient

• the statement by the physician to the patient that the physician will no longer treat the patient

• refusal of the physician to respond to calls or to further attend the patient

• the physician’s leaving the patient after surgery or failing to follow up on postsurgical care. [3]

Generally, abandonment does not occur if the physician responsible for the patient arranges for a substitute physician to take his or her place. This change may occur because of vacations, relocation of the physician, illness, distance from the patient’s home, or retirement of the physician. As long as care by an appropriately trained physician, sufficiently knowledgeable of the patient’s special conditions, if any, has been arranged, the courts will usually not find that abandonment has occurred. [4] Even where a patient refuses to pay for the care or is unable to pay for the care, the physician is not at liberty to terminate the relationship unilaterally. The physician must still take steps to have the patient’s care assumed by another [5] or to give a sufficiently reasonable period of time to locate another prior to ceasing to provide care.

Although most of the cases discussed concern the physician-patient relationship, as pointed out previously, the same principles apply to all health care providers. Furthermore, because the care rendered by the home health agency is provided pursuant to a physician’s plan of care, even if the patient sued the physician for abandonment because of the actions (or inactions of the home health agency’s staff), the physician may seek indemnification from the home health provider. [6]


Similar principles to those that apply to physicians apply to the home health professional and the home health provider. A home health agency, as the direct provider of care to the homebound patient, may be held to the same legal obligation and duty to deliver care that addresses the patient’s needs as is the physician. Furthermore, there may be both a legal and an ethical obligation to continue delivering care, if the patient has no alternatives. An ethical obligation may still exist to the patient even though the home health provider has fulfilled all legal obligations. [7]

When a home health provider furnishes treatment to a patient, the duty to continue providing care to the patient is a duty owed by the agency itself and not by the individual professional who may be the employee or the contractor of the agency. The home health provider does not have a duty to continue providing the same nurse, therapist, or aide to the patient throughout the course of treatment, so long as the provider continues to use appropriate, competent personnel to administer the course of treatment consistently with the plan of care. From the perspective of patient satisfaction and continuity of care, it may be in the best interests of the home health provider to attempt to provide the same individual practitioner to the patient. The development of a personal relationship with the provider’s personnel may improve communications and a greater degree of trust and compliance on the part of the patient. It should help to alleviate many of the problems that arise in the health care’ setting.

If the patient requests replacement of a particular nurse, therapist, technician, or home health aide, the home health provider still has a duty to provide care to the patient, unless the patient also specifically states he or she no longer desires the provider’s service. Home health agency supervisors should always follow up on such patient requests to determine the reasons regarding the dismissal, to detect “problem” employees, and to ensure no incident has taken place that might give rise to liability. The home health agency should continue providing care to the patient until definitively told not to do so by the patient.


Home health provider personnel may occasionally encounter an abusive patient. This abuse mayor may not be a result of the medical condition for which the care is being provided. Personal safety of the individual health care provider should be paramount. Should the patient pose a physical danger to the individual, he or she should leave the premises immediately. The provider should document in the medical record the facts surrounding the inability to complete the treatment for that visit as objectively as possible. Management personnel should inform supervisory personnel at the home health provider and should complete an internal incident report. If it appears that a criminal act has taken place, such as a physical assault, attempted rape, or other such act, this act should be reported immediately to local law enforcement agencies. The home care provider should also immediately notify both the patient and the physician that the provider will terminate its relationship with the patient and that an alternative provider for these services should be obtained.

Other less serious circumstances may, nevertheless, lead the home health provider to determine that it should terminate its relationship with a particular patient. Examples may include particularly abusive patients, patients who solicit -the home health provider professional to break the law (for example, by providing illegal drugs or providing non-covered services and equipment and billing them as something else), or consistently noncompliant patients. Once treatment is undertaken, however, the home health provider is usually obliged to continue providing services until the patient has had a reasonable opportunity to obtain a substitute provider. The same principles apply to failure of a patient to pay for the services or equipment provided.

As health care professionals, HHA personnel should have training on how to handle the difficult patient responsibly. Arguments or emotional comments should be avoided. If it becomes clear that a certain provider and patient are not likely to be compatible, a substitute provider should be tried. Should it appear that the problem lies with the patient and that it is necessary for the HHA to terminate its relationship with the patient, the following seven steps should be taken:

1. The circumstances should be documented in the patient’s record.

2. The home health provider should give or send a letter to the patient explaining the circumstances surrounding the termination of care.

3. The letter should be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, or other measures to document patient receipt of the letter. A copy of the letter should be placed in the patient’s record.

4. If possible, the patient should be given a certain period of time to obtain replacement care. Usually 30 days is sufficient.

5. If the patient has a life-threatening condition or a medical condition that might deteriorate in the absence of continuing care, this condition should be clearly stated in the letter. The necessity of the patient’s obtaining replacement home health care should be emphasized.

6. The patient should be informed of the location of the nearest hospital emergency department. The patient should be told to either go to the nearest hospital emergency department in case of a medical emergency or to call the local emergency number for ambulance transportation.

7. A copy of the letter should be sent to the patient’s attending physician via certified mail, return receipt requested.

These steps should not be undertaken lightly. Before such steps are taken, the patient’s case should be thoroughly discussed with the home health provider’s risk manager, legal counsel, medical director, and the patient’s attending physician.

The inappropriate discharge of a patient from health care coverage by the home health provider, whether because of termination of entitlement, inability to pay, or other reasons, may also lead to liability for the tort of abandonment. [8]

Nurses who passively stand by and observe negligence by a physician or anyone else will personally become accountable to the patient who is injured as a result of that negligence… [H]ealthcare facilities and their nursing staff owe an independent duty to patients beyond the duty owed by physicians. When a physician’s order to discharge is inappropriate, the nurses will be help liable for following an order that they knew or should know is below the standard of care. [9]

Similar principles may apply to make the home health provider vicariously liable, as well.

Liability to the patient for the tort of abandonment may also result from the home health care professional’s failure to observe, examine, assess, or monitor a patient’s condition. [10] Liability for abandonment may arise from failing to take timely action, as well as failing to summon a physician when a physician is needed. [11] Failing to provide adequate staff to meet the patient’s needs may also constitute abandonment on the part of the HHA. [12] Ignoring a patient’s complaints and failing to follow a physician’s orders may likewise constitute a tort of abandonment for a nurse or other professional staff member.

1. Lee v. Dewbre, 362 S.W.2d 900 (Tex. Civ. App. 7th Dist. 1962).

2. Kattsetos v. Nolan, 368 A.2d 172 (Conn. 1976).

3. 61 AM. Jur. 2d, Physicians and Surgeons § 237 (1981).

4. See, e.g., Tripp v. Pate, 271 S.E.2d 407 (N.C. App. 1980).

5. Ricks v. Budge, 64 P.2d 208 (Utah 1937).

6. M.D. Nathanson, Home Healthcare Answer Book: Legal Issues for Providers 212 (1995).

7. See, generally, E.P. Burnzeig, The Nurse’s Liability for Malpractice (1981).

8. Sheryl Feutz-Harter, Nursing Caselaw Update: In appropriate Discharging of Patients, 2 J. Nursing L. 49 (1995).

9. Id., 53.

10. See, e.g., Pisel v. Stamford Hosp., 430 A.2d1 (Conn. 1980) (nurses were held liable for failing to monitor the condition of a patient).

11. See, e.g., Sanchez v. Bay General Hosp., 172 Cal. Rptr. 342 (Cal. App. 1981); Valdez v. Lyman-Roberts Hosp., Inc. 638 S.W. 2d 111 (Tex. 1982).

12. Czubinsky v. Doctors Hosp., 188 CAl. Rptr. 685 (1983).

Florida Health Insurance Rate Hikes and Quotes

Florida Health Insurance Rate Hike

Florida Health insurance premiums have touched new heights! Every Floridian has the common knowledge that most annual health insurance contracts will endure a rate increase at the end of the year. This trend is not new and should be expected. Every time this issue pops up it seems as though the blame game starts. Floridians blame Health insurance companies; Health insurance companies blame Hospitals, Doctors and other medical care providers, Medical care providers blame inflation and politicians, well, we really don’t know what they do to help the issue… No one seems to be interested in finding the real cause of the health insurance premium rate increase. Most individuals, self employed, and small business owners have taken Florida Health Insurance Rate Hikes as the inevitable evil.

Hard Facts

What are various reports telling us? Why do Health insurance premium have annual rate increases?

Rate of inflation and heath insurance premium rate increase.

America’s health expenditure in the year 2004 has increased dramatically, it has increased more than three time the inflation rate. In this year the inflation rate was around 2.5% while the national health expenses were around 7.9%. The employer health insurance or group health insurance premium had increased approximately 7.8% in the year 2006, which is almost double the rate of inflation. In short, last year in 2006, the annual premiums of group health plan sponsored by an employer was around $4,250 for a single premium plan, while the average family premium was around $ 11,250 per year. This indicates that in the year 2006 the employer sponsored health insurance premium increased 7.7 percent. Taking the biggest hit were small businesses that had 0-24 employees. There health insurance premiums increased by nearly 10.4%

Employees are also not spared, in the year 2006 the employee also had to pay around $ 3,000 more in their contribution to employer’s sponsored health insurance plan in comparison to the previous year, 2005. Rate hikes have been in existence since the “Florida Health Insurance” plan started. In covering an entire family of four, a person will experience an increase in premium rate at every annual renewal. If they would have kept the record of their health insurance premium payments they will find that they are now paying around $ 1,100 more than they paid in the year 2000 for the same coverage and with the same company. The same item was found by the Health Research Educational Trust and the Kaiser Family Foundation in their survey report of the year 2000. They found out that the premiums of health insurance that is sponsored by the employer increases by around 4 times than the employee’s salary. This report also stated that since 2000 the contribution of employees in group health insurance sponsored by employer was increased by more than 143 percent.

One business man predicts that if nothing is done and the Health insurance premiums keep increasing that in the year 2008, the amount of health premium contribution to employer will surpass their profit. Professionals within and outside the field of Florida health insurance, think that the reason for increase in Florida health insurance premium rates are due to many factors, such as high administration expenditure, inflation, poor or bad management, increase in the cost of medical care, waste etc.

Florida health insurance rate hikes affect whom?

Rising rates of Florida health insurance generally affects most of the Floridians who live in our beautiful state. The highest affected individudals are the minimum wage and low wage workers. Recent drops in the renewal of health insurance are mostly from this low income group. They just can’t afford the high premiums of Florida health insurance. They are in the situation where they can not afford the medical care and they can not afford the medical insurance premiums that are assosiated with adequate coverage. Almost half of all Americans are of the opinion that they are more worried about the high health insurance rate and high cost of health care, over any other bill they have on a monthly basis. A survey also finds that around 42% of Americans can not afford the high cost of health care services. There is one very interesting study conducted by Harvard University researchers. They found out that 68% of people who filed bankruptcy covered themselves and their family by health insurance. Average out-of-pocket deductibles for people filed bankruptcy were around $ 12,000 per year. They also found some co-relation between medical expenditure and bankruptcy. A national survey also reports that main reason for people not to take health insurance is the high premium rate of health insurance.

How to reduce Florida’s high health insurance cost? Nobody knows for sure. There are different opinions and experts are not agreeing with each other. Health professionals believe that if we can raise the number of healthy people by improving the lifestyle and regular exercise, good diets etc. than naturally they will need less medical care services which decreases the demands of health care and hence the cost.( This year in Florida the smoking rate has increased by 21.7 percent) One Floridian sarcastically suggested that there are ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ in health care that are needed to reversed. That the state of Florida is to ‘high’ in cost of medical care compare to other States and ‘low’ in the quality of health care.

Florida Health insurance rate hike has attracted many frauds. These frauds float many bogus insurance companies and offer cheap health insurance rate which attract many people to them. These companies usually through assosiations that are based in other states.

Meanwhile reputable Florida health insurance companies provide different types of health insurance like employer sponsored group health insurance, small business health insurance, individual health insurance etc. to vast number of employees and their families. Still there are many people in Florida that lack any health coverage. Today the employer also has found it challenging to decide how to offer employer sponsored group health insurance to their employees, so that both of them arrive at some point of agreement.

Small Business Health Insurance – The Best Policy Is A Great Agent

I have been a health insurance broker for over a decade and every day I read more and more “horror” stories that are posted on the Internet regarding health insurance companies not paying claims, refusing to cover specific illnesses and physicians not getting reimbursed for medical services. Unfortunately, insurance companies are driven by profits, not people (albeit they need people to make profits). If the insurance company can find a legal reason not to pay a claim, chances are they will find it, and you the consumer will suffer. However, what most people fail to realize is that there are very few “loopholes” in an insurance policy that give the insurance company an unfair advantage over the consumer. In fact, insurance companies go to great lengths to detail the limitations of their coverage by giving the policy holders 10-days (a 10-day free look period) to review their policy. Unfortunately, most people put their insurance cards in their wallet and place their policy in a drawer or filing cabinet during their 10-day free look and it usually isn’t until they receive a “denial” letter from the insurance company that they take their policy out to really read through it.

The majority of people, who buy their own health insurance, rely heavily on the insurance agent selling the policy to explain the plan’s coverage and benefits. This being the case, many individuals who purchase their own health insurance plan can tell you very little about their plan, other than, what they pay in premiums and how much they have to pay to satisfy their deductible.

For many consumers, purchasing a health insurance policy on their own can be an enormous undertaking. Purchasing a health insurance policy is not like buying a car, in that, the buyer knows that the engine and transmission are standard, and that power windows are optional. A health insurance plan is much more ambiguous, and it is often very difficult for the consumer to determine what type of coverage is standard and what other benefits are optional. In my opinion, this is the primary reason that most policy holders don’t realize that they do not have coverage for a specific medical treatment until they receive a large bill from the hospital stating that “benefits were denied.”

Sure, we all complain about insurance companies, but we do know that they serve a “necessary evil.” And, even though purchasing health insurance may be a frustrating, daunting and time consuming task, there are certain things that you can do as a consumer to ensure that you are purchasing the type of health insurance coverage you really need at a fair price.

Dealing with small business owners and the self-employed market, I have come to the realization that it is extremely difficult for people to distinguish between the type of health insurance coverage that they “want” and the benefits they really “need.” Recently, I have read various comments on different Blogs advocating health plans that offer 100% coverage (no deductible and no-coinsurance) and, although I agree that those types of plans have a great “curb appeal,” I can tell you from personal experience that these plans are not for everyone. Do 100% health plans offer the policy holder greater peace of mind? Probably. But is a 100% health insurance plan something that most consumers really need? Probably not! In my professional opinion, when you purchase a health insurance plan, you must achieve a balance between four important variables; wants, needs, risk and price. Just like you would do if you were purchasing options for a new car, you have to weigh all these variables before you spend your money. If you are healthy, take no medications and rarely go to the doctor, do you really need a 100% plan with a $5 co-payment for prescription drugs if it costs you $300 dollars more a month?

Is it worth $200 more a month to have a $250 deductible and a $20 brand name/$10 generic Rx co-pay versus an 80/20 plan with a $2,500 deductible that also offers a $20 brand name/$10generic co-pay after you pay a once a year $100 Rx deductible? Wouldn’t the 80/20 plan still offer you adequate coverage? Don’t you think it would be better to put that extra $200 ($2,400 per year) in your bank account, just in case you may have to pay your $2,500 deductible or buy a $12 Amoxicillin prescription? Isn’t it wiser to keep your hard-earned money rather than pay higher premiums to an insurance company?

Yes, there are many ways you can keep more of the money that you would normally give to an insurance company in the form of higher monthly premiums. For example, the federal government encourages consumers to purchase H.S.A. (Health Savings Account) qualified H.D.H.P.’s (High Deductible Health Plans) so they have more control over how their health care dollars are spent. Consumers who purchase an HSA Qualified H.D.H.P. can put extra money aside each year in an interest bearing account so they can use that money to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses. Even procedures that are not normally covered by insurance companies, like Lasik eye surgery, orthodontics, and alternative medicines become 100% tax deductible. If there are no claims that year the money that was deposited into the tax deferred H.S.A can be rolled over to the next year earning an even higher rate of interest. If there are no significant claims for several years (as is often the case) the insured ends up building a sizeable account that enjoys similar tax benefits as a traditional I.R.A. Most H.S.A. administrators now offer thousands of no load mutual funds to transfer your H.S.A. funds into so you can potentially earn an even higher rate of interest.

In my experience, I believe that individuals who purchase their health plan based on wants rather than needs feel the most defrauded or “ripped-off” by their insurance company and/or insurance agent. In fact, I hear almost identical comments from almost every business owner that I speak to. Comments, such as, “I have to run my business, I don’t have time to be sick! “I think I have gone to the doctor 2 times in the last 5 years” and “My insurance company keeps raising my rates and I don’t even use my insurance!” As a business owner myself, I can understand their frustration. So, is there a simple formula that everyone can follow to make health insurance buying easier? Yes! Become an INFORMED consumer.

Every time I contact a prospective client or call one of my client referrals, I ask a handful of specific questions that directly relate to the policy that particular individual currently has in their filing cabinet or dresser drawer. You know the policy that they bought to protect them from having to file bankruptcy due to medical debt. That policy they purchased to cover that $500,000 life-saving organ transplant or those 40 chemotherapy treatments that they may have to undergo if they are diagnosed with cancer.

So what do you think happens almost 100% of the time when I ask these individuals “BASIC” questions about their health insurance policy? They do not know the answers! The following is a list of 10 questions that I frequently ask a prospective health insurance client. Let’s see how many YOU can answer without looking at your policy.

1. What Insurance Company are you insured with and what is the name of your health insurance plan? (e.g. Blue Cross Blue Shield-“Basic Blue”)

2. What is your calendar year deductible and would you have to pay a separate deductible for each family member if everyone in your family became ill at the same time? (e.g. The majority of health plans have a per person yearly deductible, for example, $250, $500, $1,000, or $2,500. However, some plans will only require you to pay a 2 person maximum deductible each year, even if everyone in your family needed extensive medical care.)

3. What is your coinsurance percentage and what dollar amount (stop loss) it is based on? (e.g. A good plan with 80/20 coverage means you pay 20% of some dollar amount. This dollar amount is also known as a stop loss and can vary based on the type of policy you purchase. Stop losses can be as little as $5,000 or $10,000 or as much as $20,000 or there are some policies on the market that have NO stop loss dollar amount.)

4. What is your maximum out of pocket expense per year? (e.g. All deductibles plus all coinsurance percentages plus all applicable access fees or other fees)

5. What is the Lifetime maximum benefit the insurance company will pay if you become seriously ill and does your plan have any “per illness” maximums or caps? (e.g. Some plans may have a $5 million lifetime maximum, but may have a maximum benefit cap of $100,000 per illness. This means that you would have to develop many separate and unrelated life-threatening illnesses costing $100,000 or less to qualify for $5 million of lifetime coverage.)

6. Is your plan a schedule plan, in that it only pays a certain amount for a specific list of procedures? (e.g., Mega Life & Health & Midwest National Life, endorsed by the National Association of the Self-Employed, N.A.S.E. is known for endorsing schedule plans) 7. Does your plan have doctor co-pays and are you limited to a certain number of doctor co-pay visits per year? (e.g. Many plans have a limit of how many times you go to the doctor per year for a co-pay and, quite often the limit is 2-4 visits.)

8. Does your plan offer prescription drug coverage and if it does, do you pay a co-pay for your prescriptions or do you have to meet a separate drug deductible before you receive any benefits and/or do you just have a discount prescription card only? (e.g. Some plans offer you prescription benefits right away, other plans require that you pay a separate drug deductible before you can receive prescription medication for a co-pay. Today, many plans offer no co-pay options and only provide you with a discount prescription card that gives you a 10-20% discount on all prescription medications).

9. Does your plan have any reduction in benefits for organ transplants and if so, what is the maximum your plan will pay if you need an organ transplant? (e.g. Some plans only pay a $100,000 maximum benefit for organ transplants for a procedure that actually costs $350-$500K and this $100,000 maximum may also include reimbursement for expensive anti-rejection medications that must be taken after a transplant. If this is the case, you will often have to pay for all anti-rejection medications out of pocket).

10. Do you have to pay a separate deductible or “access fee” for each hospital admission or for each emergency room visit? (e.g. Some plans, like the Assurant Health’s “CoreMed” plan have a separate $750 hospital admission fee that you pay for the first 3 days you are in the hospital. This fee is in addition to your plan deductible. Also, many plans have benefit “caps” or “access fees” for out-patient services, such as, physical therapy, speech therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, etc. Benefit “caps” could be as little as $500 for each out-patient treatment, leaving you a bill for the remaining balance. Access fees are additional fees that you pay per treatment. For example, for each outpatient chemotherapy treatment, you may be required to pay a $250 “access fee” per treatment. So for 40 chemotherapy treatments, you would have to pay 40 x $250 = $10,000. Again, these fees would be charged in addition to your plan deductible).

Now that you’ve read through the list of questions that I ask a prospective health insurance client, ask yourself how many questions you were able to answer. If you couldn’t answer all ten questions don’t be discouraged. That doesn’t mean that you are not a smart consumer. It may just mean that you dealt with a “bad” insurance agent. So how could you tell if you dealt with a “bad” insurance agent? Because a “great” insurance agent would have taken the time to help you really understand your insurance benefits. A “great” agent spends time asking YOU questions so s/he can understand your insurance needs. A “great” agent recommends health plans based on all four variables; wants, needs, risk and price. A “great” agent gives you enough information to weigh all of your options so you can make an informed purchasing decision. And lastly, a “great” agent looks out for YOUR best interest and NOT the best interest of the insurance company.

So how do you know if you have a “great” agent? Easy, if you were able to answer all 10 questions without looking at your health insurance policy, you have a “great” agent. If you were able to answer the majority of questions, you may have a “good” agent. However, if you were only able to answer a few questions, chances are you have a “bad” agent. Insurance agents are no different than any other professional. There are some insurance agents that really care about the clients they work with, and there are other agents that avoid answering questions and duck client phone calls when a message is left about unpaid claims or skyrocketing health insurance rates.

Remember, your health insurance purchase is just as important as purchasing a house or a car, if not more important. So don’t be afraid to ask your insurance agent a lot of questions to make sure that you understand what your health plan does and does not cover. If you don’t feel comfortable with the type of coverage that your agent suggests or if you think the price is too high, ask your agent if s/he can select a comparable plan so you can make a side by side comparison before you purchase. And, most importantly, read all of the “fine print” in your health plan brochure and when you receive your policy, take the time to read through your policy during your 10-day free look period.

If you can’t understand something, or aren’t quite sure what the asterisk (*) next to the benefit description really means in terms of your coverage, call your agent or contact the insurance company to ask for further clarification.

Furthermore, take the time to perform your own due diligence. For example, if you research MEGA Life and Health or the Midwest National Life insurance company, endorsed by the National Association for the Self Employed (NASE), you will find that there have been 14 class action lawsuits brought against these companies since 1995. So ask yourself, “Is this a company that I would trust to pay my health insurance claims?

Additionally, find out if your agent is a “captive” agent or an insurance “broker.” “Captive” agents can only offer ONE insurance company’s products.” Independent” agents or insurance “brokers” can offer you a variety of different insurance plans from many different insurance companies. A “captive” agent may recommend a health plan that doesn’t exactly meet your needs because that is the only plan s/he can sell. An “independent” agent or insurance “broker” can usually offer you a variety of different insurance products from many quality carriers and can often customize a plan to meet your specific insurance needs and budget.

Over the years, I have developed strong, trusting relationships with my clients because of my insurance expertise and the level of personal service that I provide. This is one of the primary reasons that I do not recommend buying health insurance on the Internet. In my opinion, there are too many variables that Internet insurance buyers do not often take into consideration. I am a firm believer that a health insurance purchase requires the level of expertise and personal attention that only an insurance professional can provide. And, since it does not cost a penny more to purchase your health insurance through an agent or broker, my advice would be to use eBay and Amazon for your less important purchases and to use a knowledgeable, ethical and reputable independent agent or broker for one of the most important purchases you will ever make….your health insurance policy.

Lastly, if you have any concerns about an insurance company, contact your state’s Department of Insurance BEFORE you buy your policy. Your state’s Department of Insurance can tell you if the insurance company is registered in your state and can also tell you if there have been any complaints against that company that have been filed by policy holders. If you suspect that your agent is trying to sell you a fraudulent insurance policy, (e.g. you have to become a member of a union to qualify for coverage) or isn’t being honest with you, your state’s Department of Insurance can also check to see if your agent is licensed and whether or not there has ever been any disciplinary action previously taken against that agent.

In closing, I hope I have given you enough information so you can become an INFORMED insurance consumer. However, I remain convinced that the following words of wisdom still go along way: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!” and “If you only buy on price, you get what you pay for!”