Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: premiums

When the Health Care Blogger Becomes the Cancer Patient

The call came the day after my 48th birthday in April.

“The radiologist saw something suspicious on your mammogram from last week…an undetermined mass,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. “We’d like you to come in for an ultrasound so we can see better.”

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

During the ultrasound they assured me that it was probably nothing…that in most cases, it’s a benign lump and not cancer. Surely, I thought, as I scheduled a needle biopsy for a few days later, this would be the case for me as well.

But it was not the case. Once the results from the biopsy came back, I realized that I had become a cancer patient. I was now part of a community of more than one million other Americans who are diagnosed with cancer each year.

The days and weeks after that ultrasound and needle biopsy became a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, tests, and procedures, as well as surgery to remove the lump in my breast, along with several lymph nodes. As of this writing, I’m undergoing six weeks of daily radiation treatments, and soon will be starting drug therapies that will last for at least five and up to 15 years.

Just when I started to recover from the surgery, the bills started to roll in. I have what I thought was pretty good (but expensive from a premium standpoint) medical coverage under my husband’s workplace plan. But even with premiums that are far higher this year than we’ve ever had to pay in the past, the system demanded more of our money:

  • $334.43 for one ultrasound
  • $106.04 for another ultrasound
  • $35.49 for an oncologist office visit
  • $131.15 for a nuclear medicine injection prior to my sentinel node removal
  • $421.80 for my lumpectomy
  • $468.61 for lumpectomy prep work
  • $181 for the surgeon who removed the lump
  • $60 for post-surgery physical therapy
  • $737.45 for oncotype diagnosis test

These are just a few examples and don’t include charges relating to the 30 radiation treatments I’ll be receiving or the genetic testing being done (since cancer runs in the family).

While these out of pocket costs are certainly hard to swallow – I can think of a hundred other things I’d rather spend my money on – for my family, they are doable. We won’t have to skip a mortgage payment or a utility bill. We won’t have to dip into a child’s college tuition fund. We certainly won’t have to worry about having enough money for food.

But I know – from my work on this blog and with its main sponsor, the HealthWell Foundation – that many families living with cancer aren’t so lucky.

I had the opportunity to help HealthWell create a White Paper, “When Health Insurance is Not Enough: How Charitable Copayment Assistance Organizations Enhance Patient Access to Care,” which investigated the devastating effects of not being able to afford needed treatments for chronic and life-altering medical conditions. For some individuals and families, out-of-pocket expenses including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance can total thousands of dollars each month – much more than many people earn.

That’s not the case for me. I’m one of the lucky ones.

“I’m lucky” is a statement you don’t often hear from cancer patients, but it’s how I feel about my situation. I’m lucky that my cancer was caught early by an astute reading of my mammogram. I’m lucky that my specific type of cancer was deemed “curable” and didn’t spread to my lymph nodes or other organs. I’m lucky that my job as a freelance writer gives me the flexibility to go to doctor’s appointments when needed. And I’m lucky to be in a two-income household with no kids and the easy ability to pay our bills. For now.

Of course, this could all change in a heartbeat. My freelance assignments could dry up, which would impact our income. My husband could lose his job or become disabled. We could be hit with an unexpected and costly disaster like a house fire or a tree crashing through our roof. The cancer could come back.

I am, in effect, a heartbeat away from being in a position to need real financial help.

If I need help, I’m thankful that charitable copayment assistance foundations like the HealthWell Foundation exist. Cancer isn’t something you can put on the back burner until the time or money is right. Treatment is costly. Premiums and copayments are high. For the 29 million Americans with limited incomes and/or inadequate insurance, the toll can be devastating – physically, emotionally and financially.

That’s why I’m calling on readers of this blog to help. Your donation to the HealthWell Foundation, the American Cancer Society or other charitable assistance foundations really will make a difference. Maybe not for me personally, but certainly for the millions who aren’t as lucky as me.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Striking the Right Balance for Better Patient Outcomes

A recent article in Health Affairs reports that ChenMed – which serves low-to-moderate income elderly patients primarily through the Medicare Advantage program – is achieving better health outcomes for Medicare-eligible seniors, including those living with five or more major and chronic health conditions.  Dozens of Chen and JenCare Neighborhood Medical Centers are helping tens of thousands of seniors live better, longer: 

chris_chen

Dr. Christopher Chen, ChenMed CEO

  • Total hospital days per 1,000 patients at ChenMed in 2011 were 1,058 for the Miami area in comparison with 1,712 total US hospital days per 1,000 patients in the same year (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary).
  • Just one year prior, according to Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, the Miami Hospital Referral Region was above the 90th percentile in inpatient hospital days.

Why is ChenMed so successful?

Dr. Christopher Chen, CEO of the organization, says its patient care model integrates cutting-edge medical expertise in a way that empowers physicians to ensure patients receive personalized attention and optimal care.

“People always ask, ‘What is your secret?’ There really is no secret,” he says. “It comes down to having the right incentives, the right physician and staff culture, and the right philosophy of care. My goal at the end of the day is to be cost-effective through improvement of outcomes by changing the philosophy of care. We care about results.”

The group practice’s popularity also attests to its effective one-stop-shop approach to patient-centered care through multi-specialty services. Smaller physician panel sizes of 350-450 patients spur intensive health coaching and preventive care, and prescriptions are given to patients during their visits at all Chenand JenCare Neighborhood Medical Centers.

This aspect of ChenMed’s model makes the biggest difference in boosting medication adherence, followed by strong one-on-one doctor-patient relationships that help to change habits for the better. Receiving meds within 3-5 minutes of ordering drugs not only means patients don’t have to wait for the treatment they need, but that they receive their medications while having face-to-face interactions with their primary care doctors.

“In our model we aren’t looking for high-income patients,” Dr. Chen says. “People ask, ‘Are you saying that patients like you because you give more attention to them and provide more access to doctors than those who pay for concierge service?’ I would say yes.”

ChenMed continuously employs top specialists from a variety of fields to conveniently provide fully integrated medical services to patients.  It effectively combines services like acupuncture into its portfolio of care, and improves outcomes and patient experience with customized end-to-end technologies enhancing its daily operations. For example, all the medical assistants and staff are equipped with iPads and can offer physician support tailored to each patient. This fuels collaboration, enabling doctors to work side by side with patients and providing a significant convenience to all parties as a result.

Primary care physicians at Chen and JenCare Neighborhood Medical Centers also meet three times a week, engaging in thoughtful ongoing discussions that generate numerous enhancements to care and delivery for better outcomes.

“We discuss whether a hospitalization could be improved through better outpatient care. We ask, ‘What can we do to improve patient outcomes while the patient is in the hospital?’ We innovate to improve outcomes and can achieve great things for patients because of our small panel sizes. These meetings have saved many lives and continue to do so,” explains Dr. Chen.

When interviewing prospective doctors to work at ChenMed, they are asked whether they like spending time with patients and whether they love the complexity of medicine. If they say no to either of those questions, then this group is probably not the best place for them, Dr. Chen says, underscoring that:

“We want you to practice medicine the way you thought you would when you graduated from medical school. It’s not about how many patients you see, how many procedures you do, or how much you bill. You should want to be a doctor to make people feel better.” 

ChenMed, through its Primary Management Resources subsidiary, also provides behind-the-scenes consulting services to enhance medical practice operations nationwide.  Physicians interested in end-to-end solutions that streamline operations while enhancing patient health outcomes and the patient experience should contact ChenMed at (305) 628-6117 or go to ChenMed.com.

Implementation of Health Care Law Expanding Coverage to More Young Adults

LJB head shot 03

Linda Barlow

For the first time in nearly a decade, the number of 19-25 year-olds gaining access to health insurance is on the rise, according to the Commonwealth Fund 2012 Biennial Health Insurance Survey. Researchers point to a provision in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA), which allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, as a likely cause of this groundbreaking trend.

“The early provisions of the Affordable Care Act are helping young adults gain coverage and improving the affordability of health care during difficult economic times for American families,” said Sara Collins, Ph.D., a Commonwealth Fund vice president and lead author of the Biennial Survey’s report, Insuring the Future: Current Trends in Health Coverage and the Effects of Implementing the Affordable Care Act.

The improvements in young adult health coverage are significant, according to the Biennial Survey:

  • Nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) of Americans ages 19-25 reported that they were insured at the time of the survey in 2012, up from 69 percent in 2010, or a gain in health insurance coverage for an estimated 3.4 million young adults.
  • The share of young adults in this same age group who were uninsured for any time during the year prior to the survey fell from 48 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2012 – an estimated decline of 1.9 million, from 13.6 million uninsured young adults in 2010 to 11.7 million in 2012.

Of the estimated 3.1 million young adults who are now covered through the ACA, 60 percent are leveraging it for mental health, substance abuse, or pregnancy treatment, according to a study from the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI). For one large, national employer profiled in the study, the newly-covered young adults used about $2 million in health care services in 2011 – about 0.2 percent of the employer’s total health spending.

Access is a major barrier to care for young adults, who were previously terminated from their parents’ plans when they turned 19. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), young adults typically face difficulties obtaining their own coverage because they work in entry-level, low-wage or temporary jobs that are less likely to provide health insurance. Lack of insurance makes it harder for young adults to receive adequate medical care –  a problem that plagued one in five young adults before the ACA began to take effect.

“Young adult women have additional health needs and are particularly vulnerable when they are uninsured, as they are at an age when they require reproductive health services,” noted Karyn Schwartz and Tanya Schwartz, authors of KFF’s Issue Paper, How Will Health Reform Impact Young Adults? “Having health insurance and consistent access to the medical system may increase the likelihood that they receive timely pre-natal care if they become pregnant.”

Meanwhile, some skeptics are expressing concerns about key aspects and implications of the Act, from objecting to young single males being required to purchase a plan including maternity benefits and well-baby coverage – to others saying that full implementation of the ACA in 2014 will mean much higher premiums for young adults. Many have challenged these assertions, however, noting that the ACA’s age-based pricing requirements are largely in line with premiums individuals are paying now.

Although the news for young adults is mostly good, the survey also found that 84 million people – nearly half of all working age U.S. adults – went without health insurance in 2012, or faced out-of-pocket costs that were so high relative to their income that they were considered “underinsured.”

The survey did indicate that 87 percent of the 55 million uninsured Americans in 2012 are eligible for subsidized health insurance through the insurance marketplaces or expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Up to 85 percent of the 30 million uninsured adults also might be eligible for either Medicaid or subsidized health insurance plans with reduced out-of-pocket costs.

Click here to learn more about pricing options for young adults seeking health insurance coverage.

Now it’s your turn. Does rollout of the ACA mean more accessible and affordable health insurance coverage, or will it drive up costs, particularly for younger Americans? Get the conversation started.

Categories: Access to Care

Heroes Needed: Apply Within

We’re taking a departure today from our coverage of what works in American health care to ask for your help.

Patients want us to re-open our Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell, but we can’t successfully do that until we identify several key companies or organizations to partner with us in this effort.

When HealthWell’s Breast Cancer Fund was open, thousands of Americans battling breast cancer found new hope to live healthier lives. Nearly 17,000 insured breast cancer patients received the financial assistance they needed so that the surging cost of treatments was not a barrier to accessing critical care.

As HealthWell prepares to re-launch its massive Breast Cancer Fund, we are expanding our call to action. We are seeking partners to help us make a real, positive difference in the lives of insured patients who often struggle to afford critical treatment including medications.

By becoming a strategic partner with the HealthWell Foundation, your organization will help thousands of Americans who face medical bills they can’t afford.  Beyond the incredible satisfaction of knowing that you played a role in persuading your organization to help us re-open this fund, you’ll gain a cause marketing partner that will support your efforts to build and shape your brand to new audiences.

When you work with us to empower patients, you will leverage a unique opportunity to win exclusivity, naming rights and more.

With one in eight women in the U.S. expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime, the need for timely, life-sustaining care is outpacing our health system’s ability to assist patients. More and more Americans are in desperate need of immediate financial relief to afford deductibles, co-pays and premiums, yet many have few places, if any, to turn for assistance.

Women like Linda in Powell, Tenn., illustrate exactly why support for the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell is needed. When Linda realized just how expensive her breast cancer medication would be, she was scared. As a self-employed grandmother of two, she faced a $5,500 deductible for her insurance premium alone. Additional costs for mammograms, colonoscopy, endoscopy and lab work were all out-of-pocket and she wasn’t sure how she would make ends meet.

That is, until she discovered the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell, a lifeline that enabled her to afford the treatments she needed to remain cancer-free two years after her diagnosis.

“My patient advocate gave me a list of several foundations to contact which I did,” Linda said. “The first turned me down because they said we went $50 over our salary. The second turned me down because I had a deductible. Then I heard from HealthWell. We couldn’t believe we had found help. We just had to cry. I am so thankful. Every time I have my prescription filled it still amazes me. Not many good things have happened to us.”

The fund’s incredible track record of success in offering assistance to patients in need is exactly why we must reopen it now.

The HealthWell Foundation believes that no patient – adult or child – should go without health care because he or she cannot afford it. As demand for medical treatments increases while associated prices continue to spike, we want the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell to once again provide timely, critical copay and premium assistance and expanded services to breast cancer patients.

These services went far to ease the strain felt by patients covered under Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and employer-sponsored plans with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level.

Strengthening the financial safety net for more patients begins with teamwork. Together we can be part of the solution, harnessing our resources to make access to quality medical treatment a reality for more Americans battling breast cancer. Please contact us if your company may be interested in partnering with us to re-open this vital fund.

The HealthWell Foundation sponsors this blog because we are innovators in finding solutions to overcome hurdles in the American health care system. The thousands of women at work right now trying to clear the hurdle of breast cancer deserve everything we have to give.  Join us.  We have so much yet to do.  And you could make a difference in so many lives.

Categories: Cost-Savings