You can shift your health savings accounts to get a better deal


Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleMichelle Andrews answers your health insurance questions:

This week, readers wrote in with questions about health savings accounts and the “Cadillac tax.” Adding grandchildren to a health plan cropped up too.


Q. Last year, my wife and I opened a health savings account. Since then, my account has been moved twice, and we have no choice as to who manages it. We can’t shop around for someone with lower fees. I think that is a big flaw in the system. Why can’t I choose to have my HSA with the same company I have my brokerage account?

A. You may be able to do just that. Any contributions you make or your employer makes to a health savings account belong to you, and you can transfer the funds to a different HSA with another HSA provider that offers lower fees or better services if you wish, say Treasury Department officials. If you want to move the money to the company where you have your brokerage account, you can, provided that company offers health savings accounts. Continue reading


VM begins posting online ratings, patient comments about clinic providers


Virginia Mason VM ThumbSeattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center has begun posting online star ratings for, and patients’ comments about, its clinic physicians and providers.

The ratings (up to five stars) and comments are based on patient satisfaction surveys and appear with providers’ biographies on the Virginia Mason website,

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 2.38.22 PM

Click on image to see the ratings and comments

To find a specific provider, type his or her name in the “Search” field at the top of the homepage. Click here to see an example.

In satisfaction surveys, patients rate physicians and other providers (i.e., physician assistants, advanced registered nurse practitioners) as Very Poor, Poor, Fair, Good or Very Good on these topics:

  • Friendliness/courtesy of the provider
  • Explanations the care provider gave you about your problem/condition
  • Concern the care provider showed for your questions or worries
  • Care provider’s efforts to include you in decisions about your treatment
  • Degree to which the provider talked with you, using words you could understand
  • Amount of time the care provider spent with you
  • Your confidence in the provider
  • Likelihood of your recommending this care provider to others

Ratings and patients’ comments are verified by Press Ganey Associates, an independent company that conducts ongoing satisfaction surveys.

The Virginia Mason Patient Relations and Service Department also uses information from the satisfaction surveys to identify and address issues of importance to patients and their families.

Virginia Mason is among a few health systems across the U.S. that post ratings for, and patient comments about, its providers on the Internet. Others include Cleveland Clinic, University of Utah Healthcare, Stanford Healthcare and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Virginia Mason has launched several other similar initiatives include: implementing the Patient Cost Estimator, which offers comprehensive estimates of out-of-pocket costs for numerous medical exams and procedures; posting online the estimated prices of the 100 most common outpatient surgical procedures; and enabling Virginia Mason patients to see clinical notes about their care on the secure, online patient portal, called


Do workplace wellness programs lead to overtesting?


A researcher works with a rack of test tubesBy Julie Appleby

As health insurance open season heats up for businesses across the country, many employees will discover that participating in their company’s wellness program includes rolling up their sleeves for blood tests.

Half of large employers offering health benefits have wellness programs that ask workers to submit to medical tests, often dubbed “biometrics,” that can involve a trip to a doctor’s office, lab or workplace health fair.

Will the screening exams actually improve health, or merely add to a culture of over-testing that is helping drive up the cost of health care?

While aimed at uncovering potential health risks early to head off serious and costly problems, the programs that involve those biometrics are also controversial. Will the screening exams actually improve health, or merely add to a culture of over-testing that is helping drive up the cost of health care?

So far, research is mixed on whether these programs truly save employers money. The Rand Corp. says most don’t, with the exception of programs targeted at managing specific diseases, such as diabetes. Still, Rand found that programs can help spur employees to quit smoking, get more exercise and lose a bit of weight. Continue reading


Pesticides and Pot: What marijuana users should know


Cannabis_leaf_marijuana_potBy Jeff Duchin, MD
Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County

The passage of I-502 in 2012 means that marijuana is now a legal crop in Washington State. Growers of most of the fruit and vegetables we eat routinely use pesticides and other chemicals to reduce or eliminate crop destruction.

Because marijuana is considered illegal by the federal government, the crop stands outside the federal pesticide evaluation and oversight system.

In Colorado and elsewhere, pesticides that were not approved for use on marijuana have been reported in product from recreational stores.

Could this happen in Washington?The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has tried to address this gap by providing growers with  a list of pesticides that may be used by marijuana growers, along with an explanation of the criteria used to select the pesticides.

These pesticides were selected because their use on marijuana plants would not be in direct conflict with federal law (they are allowed on other food products) and they are considered to pose minimal risk to health when used as directed.

Marijuana retailers are required to document all pesticides used on marijuana products that they sell and provide customers and regulators the information on pesticides used upon request.

The potential for pesticides to be present in marijuana is not new and was a concern before the legalization and regulation of medicinal and recreational marijuana products. Pesticides can pose a risk not only to marijuana users but also to workers who use the products and to the environment.

We don’t know that the problem is worse at this time than before regulation, and given the fact that there are now requirements for growers regarding acceptable pesticide use in  marijuana sold by regulated stores (and soon to include “medicinal marijuana” sold at regulated stores) the risk may be lower at this time than in the past. Continue reading


Want to know what diseases your pet can give you?


From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Good for you?

To observe World Animal Day (Oct 4) the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Has launched a redesigned Healthy Pets Healthy People website, with expanded information about diseases people can catch from pets, farm animals, and wildlife.

Users can now search alphabetically by animal and learn which zoonotic diseases they may carry. It is a unique “one-stop shop” where people can learn simple actions to protect themselves – and their pets.

The redesigned website offers:

  • An alphabetized list and description of diseases that can spread from animals to humans.
  • A list of animal species with the description of diseases associated with the animal.
  • Specific groups of people that may be more susceptible to diseases from animals.
  • Tips for preventing illnesses acquired from pets and other animals.
  • Detailed information about the health benefits of owning a pet.

Continue reading


Newly insured treasure Medicaid, but growing pains felt


By Sara Varney

SAN DIEGO — The Affordable Care Act unleashed a building boom of community health centers across the country. At a cost of $11 billion, more than 950 health centers have opened and thousands have expanded or modernized.

In San Diego, new clinics have popped up on school campuses and busy street corners. Cramped storefront clinics have been replaced with gleaming, three-story medical centers with family medicine, radiology and physical therapy on site. They are outfitted to care for new immigrants in dozens of languages from Spanish to Somali.

The community health centers are the country’s largest primary care system for low-income patients, now working to absorb a tsunami of new Medicaid enrollees.

At age 58, after several worrisome decades without health insurance, Lori Simpson is finally getting treatment for her dangerously high blood pressure, a serious thyroid disorder and, after years of double vision that had made it difficult for her to work and care for her grandchildren, surgery for her eyes.

“I have nine medications that I get every month, and mine comes to a little over two hundred dollars,” Simpson said. Prescription medications for her husband, a diabetic, cost $400 a month. “We don’t pay anything, it’s all covered. It’s just amazing.”

Simpson goes to the Family Health Centers of San Diego, which saw an increase of 24,000 patients, almost overnight, after the Medicaid expansion began in January 2014. Dr. Chris Gordon, the center’s assistant medical director, said it was a rush primary care clinics have been waiting for ever since President Barack Obama signed the health law in 2010.

“We’ve anticipated this for years and have been planning for it,” Gordon said. “We have capacity to take on patients. These are patients that haven’t had access before because they just didn’t have the financial means to get in. And now all of a sudden, they actually get to come in, get to spend time with somebody and get to feel like they’re heard.” Continue reading


Even with insurance many adults can’t afford dental care


500px-Cavities_evolution_1.svgAdults With Insurance Often Still Have Unmet Dental Needs, Survey Finds

By Michelle Andrews

Dental care ranked number one among health care services that people with insurance say they’re skimping on because of cost, a new survey found.

One in five adults reported that they had unmet dental care needs because they couldn’t afford necessary care, according to the brief by researchers at the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center.

People said they were more likely to go without dental care than prescription drugs, medical care, doctor or specialist care, and medical tests. Continue reading


ICHS offering multilingual education and information services at Crossroads Bellevue Shopping Center


logoInternational Community Health Services  community advocates have started offering health education and health awareness information and Affordable Care Act health insurance enrollment assistance in Spanish, Russian, Hindi, and Punjabi, as well as English — at Crossroads Bellevue Shopping Center.

A table will be set up by ICHS community advocates outside Crossroads Mini City Hall at Crossroads Bellevue Shopping Center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Tuesday. No appointment is needed.

Bellevue Crossroads Outreach (1)

International Community Health Services (ICHS) community advocates are reaching out and providing services to diverse communities on the Eastside from their table at Crossroads Bellevue Shopping Center. In the picture (from L to R): Duby Monteros, Blanca Lujan Westrich, Alexandra Poseukova, and Miran Hothi.

Crossroads Bellevue shopping center is located at 15600 N.E. 8th St., Bellevue, WA 98008.

ICHS is offering the service to the community in partnership with Crossroads Mini City Hall and Crossroads Bellevue Shopping Center.

For more information about ICHS, please visit:


US awards $21 million to support tribal domestic violence programs


From the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Indian Health Service

indian-health-services-seal-200pxThe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and Indian Health Service (IHS) announced Thursday the award of nearly $21 million to support tribal domestic violence victims and organizations in American Indian and Alaska Native communities across the nation.

ACF funding announced today is being awarded under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), which is the primary federal funding source dedicated to providing immediate shelter and supportive services for victims of family violence, domestic violence, or dating violence and their dependents.

Grants will be awarded to 136 tribes and tribal organizations serving 274 tribes.

These funds will help to strengthen tribal responses to domestic violence and emphasize public awareness, advocacy, and policy, training, and technical assistance. Continue reading