Category Archives: Columns

Only 251 hospitals score five stars in Medicare’s new ratings

Share

StarBy Jordan Rau
KHN

In an effort to make comparing hospitals more like shopping for refrigerators and restaurants, the federal government has awarded its first star ratings to hospitals based on patients’ appraisals.

Many of the nation’s leading hospitals received middling ratings, while comparatively obscure local hospitals and others that specialized in lucrative surgeries frequently received the most stars.

Evaluating hospitals is becoming increasingly important as more insurance plans offer patients limited choices. Medicare already uses stars to rate nursing homes, dialysis centers and private Medicare Advantage insurance plans.

While Medicare publishes more than 100 quality measures about hospitals on its Hospital Compare website, many are hard to decipher, and there is little evidence consumers use the site very much.

Many in the hospital industry fear Medicare’s five-star scale won’t accurately reflect quality and may place too much weight on patient reviews, which are just one measurement of hospital quality. Medicare also reports the results of hospital care, such as how many died or got infections during their stay, but those are not yet assigned stars.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 11.54.35 AM Continue reading

Share

Many entitled to hefty insurance subsidies still opt out

Share

turn-money-back-570By Michelle Andrews
KHN

The good news: Three-quarters of people who were eligible for the most generous financial subsidies on the federal health insurance exchange this year signed up for coverage, according to a new analysis by Avalere Health.

The puzzler: Enrollment dropped off substantially for people with only slightly higher incomes who would also have qualified for significant subsidies.

Stiffer penalties for not having coverage and redoubled efforts to reach out and educate people about the health law and their obligations may be keys to increasing enrollment for people in these income groups, says Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at Avalere Health.

Subsidies alone aren’t enough, she says.

“The carrots as a standalone don’t work,” Pearson says, referring to subsidies that are available to make coverage more affordable for people with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. “You have to make people aware of the mandate, and as the mandate penalties increase that will strengthen the effect.”

Unless they qualify for an exemption, most people are required by the law to have health insurance or face fines. The penalty for not having health insurance in 2014 was the greater of $95 or 1 percent of annual income.

This year, the penalty increases to $325 or 2 percent of income, and in 2016 rises to $695 or 2.5 percent of income. Continue reading

Share

Your insurance questions answered

Share

Share your story flat illustrationBy Michelle Andrews
KHN

May I Move My Son From My Insurance Plan To A Better Option On The Marketplace?

Some readers want to figure out how to become eligible for coverage on the health insurance marketplaces, while others want to figure out how to avoid it.

This week I answered questions from both.

I am covered by my employer’s health plan, but I’m not happy with it. My son is 21 and currently covered under my plan. While I realize that I am not eligible for Obamacare, I am curious if I can terminate my son’s policy so that he might be eligible.   Continue reading

Share

Dying and profits: The evolution of hospice – The Washington Post

Share

Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleThe influx of for-profit companies into the hospice field has benefited patients, advocates say, because the commercial companies made big investments in technology, focused on efficiency and made care more accessible.

But a Washington Post analysis of hundreds of thousands of U.S. hospice records indicates that, as those companies transformed a movement once dominated by community and religious organizations into a $17 billion industry, patient care suffered along the way.

On several key measures, for-profit hospices as a group fall short of those run by nonprofit organizations.

via Dying and profits: The evolution of hospice – The Washington Post.

Share

Avoid powdered pure caffeine, FDA warns.

Share

From the US Food and Drug Administration

The FDA is warning about powdered pure caffeine being marketed directly to consumers, and recommends avoiding these products.

In particular, FDA is concerned about powdered pure caffeine sold in bulk bags over the internet.

The FDA is aware of at least one death of a teenager who used these products.

1000px-Main_symptoms_of_Caffeine_overdose

These products are essentially 100 percent caffeine. A single teaspoon of pure caffeine is roughly equivalent to the amount in 25 cups of coffee.

Continue reading

Share

Mixing medications and supplements can be dangerous – FDA

Share

A Consumer Update from the FDA

supplementsWhen you take prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications, do you take also a vitamin, mineral, or other dietary supplements? Have you considered whether there is any danger in mixing medications and dietary supplements?

There could be, says Robert Mozersky, a medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Some dietary supplements may increase the effect of your medication, and other dietary supplements may decrease it,” he says.

“Natural does not always mean safe.”

Certain dietary supplements can change absorption, metabolism, or excretion of a medication and therefore affect its potency.

“You may be getting either too much or too little of a medication you need,” Mozersky warns.

Consequently, combining dietary supplements and medications could have dangerous and even life-threatening effects. For example, drugs for HIV/AIDS, heart disease, depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth control pills are less effective when taken with St. John’s Wort, an herbal supplement. Depending on the medication involved, the results can be serious. Continue reading

Share

Inks found in certain tattoo kits cause infections – FDA

Share

tatoo inkConsumer Update from the US Food and Drug Administration

Tempted to get a tattoo? Today, people from all walks of life have tattoos, which might lead you to believe that tattoos are completely safe.

But beware—there may be associated health risks.

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) became aware of a problem after testing inks in home use tattoo kits marketed by White and Blue Lion, Inc. FDA has confirmed bacterial contamination in unopened bottles of the company’s inks.

White and Blue Lion, Inc. recalled contaminated products on July 11, 2014, but FDA is still concerned that tattoo artists may be using contaminated inks from other distributors.

According to Linda Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, using these inks for tattoos could cause infection.

“FDA has confirmed one case of skin infection involving a consumer that used this company’s tattoo products,” Katz says, “and we are aware of other reports linked to tattoo products with similar packaging.”

Risks Can Be Severe

Continue reading

Share

‘Gluten-Free’ now means what it says

Share

Bread and grainsA Consumer Update from the FDA

In August of last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final rule that defined what characteristics a food has to have to bear a label that proclaims it “gluten-free.”

The rule also holds foods labeled “without gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “no gluten” to the same standard.

Manufacturers had one year to bring their labels into compliance. As of August 5, 2014, any food product bearing a gluten-free claim labeled on or after this date must meet the rule’s requirements.

Without a standardized definition of “gluten-free,” these consumers could never really be sure.

This rule was welcomed by advocates for people with celiac disease, who face potentially life-threatening illnesses if they eat the gluten found in breads, cakes, cereals, pastas and many other foods.

Andrea Levario, executive director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance, notes that there is no cure for celiac disease and the only way to manage the disease is dietary—not eating gluten.

Without a standardized definition of “gluten-free,” these consumers could never really be sure if their body would tolerate a food with that label, she adds. Continue reading

Share

New hepatitis C treatments – FDA Consumer Update

Share

fda-logo-thumbnailFrom the US Food and Drug Administration

At the approval of several new drugs for hepatitis C is  welcome news for baby boomers—who make up three of four adults with the hepatitis C virus—and millions of other Americans, many of whom don’t yet know they are infected and carriers, says the US Food and Drug Administration in this Consumer Update.

Hepatitis C can be cured, and today’s drug therapies are very effective and easier for patients to take, says Jeffrey S. Murray, M.D., the deputy director of the Division of Antiviral Products in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Murray is an internist who specializes in infectious diseases.

A Preventable and Curable Disease

Continue reading

Share

Can I cancel my exchange plan if my boss decides to offer coverage?

Share

Question Q&ABy Michelle Andrews
KHN

Q. My husband and I recently bought an HMO plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield on our state exchange.

Now my employer tells us he’s going to begin offering health insurance this month.

What if that’s a better plan and/or a better price?

Can I cancel the one I just purchased and sign up for my employer’s plan? Continue reading

Share

Medications for allergies – an FDA Consumer Update

Share

bee on flowerConsumer Update from the FDA

You’re sneezing, your eyes are itchy and you feel miserable. Seasonal allergies aren’t just a nuisance, they are real diseases that can interfere with work, school or recreation, and can range from mild to severe.

May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, and many allergy treatment options are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For the first time, these include three sublingual (under the tongue) prescription products to treat hay fever (also called “allergic rhinitis”)—with or without eye inflammation (called “conjunctivitis”)—caused by certain grass pollens and short ragweed pollen.

The new products—GrastekOralair and Ragwitek—can be taken at home, but the first dose must be taken in a health care provider’s office.

About Allergies

Continue reading

Share

FDA warns consumers to stop using GenStrip Blood Glucose Test Strips.

Share

GenStrips

From the FDA

The US Food and Drug Administration is advising people with diabetes and health care professionals to stop using GenStrip Blood Glucose Test Strips because the strips may report incorrect blood glucose levels.

GenStrip Blood Glucose Test Strips, sold by Shasta Technologies LLC, are “third-party” blood glucose monitoring test strips. Shasta’s GenStrips are advertised for use with the LifeScan OneTouch family of glucose meters (e.g. Ultra, Ultra 2 and Ultra Mini). Continue reading

Share