Category Archives: News

Medical prices higher where large doctor groups dominate


Sign for an emergency room.By Michelle Andrews

Prices for many common medical procedures are higher in areas where physicians are concentrated into larger practice groups, according to a new study.

The October Health Affairs study examined the average county prices paid by preferred provider insurance organizations in 2010.

It focused on 15 high-volume, high-cost medical procedures across a variety of specialties, including vasectomy, laparoscopic appendectomy, colonoscopy with lesion removal, nasal septum repair, cataract removal and knee replacement.

The prices studied reflected the negotiated prices between the PPOs and the physician groups, including payments made by both the plan and the patient. The average price ranged from $2,301 for a total knee replacement to $576 for a vasectomy.

The researchers also used an index to measure competition among physician practices at the county level that is based on the number and size of practices. They then examined the association between procedure prices and the concentration of physicians in larger practices.

In 12 of the 15 procedures, prices were 8 to 26 percent higher in counties with the highest average physician concentration compared to counties with the lowest average concentration, the study found.

The three procedures where there was no significant relationship between physician competition and price were intensity-modulated radiation therapy, shoulder arthroscopy and kidney stone fragmentation. Continue reading


Time to get ready for health insurance sign up


Take a few easy steps now to get ready for November 1

Get ready

First time applying through the Health Insurance Marketplace? Learn more about applying here.

  • Get a quick overview with 5 Health Insurance tips.
  • Use our checklist to gather everything you’ll need to apply.
  • Learn about key dates and deadlines to make sure you’re covered.

Already have a 2015 Marketplace health plan? Learn more about staying covered here.

  • Learn the 5 steps to staying covered.

Note: Plans and prices for 2016 will be available by late October.

The Team


Bill would require drug companies to report their payments to nurses and physician assistants


Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Charles Ornstein ProPublica, Oct. 8, 2015, 11 a.m.
This story was co-published with NPR’s Shots blog.

A bill proposed Wednesday by two U.S. senators would require drugmakers and medical device manufacturers to publicly disclose their payments to nurse practitioners and physician assistants for promotional talks, consulting, meals and other interactions.

The legislation would close a loophole in the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, which requires companies to report such payments to doctors, dentists, chiropractors, optometrists and podiatrists.

Companies have so far released more than 15 million payment records, covering August 2013 to December 2014. Continue reading


Number of older prisoners grows rapidly, threatening to drive up prison health costs


StatelineAgingPrisonersLineGraph (1)

By Matt McKillop and Frances Mcguffey

In a year when the nation’s overall prison population dropped, the number of older inmates grew rapidly in 2014, continuing a trend that translates into higher federal and state prison health care spending.

New federal data show that from 1999 to 2014, the number of state and federal prisoners age 55 or older increased 250 percent.

This compares to a growth rate of only 8 percent among inmates younger than 55, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which also reported that the U.S. prison population fell in 2014 to its lowest level since 2005.

In 1999, inmates age 55 and above—a common definition of older prisoners—represented just 3 percent of the total population. By 2014, that share had grown to 10 percent. Continue reading


Bats: Not so bad, but please don’t touch


BatsBy Amy Tseng
Public Health – Seattle & King County

Bats have an unfortunate reputation. A small, unscientific survey of our staff said they associate bats with “vampires,” “Mitzvah,” “Michael Keaton,” and “Nelson Cruz.”

Clearly, we needed to learn more. So we sat down with our in-house expert, Public Health Veterinarian Beth Lipton, who reminded us that bats aren’t all bad, but you really shouldn’t touch them.

Let’s start with some myth-busting.

True or false: Bats are evil and suck our blood:

Bats are no more evil than any other animal, and our Washington bats do not suck blood. They actually eat a large amount of night-flying insects, including moths, beetles, mosquitoes, termites and flies. Bats are actually very beneficial to our environment and ecology because they help preserve the natural balance of the insect population – particularly mosquitoes.

True or false: Bats are blind:

Continue reading


Raccoon latrines: Yes, they’re a thing, and they are as gross as they sound


You’ve probably not heard the words “raccoon” and “latrine” put together. For instance, it’s doubtful that you’ve heard, “So, what’s up with the raccoon latrine in the corner of your yard?” uttered at the neighborhood block party.

But it is a thing. A raccoon latrine is a site where those furry, masked critters repeatedly deposit their feces in one particular spot. Raccoons prefer sites that are flat and raised off the ground, but they also use the base of trees, and occasionally, open areas.

Common sites for raccoon latrines are roofs, decks, unsealed attics, haylofts, forks of trees, fence lines, woodpiles, fallen logs, and large rocks.

It’s never pleasant to have a latrine on your property, no matter who is using it. But if it was created by raccoons, it’s also a health hazard.

Photo courtesy of Darkone via Wikipedia Creative Commons License Continue reading


Buyer Beware: a mammogram’s price can vary by nearly $1,000, study finds


Doctor views mammograms

By Jordan Rau

Thinking about getting a mammogram in the Dallas-Fort Worth area? You might check carefully because the cost can vary from $50 to as much as $1,045.

How about an initial routine gynecological exam? Around Phoenix, those prices can range from $72 to $388.

According to an analysis released Wednesday, it can pay to shop around for women’s health care, with mammograms and other routine services often costing far more in one office than in another. Continue reading


Whistleblower warns about hospitals hiring physicians



By Jay Hancock

There is a good chance that your once-independent doctor is now employed by a hospital. Dr. Michael Reilly, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., orthopedic surgeon, does not believe this is good for physicians, patients or society.

For years he watched Broward Health, a nonprofit Florida hospital system, hire community doctors, pay them millions and minutely track the revenue they generated from admissions, procedures and tests.

“We are making money off these guys,” Broward Health’s CEO told Reilly, according to a federal whistleblower lawsuit filed against the system by Reilly and the U.S. Justice Department.

Last month Broward Health agreed to pay $70 million to settle allegations that it engaged in “improper financial relationships” with doctors under laws prohibiting kickbacks in return for patient referrals. Continue reading


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