Thinking about enrolling in Obamacare? Keep these 5 tips in mind

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Credit: Dan Shirly

Credit: Dan Shirly

By Mary Agnes Carey
KHN

The health law’s open enrollment season is just around the corner. Are you ready?

Here’s a quick checklist for people who don’t get their health insurance at work and plan to shop for coverage on the health law’s online exchanges, or marketplaces, starting Nov. 15.

You can compare plans and prices at healthcare.gov or, if your state has its own exchange, shop there to find out which coverage is best for you.

And you may be eligible for subsidies to help pay your premium.

Keep these five things in mind as the three-month open enrollment period begins.

1. Shop Around:

Just because you’re enrolled in a policy now doesn’t means it’s the best deal for you next year. If you’re currently in the federal marketplace and don’t take any action, you’ll be re-enrolled in the same plan you’re in now.

Federal officials, as well as many analysts, are urging consumers to go back to the exchanges to compare plans and prices. You might discover that you have more –or different – choices than you had a year ago. Continue reading

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Toward ‘A Beautiful Death’

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By Jenny Gold
KHN

The American health care system is poorly equipped to care sensitively for patients at the end of life, a recent report from the Institute of Medicine found. But it is possible, through careful planning, for individuals to choose the kind of death they want.

nancy-metcalf-570

Nancy Metcalf

Consumer Reports has released a guide to end-of-life planning for families. The report offers tips for caregivers and individuals and profiles one man’s “beautiful death” at home.

KHN staff reporter Jenny Gold interviewed author Nancy Metcalf about the report. What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Q: You called your report “A Beautiful Death.” What does a beautiful death look like?

Metcalf: A beautiful death is probably different for each person. The gentleman whom we focused on – Paul Sheier, a retired dentist from a suburb of Buffalo — was very clear about what he wanted. He wanted to die at home. He had terminal lung cancer. He preferred to be kept comfortable, to forgo what he believed would be futile chemo, so he could spend his last months of life with his family and friends playing golf rather than at the hospital hooked up to an IV drip. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – November 7th

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Global health news – November 7th

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‘Tis open enrollment season: How to pick the right health insurance

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ICalendarf you’re purchasing your own coverage via the exchanges, you won’t have as much time this year. Open enrollment begins November 15 and ends February 15.

And if you want your coverage to kick-in January 1, you have to pull the trigger by December 15. Medicare Open Enrollment – the time when all people with Medicare can change their health plan or prescription drug plan – is even shorter. It began October 15 and ends December 7.

And if you are choosing a health plan from a menu your employer provides, your window may be shorter still.

via ‘Tis open enrollment season: How to pick the right health insurance.

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One in five US adults using a health app – Gallup

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photoGallup research shows that about two-thirds (65%) of American adults have a smartphone. About half of these smartphone users — or 34% of all adults — have downloaded at least one app that is meant to support healthy living, and 19% of all adults have downloaded and routinely used at least one such app.

This means that one out of every five people are regularly using mobile technology to improve their chances of a life well-lived. Among full-time workers, this percentage climbs to 23%.

via How Mobile Technology Can Improve Employees’ Well-Being.

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How much is that MRI, really? Massachusetts shines a light

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MRIBy Martha Bebinger, WBUR
November 6, 2014

The kids are asleep, and I’ve settled into a comfy armchair in the corner of my New England living room, one of my favorite spots for shopping online.

I’ve got my laptop open and I’m ready to search for a bone density test.

Hmmm … looks like the price that my insurer pays for that test varies from $190 at Harvard Vanguard to $445 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Really? I’m calm, but this is a seismic moment. In most of the country, it is still nearly impossible to compare the price and quality of anything in health care. Ten years ago, I tried filing Freedom of Information Act requests to get this information and got nothing. Occasionally, sources would leak me spread sheets from one hospital or another.

Ten years ago, I tried filing Freedom of Information Act requests to get this information and got nothing.

Websites that mine such data are springing up to fill the void, revealing price tags on everything from an office visit to a cesarean section. But thanks to a law enacted in October, Massachusetts health insurers now have to make all their prices public – in advance.

“This is a very big deal,” says Barbara Anthony, undersecretary for consumer affairs in Massachusetts. “We’re letting the light shine in.” Continue reading

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Health news headlines – November 6th

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Global health news – November 6th

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Hospitals take cues from the hospitality industry

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November 4, 2014

This KHN story also ran in The Washington Post.

Two years ago, Inova Health System recruited a top executive who was not a physician, had never worked in hospital administration and barely knew the difference between Medicare and Medicaid.

What Paul Westbrook specialized in was customer service. His background is in the hotel business – Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton, to be precise.

He is one of dozens of hospital executives around the country with a new charge. Called chief patient experience officers, their focus is on the service side of hospital care: improving communication with patients and making sure staff are attentive to their needs, whether that’s more face time with nurses or quieter hallways so they can sleep.

It’s a dimension of hospital care that has long been neglected, patient advocates say, and it was put high on hospitals’ agendas only when Medicare started tracking patient satisfaction and, in late 2012, shaving payments to hospitals that fell short.

The hospitals are judged on answers to such questions as how well their doctors and nurses communicated with them, how clean and quiet the hospital was, whether they received help when they needed it and how well providers explained the drugs they were given.

“There is a new recognition that the patient is important,” said Leah Binder, president and chief executive of the Leapfrog Group, an employer-based coalition that advocates for greater health-care quality and safety.

Hospital routines have traditionally been designed to suit employees, not customers, she said. “The patient used to be maybe 10th on the list of a hospital’s priorities.” Continue reading

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Health news headlines – November 4th

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Global health news – November 4th

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Group Health lays off 102 employees as part of transition to Swedish – Puget Sound Business Journal

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Group Health IconThe layoffs will mainly hit nurses, but maintenance workers, delivery room technicians and food service aides also will be affected as Group Health moves its special care nursery and birthing services from its Capitol Hill location to Swedish Medical Center on First Hill.

via Group Health lays off 102 employees as part of transition to Swedish – Puget Sound Business Journal.

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Home health workers struggle for better pay and health insurance

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Home health care workers Jasmine Almodovar (far right) and Artheta Peters (center) take part in a Cleveland rally for higher pay on Sept. 4. (Photo by Sarah Jane Tribble, WPCN/Ideastream)

Home health care workers Jasmine Almodovar (far right) and Artheta Peters (center) take part in a Cleveland rally for higher pay on Sept. 4. (Photo: Sarah Jane Tribble.)

By Sarah Jane Tribble, WCPN

Holly Dawson believes her job is a calling.

She is one of about 2 million home care workers in the country. The jobs come with long hours and low pay.

Each workday, Dawson drives through the Cleveland suburbs to help people take their medicines, bathe and do the dishes. She also takes time to lend a sympathetic ear.

George Grellinger, a former client of hers, has dementia. He recently fell down the back steps of his home. Dawson remains friends and regularly stops in to check on him. To remain living at home, Grellinger had to switch to an aide who is covered by his veterans’ benefits.

A lot of us are barely home because if we don’t go to work, we don’t get time off. We don’t get paid vacations. And some of us haven’t had raises in years.”

When Dawson worked for him, Grellinger paid an agency $37 for two hours of her time each day. Dawson received $13 an hour, higher than the national average for home health aides. She had to pay her own taxes and health care benefits. Dawson says she can’t remember the last time she could afford health insurance.

Dawson says she has been a home health aide for 31 years. She has never done it for the money, rather to help people like Grellinger, she says.

But the conditions of home health work are leading many aides to seek better pay and benefits.

On an early September morning, home health workers held a rally in Cleveland. Jasmine Almodovar, 35, chants with the crowd: “We want change and we don’t mean pennies!”

She says she earns $9.50 an hour, which is actually just above average for a home health worker in Ohio.

“We work really long hours, really hard work,” she says. “A lot of us are barely home because if we don’t go to work, we don’t get time off. We don’t get paid vacations. And some of us haven’t had raises in years.”

Almodovar says her last raise was four years ago. She makes about $21,000 a year so she makes too much to qualify for Medicaid, but paying for a plan on Ohio’s federal exchange doesn’t fit in her monthly budget. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – November 3

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