SATURDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2012
Confused about the federal budget struggle? So are doctors, hospital administrators and other medical professionals who serve the 100 million Americans covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
Rarely has the government sent so many conflicting signals in so short a time about the bottom line for the health care industry.
Cuts are coming, says Washington, and some could be really big. Yet more government spending is also being promised as President Barack Obama's health care overhaul advances and millions of uninsured people move closer to getting government-subsidized coverage.
"Imagine a person being told they are going to get a raise, but their taxes are also going to go up and they are going to be paying more for gas," said Thornton Kirby, president of the South Carolina Hospital Association. "They don't know if they are going to be taking home more or less. That's the uncertainty when there are so many variables in play."
Real money is at stake for big hospitals and small medical practices alike. Government at all levels pays nearly half the nation's health care tab, with federal funds accounting for most of that.
It's widely assumed that a budget deal will mean cuts for Medicare service providers. But which ones? How much? And will Medicaid and subsidies to help people get coverage under the health care law also be cut?
As House Speaker John Boehner famously said: "God only knows." The Ohio Republican was referring to the overall chances of getting a budget deal, but the same can be said of how health care — one-sixth of the economy — will fare.
"There is no political consensus to do anything significant," said Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, a market analysis firm. "There is a collective walking away from things that matter. All the stuff on the lists of options becomes impossible, because there is no give-and-take."
As if things weren't complicated enough, doctors keep facing their own recurring fiscal cliff, separate from the bigger budget battle but embroiled in it nonetheless.
Come Jan. 1, doctors and certain other medical professionals face a 26.5 percent cut in their Medicare payments, the consequence of a 1990s deficit-reduction law gone awry. Lawmakers failed to repeal or replace that law even after it became obvious that it wasn't working. Instead, Congress usually passes a "doc fix" each year to waive the cuts.
This year, the fix got hung up in larger budget politics. Although a reprieve is expected sooner or later, doctors don't like being told to sit in the congressional waiting room.
"It seems like there is a presumption that physicians and patients can basically tolerate this kind of uncertainty while the Congress goes through whatever political machinations they are going through," said Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, president of the American Medical Association. "Our concern is that physician uncertainty and anxiety about being able to pay the bills will have an impact on taking care of patients."
A recent government survey indicates that Medicare beneficiaries are having more problems when trying to find a new primary care doctor, and Lazarus said that will only get worse.
Read More: Source
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2012
Pennsylvania will not set up its own health care exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act, at least not for now, Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday, putting the state on a course to join others led by Republicans that will let President Barack Obama's administration run its exchange.
Setting up a state-based exchange would be irresponsible, Corbett said, as he faulted federal authorities for what he called inadequate answers to his questions about cost and other issues.
"Health care reform is too important to be achieved through haphazard planning," Corbett said. "Pennsylvania taxpayers and businesses deserve more. They deserve informed decision making and a strong plan that responsibly uses taxpayer dollars."
The Corbett administration also is rejecting the option of running the exchange as a partnership with the federal government, spokeswoman Christine Cronkright said. But she also noted that the administration has the ability under the law to re-evaluate every year whether to get involved.
Corbett said it "would be irresponsible to put Pennsylvanians on the hook for an unknown amount of money to operate a system under rules that have not been fully written."
The exchanges are to be up and running Jan. 1, 2014.
Many Democratic lawmakers, insurers and hospitals wanted Corbett to set up a state-run system. As Pennsylvania's attorney general in 2010, Corbett joined a federal lawsuit with officials from other states challenging the constitutionality of the landmark federal health care law that was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Reaction broke down along partisan lines among Pennsylvania's congressional members and in the state Legislature.
The state Republican Party thanked Corbett for rejecting the exchange. The Washington, D.C.-based group Americans for Prosperity, which was founded by billionaire energy executives Charles and David Koch, had urged Corbett along with other governors to reject it. The group even sent a news release 20 minutes before he released his decision publicly Wednesday, saying they expected Corbett to "bring Christmas early to Pennsylvania" by rejecting an exchange.
State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, said Corbett's reasons for not participating appeared to be more thoughtful than some Republican governors who refused to participate strictly on partisan or ideological grounds. A better test of Corbett's interest in helping the uninsured will come when he decides whether to pursue a federally funded expansion of Medicaid under the law, Leach said.
To that end, Corbett said he will continue to seek guidance from the federal Department of Health and Human Services "on the costs, impacts and flexibility involved in the different options for Medicaid expansion."
Antoinette Kraus, of the Philadelphia-based health care advocacy coalition Pennsylvania Health Access Network, said the Corbett administration could have taken advantage of the opportunity to be innovative in crafting the health care exchange specific to Pennsylvania. But, she said, the most important thing is that people will get help finding coverage through the exchange.
"It's doesn't matter if it's the state or the federal government running it at the end of the day," Kraus said.
So far, 17 states and Washington, D.C., have said they will set up their own exchanges, while 20 other Republican-led states have opted to allow the federal government in. Another seven states have picked the partnership model, and the rest are trying to decide. States that want to run their own exchanges had until Friday to submit plans, and the deadline for partnership applications isn't until February.
The new insurance exchanges will allow households and small businesses to buy a private health plan, and many will get help from the government to pay their premiums. Under the law, states that can't or won't set up exchanges will have theirs run by the federal government.
The partnership option allows states to handle consumer relations and oversight of health plans, while the federal government does the bulk of the work, including handling enrollment and figuring out how much taxpayer-funded help consumers may be entitled to.
Read More: Source
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2012
As many Pennsylvania citizens continue to recover from the damage ensued from super-storm Sandy, they may be unaware of another post-storm threat that can have a surprising impact on their wallets—homeowners insurance fraud. At the end of the third quarter of 2012, Pennsylvania saw a 25 percent increase in the number of reported crimes involving homowners insurance in the Commonwealth—meaning that a false, misleading, or inflated claim was knowingly submitted to an insurance company—resulting in increased insurance rates for ALL insurance-paying consumers. Given this 25 percent increase, one has to ask, will super-storm Sandy make our numbers climb higher through the first half of 2013?
Our organization, the Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority (IFPA), advises the Governor and General Assembly on the nature and scope of the problem of insurance fraud in the Commonwealth, so we pay particular attention to how a storm of this caliber could impact insurance-paying consumers in our state. The teachings of the past tell us that fraud related to homeowners insurance tends to increase in places affected by damaging storms. Much of this fraud often involves contractor scams where faulty contractors infiltrate an area post-storm and target unsuspecting homeowners by taking advantage of their insurance policies. Popular scams include creating or exaggerating the damage on a home, disappearing without finishing the job up to code, or even leaving homeowners stuck with numerous vendor bills the contractor did not pay.
A question I’m asked is, “How can homeowners protect themselves from these scams after a storm?” First, the IFPA recommends that before signing with a contractor, consumers should check to see if the contractor is registered with the PA Attorney General’s Office. You can check to see if your contractor is registered by visiting the PA Attorney General’s website at www.attorneygeneral.gov . In addition, the Attorney General’s Office recommends contacting the contractor’s references, receiving more than one bid for the job, and checking for complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau. Considering that Pennsylvania saw a 25 percent increase in reported homeowners insurance fraud before Sandy ever took place, these are tips that every homeowner should remember even long after Sandy’s damage has been mended.
By better understanding your insurance policies and being aware of contractor scams, you can better avoid becoming a victim.
Read More: Source
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2012
Now is the time to protect yourself against the flu by getting your flu vaccine early, before flu season hits full force. Medicare covers the flu vaccination, along with many other preventive health services.
People with Medicare can get the flu shot at no cost to them. There’s no coinsurance, copayment or deductible.
Keep in mind that the flu shot helps prevent the flu; it doesn’t give you the flu. Getting the vaccine is the best way to avoid getting sick this flu season. Also, by protecting yourself, you’re protecting those you care about from getting the flu from you.
Who should get a flu shot? All adults, especially those 65 and older; people under 65 should get vaccinated if they have chronic illness, including heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, or End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure).
Here are some tips to follow during flu season:
In addition to flu shots, Medicare also covers vaccinations for pneumonia and hepatitis B (if you’re at medium to high risk for hepatitis B.)
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze — and throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also work.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Stay home if you’re sick. Wait at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever (100° Fahrenheit or 37.8° Celsius) or signs of a fever without using a fever-reducing medicine.
And while we’re on the subject, don’t overlook other Medicare-covered preventive services such as cancer screenings (mammogram, colorectal, prostate) and cardiovascular screenings.
Each of these services is critical to your overall health and can help you prevent diseases or detect them early, when treatment works best. Check with your doctor or other healthcare provider to see if you might need other vaccines, in addition to the flu vaccine.
Read More: Source
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2012
Maintaining a car can be a very expensive venture if you are not careful. From annual inspection and periodic upkeep to keeping the car fueled and insured, owning a car can easily deplete your bank account and leave you strapped for cash. One major cost associated with owning a car is paying for car insurance. Depending on where you live in the United States, car insurance could either be a small expense or take a dramatic toll on your budget. Here is a look at five of the most expensive cities in America for car insurance.
According to an article released by Yahoo! in January 2012, Detroit, Mich. has the highest car insurance premiums on average in the U.S. The Motor City's insurance rates are most unfriendly to cash-strapped car owners. According to Runzheimer International, the average car insurance premium in Detroit was $5,941 in 2011. That's nearly $2,000 more than the runner-up. The Motor City is filled to the brim with automobiles, and as a result of the high population of citizens and cars, along with a no-fault insurance system, its insurance premiums have stayed among the highest in the country.
Philadelphia, Pa. is another city that is hit hard by high car insurance costs. Coming in just behind Detroit, the City of Brotherly Love is not feeling the love in regards to its high premium costs. In 2011, the average car insurance policy cost drivers $4,076, according to Runzheimer International. The cost is not nearly as high as Detroit's astronomical average premium of $5,941, but is considerably higher than the approximate $1,199 national average that HomeInsurance.com reported for December 2011. Due to Philadelphia's overcrowded streets and high population of vehicles, insurance rates have continued to climb.
Another American city that definitely gets the short end of the stick when it comes to saving on auto insurance is New Orleans, La. The Big Easy has one of the most expensive car insurance premiums in the U.S. According to a Runzheimer International study performed in 2011, New Orleans had an average car insurance premium rate of $3,599 in 2011. New Orleans' high premiums are not due to overcrowding but because of judicial ruling. In Louisiana, only claims totaling over $50,000 actually make it to a jury case. Claims less than that benchmark are settled out of court.
Miami, Fla. is another U.S. city that was unable to escape high auto insurance premium rates. The Runzheimer International study performed in 2011 marked the average car insurance premium in Miami at a hefty $3,388. Due to the city's no-fault auto insurance rule and an influx of fraudulent claims, Miami has experienced a significant premium hike in recent years.
Last but certainly not least, Newark, N.J. has one of the highest car insurance premium averages in the U.S. The city features an average auto insurance premium of $2,867. Newark's residents certainly have quite a hefty expense in order to keep their vehicles insured. Similar to Miami and Detroit, New Jersey has a no-fault insurance rule, and costs have risen as a result.
The Bottom Line
Car insurance premiums vary substantially depending upon where you live. States with no-fault laws and higher populations are prone to have higher average auto insurance premiums due to the higher amount of accidents and collisions that occur. The numbers presented are based off studies, and it is possible to find less expensive auto insurance. Many factors apply when determining what your auto insurance rate is, including driver safety, your zip code and your age. Shop carefully when buying car insurance, and make sure you are getting the best rate possible.
Original story - 5 Most Expensive Cities In The U.S. For Car Insurance
Copyright (c) 2012 Investopedia US. All rights reserved. Investopedia.com is a division of ValueClick, Inc.