HEALTH

In study, insurer shows cost benefits of smarter health decisions by patients

BY Jim Frederick

BLOOMFIELD, Conn. Americans can lower their total medical costs significantly by taking simple steps to prevent or manage disease and by switching to generic drugs whenever possible, new research from health insurance giant Cigna confirmed.

A new, multiyear study compared the healthcare claims of 897,000 Cigna customers enrolled in consumer-driven health plans, preferred provider organizations and health maintenance organizations. Based on its findings, Cigna asserted that beneficiaries covered by its Cigna Choice Fund CDH plans “improve their costs without compromising care by becoming more engaged in improving their health and by becoming informed healthcare consumers,” according to a company report.

“When Americans engage in health-smart habits, such as participating in health coaching and disease management programs, substituting generic medications for brand-name drugs and avoiding unnecessary trips to the emergency room, their total medical costs went down 15%,” the report noted. That resulted in an average savings of $358 per person in the first year, Cigna noted.

Behind the cost reductions, according to the insurer, were higher-than-industry-average rates of participation by Cigna CDH plan members in health coaching and disease management programs, as well as higher generic drug substitution rates. “Cigna CDH plan participants who also have Cigna Pharmacy Management benefits choose generic equivalent drugs 70% of the time,” the company noted.

Avoiding unnecessary emergency room visits also is key to health cost savings, the report noted. “CDH plan enrollees use the emergency room at a 13% lower rate than individuals who have HMO and PPO plans,” the company asserted. “When Cigna Choice Fund customers visited an urgent care facility, their doctor’s office or convenience clinic instead of the ER, they saved an average of $800.”

 

“The evidence is clear,” the report’s authors asserted. “Given the right incentives, the right health improvement programs, useful cost and quality information, and easy-to-understand correspondence, individuals are making rational, wise and successful healthcare decisions.”

 

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CRC risk may be highest among men with Type 2 diabetes, study finds

BY Allison Cerra

NEW YORK There may be a link between Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer among men, according to a new study published in Gastroenterology.

In a final study of 73,312 men and 81,663 women — which were participants selected from the prospective study "Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort" — 1,567 men (227 with Type 2 diabetes) and 1,242 women (108 with Type 2 diabetes) were diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer by 2007. Among men, Type 2 diabetes was associated with increased risk of incident CRC compared with not having Type 2 diabetes. CRC risk was higher for those participants with Type 2 diabetes regardless of whether or not they used insulin.

 

Among women, Type 2 diabetes and insulin use were not associated with CRC risk, the authors said, which may support recent observations that the association may be more prominent in men than in women, and raise the possibility of a stronger association among individuals with a family history of CRC. The authors speculated that the lack of an association between Type 2 diabetes and CRC risk among women might relate to improved glucose control among women with Type 2 diabetes in recent years.

 

 

"While our study supports an association of Type 2 diabetes with colorectal cancer incidence among men, our results also suggested that insulin use is associated with a slight, but not a substantially increased, risk of colorectal cancer among men with Type 2 diabetes," said Peter Campbell of the American Cancer Society and lead author of this study. "Prevention strategies should emphasize adherence to guidelines intended for the general population, such as smoking cessation, weight management, exercise and regular early detection exams."

 

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NACDS to IRS: Delay health debit card changes

BY Michael Johnsen

ALEXANDRIA, Va. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores on Tuesday released a letter addressed to the Internal Revenue Service requesting clarifications of provisions regarding over-the-counter and prescription medications in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

First and foremost, NACDS is concerned that current IRS guidance would prohibit the use of debit cards in the purchase of not only any prescribed OTC medicine, but also any prescription-only therapy.

“Currently, there is no robust interaction between pharmacy dispensing systems and [inventory information approval systems; the systems used to substantiate purchases for flexible spending accounts]; an IIAS cannot distinguish between a medication for which a prescription is required and an OTC that has been prescribed,” NACDS explained. “As a result, a prohibition on using debit cards for prescribed OTC medications could have the practical effect of prohibiting the use of debit cards for all prescribed medications. … IRS’ prohibition on using debit cards for prescribed OTC medications greatly diminishes the value of the IIAS infrastructure unless pharmacies invest even more capital to modify the IIAS infrastructure to comply with the new guidance.”

There is significant capital at stake, NACDS argued, as the IIAS modifications to distinguish prescription-only and OTC across all stakeholders could take as long as two years to implement. NACDS requested IRS allow the use of debit cards to purchase prescribed OTCs; otherwise, the association requested that the two-week delay the IRS has allowed for implementation be extended by two years.

For a full copy of the letter, click here.

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