HEALTH

WellCare of Georgia increases OTC, vision Medicaid benefits to boost preventative care

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA – WellCare of Georgia, a subsidiary of WellCare Health Plans, enhanced its Medicaid benefits Thursday by adding new incentives to its healthy rewards program and increasing its over-the-counter and vision program benefits.

The healthy rewards program incentivizes Georgia Medicaid members to complete specific preventive health, wellness and engagement milestones. The achievement of a healthy behavior earns the member a debit card with an amount up to $50, depending upon the type of healthy behavior completed. New to the program this year, members who meet their prescribed prenatal and postpartum visits will receive a $50 debit card plus their choice of a stroller, portable playpen or six packs of diapers.

"Preventive care is crucial to achieving and maintaining health," stated John Alexander Johnson, senior medical director for WellCare of Georgia. "We are committed to continually improving the care and services we provide to our members to help them stay healthy. The earlier we seek preventive care the better, which is why we work very hard to ensure expectant mothers get the care they need for their babies," he said. "Babies born to mothers who lack prenatal care have three times the chance of being born with low-birth weight. Our goal is for mothers to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies."

WellCare of Georgia Medicaid members will also receive a 20% increase in their credit toward OTC supplies. Each Medicaid member will receive a $12 monthly allowance against an asssortment of more than 200 items, including vitamins, toothbrushes and cold remedies.

And the increased vision benefit includes a $50 credit towards eyeglasses, with additional frame options beyond what is covered by traditional Medicaid. An annual eye exam and eye care supplies, including OTC reading glasses, eyewashes and eye drops are also available at no cost to these members.

"Our enhanced benefits are designed to positively impact the health of our Georgia Medicaid members and ultimately can help to reduce the long-term costs of health care," said Roman Kulich, WellCare's region president, Georgia and South Carolina.

As of March 31, 2016, WellCare serves approximately 583,000 Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids plan members, 37,000 Medicare Advantage plan members and 24,000 Medicare Prescription Drug Plan members in Georgia.

 

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FDA extends shelf life of Flublok influenza vaccine

BY Michael Johnsen

MERIDEN, Conn. – Protein Sciences announced Thursday that FDA has extended the shelf life for Flublok, its seasonal influenza vaccine, to nine months from the date of manufacture. That increases the previous shelf life by three months.  The longer shelf life will make it easier for healthcare providers and pharmacies to stock Flublok and vaccinate people throughout the influenza season, which in some years can last as long as April or May.

"We are pleased to add an extended shelf life to the list of product improvements we have been able to achieve for Flublok," stated Penny Post, Protein Sciences VP regulatory affairs.  "We were first able to expand the approved age range for Flublok to everyone 18 years and older in October 2014.  In addition to the nine month shelf life we just achieved, Flublok Quadrivalent is under review and FDA approval is anticipated this fall.  We are working towards securing a one year shelf life as well."

In a clinical study of approximately 9,000 adults 50 years and older, Flublok proved to be 43% more effective than a traditional egg-based flu vaccine in protecting people against cell culture confirmed influenza, the company noted.

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CDC’s ACIP recommends against ‘nasal spray’ flu vaccine for next season

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA – The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's  Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Wednesday voted that live attenuated influenza vaccine, also known as the “nasal spray” flu vaccine, should not be used during the 2016-2017 flu season.

ACIP continues to recommend annual flu vaccination, with either the inactivated influenza vaccine or recombinant influenza vaccine, for everyone 6 months and older.

ACIP is a panel of immunization experts that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This ACIP vote is based on data showing poor or relatively lower effectiveness of LAIV from 2013 through 2016.
In late May, preliminary data on the effectiveness of LAIV among children 2 years through 17 years during 2015-2016 season became available from the U.S. Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network. That data showed the estimate for LAIV VE among study participants in that age group against any flu virus was 3%. This 3% estimate means no protective benefit could be measured. In comparison, IIV (flu shots) had a VE estimate of 63% against any flu virus among children 2 years through 17 years.

How well the flu vaccine works (or its ability to prevent flu illness) can range widely from season to season and can be affected by a number of factors, including characteristics of the person being vaccinated, the similarity between vaccine viruses and circulating viruses, and even which vaccine is used. LAIV contains live, weakened influenza viruses. Vaccines containing live viruses can cause a stronger immune response than vaccines with inactivated virus. LAIV VE data before and soon after licensure suggested it was either comparable to, or better than, IIV. The reason for the recent poor performance of LAIV is not known.

Vaccine manufacturers had projected that as many as 171 million to 176 million doses of flu vaccine, in all forms, would be available for the United States during the 2016-2017 season. The makers of LAIV had projected a supply of as many as 14 million doses of LAIV/nasal spray flu vaccine, or about 8% of the total projected supply. LAIV is sold as FluMist Quadrivalent and it is produced by MedImmune, a subsidiary of AstraZeneca. LAIV was initially licensed in 2003 as a trivalent (three-component) vaccine. LAIV is currently the only non-injection-based flu vaccine available on the market.

Today’s ACIP vote could have implications for vaccine providers who have already placed vaccine orders. The ACIP recommendation may particularly affect pediatricians and other vaccine providers for children since data from recent seasons suggests nasal spray flu vaccine accounts for about one-third of all flu vaccines given to children.  CDC will be working with manufacturers throughout the summer to ensure there is enough vaccine supply to meet the demand.

The ACIP recommendation must be reviewed and approved by CDC’s director before it becomes CDC policy, the agency cautioned. The final annual recommendations on the prevention and control of influenza with vaccines will be published in a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Recommendations and Reports in late summer or early fall.
 

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