HEALTH

Cost of health care on the rise

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON Workers on average are paying nearly $4,000 this year toward the cost of family health coverage — an increase of 14%, or $482, above what they paid last year, according to the benchmark "2010 Employer Health Benefits Survey" released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.

The jump occurred even though the total premiums for family coverage, including what employers themselves contribute, rose a modest 3% to $13,770 on average in 2010, the survey found. In contrast, the amount employers contributed for family coverage did not increase.

 

Since 2005, workers’ contributions to premiums have gone up 47%, while overall premiums rose 27%, wages increased 18% and inflation rose 12%.

 

 

Many employers also are raising the annual deductibles workers must pay before their health plans begin to share most healthcare costs. A total of 27% of covered workers now face annual deductibles of at least $1,000, up from 22% in 2009, the survey found. Among small firms (three to 199 workers), 46% face such deductibles.

 

 

“With the economy struggling, businesses have been shifting more of the costs of health insurance to workers through premiums, deductibles and other cost-sharing,” Kaiser president and CEO Drew Altman stated. “This may be helping to stem the rapid rise in premiums that we saw in the early 2000s, but it also means employer coverage is less comprehensive. From a consumer perspective, the cost of health insurance just keeps going up faster than wages.”

 

 

“High out-of-pocket expenses and premiums affect healthcare decisions for patients," added Maulik Joshi, president of the Health Research and Educational Trust and SVP research at the American Hospital Association. "If premiums and costs continue to be shifted to consumers, households will face difficult choices, like forgoing needed care, or reexamining how they can best care for their families,”

 

 

The nation’s recession contributed to the shift in burden to workers. In response to the economic downturn, 30% of employers said they reduced the scope of health benefits or increased cost sharing, and 23% reported increasing the amount employees pay for coverage, the survey found.

 

 

Among other plan types, only such consumer-driven plans as a health savings account, which allows for the reimbursable purchase of over-the-counter medicines in addition to prescriptions and other healthcare services, saw growth in their market share. Such plans now enroll 13% of covered workers, up from 8% last year.

 

 

“Consumer-driven plans have clearly established a foothold in the employer market, tripling their market share from 4% in 2006 to 13% today,” said study lead author Gary Claxton, a Kaiser VP and director of the Healthcare Marketplace Project.

 

 

About three-fourths (74%) of employers offering health benefits offered at least one of the following wellness programs: weight-loss program; gym membership discounts or on-site exercise facilities; smoking-cessation program; personal health coaching; classes in nutrition or healthy living; Web-based resources for healthy living; or a wellness newsletter.

 

Also among firms offering coverage, 11% gave their employees the option of completing a health risk assessment to help employees identify potential health risks. Within this group, 22% (2% of all employers) offer such financial incentives as lowering the worker’s share of premiums or offering merchandise, gift cards, travel or cash to their workers. Large firms are more likely than small firms both to offer assessments and to offer financial incentives.

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FDA to discuss concerns over medicines with DXM

BY Michael Johnsen

SILVER SPRING, Md. The Food and Drug Administration last week issued an information packet in preparation for a Sept. 14 advisory committee meeting that will address the potential abuse of dextromethorphan products and whether restrictions should be placed on the sale of those over-the-counter cough medicines.

 

Members of both the FDA Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee and the FDA Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee will be in attendance at the public meeting.

 

 

Included in the 135-page packet is a Drug Enforcement Agency summary of that agency’s concerns over the abuse potential of DXM, a list of substances included as part of the Controlled Substances Act, the approval history and OTC monograph of DXM, abuse-related pharmacology reports, a clinical perspective in the treatment of cough, drug utilization data, Drug Abuse Warning Network data, adverse event reports and a review of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association’s website designed to raise awareness among parents and school authorities around the abuse of nonprescription medicines. According to the docket, the CHPA actively has engaged parents and other groups around effective methods in preventing abuse of OTCs and other medicines since May 2006.

 

 

“CHPA does not believe scheduling of dextromethorphan under the Controlled Substances Act is warranted,” the association stated in a 93-page briefing book available to meeting attendees. “The prevalence and scope of reported abuse is limited. CHPA believes that there are more effective interventions to address OTC cough medicine abuse in general, and dextromethorphan abuse in particular, that preserve the significant public health benefit of consumer OTC access to these important cough medicines.”

 

 

The abuse of DXM products has been the focus of two previous FDA advisory committees. In August 1990, an advisory committee was convened as a result of reports of abuse of DXM containing cough syrups by teenagers in areas of Pennsylvania and Utah. The committee was asked to help the FDA develop a strategy for assessing the problem and discuss possible solutions. The committee recommended that the sponsor provide additional data on the toxicity of the substance in the higher dose range, and that additional epidemiological data be gathered so that the FDA could better assess the scope and significance of abuse, and the risk to the public health.

 

In July 1992, the committee reconvened and discussed several proposed epidemiological studies on DXM abuse, including conducting a national survey from interviews with drug-free school coordinators, and evaluating attitudes and behaviors of potential and actual DXM abusers and how they might be affected by an abuse prevention program.

 

“Although no clear consensus on the extent of the problem or solutions came out of this meeting, there was a general recognition, in this early pre-Internet era, that outbreaks of abuse occurred in small communities, that the DXM abuse problem had not risen yet to the national level and further studies should focus on areas where abuse outbreaks are occurring,” the report, issued by Michael Klein, director of the FDA’s controlled substance staff, read.

 

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NCPA launches PharmacyMatching.com

BY Allison Cerra

ALEXANDRIA, Va. In an effort to connect independent pharmacy owners looking to sell their pharmacies and those who seek to purchase them, the National Community Pharmacists Association launched a new website that unites the two.

PharmacyMatching.com  helps pharmacists navigate every step of the entrepreneurial process from buying to selling a pharmacy, as part of the association’s focus on increasing the number of independent community pharmacy owners throughout the country, NCPA said. 

“Now more than ever, the future of community pharmacy depends on the successful transition of ownership to independent owners,” said NCPA president and pharmacy owner Joseph Harmison. “NCPA wants to be independent pharmacy’s source for matching buyers and sellers to keep independents independent.”

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