Weekly Dose of Health News

In this week’s summary: a new study on immigrants and health care has some surprising results; small businesses are worried about how the ACA will affect them; plus details on a looming health crisis facing our nation’s seniors; all that and much more in this week’s dose.  


Immigrants have contributed billions of dollars more to Medicare in recent years than the program has paid out on their behalf, according to a new study, a pattern that goes against the notion that immigrants are a drain on federal health care spending. The  study, led by researchers at Harvard Medical School, measured immigrants’ contributions to the part of Medicare that pays for hospital care, a trust fund that accounts for nearly half of the federal program’s revenue. It found that immigrants generated surpluses totaling $115 billion from 2002 to 2009. In comparison, the American-born population incurred a deficit of $28 billion over the same period.

USA Today  highlights the findings of a recent Congressional Budget Office study on Medicare costs. The report, released in mid-May that shows Medicare costs will continue to decline over time.  Innovations adopted and accelerated by the Affordable Care Act will continue to force down overall Medicare costs, even as the economy continues to improve. Those changes include new payment plans, improved efficiency and a move toward consumer-driven insurance plans that started before the law’s passage. They influenced the $618 billion drop in projected Medicare and Medicaid spending over the next decade that was reported by the Congressional Budget Office (Kennedy, 5/30).

Affordable Care Act

The Wall Street Journal  features a story on how the Affordable Care Act will impact small employers. Many small employers worry their costs may rise sharply under the health law next year. But for some—particularly those with older workers or employees who have been very sick—costs may in fact come down, business owners and insurance brokers say. Under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, which goes into force in January, insurers will be barred from setting rates for health-care coverage based on how healthy—or unhealthy—employers or their workers are at businesses with fewer than 50 or 100 workers, depending on the state (Loten, 5/29).

The New York Times reports that officials in the Obama administration are claiming that the Affordable Care Act is creating more competition in the health insurance marketplace around the country. At a White House briefing Thursday for health reporters, the administration insisted that in most states at least, competition will be far greater than it is today — with 120 companies having applied to offer insurance on the exchanges that are set to be up at running in October. Administration officials said in a memorandum that they expected around 90% of the seven million people expected to sign up for their own coverage through the insurance marketplaces next year would be in states with products available from at least five different insurance companies  (Pear, 5/30).


The New York Times reports that hospitals are employing new tactics to improve hand washing by health care professionals. Hospitals are using high-tech sensors, training hand-washing coaches and issuing gold stars. Hospitals across the country are using video snooping to monitor workers and giving out rewards like free pizza and coffee coupons in order to encourage staffers to wash their hands (Hartocollis, 5/28).

USA Today profiles the findings of a new study that examines how senior health fares in each state. The report found that growing rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic conditions are setting seniors up for a looming healthcare crisis. The report focuses on 34 measures of senior health, including physical inactivity, obesity, self-reported health status, poverty, drug coverage, hospital re-admission rates and flu vaccinations. The data analyzed is from more than a dozen government agencies and private research groups (Healy, 5/29).

The Washington Post  reports that the Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules to prevent firms from discriminating against employees through corporate wellness programs.  The programs, which have gained in popularity in recent years, provide incentives for employees to improve their health. Some give medical insurance discounts to workers who meet specific metrics for blood pressure and body-mass index. The rules would require companies to provide “reasonable alternatives” to employees who cannot meet health benchmarks but still want the discounts. They also allow for workers to involve their physicians to help tailor programs with their employers (Somashekhar, 5/29).