Weekly Dose of Health News

In this week’s summary: The definition of the word “affordable” is getting increased scrutiny as it relates to implementation of the ACA, the Supreme Court weighs in on gene patents, and financial hardships caused by medical bills may be on the decline. All that and much more below!


Affordable Care Act

It’s called the Affordable Care Act, but President Barack Obama’s health care law may turn out to be unaffordable for many low-wage workers, including employees at big chain restaurants, retail stores and hotels. The Washington Post writes that although the law requires medium-sized and large employers to offer “affordable” coverage, there are disagreements about what “affordable” means. Because of a wrinkle in the law, companies can meet their legal obligations by offering policies that would be too expensive for many low-wage workers (6/13).

Now that the January 1, 2014 deadline for the insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act is getting closer, firms with many part-time or hourly workers are beginning to finalize their decisions on eligibility and workforce scheduling, with a number of employers choosing to cut employees’ hours and skirt coverage requirements. But not every company is choosing that route. The Wall Street Journal writes that the Cumberland Gulf Group announced this week that it is maintaining or expanding some workers’ schedules to make them eligible for company-sponsored care. Its reasoning: The increased costs for care will pay off in the long run, with better employee retention and customer service (Weber, 6/10).


Federal developments

USA Today writes that the Supreme Court ruled that human genes are a product of nature and cannot be patented and held for profit, a decision that medical experts said will lead to more genetic testing for cancers and other diseases and to lower costs for patients. In a unanimous ruling Thursday, the nine justices declared that human genes are not an invention, so they cannot be claimed as a type of private property (Wolf, 6 14).

The Department of Health and Human Services reversed course this week on age restrictions for emergency contraception.  In papers filed in federal court in New York, government attorneys announced that the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services would remove age and point of sale restrictions on the Plan B emergency contraceptive, pending approval by U.S. District Judge Edward Korman. The decision would not apply to similar brands of emergency contraceptives, or to a two-pill version of the same drug.  On Thursday, Judge Korman has approved the administration’s proposal to make just one formulation of the morning-after birth control pill available over the counter without age restrictions (Shear and Belluck, 6/13).



NPR  focuses on the impact of high medical bills for Americans. For many years, high medical bills have been a leading cause of financial distress and bankruptcy in America. That pressure may be easing ever so slightly, according to a survey released earlier this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But one in five Americans still face hardships due to medical costs — and African Americans continue to be the hardest hit (Neighmond, 7/10).

A study  published in Health Affairs reports that consumers with health insurance coverage spent less time in the hospital and had lower health care costs. Data show that inpatient hospitalizations fell 59% while preventable hospitalizations dropped by 48% in the year after people were enrolled in public coverage. Researchers credited access to preventive care