Weekly Dose of Health News

In this week’s summary: A new trend in employer-sponsored health care appears to be catching on; the Federal government is going all out in its efforts to educate the public on the ACA; and the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA could have a major implication for health coverage nationwide,, all that and more in this week’s health news!

Affordable Care Act & Health Plans
The New York Times reports on a new trend in how employers are trying to curb employee health care costs. In an effort to reduce insurance costs, employers are experimenting with a new way to pay for health care, telling workers that their company health plan will pay only a fixed amount for a given test or procedure, like a CT scan or knee replacement. Employees who choose a doctor or hospital that charges more are responsible for paying the additional amount themselves. Although it is in the early stages, the strategy is gaining in popularity and there is some evidence that it has persuaded high-priced hospitals to lower their prices (Abelson, 6/23).
USA Today reports that the Department of Health and Human Services began a 100-day public education blitz by releasing a new website, call center and publicity campaign to educate the public about the Affordable Care Act. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said the call center would be in operation 24 hours a day. The phone number is 800-318-2596. The Web site, www.healthcare.gov, provides information promoting the 2010 health care law and describing new insurance options. The campaign is designed to educate those who do not have insurance about how the marketplaces will work and how to obtain health insurance (Kennedy, 6/24).
The Associated Press reports on actions by the Department of Health and Human Services to broaden an exemption for American Indians from the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that every U.S resident obtain health insurance starting next year. New rules clarify that people who are eligible to receive medical care through the federal Indian Health Service will be exempt from the requirement to have health insurance or face fines from the Internal Revenue Service. The Indian Health Service, a division of U.S. Health and Human Services, oversees a network of clinics that are required through treaty obligations to serve all patients of Indian ancestry, even if they cannot document their federal tribal status (6/26). DOMA Ruling
NPR examines how the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act could have a major impact on health coverage and other benefits for legally married same-sex partners of federal employees and members of the military, as well as on tax treatment for private health coverage. The law barred the government from treating same-sex partners as married, a rule that raised the cost of health care for same-sex couples. It also denied them eligibility for federally guaranteed rights such as medical and family leave, and, in some cases, Medicare (Neel, 6/26).
Counterfeit Drugs
The Associated Press reports that the Food and Drug Administration together with international regulators, ordered the closure of 1,677 illegal pharmacy websites and confiscated illegal medicines worth $41 million as part of continuing efforts against counterfeit drugs sold online. “Illegal online pharmacies put American consumers’ health at risk by selling potentially dangerous products,” FDA Office of Criminal Investigation Director John Roth said. “This is an ongoing battle in the United States and abroad, and the FDA will continue its criminal law enforcement and regulatory efforts.” (AP, 6/27)
Reuters details the findings of a new report from CVS Caremark on medication adherence for Medicare Part D enrollees. The study found that patients enrolled in Medicare Part D were more likely to adhere to their prescriptions compared with patients with other coverage, a trend that could lead to about $7 billion in annual savings on health care costs if more patients did the same. The report was based on a study of patients at least 65 who had diabetes, depression, hypertension or high cholesterol (Wohl, 6/27).