Tag Archives: Financial

Consumers Aren’t Using Accessible Health Information

Despite the government’s push to make health information more available, few people use concrete information about doctors or hospitals to obtain better care at lower prices, according to a poll released Tuesday.

Prices for the health care industry have historically been concealed and convoluted, unlike those for most other businesses. The 2010 health law aimed to make such information more transparent. People shopping for insurance can now compare the prices of competing plans through online marketplaces, including premiums, deductibles and their share of any medical expenses. The federal government also publishes more than 100 quality ratings about hospitals, as do some large private insurers. Private groups such as Consumer Reports and U.S. News & World Report also rate providers, and Internet forums such as Yelp are now littered with easily accessible opinions.

The poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about two of three people say it is still difficult to know how much specific doctors or hospitals charge for medical treatments or procedures. (KHN is an independent program of the foundation.) Only about one in five people said they had seen specific cost or quality information about a hospital, insurer or doctor.

The poll found that this information rarely makes a difference. About 6 percent of people ever used quality information in making a decision regarding an insurer, hospital or doctor. And fewer than 9 percent used information about prices, most commonly in relation to health plans. Only 3 percent said they used price information about physicians, the poll found.

This lack of practical information may be related to another major finding from the poll: people are overconfident about their ability to pay medical bills without financial strain.

A majority of people told pollsters they had enough insurance coverage or money to pay for their usual medical costs or for an unplanned hospitalization. A majority also said paying insurance premiums, deductibles and their share of medical costs was relatively easy.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Nutrition: The Simple Rule for Eating

Over the past few months, I’ve written a number of times on how nutrition recommendations are seldom supported by science. I’ve argued that what many people are telling you may be inaccurate. In response, many of you have asked me what nutrition recommendations should say.

It’s much easier, unfortunately, to tell you what not to do. But here at The Upshot, we don’t avoid the hard questions. So I’m going to put myself on the line. Below are the general rules I live by. They’re the ones I share with patients, with friends and with family. They’re the ones I support as a pediatrician and a health services researcher. But I acknowledge up front that they may apply only to healthy people without metabolic disorders (me, for instance, as far as I know).

These suggestions are also not supported by the scientific weight of rigorous randomized controlled trials, because little in nutrition is. I’ve inserted links to back them up with the available evidence. They are not “laws” and should not be treated as such. No specific nutrients will be demonized, and none will be held up as miracles. But these recommendations make sense to me, and they’ve helped me immensely.

Full disclosure: I did not invent most of these. I’ve developed them from reading the work of others, including what may be the most impressive “official” nutritional guidelines, those of Brazil, as well as from earlier suggestions from readers, as in this great NYT interactive graphic. It captures readers’ responses to food rules by Michael Pollan. He is, of course, the promulgator of the well-known advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Will Premiums Rise for Small Businesses?

Today we return to our series exploring lingering questions small-business owners have about the Affordable Care Act. Today’s question is a basic one: Will premiums for small businesses rise in 2015, and if so, how steeply?

If you asked someone in the health insurance industry earlier this year — the executives at the insurance carriers or the brokers and agents who sell their policies — the word on premiums was grim. In March, an unidentified insurance industry executive told The Hill that “everybody knows” that the way the exchange has rolled out “is going to lead to higher costs.”

Then in April, a survey of insurance brokers by Morgan Stanley found that insurance premiums for small businesses were rising, on average, 11 percent, and at least 20 percent in 15 states. In Washington state, according to the report, small group rates were rising at the astounding rate of 588 percent. The report quickly became fodder for conservative media and Republican attack ads around the country.

Now it is October, and many states are finalizing rates in the small-group market for next year. And we are learning, anecdotally, that the rate increases facing most employees insured through a small business will be considerably lower than the dire predictions. By and large, it appears that the increases will be less than 10 percent. In some cases, they will be near zero — and at least one state is claiming the average rate increase will actually be a rate reduction.

The evidence is anecdotal because, as far as we can tell, nobody is systematically collecting, let alone analyzing, small-group insurance rates for next year, though in many states they are disclosed in regulatory filings that are freely available online. Several organizations are tracking rates for the individual market, most notably the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has a couple of staffers working nearly full time on the endeavor and has compiled average rate information in a clickable map.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

IRS Announces Inflation-Adjusted Increase for HSAs

The IRS released increases for HSAs and high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) for 2015.

The maximum annual HSA contribution for self-only HDHP coverage will increase from $3,300 to $3,350. The maximum annual HSA contribution for family HDHP coverage will increase from $6,550 to $6,650.

  • The age 55 catch-up contribution continues to be $1,000
  • The minimum HDHP deductible limit changes:
    • Self-only coverage increased from $1,250 to $1,300
    • Family coverage increased from $2,500 to $2,600

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Long-term Jobless may Finally get a Break

The rhetorical back-and-forth  regarding the Affordable Care Act can figuratively give you whip lash (unless you have multiple browsers open, then it maybe literal).

The recent Congressional Budget Office reported back a few weeks ago that the Affordable Care Act would eliminate two-million jobs, but the reaction to that should be positive.

As PBS reports, two-million workers will chose to work less and those who have been jobless for an x-amount of time will finally have a chance to apply for “newly created” jobs. To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Health Care Coverage Cost and Tax Season Compliance

Are you an employer that offers or provide group health coverage to your workers?  Were you required to file 250 or more Forms W-2 for tax year 2012?  If so, an Affordable Care Act/IRS requirement to report health care coverage costs on Forms W-2 for 2013 applies.  What follows below is important information so that you can comply with the regulations.

Highlights:

  • Report the aggregate cost of applicable employer-sponsored health care coverage on the employee’s Form W-2 (Box 12, code DD).
  • Report is informational only; there are NO tax consequences.
  • Exceptions: Certain small employers or employers that contribute to a multiemployer plan.
  • IRS provides detailed instructions to assist employers and payroll administrators in meeting this reporting requirement.  The instructions first applied for 2012 and there are no changes for tax year 2013.

To read the rest, click here. 

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

President

ERISA Explains It All

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that sets minimum standards for retirement and health benefit plans in private industry. ERISA does not require any employer to establish a plan. It only requires that those who establish plans meet certain minimum standards.

ERISA covers retirement, health and other welfare benefit plans (e.g., life, disability and apprenticeship plans). Among other things, ERISA provides that those individuals who manage plans (and other fiduciaries) must meet certain standards of conduct. The law also contains detailed provisions for reporting to the government and disclosure to participants. There also are rules aimed at assuring that plan funds are protected and that participants who qualify receive their benefits.

ISA has also been expanded to include health laws. For example, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) amended ERISA to provide for the continuation of health care coverage for employees and their beneficiaries (for a limited period of time) if certain events would otherwise result in a reduction in benefits. In addition, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) amended ERISA to make health care coverage more portable and secure for employees.
Health Plans as Welfare Benefit Plans Under ERISA

According to ERISA, an employee welfare benefit plan is any plan, fund, or program which is established or maintained by an employer or by an employee organization, or by both, to the extent that such plan, fund, or program was established or is maintained for the purpose of providing:

  • Medical, surgical, or hospital care or benefits;
  • Benefits in the event of sickness, accident, disability, death or unemployment;
  • Vacation benefits;
  • Apprenticeship or other training programs;
  • Day care centers;
  • Scholarship funds;
  • Prepaid legal services, or
  • Certain other benefits described in the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

 

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

President

The Case for Long-Term Care

What could be messier and more complicated than the Exchange? Long-term care (LTC) planning! According to LifeHealthPro, most Americans still have some kind of public or private health insurance. However, few have any kind of protection against LTC costs.

So, why do you need LTC insurance? Well, it will protect your against risks such as car accident or house fire which can protect your savings/retirement.

A campaign by the American Council for Life Insurance states the average cost for a one-year stay in a private nursing home is now $84,000, and by 2030 it will rise 27%. It is important to not only plan for retirement, but for long-term care as well.

Here are some reasons you should prep sooner rather than later:

If you wait, it will cost more
Your age and your health are important factors that determine the cost of LTC insurance protection. Costs are based on you r age at application and go up each year. By waiting to purchase until you are closer to retirement you might find it’s just too expensive to buy.

Lock in good health special savings now!
Your good health today can help you ‘lock in’ preferred health discounts that won’t change even if your health does. If you currently have a health condition it’s especially important to find out if you can health-qualify before it may get worse.

Discounts can help significantly reduce the cost
You will be surprised by how affordable long-term care insurance protection can be for some of the newer plans suited for people your age. Today, there are ways to reduce the cost of long-term care insurance; savings available when you plan ahead.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

 

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

President