Tag Archives: Wellness Plans

Wellness Efforts Need to Address Five Important Risk Factors

Employer-sponsored health plans cover more than half of the country’s nonelderly population, which is approximately 147 million people. Half to 70 percent of employers now offer high-deductible health plans, which encourage employees to take an active role in deciding the type of care they need. This requires employers to educate employees to become smarter healthcare consumers and to become motivated to take action.

Workplace wellness programs have the ability to help employees take action in the right direction toward healthy living. They have the potential to keep employees healthy and productive, avoid illness and absenteeism, and save them money by consuming fewer healthcare resources. Workplace health promotion programs that can do all that will provide value to employees and now just need to be cost-effective at the same time.

Many small and mid-size companies are unsure if they have resources to support a comprehensive program. However, more and more experts suggest looking to scientific evidence to gain a best practices approach to developing company-wide wellness initiatives. By focusing on five major risk factors, it is believed that employers of all sizes can positively impact overall health and productivity at work.

Five Wellness Initiatives to Target in 2017

According to the 2015 From Evidence to Practice: Workplace Wellness that Works Study an effective wellness program needs to address the following five basic health concerns through creative and empowering strategies: exercise, nutrition, tobacco cessation, stress management and sleep.

To read the full story, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

 

Republicans Proposed Plan to Replace The ACA

The Washington Times reports that the list of Republican plans “to deal with the potential fallout” from King v. Burwell “is growing longer, although Republicans have yet to coalesce around a game plan with just six weeks before the court is expected to rule.” Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) unveiled a “revamped version” of his ACA replacement bill last week. The proposal would repeal the health law in its entirety and offer tax credits to people to purchase insurance on their own. Another plan, from Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), would allow states three ways to respond to a Supreme Court ruling against the ACA’s subsidies: “States could set up exchanges under Obamacare, do nothing and lose federal support or – and this is what the senator wants – opt into a third path titled the Patient Freedom Act.”

The Hill reported in a similar article that Republican lawmakers “are all over the map about what to do about the millions of people who could lose” subsidies if the Supreme Court rules against the ACA next month. Although Republicans agree that “they need a plan if the high court strikes down a subsidies next month,” they do “not agree about how to help people who’d lose access to healthcare – and even whether to help them at all.” Currently, “there are more than half a dozen plans floating around, with varying degrees of details.”

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

IRS Releases 2016 Health Savings Account Limits

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced the 2016 inflation-adjusted amounts for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) as determined under the Internal Revenue Code.

Annual Contribution Limitation
For calendar year 2016, the annual limitation on deductions for an individual with self-only coverage under a high deductible health plan is $3,350. The annual limitation on HSA deductions for an individual with family coverage under a high deductible health plan is $6,750.

High Deductible Health Plan
For calendar year 2016, a “high deductible health plan” is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,300 for self-only coverage or $2,600 for family coverage, and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) do not exceed $6,550 for self-only coverage or $13,100 for family coverage.

You may view the IRS Revenue Procedure announcing the 2016 amounts by clicking here.

Be sure to check out our section on Health Savings Accounts for more on HSAs.

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

Senate Approves Sweeping Changes to Medicare

The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved sweeping changes in the way Medicare pays doctors, clearing the bill for President Obama and resolving an issue that has bedeviled Congress and the Medicare program for more than a decade.

The 92-to-8 vote in the Senate, following passage in the House last month by a vote of 392 to 37, was a major success for Republicans, who devised a solution to a complex policy problem that had frustrated lawmakers of both parties. Mr. Obama has endorsed the bill, saying it “could help slow health care cost growth.”

The bill, drafted in the House in negotiations between Speaker John A. Boehner and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program for two years, through 2017.

Without action by Congress, doctors would have faced a 21 percent cut in Medicare fees on Wednesday or Thursday. Senate leaders cleared the way for final passage by allowing votes on several amendments sought by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

Medicare spent $70 billion last year under the fee schedule used to pay doctors and some other health care professionals. That accounts for about 12 percent of all Medicare spending. Ninety-eight percent of people enrolled in the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program receive at least one physician service during the year.

The legislation moves Medicare in a direction espoused by Mr. Obama and many health policy experts, toward payment based on the quality and value of care, rather than just the volume of services. Organized medicine now accepts that change in principle, and the American Medical Association lobbied strongly for the bill, demanding that Congress “fix Medicare now.”

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Nearly 9 out of 10 Adults Have Health Insurance

Underlining a change across the nation, nearly 9 out of 10 adults now say they have health insurance, according to an extensive survey released Monday.

As recently as 2013, slightly more than 8 out of 10 had coverage.

Whether the new number from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index turns out to be a high-water mark for President Barack Obama’s health care law, or a milestone on the path toward his goal of getting virtually all U.S. residents covered, remains to be seen.

The law’s future is still up in the air, and will turn on factors ranging from an upcoming Supreme Court decision on consumer subsidies to actions by Republican leaders in states opposed to Medicaid expansion.

The Gallup-Healthways survey found that the share of adults who lack insurance dropped to 11.9 percent for the first three months of this year, the lowest level since that survey began its tracking in 2008. The latest update overlaps with the period when the health law’s second sign-up season was winding down.

Coverage gains from 2014-2015 translate to about 3.6 million fewer adults uninsured since the fall, before open enrollment got under way, according to Gallup.

“The Affordable Care Act had three major objectives: increase coverage, slow the rate of increase in costs, and improve health,” said Dan Witters, research director for the poll. “The first one is clearly a win. Coverage is increasing; there is no question about it.”

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

The Case for Not Getting a Physical Exam

It’s a warm afternoon in Miami, and 35-year-old Emanuel Vega has come to Baptist Health Primary Care for a physical exam. Dr. Mark Caruso shakes his hand with a welcoming smile.

Vega, a strapping man with a thick black beard, is feeling good, but he came to see the doctor today because his wife thought he should. She even made the appointment. It is free to him under his insurance policy with no copay, as most preventive care is under the Affordable Care Act.

Vega is one of more than 44 million Americans who is taking part in a medical ritual — visiting the doctor for an annual physical exam. But there’s little evidence that these visits actually do any good for healthy adults.

Caruso listens to Vega’s heart and lungs, checks his pulse in his ankles and feels around his lymph nodes. He also asks Vega about his exercise and sleeping schedule and orders blood and urine tests. If everything checks out all right, Caruso says, Vega should return for another exam in a year. Vega says he definitely will.

It was a positive experience for both doctor and patient. But many other doctors think the annual physical is unnecessary and can even be harmful.

“I would argue that we should move forward with the elimination of the annual physical,” says Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, a primary care physician and professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

The New Guideline on Nutrition

A nutrition advisory panel that helps shape the country’s official dietary guidelines eased some of its previous restrictions on fat and cholesterol on Thursday and recommended sharp new limits on the amount of added sugar that Americans should consume.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which convenes every five years, followed the lead of other major health groups like the American Heart Association that in recent years have backed away from dietary cholesterol restrictions and urged people to cut back on added sugars.

The panel said that Americans were eating too much salt, sugar and saturated fat, and not enough foods that fit a “healthy dietary pattern,” like fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and moderate levels of alcohol. Members of the panel said they wanted Americans to focus less on individual nutrients and more on overall patterns of eating, such as a Mediterranean-style diet, which is associated with lower rates of heart disease and stroke.

The panel singled out added sugars as one of its major concerns. Previous dietary guidelines have included warnings about eating too much added sugar, but for the first time the panel recommended that Americans limit it to no more than 10 percent of daily calories — roughly 12 teaspoons a day for many adults — because of its link to obesity and chronic disease.

Americans consume 22 to 30 teaspoons of added sugar daily, half of which come from soda, juices and other sugary drinks. The panel said sugary drinks should be removed from schools, and it endorsed a rule proposed by the Food and Drug Administration that would require a distinct line for added sugars on food nutrition labels, a change the food and sugar industries have aggressively fought.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Start Walking During Your Lunch Break

To combat afternoon slumps in enthusiasm and focus, take a walk during the lunch hour.

A new study finds that even gentle lunchtime strolls can perceptibly — and immediately — buoy people’s moods and ability to handle stress at work.

It is not news, of course, that walking is healthy and that people who walk or otherwise exercise regularly tend to be more calm, alert and happy than people who are inactive.

But many past studies of the effects of walking and other exercise on mood have focused on somewhat long-term, gradual outcomes, looking at how weeks or months of exercise change people emotionally.

Fewer studies have examined more-abrupt, day-to-day and even hour-by-hour changes in people’s moods, depending on whether they exercise, and even fewer have focused on these effects while people are at work, even though most of us spend a majority of our waking hours in an office.

So, for the new study, which was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports this month, researchers at the University of Birmingham and other universities began by recruiting sedentary office workers at the university.

Potential volunteers were told that they would need to be available to walk for 30 minutes during their usual lunch hour three times a week.

Most of the resulting 56 volunteers were middle-aged women. It can be difficult to attract men to join walking programs, said Cecilie Thogersen-Ntoumani, the study’s lead author and now a professor of exercise science at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. Walking may not strike some men as strenuous enough to bother with, she said. But she and her colleagues did attract four sedentary middle-aged men to the experiment.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Counting Calories Will be Easier in 2015

Now it’s official. Starting next November, menus in many places where Americans eat — like chain restaurants and some movie theaters, convenience stores and amusement parks — will have to list calories.

Consumer health advocates were jubilant when the Food and Drug Administration announced the new policy on Tuesday. Many had fought for the rule for more than a decade, believing it would be a major weapon in the fight against obesity.

But will it?

The evidence on whether menu labeling works — either to move the national needle on obesity, or to reduce the number of calories an individual consumes after looking at a menu — is pretty skimpy, in part because the practice hasn’t been around that long.

In the few places where menu labeling exists, like New York and Philadelphia, most studies have observed a few thousand people over just a few weeks and months — too small a group and too short a time to detect the subtle changes that economists expect the policy will prompt.

Brian Elbel, associate professor of population health at New York University’s School of Medicine, has spent weeks outside fast food restaurants talking to customers and collecting their receipts.

The findings have been uninspiring so far. In a study he did in 2008 in New York City, only slightly more than half of consumers even saw the posted calories, and of those, a little over a quarter (around 15 percent of the total) said the information changed what they ordered. He conducted a larger study in 2010 in Philadelphia after that city started requiring chain restaurants to post calories, and the results were similar.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary