Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nearly 2,000 employers and unions approved into new program to provide health coverage to early retirees

Affordable Care Act program will help pay health benefit claims for early retirees; applications still being accepted

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today announced the first round of applicants accepted into the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program. Nearly 2,000 employers, representing large and small businesses, State and local governments, educational institutions, non-profits, and unions have been accepted into the program and will begin to receive reimbursements for employee claims this fall.

Created by the Affordable Care Act as a bridge to the new health insurance Exchanges in 2014, the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program provides $5 billion in financial assistance to employers and unions to help them maintain coverage for early retirees age 55 and older who are not yet eligible for Medicare. Businesses and other employers and unions that are accepted into the program will receive reimbursement for medical claims for early retirees and their spouses, surviving spouses, and dependents. Savings can be used to reduce employer health care costs, provide premium relief to workers and families, or both. The program ends on January 1, 2014 when State health insurance Exchanges are up and running.

"In these tough economic times, it is difficult for employers to keep up with skyrocketing health care costs for employees and retirees. Many Americans who retire before they are eligible for Medicare see their life savings disappear because of medical bills and exorbitant rates in the individual health insurance market," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "The Affordable Care Act's Early Retiree Reinsurance Program will make it a little easier for employers to
provide high-quality health benefits to their retirees as we work to put in place market reforms to lower costs for all."

"In conversations with business leaders throughout the country, I hear over and over again about the escalating health care costs for employees and retirees," U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. "The new reinsurance program in the Affordable Care Act will directly reduce companies' health premiums for many retirees, offering critical cost relief for American businesses in a difficult economy and an important bridge for early retirees who are not yet eligible for Medicare."

Rising health care costs have made it difficult for employers to provide quality, affordable health insurance for workers and retirees while also remaining competitive in the global marketplace. The percentage of large firms providing workers with retiree health coverage has dropped from 66
percent in 1988 to 29 percent in 2009. Health insurance premiums for older Americans are over four times more expensive than they are for young adults and the deductible these enrollees pay is, on average, almost four times that for a typical employer-sponsored insurance plan.

The Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight has approved nearly 2,000 plans representing a broad range of employers from all 50 States and the District of Columbia into the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program in this first round of approvals with more applications being reviewed every day. Starting in September, approved applicants can begin submitting claims dating back to June 1, 2010 and, starting in October, approved
applicants will begin to receive reinsurance payments on those claims. This policy allows more health benefit claims to qualify for reinsurance payments for plans this year.

The approved applications represent nearly every sector of the economy: 32 percent of applications came from businesses, 26 percent from State and local governments, 22 percent from union sponsors, 14 percent from schools and other educational institutions, and 5 percent from non profits. For a list of approved applications by State, visit http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/early_retiree_reinsurance_prog ram.html.

"There has been a tremendous amount of interest from businesses and organizations from across the country since the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program was announced just a few months ago," said Secretary Sebelius. "We have received applications from more than 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies, all major unions, and government entities in all 50 States and the District of Columbia, and we are delighted to be able to notify our first round of successful applicants here today."

The nearly 2,000 approvals announced today are a subset of applications that have been received. HHS' Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight is continuing to accept and review additional applications in the order in which they were submitted.

In addition to announcing these approved applications, HHS announced today two new information tools for employers and unions interested in the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program - a new website (www.ERRP.gov) and a new hotline (877-574-3777 or 877-574-ERRP). Employers and unions can
find the application form and application instructions online, as well as other relevant guidance and regulations from HHS.

For more information about the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program and an interactive map displaying the employers that have been accepted into the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program please visit:

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Sebelius announces 1 million Medicare beneficiaries have received prescription drug cost relief under the Affordable Care Act

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced that more than 1 million Medicare beneficiaries have received prescription drug cost relief through the Affordable Care Act. As part of the health insurance reform law's step-by-step efforts to close the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage gap, eligible beneficiaries who fall in this "donut hole" this year are mailed a one-time, tax-free $250 rebate check. More than a quarter of the 4 million checks Medicare expects to distribute have been received by eligible Medicare beneficiaries.

"Many seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare face extraordinary prescription drug costs, and too often stop following the drug regimens that their doctors have recommended as a result," said Secretary Sebelius. "These checks will make a difference in helping seniors continue to get the medications they need, and are one of many ways that the Affordable Care Act is helping seniors."

Nationwide, 1 million Medicare beneficiaries have already been mailed their rebates and more beneficiaries will be receiving checks in the coming months as they enter the coverage gap. Eligible beneficiaries receive these checks automatically in the mail when they reach the donut hole, and they don't have to sign-up to be eligible for the rebates.

Rebate checks will help people with their drug costs this year. Next year, those who fall into the donut hole will receive a 50-percent discount on covered brand name medications while in the donut hole. Every year, the amount Medicare beneficiaries pay in cost sharing will decrease markedly until the coverage gap is closed.

The closing of the donut hole is just one of the ways seniors benefit from the Affordable Care Act. In addition to savings on prescription drugs, the law provides new benefits to Medicare beneficiaries when they visit their doctor. All beneficiaries will receive free preventive care services like mammograms and certain colon cancer tests and a free annual physical starting in 2011 in Original Medicare. Additionally, seniors can expect to save an average of nearly $200 per year in premiums by 2018 compared to what they would have paid without the new law, and most beneficiaries will also see a significant reduction in their Medicare coinsurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act also contains important new tools to help crack down on criminals seeking to scam seniors and steal taxpayer dollars. Last week, HHS and the Department of Justice held their second regional fraud prevention summit in Los Angeles that brought together law enforcement experts, providers and seniors to help utilize these new tools to fight fraud and protect seniors.

The Affordable Care Act strengthens the screenings for health care providers who want to participate in Medicaid or Medicare, enables enforcement officials to see health care claims data from around the country into a single, searchable database, and strengthens the penalties for criminals. The reduction in waste, fraud and abuse returns savings to the Medicare Trust Fund to strengthen the program into the future.

Seniors are encouraged to contact 1-800-MEDICARE to report any solicitations of personal information, or go to www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Health Reform Costs, Benefits Explained in NCPA Consumer's Guide

/PRNewswire/ -- The first detailed and objective consumer's guide on the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has just been released by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), titled "What Does Health Care Reform Mean To You? A Detailed Analysis"

"The guide does not ignore the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, but it also does not deny the costs," said NCPA President, CEO and Kellye Wright Fellow John C. Goodman. "This is the first unbiased summary of health care reform costs and benefits, and it's a unique resource."

"The consumer's guide answers questions about the coming changes and costs in Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance, employer coverage, and income tax returns," added Goodman.

Guide: http://www.ncpa.org/pdfs/What-Does-Health-Reform-Mean-for-You-A-Detailed-Analy sis.pdf

The research analyzes the costs, benefits and drawbacks of health reform changes, including:

-- Health insurance requirements and fines for individuals and employers
-- Expanded health coverage for up to 34 million people
-- Projected shortages of doctors, nurses and hospitals
-- Free health plan preventative services
-- New coverage protections for patients with pre-existing conditions
-- Reporting family income totals to your employer
-- Benefit and spending cuts for the elderly and disabled on Medicare
-- New taxes on private health insurance, drugs, medical devices
-- Insurance subsidies and changes in coverage options

To educate patients, doctors and all those affected by the new health care law, the NCPA has also produced a shorter version of the guide in a summary pamphlet, also titled "What Does Health Care Reform Mean To You?" The pamphlet is a succinct and unbiased overview of the Affordable Care Act changes, in layman's terms, to help consumers understand what to expect from health care reform.

The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization, established in 1983. The NCPA's goal is to develop and promote private alternatives to government regulation and control, solving problems by relying on the strength of the competitive, entrepreneurial private sector. Topics include reforms in health care; Medicare and Social Security;
retirement; taxes; small business policy; and energy and environmental regulation.

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Unemployed See COBRA Costs Increase in 2010, While Current Workers Brace for More Health Care Cost Shifting in 2011, Says Aon Consulting

/PRNewswire/ -- As the national unemployment rate continues to hover around 10 percent, health care costs for those jobless Americans have seen a year-over-year increase, according to Aon Consulting, the global benefits and human capital consulting business of Aon Corporation (NYSE:AON) .

Aon Consulting surveyed 1,079 employers nationwide in its 2010 Benefits Survey, and found an increase in monthly COBRA* contributions for terminated employees. Specifically, the average monthly cost for employee-only HMO coverage for a terminated worker is $429 this year, compared to $399 for the same coverage in 2009. For employee plus family, the former employee is paying $1,251 a month this year, compared to $1,171 per month last year. As for PPO coverage, the average monthly cost for employee only is $449 in 2010, compared to $439 in 2009, and for employee plus family, the cost tops out at a monthly average of $1,310 this year, versus $1,275 last year. (Click on the following link to see charts on a detailed year-over-year comparison: http://aon.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=1998)

"The increased frequency and duration of COBRA use is creating a significant strain on the program, leading to higher costs," said John Zern, executive vice president and Health & Benefits Practice director with Aon Consulting. "Those who are unemployed, and facing uncertainty about employment prospects and future COBRA availability, are utilizing the program more than we've traditionally seen to treat a variety of conditions prior to potentially losing coverage. This coupled with the high unemployment rate, is placing the COBRA program in a unique and unprecedented position."

As for current employees, they can expect to shoulder more of the expense related to health coverage in 2011, according to this survey. In fact, 65 percent of employers plan to increase cost sharing next year for things such as deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket maximums. What's more, 57 percent of companies say they will ask employees to contribute more for the overall cost of health care in 2011. The amount of cost sharing implemented by employers varies. On plan design (e.g., deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket maximums), 46 percent of employers are shifting costs to employees equal to the overall renewal increase, while an additional 46 percent are shifting costs to workers that are less than the overall renewal increase. For overall health plan cost, 40 percent of employers say the additional worker contributions will be equal to the 2011 renewal increase, and 49 percent indicate that workers will be asked to pay less than next year's renewal increase.

"We believe the new health reform law will increase health care costs by 2 percent to 4 percent during the next three years," said Tom Lerche, senior vice president with Aon Consulting. "In addition, we expect to see new costs related to excise taxes and potential cost shifting from reductions in Medicare reimbursement to providers, which will be on top of existing long-term medical trend inflation. These factors will lead many employers to consider increased employee contributions for health coverage, as well as plan design cost sharing."

To learn more about Aon Consulting's 2010 Benefits Survey, please visit www.aon.com/2010survey.

* COBRA - refers to the Consolidated Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, and includes provisions for members of company health plans who have lost their coverage due to a "qualifying event" to continue coverage at the employee's expense for a period of time.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

136 Members of Congress Demand that Medicare Release Key Information about Controversial Bidding Program for Home Medical Equipment

/PRNewswir/ -- A bipartisan group of 136 members of Congress recently requested that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) disclose the list of homecare providers whose bids were used to calculate home medical equipment reimbursement rates under the Medicare "competitive" bidding program. See letter at www.aahomecare.org.

"Without knowing the identity, as well as the appropriate overall qualifications of these providers, we cannot evaluate the program's impact in terms of quality and access to care for seniors we represent," states the congressional letter to CMS Administrator Donald Berwick, M.D.

While CMS intends to release this information in the fall after contracts are finalized, members of Congress are calling on CMS to share this information now to make sure that the disastrous mistakes of the 2008 Round One of bidding are avoided and to uphold President Obama's pledge of "transparency and open government."

"We want to ensure that qualified providers have been chosen to provide these items and services to our constituents," said the congressional letter to CMS. "The healthcare community will again have very serious problems if it turns out once more that these companies are unable to provide sufficient access to quality items and services or do not have the financial ability to operate under the new contracted rates."

When CMS held its Round One bid for home medical equipment in 2008, Congress halted implementation and called for a re-bid of the program after numerous problems emerged. For example, under the Round One bidding in 2008, Medicare contracts were granted to providers that were not appropriately licensed and lacked experience with the devices for which they were awarded contracts.

The American Association for Homecare, which represents durable medical equipment providers, is encouraged by the House letter and urges CMS to comply with this important request. The congressional letter, sent on August 11, asked CMS to respond by August 20. At the time of this press release, the Association is not aware of any response so far by the agency.

"We are pleased that so many members of Congress understand the need for transparency and the urgency of this request," said Tyler Wilson, president of AAHomecare. "Transparency for the bid process is critical given past problems with this whole program. If CMS delays the release of information until fall, it will impede the ability to assess the impact of the bidding program on Medicare patients.

"One of our concerns is that providers who submitted low, desperation bids out of their perceived need to remain a Medicare supplier could well determine the government's reimbursement rates - even if those companies ultimately declined to actually provide the equipment at those rates."

The Medicare bidding program for home medical equipment uses a degree of economic coercion to force homecare providers to submit bids necessary to win a contract. Because Medicare is the largest third-party purchaser of home medical care, its market power effectively coerces providers to bid at reimbursement rates low enough to ensure the opportunity to continue serving Medicare beneficiaries. Ultimately, the below-market rates achieved through this bidding program may be unsustainable, reducing competition in the long term and reducing seniors' access to care and choice of providers.

In the first round of the bidding program in 2008, 90 percent of qualified providers were barred from serving Medicare beneficiaries for the bid-upon items. Congress delayed the implementation of the initial bidding program in 2008 to allow for needed changes. The home medical equipment sector paid for that delay by taking a 9.5 percent nationwide reimbursement cut. However, CMS ignored congressional intent, did not address the flaws that precipitated the delay two years ago, and is now charging headlong into the program in 9 of the 10 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. An additional 91 areas will be subjected to the bidding process next year.

A bipartisan bill pending in Congress, H.R. 3790, calls for the repeal of the Medicare bidding program for home medical equipment and it would substantially reduce reimbursement rates for the equipment but preserve the nation's vital, cost-effective homecare infrastructure. That bill is supported by 255 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The American Association for Homecare represents durable medical equipment providers, manufacturers, and other organizations in the homecare community. Members serve the medical needs of millions of Americans who require oxygen equipment and therapy, mobility assistive technologies, medical supplies, inhalation drug therapy, home infusion, and other medical equipment and services in their homes. The Association's members operate more than 3,000 homecare locations in all 50 states. Visit www.aahomecare.org/athome.

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New insurance finder web tool simplifies the process of searching for health coverage

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today announced the release of a new HealthCare.gov web tool available for download that makes searching for coverage options even easier than before.

"HealthCare.gov is a valuable resource for small businesses, consumers, and their families to search for coverage options and understand the new benefits under the Affordable Care Act," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "By putting the power of information at your fingertips, HealthCare.gov is helping American families everywhere to take control over their health care and make the choices that are right for them."

The Insurance Finder "widget" enables anyone with a website or blog to embed a tool on their site allowing users to begin the process of searching for coverage options. The tool asks users two initial
questions: "select a state" and "which best describes you." Users then click on "next steps," and are redirected to a page on HealthCare.gov that continues with the insurance finder process based on answers to their specific questions.

To view the widget and the embed code, visit this page:

HealthCare.gov allows consumers to search for both public and private health coverage options through an easy to use health insurance finder tool. Based on answers to a series of questions, the coverage finder produces a menu of potential coverage choices personalized for the user.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

CLASS Act Analysis Reveals America's Long-Term Care Future

/PRNewswire/ -- The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act -- a largely overlooked component of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- has the potential to transform long-term care financing in the United States from a welfare-based to an insurance-based system, according to the latest issue of Public Policy & Aging Report (PPAR).

With funding from The SCAN Foundation, this installment of PPAR features seven articles that recount the origins of the CLASS Act, analyze the legislation's key provisions, and explore potential hurdles of implementation.

"We consider this issue of PPAR to represent the best of what the publication has to offer," said PPAR Editor Robert Hudson, PhD, chair of the Department of Social Policy at the Boston University School of Social Work. "It is timely, informed, and cutting edge. It goes beyond the headlines and delivers detailed accounts of the emergence of the CLASS Act to a broad audience of policy and academic leaders."

The CLASS Act introduces a voluntary, federally administered insurance program designed to provide middle-class Americans the new choice to plan ahead for personal care and supportive service needs in the face of functional impairment. Enrolled individuals no longer will have to be demonstrably poor or spend themselves into poverty to receive long-term care protection.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at least 70 percent of Americans over the age of 65 will need long-term care services at some point in their lives.

"CLASS is about allowing working Americans to take personal responsibility for planning ahead so they can age with dignity and independence," said Bruce Chernof, MD, president and CEO of The SCAN Foundation. "CLASS enrollees will have the power to choose the services they want in the setting most appropriate to their needs."

The current issue of PPAR, published by the National Academy on an Aging Society, is available for purchase at www.agingsociety.org. The authors include Lisa Shugarman, PhD, of The SCAN Foundation; Joshua Wiener, PhD, of RTI International; Walter Dawson of Oxford University; Barbara Manard, PhD, of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging; Anne Tumlinson, MMHS, of Avalere Health; Rhonda Richards of AARP; and Kathryn Roberts, PhD, of Ecumen.

More information about the individual grantees and The SCAN Foundation can be found at www.thescanfoundation.org.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Consumer Advocates Ask for White House/HHS Probe of Health Insurers' Reduced Medical Care Spending, Even As Premiums Spike

/PRNewswire/ -- Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Media and Democracy today asked the Obama administration to investigate how the major for-profit health insurance companies are reducing their proportion of spending on health care in advance of health reform, even as premiums spike upward. In a letter to Health and Human Services chief Kathleen Sebelius, the groups compared insurers' actions to those of credit card companies, which spiked annual interest rates last year in advance of new federal regulations that would curb corporate abuses.

"Insurance companies appear to be making sure that when new federal rules for spending on health care kick in next year, they can keep their administrative bloat and profits intact," said Judy Dugan, research director of Consumer Watchdog.

The groups noted in the letter that insurance companies are lobbying intensely to distort new rules meant to require increased medical spending -- 80% of premium dollars for individual and small group policies and 85% for large group policies. The insurers seek to redefine billions of dollars in overhead and administration expenses as health care. By cutting their medical ratio now, they can make room for the redefined overhead expenses next year and meet but not exceed the 80% to 85% minimums.

Co-signer Wendell Potter of the Center for Media and Democracy said that red flags went up when Cigna, the last major insurer to report 2nd quarter results, showed a startling 6.4% drop in its medical spending ratio (also called medical loss ratio, or MLR) to 78.8%, a cut that appears unprecedented for a large insurer.

Read the full letter at http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/sebeliusletterCWDCMD081110.pdf

The letter said:

"We write jointly as advocates for consumer rights and transparency to urge you to examine health insurers' reports of reductions in their proportion of medical spending in recent quarters, even as premiums have risen substantially in advance of the new health reform law. The major insurance companies' behavior looks suspiciously like that of credit card companies, which spiked annual interest rates in advance of consumer protection laws intended to restrict the conditions under which rates could go up.

"Like the credit card companies, health insurers assume that they can get away with what amounts to bilking their customers now to set up higher profits in the future. The health insurers appear to be cutting the proportion of premium dollars spent on medical care, in the case of CIGNA by likely record proportions, in advance of regulations intended to make them spend a higher proportion on care, and less on administrative bloat.

"Unlike with credit card companies, you have the power to curb their gaming of the system. The regulations that you put in place to enforce the new health law requirement that they spend 80% to 85% of customers' premium on health care will decide whether the companies cater to Wall Street or to their patients.

"The outcome of the regulations that are now being written will depend on your resistance to a massive lobbying effort by the insurance industry.

"As you know, insurers already expect that changes in the [medical loss ratio] calculation specified in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will allow more insurer activities to be defined as 'health quality improvements' and counted as health care. At least some and possibly all of their state and federal taxes will also be deducted from premium revenue. The combined effect, depending on vagueness or laxness in final regulations, could amount to a 5% or larger insurer 'bonus' in calculating the MLR.

"See Consumer Watchdog comment on tax deduction regulation at http://www.naic.org/committees_lhatf_ahwg.htm

"The result of this bonus is that it pays for an insurer to suppress MLR as much as possible now, to keep future MLR at -- but not above -- 80% for individual and small business policies, and 85% for large groups. It is not possible for the public to accurately determine how the company's drastic reduction in MLR -- which increases its value to Wall Street--was accomplished.

"The Center for Media and Democracy and Consumer Watchdog ask that HHS demand much more detail about the nature of the MLR reductions from CIGNA and lesser reductions by other insurers, and make the results public. The examination should seek to determine if financial coercion of employers and individuals (through unaffordable and unjustifiable spikes in the rates of less profitable plans, or the targeted closure of some plans) was part of any shift to higher-deductible and lower benefit plans.

"HHS should also seek to tighten new definitions of what can be included in the medical loss ratio. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which is finalizing proposed regulations to decide how medical loss ratios are defined, is being lobbied by insurers and their lawyers with an intensity that makes the lobbying of Congress pale by comparison. As the proposed regulations are being finalized, they risk being further weakened. It will be up to HHS to right the balance.

"Presumably the MLR reductions at CIGNA and other companies involved what insurers call 'aggressive medical management' to reduce the amount of care provided enrollees. However, it likely also involved the movement of more enrollees into plans that require greater cost sharing and provide less care, through marketing or price coercion."

Insurers and their lobbyists count on the technical detail of financial reports and regulatory actions to mask their intent, said Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Media and Democracy.

Consumers don't notice until their premiums shoot through the roof and their health benefit are reduced. Regulators must resist corporate lobbies and act to protect ordinary citizens, the groups said.

Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Media and Democracy are nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocates. For more information, see www.consumerwatchdog.org and www.prwatch.org

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

How Local Governments Are Addressing Retiree Health Care Funding

/PRNewswire/ -- A new issue brief from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence finds that the economy has slowed the ability of local governments to address long-term funding of their retiree health care obligations.

The brief follows up on a 2009 survey in which 206 local governments indicated they were likely to adopt a long-term strategy to strengthen their retiree health care funding, including:

-- establishing a Section 115 trust (governmental); medical subaccount
[401(h)]; or Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) trust
-- issuing OPEB bonds;
-- increasing the years of service for vesting for RHC;
-- increasing the age at which RHC is available;
-- terminating retiree health care for all new hires.

Since then, the economy, insufficient revenues, and competing budget priorities have posed the greatest impediment to their plans.

The new brief finds that many jurisdictions are making sweeping changes in their retiree health care plans:

-- 36 percent have increased or plan to increase the years of service
required to vest.
-- 11 percent have increased the retirement age.
-- 39 percent have eliminated or plan to eliminate retiree health
benefits for new hires.

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Lessons Learned From Hurricane Katrina Can Help Insure Against Future Disasters as Fifth Anniversary Approaches

/PRNewswire/ -- With predictions for a severe 2010 hurricane season, coastal residents should heed the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina by making sure to have the right type and amount of insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

August 29 marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the most costly insured disaster in United States history, which caused more than $41 billion in insured damage to homes, cars and businesses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) paid an additional $16.1 billion for flood-related losses.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina demonstrates the costly ramifications of not properly preparing for a disaster.

1. Some individuals and business owners neglected to purchase flood
insurance. Lack of flood insurance resulted in uncovered losses to
thousands of homes and businesses.
2. Many business owners, who had spent years building up their companies,
did not purchase the right type and amount of coverage, including
business interruption (business income) insurance. Many were never able
to open their businesses again.
3. Some homeowners and business owners did not invest in making their
property hurricane-resistant by installing storm shutters, hurricane
clips, and other loss-mitigation measures, which could have saved their
4. Many policyholders failed to take a home or business inventory prior to
the disaster, which could have made the claims process easier.
5. Many business owners did not have a disaster preparedness plan. As a
result, those businesses were unable to resume operations.
6. Many homeowners and business owners did not update their insurance
policies to reflect the current cost of rebuilding or replacing damaged
property and were left underinsured as a result.
7. Some individuals did not evacuate, especially when told to do so by
authorities. At least 1,836 people perished in the hurricane and
subsequent floods, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since 1928.

"The more prepared you are for a hurricane or other major disaster, the greater the possibility you and your loved ones will survive the storm both physically and financially," said Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for the I.I.I.

The I.I.I. videotaped several Hurricane Katrina claimants who were able to get their lives back to normal after Hurricane Katrina because they had purchased the proper insurance. To view the video, see Five Years After Hurricane Katrina.

Just how prepared are Gulf Coast residents five years later? According to a 2010 I.I.I. poll, 74 percent of Louisiana and Mississippi residents who had filed an insurance claim from Hurricane Katrina considered themselves more prepared now than in 2005, compared with about half of the residents of those states who did not file a claim. In addition, seven out of 10 Hurricane Katrina claimants now have an inventory of their possessions to document their losses after a disaster, compared with 50 percent of the nation as a whole.

However, the survey also found some disturbing views: 32 percent of respondents in Louisiana and Mississippi think their homeowners policy covers damage from flooding during a hurricane -- that is double the percentage in the nation as a whole, but still represents a surprisingly high number of people who remain uninformed about flood insurance.

"It's astonishing that so many people who lived through Hurricane Katrina still don't understand that flood insurance is not covered under a home or business policy," pointed out Salvatore.

The I.I.I. noted four important steps homeowners and business owners can take now to protect themselves and their property:

1. Review Your Insurance Coverage

The time to review your insurance policy is before you have to file a claim. Make sure that you have both the right amount and type of insurance:

-- Amount of insurance. You should have enough insurance to rebuild your
home or business and replace all of its contents. If you have made a
major alternation or improvement to your home or business, get in
touch with your agent or company representative to update your policy.
Homeowners should find out how much coverage is available for
Additional Living Expenses (ALE). These expenses could include the
cost of a temporary rental home or hotel room, restaurant, meals and
any other expenses incurred in the event your home is uninhabitable
while it is being repaired or rebuilt. Some policies provide coverage
for 20 percent of the amount of insurance you have on your house.
Others may specify a time period. Additional coverage is generally
available for an additional cost.
-- Type of insurance. Ninety percent of all natural disasters involve
some form of flooding. Flood damage is not covered by standard home
insurance policies, but is available from the National Flood Insurance
Program and from some private insurance companies. Excess flood
insurance is also available from private insurance companies if you
need more coverage than the NFIP offers. For more information on flood
insurance, see FloodSmart.gov.

2. Create a Home/Business Inventory

A home or business inventory is a list of all of your personal or business possessions and their estimated value. An up-to-date inventory will help you:

-- Purchase the right amount of insurance.
-- Speed up the claims process by substantiating losses.
-- Provide documentation for tax purposes or disaster assistance.

In order to make the process of creating and updating an inventory, the I.I.I. has developed the Web-based Know Your Stuff software for homes and businesses. For more information on the process of creating an inventory, see the I.I.I.'s home inventory video podcast and brochure.

3. Protect Your Property

Hurricane-proof your home by keeping wind and water out. Invest in storm shutters and reinforced garage doors. Secure roof shingles and seal any openings, cracks and holes. Gable end walls and roof sheathing should be strongly attached and braced, and double doors should have heavy duty anchors at the top and bottom and a dead bolt at least 1 inch long. The Institute for Business & Home Safety has additional tips to protect your home against wind and other disasters.

4. Have an Evacuation Plan

When a hurricane is approaching, advanced planning really matters. Decide ahead of time where you will go and how you will get there, and have more than one option. If you have pets, contact your veterinarian for a list of preferred boarding kennels and facilities or ask your local animal shelter if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets. Also identify hotels or motels outside of your immediate area that accept pets. For more information see Protecting Your Pet During a Disaster.

The I.I.I. also recommends practicing your evacuation plan by doing a test run: giving yourself just 10 minutes to pack up your family, pets and important items and get out -- possibly for good. For a video on the subject, see Ten Minute Challenge.

"By taking these four steps now, you stand the best chance of getting your life back in order after a disaster," explained Salvatore.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Medical Tourism Association Releases Healthcare Reform White Paper

(PR.com)-- The Medical Tourism Association has released an educational White Paper on Healthcare Reform, detailing what positive and negative effects healthcare reform is expected to have on both inbound, outbound and domestic medical tourism. Healthcare Reform passed into law in March 2010 and has both immediate implications and those to go into full effect in 2014. Many expect the reform will continue to raise healthcare and health insurance costs in the United States. As healthcare costs and health insurance costs rise in the United States this will push American patients to choose to travel domestically for medical tourism, a new term coined towards the provision of more affordable healthcare services within the US, or to leave the United States to travel abroad for medical care.

As stated by Devon Herrick of National Center for Policy Analysis, USA, “The recent Health Reform legislation contains virtually nothing to encourage patients and providers to control costs. By contrast, medical tourism represents global competition in health care, where providers compete on price and quality. Medical tourism is our best opportunity to encourage competition within the health care industry.”

The Healthcare Reform white paper is meant to give guidance and understanding on how the different aspects of healthcare reform will interact with medical tourism. The Medical Tourism White Paper can be read in the Healthcare Reform Updates section of the Medical Tourism Congress website. http://medicaltourismcongress.com/en/healthcare-reform-updates.html

“We have released this white paper in order to provide insight into healthcare reform and its different provisions, projecting how it may affect medical tourism. Many people around the world do not understand the lengthy healthcare reform document passed in the US and mistakenly think that it provides more affordable healthcare to Americans and that it will lower healthcare costs. Costs will likely go up under healthcare reform and this was reaffirmed in the recent medical tourism survey the MTA conducted with almost 100 insurance companies and employers, where almost 100% of respondents found that they believe costs will rise,” said Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association.

The healthcare reform and medical tourism white paper will be available at the MTA’s annual conference, The World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress, which will have a large focus on Healthcare Reform this year in Los Angeles, California from September 22-24th. The conference will focus on how healthcare reform affects employers, insurers, insurance agents, healthcare providers and patients and will peel back the onion of the thousands of pages of healthcare reform bill to look at how different aspects of health care reform will really work. www.medicaltourismcongress.com

The Medical Tourism Association also conducted a survey of over one hundred US insurance companies and US employers on the effect medical tourism will have upon them. The survey, “Healthcare Reform Survey Among Industry Stakeholders Discovers Similar Concerns,” July, 2010, shows a sample of the future growth potential of the medical tourism industry. 71 percent of insurance companies and employers felt healthcare reform was extremely positive for the medical tourism industry and more Americans would travel overseas under the new law. Employers and insurance companies know that healthcare reform will increase costs and medical tourism is one of the few ways to lower those costs. http://medicaltourismmag.com/article/healthcare-reform-survey.html

The Medical Tourism Association (Medical Travel Association), also known as the Global Healthcare Association, at http://www.MedicalTourismAssociation.com is the first international non-profit association comprised of the top international hospitals, healthcare providers, medical travel facilitators, insurance companies, and other affiliated companies and members with the common goal of promoting the highest level of quality of healthcare to patients in a global environment. Our Association promotes the interests of its healthcare provider and medical tourism facilitators members. The Medical Tourism Association has three mission-driven tenets: Education, Communication and Transparency.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Court Ruling Vindicates Lawsuits Against ObamaCare

/PRNewswire/ -- The first decision in the many lawsuits against ObamaCare, in a case brought by the State of Virginia, has just been handed down. It is a resounding repudiation of the arguments against this litigation.

Promoters of a Big Government/ Big Insurance takeover of American medicine have claimed that constitutional challenges to ObamaCare are frivolous and baseless. They say the unprecedented government intrusion is fully constitutional, citing the power of Congress to impose taxes and to regulate interstate commerce. But the federal court in Virginia rejected the arguments made by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In a scholarly, 32-page opinion, the court held that "No reported case from any federal appellate court has extended the Commerce Clause or Tax Clause to include the regulation of a person's decision not to purchase a product, notwithstanding its effect on interstate commerce."

Forcing all Americans to buy costly insurance that they do not want is the foundation on which ObamaCare rests. Without it, ObamaCare collapses. Other lawsuits, including the one brought by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) in the District of Columbia, and one brought by a number of States in Florida, also challenge this mandate.

"The decision by the court in Virginia confirms the legitimacy of challenging the constitutionality of ObamaCare in court," states AAPS General Counsel Andrew Sechlafly. "This is a victory for freedom, and a real setback to the enemies of freedom in medicine."

The court reiterated that "the existence of congressional findings is not sufficient, by itself, to sustain the constitutionality of Commerce Clause legislation." As Virginia pointed out, "a decision not to purchase a product, such as health insurance, is not an economic activity. It is a virtual state of repose--or idleness--the converse of activity."

Although the majority of practicing physicians oppose ObamaCare's massive intrusion into medical practice, and a large percentage have indicated that they may quit practicing as a result, AAPS is so far the only long-established, national medical association to ask a court to overturn a key provision of the law (see www.aapsonline.org/hhslawsuit/). Where is the American Medical Association (AMA) when physicians and patients need it most?

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