Reigning in the Cost of Health Insurance, or, Why We Can’t Have Granite Countertops on a Laminate Budget

This blog comes to you courtesy of a nasty exchange on Facebook. It started with a posting about the fact that an insurance plan offered through the state exchange did not include the regional children’s hospital in its network.

This is happening around the country as insurers limit provider networks in order to keep premiums within  prescribed limits, whether those limits are mandated by the Affordable Care Act or by the employer paying for the health insurance. And it’s no secret that specialty hospitals like children’s hospitals and teaching hospitals have far higher costs than community hospitals. Reasons include the cost of training medical residents and fellows, the high percentage of Medicaid patients they see as well as the high percentage of uncompensated care they provide, and their mission to do research as well as provide patient care. They do receive additional federal and state funding to compensate — at least partly — for those expenditures, but in this day of shrinking budgets it doesn’t cover it all.

On the other hand, insurers offering policies on the exchanges must keep premiums within a certain limit based on actuarial data in their region. In addition, employers are looking for ways to … Continue Reading

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Step Away From that Test

My best friend turned 57 in October (but you’d never know it by looking at her; she doesn’t look a day over 45). Like most of us of a certain age, she has a few medical issues. Years of working as an editor has left her with carpal tunnel syndrome. Years of living with cats has left her with asthma. Years of sun worshiping behavior has left her with basal cell skin cancer. Years of good eating have left her with a borderline high LDL level. And, as a result of being, well, 58, she has a pain in her left shoulder. Sound familiar?

My friend recently switched doctors and found a new primary care physician who, upon hearing her medical history and current concerns, performed and ordered several tests, including:

— A pelvic exam/Pap

— A routine physical

— A baseline EKG

— A complete fasting blood panel, including a special test that measures LDL-particles (LDL-P)

— A mammogram and an ultrasound on her right breast, because the doctor felt a suspicious tissue mass (my friend has a family history of breast cancer)

— A right carotid artery ultrasound based on a bruit,  the swooshing sound the doctor said could … Continue Reading

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The TRUE Cost of Health Care

Medical Records & StethoscopeThree years ago, my husband left his perfectly secure job (read: with benefits) and became a full-time consultant for his old company (read: without benefits) so we could have a much nicer lifestyle in Williamsburg, Va than we did in the small Pennsylvania town in which we’d lived for nine years (no offense to Pennsylvanians, but I’m a Virginia born-and-bred gal and I needed to get back to the Commonwealth, where the daffodils bloom in February and we can wear flip flops before June).

Needless to say, we lost the benefits (read: employer-provided health insurance) that had allowed me to go out on my own as a freelance medical writer seven years before.

No problem, I thought. I’m a healthcare expert. Heck, I once managed the provider relations department for a mid-sized managed care company, contracting with doctors and convincing them that they hated our HMO less than the other HMOs in the area (I was pretty darn good at it, too). I’ll just go out and find us some health insurance.

I started on the individual market. For my sons … Continue Reading

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The New Mammogram Recommendations

I have one word for those who are freaking out over the United States Preventive Services Task Force’s new mammogram recommendations suggesting that most women in their forties should not undergo  regular screening mammograms.


Good lord! You would have thought the task force recommended witholding treatment from any women in her 40s who had breast cancer, or banned her from getting a mammogram, or threatened to jail any insurance company that had the nerve to pay for said mammograms.

Could we all please take a breath and look at the facts for a moment?

Fact. The USPSTF is just one of three major bodies (including the National Cancer Institute [NCI]  and the American Cancer Society [ACS]) that releases screening mammogram guidelines. The ACS has already said it has no plans to change its recommendation that women in their 40s have regular screening mammograms; the NCI is reviewing the data. Fact. The issue of mammograms for women in their 40s has been controversial for decades; the USPSTF has updated its recommendation based on new evidence. Fact. The USPSTF did NOT consider any economic data in making the new recommendation–only scientific data. Fact. What is appropriate for a large population … Continue Reading

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