Lower medical inflation expected in 2013, report finds
NEW YORK — The slow economy, cost cutting and lower use of services by patients looking to save money will combine to cause healthcare spending to grow at a "historically" low rate in 2013, according to a new report released Thursday.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute found in its annual "Behind the Numbers" report that medical inflation has held at between 7% and 7.5% since 2010. While healthcare spending often has gone back up in economic recoveries, the report found that four years of relatively low growth may be narrowing the gap between healthcare spending and overall inflation to what it called a more sustainable level.
"Slower growth in healthcare costs could be the ‘new normal,’" PwC human resource services principal Michael Thompson said. "We’re seeing long-term trends that could keep cost increases in check."
According to a survey of 1,400 employers, they are using two primary strategies to contain healthcare costs, including increasing employees’ share of costs and expanding health-and-wellness programs. "As employers shift expenses to their employees, for example, these workers are pursuing lower-cost alternatives," Thompson said. "Even as the economy strengthens, changes in behavior by employers and consumers may help limit medical growth."
The report further found that average enrollment in high-deductible plans, coupled with a health reimbursement account, has increased from 34.2% in 2010 to 43.2% in 2012, while nearly three-quarters of employers are offering wellness programs, with half of those saying they plan on expanding them. Half of employers are planning to increase cost sharing through plan design, such as higher deductibles, while more than half are considering raising employee prescription drug plan costs.
PwC also found four factors that would deflate the medical cost trend in 2013, namely market pressure to reduce supply and equipment costs, increased popularity of new methods to deliver primary care, increased availability of comparitive cost information and accelerated savings from the pharmaceutical patent cliff.
"Market forces are driving demands for better outcomes and reasonable costs," PwC U.S. health industries leader Kelly Barnes said. "The question is, how will industry respond? We expect to see health organizations create services and partnerships that engage consumers and improve quality. It isn’t just dollars spent, but value derived."
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New diagnostic tests, administrative physicals now available at Take Care Clinics
CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. — Walgreens-owned clinic operator Take Care Clinics now is offering three new diagnostic tests and administrative physicals — a move that also advances the Well at Walgreens strategy to enhance services as a community healthcare provider and transform to a health and daily living destination.
The launch of these new services is based on input from patients, managed care organizations and healthcare providers on ways to help prevent the progression of disease and use the most appropriate point of care, the company said.
New point of care tests now available at Take Care Clinics include:
HbA1C test: A blood test used to monitor Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and to gauge a patient’s success in managing the disease;
Microalbumin test: A urine test often recommended for people with diabetes and high blood pressure to detect possible kidney damage or disease; and
Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): A lab test which can help identify hidden blood in the stool which could be an indicator of colon cancer or polyps in the colon.
“By providing convenient access to common diagnostic tests in Take Care Clinics we can assist primary care providers and others in the healthcare system in early detection, diagnosing, managing and ultimately helping to prevent disease,” stated Sandy Ryan, chief nurse practitioner officer for Take Care Health Systems. “Providers often recommend these tests for patients based on history and clinical findings, and our convenient hours and locations remove barriers for those who would otherwise forego care. By making these tests more accessible to patients, our clinics can play an important role in preventing unchecked disease progression and overuse of more costly emergency rooms.”
Completing preventive care services, such as the A1C test, microalbumin and FOBT, is an important measure in the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set, which provides information on the performance of America’s health plans. It’s also a key measure for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Star ratings, which allow for comparison of Medicare plans. With the addition of these services in the Take Care Clinic setting, health plan providers can work with Take Care Health Systems to help provide their membership with easy access to appropriate diagnostic services.
Administrative physicals, which may be required for numerous life events, such as adoption, insurance certification, marriage, school admission and employment verification, also have launched at Take Care Clinics. Administrative physicals include a physical exam, immunization review and the completion of the clinical sections of forms that must be filled out as part of a required physical.
Walgreen's is taking another thoughtful but modest step in trying to position the company as a front line healthcare provider. Its earlier moves to open employer-based clinics, test market physician offices in its stores, extend the role of pharmacists and transform the look and feel of its stores are more important steps, but the company is clearly trying to be more proactive before being driven to it again by competitors. Watching CVS blow past them with its MinuteClinic and Caremark acquisitions, with a Walmart-Humana alliance poised to become an 800 pound gorilla in healthcare reform and with even RiteAid having beat them with telemedicine links to provide integrated clinical services, the challenge should now be pretty evident to Walgreen's leaders and shareholders. Ron Hammerle, Chairman Health Resources, Ltd. Tampa, Florida
Jarrow Formulas intros omega-3 supplement boasting higher bioavailability
LOS ANGELES — Jarrow Formulas earlier this month launched PhosphOmega, a phospholipid-omega-3 fatty acid complex. According to the company, phospholipid-bound omega-3s have higher bioavailability than ordinary fish oils.
“The omega-3s in seafood are consumed both as phospholipids and triglycerides,” Jarrow Formulas marketing director Rory Lipsky said. “For example, 80% of the fatty acids in trout are phospholipids and 20% are triglycerides. PhosphOmega provides omega-3s in both the triglyceride and phospholipid forms.”
Krill oil has become a more well-known and popular source of omega-3 fatty acids because 40% of the omega-3s are phospholipid-bound, Lipsky noted.