The Colonoscopy Screening That May Have Saved His Life

Sean Yacobi’s Story

colonoscopy screening

Sean Yacobi with his wife and children

Sean Yacobi had no symptoms when he decided to get his first colonoscopy. He made the decision after receiving a MedCost letter, urging him to get screened. What happened next was a total surprise.

I got a notification about getting a colonoscopy because I turned 50. I was a little anxious about my first colonoscopy to know that everything was alright. I felt fine, so I was taken aback when the doctors came in after the procedure that took longer than normal.

The doctor matter-of-factly said: “I found something. Nine times out of 10 it will be colorectal cancer.” The next few weeks were difficult because of the unknown. I got the good news that it had not spread and that they had caught it early, thanks to being screened.

I went that night, got blood work and set up with my oncologist. I felt like I needed an assistant to keep up with all the appointments.

With something like cancer, it’s typical to close up emotionally. When MedCost offered me participation in the Complex Case Management Program, I was a little skeptical. I’m a trial attorney. I wondered if MedCost was making sure I didn’t go past my benefit limits. But I found out that it’s been all about my care, and connecting the dots with all my different treatments.

I’ve had radiation therapy and inpatient surgery, followed by chemotherapy. It’s bewildering. There are difficulties beyond the illness. It’s just nice to know that above and beyond insurance coverage, MedCost’s Case Management gives you some peace of mind.

If you are dealing with medical insurance, you need support. Don’t be a lone ranger. Sometimes it’s humbling for men in general – I run my own business. It’s hard to realize I can’t solve everything on my own. If help is there, take advantage of it.

I’ve been willing to talk to MedCost people to tell them what’s going on. My Case Manager has a gentle manner that is very encouraging.

medicalYou have got to face things head on. When I talked to my gastroenterologist, he said: “It’s a good thing you came in.” I asked him what would have happened if I had waited five years for that screening. He said: “The news would not have been this good. It’s still early – you’re going to be okay.”

I’m going to focus on the finish line to get this behind me. This has made some positive changes in my life. After my surgery, when I was trying to get up and walk, I saw a lot of people who weren’t doing well. I heard people moaning in pain. Sometimes you need to see that to be thankful for what you’ve got.

I’ve got a lot to live for. God puts you with people that can help you. MedCost has been my sponsor. They got me to the screening and saved my life.MedCost

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If you are 50+ or have a family history or other risk factors for colorectal cancer, your health plan may provide a free colonoscopy. Check your health plan benefits for more details. Colorectal cancer can progress without any symptoms such as rectal bleeding or pain. Don’t wait to be screened.

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This testimony was published with permission from C. Sean Yacobi. To print, click on the title and scroll to “PRINT THIS PAGE” at the bottom.

 

 

 

Four Corporate Ideas for Employee Wellness Programs

Stories of Success

If you’re one of the 80% of employers who have offered employee wellness programs and information,[i] you may be searching to see what is working at other companies. Developing a culture of wellness can decrease sick leave absenteeism by an average 28%, and workers’ compensation and disability costs by an average 30%.[ii]

employee wellness programs

How can you increase your employees’ job satisfaction and overall health, while saving hard-earned health care dollars? Here are four power ideas for more successful employee wellness programs

1. Offer Choices.

One size does not fit all in employee wellness programs,” said Crystal Spicer, MedCost Human Resources Manager. As a company offering financial and health solutions for employer benefit programs, clients were asking what wellness outreach MedCost was doing for their own employees.

The MedCost HR team realized that what worked for one employee didn’t necessarily fit another. So the company’s wellness committee designed a point-based program with multiple ways to boost health and earn financial incentives.

The annual program, kicked off in 2016, measured points earned for employee wellness activities on a quarterly and a yearly basis. This chart shows multiple ways that MedCost employees could earn points for the financial incentives at year’s end:

employee wellness programs

“We got people’s attention, which is what we were striving for,” said Crystal. One group of women came to work an hour early to walk together – even climbing stairs.

A Weight Watchers group cosponsored by the company attracted 20 people. Sherry lost 56 pounds. Glenn lost 36. Trish, motivated on her own, lost 40. And their new habits of exercising and eating helped them keep it off.

MedCost offered $100 drawings quarterly for those who met point goals. At the end of 2016, those who accrued the 2,400 points will receive a $500 contribution into their personal Health Savings Account.[iii] Employees enrolled in a Preferred Provider Organization plan could earn a gift card for $250.

Fitness classes offered after work onsite were another way to add points. The company shared costs with employees who signed up for the six-week classes. From the beginning, classes were well-attended.

Financial incentives are effective for successful employee wellness programs. Four out of five employers use financial incentives to promote wellness.[iv]

“Getting buy-in is key,” said Crystal. “Earning these financial incentives are obtainable because there are a whole variety of ways to get there.

2. Incorporate Employee Suggestions

employee wellness programs

Figure 1. Several MedCost employees at the 2016 Heart Walk

Our annual support of the Triad American Heart Association’s walk hit new levels this year – and not just financially. Jenny implemented a leadership contest to raise the most employee contributions, with the winner earning the right to wear this Southern Lady hat, red beads and tutu (See Figure 1).

Brad (in the lovely hat and tutu) definitely stood out in the crowd of 7,500 walkers through downtown Winston-Salem.

But even better were the 125 employees, family members and friends who walked between one to four miles on October 29th. Dogs, babies in strollers, music and laughter made this emphasis on healthy hearts a lot of fun.

Another employee suggestion resulted in a weekly “Walk with Me Wednesday” event, beginning in 2015. MedCost is located in a business park with sidewalks, gazebos and ponds. An average six to eight employees walk 15 minutes together at noon, enjoying fresh air, camaraderie and exercise in a beautifully landscaped setting.

employee wellness programs

Figure 2. MedCost on Kimel Park Drive, Winston-Salem, NC

One key benefit of this weekly walk is better connectivity among the employees who walk together. In many businesses, department knowledge is often siloed from other departments because of different functions. And employees don’t get to know each other.

“The walks really do benefit the mind as well as the body,” said Karen, a 16-year employee at MedCost. “Walking with others just motivates me to get out and walk.”

 

3. Take a Long-Term Approach to Your Return on Investment (ROI)

“Looking purely at hard costs, healthcare spending can be one of the largest single expenses for a business, next to payroll,” said Dan Birach, president of HEALTHWORKS division at Carolinas HealthCare System. [v]

“Statistics show that for every dollar an employer invested in areas such as wellness programming and disease management, they enjoyed an ROI of anywhere from $1.50 to $3.80. Healthy employees are more productive and miss fewer days.”

The Society for Human Resource Management reported that 80% of employers offered preventive wellness services and info in 2015.[vi]

Employee wellness programs are having an impact on reduced dollars spent on health benefits. When corporate wellness programs were implemented:

  • Claims costs reduced 28%
  • Doctor visits reduced 17%
  • Hospital admissions reduced 63%
  • Disability costs were down 34%
  • Incidence of injury reduced 25%[vii]

“A wellness program can make just a small difference at first,” said Crystal. “It has to build gradually.”

Employers offering wellness programs are looking for the same key ingredient for their employees – motivation.

4. Motivate Your Employees for Better Quality of Life

employee wellness programs

Figure 3. Claudia Johnson before losing weight

Claudia works with providers (hospital systems, medical offices and other professionals) at MedCost. When doctors diagnosed medical issues exacerbated by her obesity, she took a hard look at her lifestyle. And wanted to change.

“I am involved in Christian ministries in my personal life,” Claudia said. “I wanted to be in better health. My family and friends supported me to make some new choices.”

MedCost wellness choices inspired Claudia to do things differently. In January of 2016, she braved the cold temperatures to begin walking every morning at 7:30 a.m. with several other employees. She climbed stairs at lunch. She focused on her health.

“I’ve lost 30 pounds,” Claudia said. “I love the fact that I have gone from a size 22 to a size 18. My grandchildren are ten and six. I have to get rid of some more of this weight to keep up with them.”

employee wellness programs

Figure 4. Claudia Johnson after losing 30 pounds

Summary

Inspire your employees. Fit your wellness program to your unique business style and culture. One size won’t fit all, so try different ideas to see what resonates with your employees.

Above all, pour on the encouragement. Your employees are spending a large chunk of their time working for you. Your support may not only boost your bottom line, but improve your employees’ health in a life-changing way.

Your company will produce not only satisfied customers, but loyal, healthier employees.MedCost

 

 

[i] “Eight Things You Need to Know about Employee Wellness Programs,” Alan Kohll, Forbes, April 21, 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2016/04/21/8-things-you-need-to-know-about-employee-wellness-programs/2/#4097a3e13e2d

[ii] “Be Stronger, Live Better,” National Association of Health Underwriters Education Foundation, http://www.nahueducationfoundation.org/materials/WellnessBrochure.pdf

[iii] For those enrolled in a High Deductible Health Plan with the company.

[iv] Incentives for Workplace Wellness Programs,” RAND Corporation, http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9842.html

[v]  “Five Things to Consider When Planning Your Wellness Program,” Dan Birach, HEALTHWORKS Division, Carolinas HealthCare System,  http://www.carolinashealthcare.org/medical-services/prevention-wellness/employer-solutions/healthworks/info-hub

[vi] Kohll, ibid.

[vii] National Association of Health Underwriters Education Foundation, ibid.

Dementia Declines in US Seniors, Study Finds

dementiaA new study finds that the prevalence of dementia has fallen sharply in recent years, most likely as a result of Americans’ rising educational levels and better heart health, which are both closely related to brain health.

Dementia rates in people over age 65 fell from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012, a decline of 24 percent, according to a study of more than 21,000 people across the country published Monday in The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.

“It’s definitely good news,” said Dr. Kenneth Langa, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and a coauthor of the new study. “Even without a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or a new medication, there are things that we can do socially and medically and behaviorally that can significantly reduce the risk.”

The decline in dementia rates translates to about one million fewer Americans suffering from the condition, said John Haaga, director of behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the new study.

Dementia is a general term for a loss of memory or other mental abilities that’s severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease, which is believed to be caused by a buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain, is the most common type of dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and occurs after a stroke.

dementiaThe new research confirms the results of several other studies that also have found steady declines in dementia rates in the United States and Europe. The new research provides some of the strongest evidence yet for a decline in dementia rates because of its broad scope and diverse ranges of incomes and ethnic groups, Haaga said. The average age of participants in the study, called the Health and Retirement Study, was 75.

The study, which began in 1992, focuses on people over age 50, collecting data every two years. Researchers conduct detailed interviews with participants about their health, income, cognitive ability and life circumstances. The interviews also include physical tests, body measurements and blood and saliva samples.

While advocates for people with dementia welcomed the news, they noted that Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss remain a serious burden for the nation and the world.  Up to five million Americans today suffer from dementia, a number that is expected to triple by 2050, as people live longer and the elderly population increases.

The number of Americans over age 65 is expected to nearly double by 2050, reaching 84 million, according to the U.S. Census. So even if the percentage of elderly people who develop dementia is smaller than previously estimated, the total number of Americans suffering from the condition will continue to increase, said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach, medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Alzheimer’s is going to remain the public health crisis of our time, even with modestly reduced rates,” Fargo said.MedCost

(Kaiser Health News, Liz Szabo, November 21, 2016)

Federal Study Helps Seniors Stay at Home

seniors stay homeA federally-funded project that researchers say has potential to promote aging in place began by asking low-income seniors with disabilities how their lives at home could be better, according to a study released Wednesday.

At the end of the program, 75% of participants were able to perform more daily activities than they could before and symptoms of depression also improved, researchers said in the journal Health Affairs. 

Called Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Living for Elders, or CAPABLE for short, the program was funded by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation.

The seniors who took part were each paired with a team for five months that included an occupational therapist, who made six visits; a registered nurse, who made four; and a handyman, who worked a full-day at the participant’s home installing assistive devices and doing repairs, according to the study.

The nurses and therapists helped participants identify three achievable goals for each member of the team and identify what barriers had to be overcome. For example, the therapist might survey a house for safety issues such as unsafe flooring, poorly lit entrances and railings in disrepair.

seniors stay homeThe therapist then worked with the elderly person to identify assistive devices, repairs or modifications that could help achieve the participant’s goals. Next, the therapist created a work order for the handyman that prioritized those goals within a $1,300 budget for each dwelling.

Spending on assistive devices and home repairs ranged from $72 to $1,398 for each participant, the researchers said.

They studied 234 adults older than 65 who participated in CAPABLE, all eligible for both Medicare, the government health insurance plan for seniors, and Medicaid, the government health insurance plan for low-income people.

All participants had trouble with routine tasks in a group of eight known as activities of daily living. They include bathing, dressing, using the toilet and walking across a small room. On average, participants had trouble with 3.9 tasks at the start, but improved to just two by the end of the program.

Researchers said they could not conclude that the participants’ improvements were due to the CAPABLE program because the project was funded without a control group to make scientific comparisons.

(Kaiser Health News, Rachel Bluth, September 7, 2016)
KHN

 

Study: 30% of Children’s Hospital Readmissions May Be Preventable

childrens hospital readmissionsOne of the key indicators of the quality of a hospital’s care is how frequently its patients are readmitted within a month after being discharged.

A study this month examined readmission rates for pediatric patients and found that nearly 30% of them may have been preventable.

The study, published online by the journal Pediatrics, reviewed the medical records and conducted interviews with clinicians and parents of 305 children who were readmitted within 30 days to Boston Children’s Hospital between December 2012 and February 2013.

It excluded planned readmissions such as those for chemotherapy. Overall, 6.5% of patients were readmitted during the study period.

The study found that 29.5% of the pediatric readmissions were potentially preventable. In more than childrens hospital readmissionsthree-quarters of those cases, researchers determined that hospital-related factors played a role. A significantly smaller proportion were related to the patient (39.2%), often because of issues that arose after discharge, or the primary care physician (14.5%). (Multiple factors played a role in some patients’ readmissions, so the total exceeds 100%.)

The most common hospital-related reasons had to do with how patients are assessed, postoperative complications or hospital-acquired conditions.

(Kaiser Health NewsMichelle Andrews July 29, 2016)

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Hospital Costs Surge with Increased Opioid Abuse

Every day, headlines detail the casualties of the nation’s surge in heroin and prescription painkiller opioid drugsabuse: the funerals, the broken families and the patients cycling in and out of treatment. Now, a new study sheds light on another repercussion — how this public health problem is adding to the nation’s ballooning health care costs and who’s shouldering that burden.

The research comes as policymakers grapple with how to curb the increased abuse of these drugs, known as opioids. State legislators in New York,Connecticut, Alaska and Pennsylvania have tried to take action by adding new resources to boost prevention and treatment. In addition, President Barack Obama laid out strategies last month intended to improve how the health system deals with addiction.

Published Monday in the journal Health Affairs, the study measures how many people were hospitalized between 2002 and 2012 because they were abusing heroin or prescription painkillers, and how many of them got serious infections related to their drug use. It also tracks what hospitals charged to treat those patients and how the hospitals were paid.

(Kaiser Health NewsShefali Luthra, May 2, 2016)

Kaiser Health News

 

 

Telemedicine: Doctor on Call

TelemedicineLooking for a way to save on health care? It might be as close as your cell phone.

Which medical facility do you choose when you have the flu? A sprained ankle? Headaches? Your health plan may now include telemedicine—video or phone conferences with a board-certified doctor, within minutes of a call. You may be able to save the costs of Emergency Room (ER) or Urgent Care visits for a wide variety of common ailments(see “Treatment Alternatives” below). 

A Truven Health Analytics’ study reported that 71% of ER visits are unnecessary.[i]  Urgent care facilities now treat a number of minor illnesses and ailments. And the rapidly growing use of telemedicine means that even remote rural areas can get expert consultations with board-certified physicians.

Compare these costs from the study:

 Average ER Visit Average Primary Care Doctor Visit Average Telemed Consultation*

 $1,316

$145

$40-$50

*Consult your summary plan description for complete coverage details

Need a better prescription for your health care expenses? The expert care of local physicians may be available with a phone call, no matter where you are.

TREATMENT ALTERNATIVES TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM

Telemedicine

[i] Sabrina Rodak, “Study: 71% of ED Visits Unnecessary, Avoidable,” Becker’s Hospital Review, April 25, 2013, http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/capacity-management/study-71-of-ed-visits-unnecessary-avoidable.html (accessed February 23, 2016)

 

Reducing Health Costs with Data

Analysis Reveals Better Care Options, Less Cost 
reducing health costs with data

(Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)

In the past six years, health premiums have increased by 203%, reported a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study.[1] But workers’ earnings grew an average 56% during that period. How can employers better manage health care dollars?

The surge of sophisticated technology for big data analysis gives providers and employers unprecedented opportunities to target potentially unnecessary costs, while better caring for covered members.

Consider this example: Jane,* a 42-year old female member with moderately-controlled diabetes, has health benefits through her job. Jane’s biannual visit to her Primary Care Physician (PCP) documents her routine lab work, prescriptions and referrals for preventive screenings.

Between PCP visits, this diabetic member gets the flu, causing severe increases in blood glucose levels. When Jane goes to the Emergency Room, the ER doctor increases her medication dosage. After she goes home, Jane’s personal blood glucose meter shows an alarming drop in her blood sugar levels. Jane calls her PCP, who adjusts her dosage to prevent more complications. Jane’s next checkup is planned in six months.

Was all the data communicated from the hospital’s electronic records, the lab vendor’s system, payer claims and her home monitoring glucose meter? Will the PCP be able to verify that Janreduce health expensese actually obtained her preventive mammogram or flu vaccine prescribed before the ER visit?

At MedCost, Jane’s case would be carefully monitored by her nurse health coach. If there is an issue, her nurse health coach would follow up.

Big data equips providers to accurately analyze key metrics to do more than explain past diagnoses and trends in a group of employees. Advanced analytics can now identify patients and populations at risk for developing certain conditions prior to the actual onset of illness.

It is possible for employers to save on health expenses. Harness the power of accurate data analysis to preserve medical costs, while benefiting your employees’ health.

 

*Actual patient data not used.

[1]Journal of American Medical Association, 2016; 315(1);18, doi:10.1001/jama.2015.17349, http://bit.ly/1TSOFho (accessed Feb. 15, 2016)

 

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear ACA Challenge

TGovernment buildinghe US Supreme Court has rejected the most recent challenge to the Affordable Care Act. Modern Healthcare reported that the Court refused to hear a case alleging that the ACA law should have originated in the House instead of the Senate. To date, lower courts have uniformly rejected the challenge. The Court’s refusal to take up the challenge leaves those decisions intact, likely putting the issue to rest.

The case is Sissel v.Department of Health and Human Services, 15-543.

Facing Life’s Biggest Challenges

Margaret Nunez image

Three and a half years ago, Margaret Nunez first experienced MedCost’s Complex Case Management program when she was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of cancer that causes abnormal plasma cells to accumulate in bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells. The disease is considered incurable but treatable.

Margaret received radiation and chemotherapy and responded well to the treatment. She also underwent a successful auto stem cell transplant. Several months later, with her condition stable, Margaret’s case management file was closed.

When later tests indicated an increase in Myeloma markers, her case management file was re-opened. While participating in the program this second time, Margaret was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery, followed by radiation. During breast cancer treatment, her Myeloma maintenance therapy was discontinued. Once the breast cancer treatments were over, she restarted maintenance therapy. Since her condition was stable, her case management file was closed once again.

Several months later, Margaret re-joined the program after a brief hospital admission for neutropenic fever. Neutropenia is an abnormally low count of white blood cells and makes an individual vulnerable to infection. Margaret’s next bone marrow biopsy showed persistent Myeloma.

“Having the same person follow my case from before my stem cell transplant and then periodically since then has been so important. I’ve been through so many changes and my case manager is always there for me.”*

The goal of our Complex Case Management is to ensure the best use of available health plan resources, while enhancing quality of life. For more information, visit our Case Management page or contact Jason at MedCost.

*Margaret Nunez gave MedCost permission to share her story to help others realize the benefits of the Complex Care Management program.