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.

 

 

 

President Trump Orders Pull-Back on ACA

ACA changesBy Brad Roehrenbeck, General Counsel & VP, Legal Services, Compliance

As widely reported over the weekend, within a few hours of his swearing in, President Donald Trump signed his first Executive Order, calling on federal agencies to take immediate steps to curtail aspects of the Affordable Care Act and signaling the new administration’s plans to repeal and replace the Act altogether.

What does the Order say?

The Order itself has little if any tangible impact on the law. The Order states the administration’s official policy of pursuing a complete repeal and replacement of the ACA. It directs the heads of all federal agencies to take steps within their authority to remove or minimize any provision of the ACA that carries fiscal or regulatory burden. As the primary agencies charged with implementing the ACA, that action will likely come from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, and the IRS. The order also directs these agencies to afford greater flexibility to the States in areas impacted by the law. Finally, the order directs federal agencies to take steps to encourage and enable an interstate market for health coverage.

What does the Order mean for employers?

For now, the Order has no real impact on employers, except to signal that federal agencies will be acting quickly to relax various components of the ACA that impact employers, group health plans, and their members. The Senate has yet to confirm those President Trump has nominated to lead the agencies affected by the Order. Once those agency heads are confirmed, we expect to see regulations issued as prescribed by the Order and will be watching closely. Of course, both the Trump administration and members of both houses are said to be working on legislation to repeal and/or replace the ACA. Both the House and the Senate have laid the groundwork for streamlined procedures for repeal of the Act. They face more of an uphill battle to pass legislation to replace the ACA, as a 60-vote majority will be required in the Senate to pass replacement legislation. We will provide updates as details of those efforts become public. Until such legislation passes or further regulations are released, employers should bear in mind that the ACA remains in full force and effect.MedCost

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.

US Senate Passes 21st Century Cures Act

21st Century Cures ActA sprawling health bill that passed the Senate Wednesday and is expected to become law before the end of the year is a grab bag for industries that spent plenty of money lobbying to make sure it happened that way.

Here are some of the winners and losers in the 21st Century Cures Act:

Winners

Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Companies. The bill will likely save drug and device companies billions of dollars bringing products to market by giving the Food and Drug Administration new authority and tools to demand fewer studies from those companies and speed up approvals.

The changes represent a massive lobbying effort by 58 pharmaceutical companies, 24 device companies and 26 “biotech products and research” companies, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The groups reported more than $192 million in lobbying expenses on the Cures Act and other legislative priorities, the analysis shows.

Medical schools, hospitals and physicians. The bill provides $4.8 billion over 10 years in additional funding to National Institutes of Health, the federal government’s main biomedical research organization. (The funds are not guaranteed, however, and will be subject to annual appropriations.)

The money could help researchers at universities and medical centers get hundreds of millions more dollars in research grants, most of it toward research on cancer, neurobiology and genetic medicine.

21st Century Cures ActThe bill attracted lobbying activity from more than 60 schools, 36 hospitals and several dozen groups representing physician organizations. They reported spending more than $120 million in disclosures that included Cures Act lobbying.

Mental health and substance abuse advocates. The bill provides $1 billion in state grants over two years to address opioid abuse and addiction. While most of that money goes to treatment facilities, some will fund research.

The bill also boosts funding for mental health research and treatment, with hundreds of millions of dollars authorized for dozens of existing and new programs.

Mental health, psychology and psychiatry groups spent $1.8 million on lobbying disclosures that included the Cures bill as an issue.

Patient groups. Specialty disease and patient advocacy groups supported the legislation and lobbied vigorously. Many of these groups get a portion of their funding from drug and device companies. The bill includes more patient input in the drug development and approval process, and the bill is a boost to the clout of such groups.

More than two dozen patient groups lobbied the bill, and reported spending $6.4 million in disclosures that named the bill as one of their issues.

21st Century Cures ActHealth information technology and software companies. The bill pushes federal agencies and health providers nationwide to use electronic health records systems and to collect data to enhance research and treatment. Although it doesn’t specifically fund the effort, IT and data management companies could gain millions of dollars in new business.

More than a dozen computer, software and telecom companies reported Cures Act lobbying. The groups’ total lobbying spending was $35 million on Cures as well as other legislation.

Losers

Preventive medicine. The bill cuts $3.5 billion — about 30 percent — from the Prevention and Public Health Fund established under Obamacare to promote prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, hospital acquired infections, chronic illnesses and other ailments.

Consumer and patient safety groups. Groups like Public Citizen and the National Center for Health Research either fought the law outright or sought substantial changes. Although they won on some points, these groups still say Cures opens the door for unsafe drug and device approvals and doesn’t address rising drug costs.

Hair growth patients. The bill says federal Medicaid will no longer help pay for drugs that help patients restore hair. The National Alopecia Areata Foundation spent $40,000 on lobbying disclosures this cycle that included Cures.

The FDA. The bill gives the FDA an additional $500 million through 2026 and more hiring power, but critics say it isn’t enough to cover the additional workload under the bill. The agency also got something it opposed: renewal of a controversial voucher program that awards companies that approve drugs for rare pediatric diseases.

(Kaiser Health News, Sydney Lupkin and Steven Findlay, December 7, 2016)

2016 ACA Employer Deadlines Extended

2016 ACA Employer Deadlines

By Michael Berwanger, JD, Director, Quality Management & Compliance

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Notice 2016-70, which extends the due date for furnishing to individuals the 2016 Form 1095-B (titled Health Coverage), and the 2016 Form 1095-C (titled Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage), from January 31, 2017 to March 2, 2017.

Self-funded employers should note that the filing deadlines remain unchanged. The Notice states that the “Treasury and the [Internal Revenue] Service have determined that there is no similar need for additional time for employers, insurers, and other providers of minimum essential coverage to file with the Service the 2016 Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C.”

Employer Deadlines

Therefore, the due dates for filing 2016 Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C with the IRS remain:

February 28, 2017 (for paper filing)

March 31, 2017 (for e-filing)

Employers may obtain a 30-day extension for filing with the IRS by filing Form 8809 on or before the forms’ due date.

The IRS has also extended last year’s good-faith transition relief for inaccurate information on the forms. Recognizing the “challenges involved in developing new procedures and systems to accurately collect and report information in compliance with new reporting requirements,” the IRS has provided relief to incorrect and incomplete information reported on the statement or return.

Please note: The good-faith relief applies only to data on the forms, not failure to comply with due dates.MedCost

 

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)

How to Skin a Phish

PhishingBy Andrew Ramos, MedCost Director of Information Technology

Have you ever had someone go “phishing” for your personal information? Whether it’s your bank account, your medical information or your Facebook account, hackers are posing as legitimate companies or government entities in order to defraud you.

How Phishing Works

Cybercriminals have developed new ways to target organizations. Phishing often involves an impersonation of a specific employee at a company. In this instance, a cybercriminal could scour internet sites for information about a company and its leadership. Then an employee may receive a false email from a “staff member” in a bid to secure the victim’s trust.

If the targeted employee believes the email is authentic, the criminal can then leverage the employee’s interaction with the email to either install malicious software on the victim’s computer, or ask the victim to send them highly confidential information. This technique has proven to be very effective, sparking widespread concerns for the safety of protected or confidential information throughout many industries.

Four Facts about Phishing

Consider these important insights:

*Health care is a phishing target.
A successful phishing campaign at Middlesex Hospital affected the personal information of approximately 950 patients. The hospital responded by offering free credit monitoring for a year, and said the successful phishing attack did not include direct access to full medical records or Social Security numbers.

*Phishing isn’t just a corporate problem.
Time Warner Cable said that up to 320,000 customers may have had their passwords compromised by a targeted phishing attack, and urged these customers to reset the passwords on their accounts. Yahoo! reported a loss of over 500 million user accounts and associated passwords. These incidents happen regularly, and it is a growing importance that average consumers maintain good security practices.

*Social Media is a pond for phishing.
People love to communicate. We all routinely share information about our favorite place to grab a latte, our anniversary, our birthday, and so much more! Hackers know that. Even the platforms can be a place where cybercriminals try to solicit information from unwitting consumers. For example, A Facebook page named “Facebook Security” that warns ‘Your page will be disabled’ is making the rounds. The page redirects you to a phishing site designed to steal your login information.

*Building a sensitivity to phishing is key to a Security Program.
How many of your employees will click on a phishing email? JPMorgan Chase & Company was able to dupe 20% of its staff into clicking the fake phishing email. Would your company want to send a fake phishing email to gauge susceptibility of your employees? This site evaluates susceptibility to phishing for companies.

So What Can I Do?

The FTC has issued guidance for both consumers and businesses.  Reputable industry experts such as Michael Magrath at VASCO Data Security recommends stronger, multifactor authentication for employee access to sensitive data. Biometrics, security keys or a one-time code through a mobile app are some of the authentication tools available. Systems and servers should be in place to help thwart the impact of employee credentials that are compromised.

Chief Information Security Officer Heather Roszkowski is taking steps to combat the spike in phishing attacks and other external threats at the University of Vermont Health Network. She is implementing two-factor authentication along with encryption to protect patients’ Protected Health Information (PHI). Increased security controls “for anything facing the Web…can pretty much render phishing attacks that are designed to steal credentials useless,” said Ms. Roszkowski.

But it’s also important to remember the human element in the battle against external threats, says Dan Berger, CEO of consulting firm Redspin. “You’ve got to be training your people so that they’re not susceptible to phishing or social engineering type of attacks.”

Don’t let your company be a victim of cybercrime. Put systems in place and educate your staff to avoid records being lost, inappropriately accessed, stolen, or otherwise compromised, costing your company time, labor, legal costs, and other devastating results.

And keep those criminal phish from getting a hook in you.MedCost

IRS Announces 2017 FSA Limits

By Michael Berwanger, JD, Director, Quality Management & Compliance

The Internal Revenue Service recently announced the tax year 2017 annual inflation adjustments for more than 50 tax provisions.

Notably, for the first time in two years and consistent with industry expectations, the IRS has increased the dollar limitation under § 125(i) on voluntary employee salary reductions for contributions to health Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) from $2,550 to $2,600.

The Revenue Procedure 2016-55 provides details about these annual adjustments. The tax year 2017 adjustments generally are used on tax returns filed in 2018.

2017 FSA

 

 

 

For guidance on FSAs, please review the IRS Frequently Asked Questions page.

 

To print this article, click on the title and scroll to “PRINT THIS PAGE” at the bottom.

Heart Disease: My Story

This 14-year MedCost employee worked hard to maintain good health—until one day, when he almost lost it all.

By Don Holmes, Customer Service Representative, MedCost

heart disease

I work out between three to four times weekly at the YMCA. My routine usually includes a 35-minute vigorous jog on the treadmill. On alternate days I lift weights.

In the fall of 2007, I began to notice some occasional, uncomfortable heaviness in my chest, especially during periods of exertion. I initially attributed it to pushing a little too hard, or soreness from a previous workout.

One afternoon after work, I went over to the Y to get in an additional workout. Within 5 minutes on the treadmill, I knew something was different and potentially serious.

The heaviness in my chest began much more quickly, and it was painful enough to cause me to stop. As a precaution, I asked the weight room attendants to check my blood pressure. The blood pressure reading was off the charts!

We waited several minutes and took my blood pressure again. It was still in the danger zone.

The attendants said I needed an ambulance, but I insisted on driving home. I told them I would see my doctor the next day. That night the pain lingered as I tried to fall asleep.

The next morning when I arrived at work, I called my doctor’s office and told the nurse what had happened. I gave her the blood pressure readings. She calmly but firmly said: “I want you to hang up immediately and dial 911. You must go to the hospital now.”

How could I be fit enough to work out frequently and still have this happen? I immediately went to the hospital. A heart catheterization revealed I had major blockages in the front and back of my heart. Doctors performed a quintuple bypass operation on me.

I was extremely fortunate that I did not experience a heart attack, but it was imminent. Thankfully, the heart muscle was fine and there was no damage. But I had to make some significant lifestyle changes.

The American Heart Association has been an invaluable resource in helping me to educate myself on how to improve my overall health and make better food choices. They even offer great suggestions on workout routines.

This Saturday, October 29, my company is partnering with Wake Forest Baptist Health, Gentiva, HanesBrands and many others to sponsor the Winston-Salem Heart & Stroke Walk. Besides the “Pooches on Parade” contest, the live band and the beautiful weather, every person has a chance to walk one, two or four miles to strengthen your heart. 

It’s not too late to register! Watch this WXII video of Allison Brashear, MD, describing heart and stroke as two of the top four killers in this “Stroke Belt” of the country. The American Stroke Association says that 80% of strokes are preventable.

Activities begin this Saturday at 8 am and we walk at 9:30 am. It’s a privilege I’ll never take for granted again.