Tag Archives: Insurance

Straight, No Chaser: A Solution to the Upcoming Healthcare Crisis and the Affordable Care Act

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Many of you have heard or seen me discuss various aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  This ambitious effort seeks to maintain the current level of quality that exists (via maintaining the same insurance coverage for those individuals that already have it), while adding approximately 30 million individuals to the insurance rolls while not increasing overall system costs.
Have you noticed that one part of the conversation that doesn’t seem to occur is “Who’s going to take care of these 30 million new individuals? Also, what about the other 20 million that still won’t have insurance?” The twin deterrents of co-pays and deductibles will eventually be stiffened to curtail over- and inappropriate utilization of the emergency room for both the newly insured and the uninsured voucher recipients (Besides, who wants to deal with the long wait times both in your physician’s office and the ER, soon to be even worse with all the newly insured?). Similarly, you would presume that armies of new physicians are being trained to meet this growth in the newly insured, but that simply isn’t the case. Additional options to address this influx will be necessary. Prominent among these options will be those providing better education and greater empowerment of patients to direct their own care.
Sterling Medical Advice (SMA) is a national public health initiative that provides a solution to these issues by the introduction of 24/7 online personal healthcare consulting, featuring physicians and other care professionals covering the entire spectrum of medicine and healthcare. Consultations will be personalized and immediately available to those in need around the clock.
“What’s that, and when might you use it?” Here are a few examples.

  • You need advice regarding an immediate medical concern
  • You need general information about your medical condition
  • You need immediate information about your prescription
  • You are experiencing symptoms and want to know why
  • You want to learn more information about a medical condition that is part of your family history
  • You want additional details on your upcoming medical procedure
  • You need advice regarding the best care option for addressing a medical concern (e.g., emergency room vs. urgent care vs. scheduling an appointment with your primary care physician)
  • You want a second opinion on your new diagnosis
  • You want a second opinion on your new treatment plan
  • You need additional information about what to expect from a newly diagnosed condition

Sterling Medical Advice will improve public health outcomes while reducing healthcare costs for individuals, families and businesses and the healthcare system at large. Personal healthcare consulting will create a better-educated and empowered population and will become an additional component to the American health care system without compromising quality.
To find out more about Sterling Medical Advice, visit www.sterlingmedicaladvice.com, and thanks for following Straight, No Chaser.

About SterlingMedicalAdvice.com: "How will my health information be protected?"

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www.SterlingMedicalAdvice.com’s website is completely compliant with HIPPA guidelines and regulations, meaning the highest level of security is protecting our site and your information! No information will ever be released without your explicit direction to do so, even if your physician or insurance company requests it without your permission.  Remember, if you keep your health information updated on SterlingMedicalAdvice.com, you will have a readily retrievable folder of your information at your disposal.  Try us and enjoy the difference personal healthcare consulting makes.
Thanks for liking and following Straight, No Chaser! This public service provides a sample of what http://www.SterlingMedicalAdvice.com (SMA) will offer beginning November 1. Until then enjoy some our favorite posts and frequently asked questions as well as a daily note explaining the benefits of SMA membership. Please share our page with your Friends on WordPress, and we can be found on Facebook at SterlingMedicalAdvice.com and on Twitter at @asksterlingmd.
Copyright © 2013 · Sterling Initiatives, LLC · Powered by WordPress

Straight, No Chaser: Revisiting the Affordable Care Act – How You or Your Employer Can Save Up to 50% of HealthCare Costs

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Politics aside, I’m not so sure why business owners are focusing on the angst of implementation of the Affordable Care Act instead of the opportunities to save.
Consider the following from the Small Business Association website: “The Affordable Care Act (ACA) creates new incentives for employers to promote wellness among employees by creating supportive, healthier work environments and encouraging employees to take advantage of workplace wellness programs. Health-contingent wellness programs generally require employees to meet a specific standard related to their health, e.g., decreased tobacco use or lowered cholesterol levels. Under the ACA rules that take effect on January 1, 2014, employer rewards will increase from a 20–30% refund of their healthcare coverage costs for employing health-contingent programs, up to 50% for programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use.”
Subscribing to www.sterlingmedicaladvice.com as an employee benefit will save companies up to half of the insurance costs they are already paying for their employees.  These savings can occur at a cost of less than 10% of current costs of insurance! For more information about the final rules’ flexibility in eligible wellness programs, visit www.dol.gov/ebsa.  Have your employee assistance program administrator contact us at 1-866-ADVICE3 (238-4233) or email us at sales@sterlingmedicaladvice.com.

Looking to cut your ACA tax in half? Sign up with SMA, reduce absenteeism, win the appreciation of your employees, and save a bundle.
Thanks for liking and following Straight, No Chaser! This public service provides a sample of what http://www.SterlingMedicalAdvice.com (SMA) will offer beginning November 1. Until then enjoy some our favorite posts and frequently asked questions as well as a daily note explaining the benefits of SMA membership. Please share our page with your Friends on WordPress, and we can be found on Facebook at SterlingMedicalAdvice.com and on Twitter at @asksterlingmd.
Copyright © 2013 · Sterling Initiatives, LLC · Powered by WordPress

About www.SterlingMedicalAdvice.com: "Why would I need this? I already have insurance!"

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Insurance covers most of the costs of the care you need when you need it. However, did you forget that insurance comes with co-pays and deductibles?

  • Before receiving any insurance benefit, patients pay $1,500 in deductibles on average. The year’s deductible alone is 2½ times the cost of a year’s subscription to SMA.
  • Emergency room (ER) and urgent care facility co-pays average between $50–$150. Patients have an additional responsibility for about 30% of the total cost of the bill (the average ER bill comes to about $1,200/visit; your share comes to about $400). So you’re still paying approximately $500/ER visit, even if you have insurance – and that’s after you’ve exhausted your deductible! Even one ER visit with insurance is more expensive than a year’s subscription to SMA.

One of the main purposes of www.SterlingMedicalAdvice.com is to save you multiple ER visits over the course of a year.
SMA works inside your insurance (included as part of your deductible, for example) to reduce additional yearly expenses. Try us, and experience the difference!
Thanks for liking and following Straight, No Chaser! This public service provides a sample of what http://www.SterlingMedicalAdvice.com (SMA) will offer beginning November 1. Until then enjoy some our favorite posts and frequently asked questions as well as a daily note explaining the benefits of SMA membership. Please share our page with your Friends on WordPress, and we can be found on Facebook at SterlingMedicalAdvice.com and on Twitter at @asksterlingmd.
Copyright © 2013 · Sterling Initiatives, LLC · Powered by WordPress

Straight, No Chaser: It's October 1st – Do You Know Where Your Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Exchanges Are? Your Top Ten Questions

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No politics here folks, just facts. The bottom line is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) isn’t going anywhere prior to implementation, so let’s look at where things are. You can go here for previous comments on the ACA.
1. What changes today? The exchanges as scheduled to open for administrative business and to begin signing up customers. This is expected to affect approximately 30 million Americans who previously had not been covered by insurance plans. However, online enrollment has been delayed until November. It is still thought this won’t delay the onset of benefits.
2. Do I qualify for an exchange? You do if you are an employee of a business with less than 50 employees and have to buy your own insurance, and if you currently can’t get insurance because of a preexisting medical condition, or you can’t afford the cost.
3. So do I have insurance today if I enroll? No. Benefits begin on January 1st.
4. What about the individual mandate? It’s still in effect. Starting January 1st, most Americans must either be insured or face a fine.
5. What about the employer mandate? It’s actually been delayed until 2015. This mandate requires any company with over 50 employees to offer benefits to anyone working more than 30 hours a week.
6. Is any of this affected by the governmental shutdown? No. In short, funding for the ACA is not under the control of Congress.
7. How do I know what’s happening in my state? 16 states plus the District of Columbia are setting up their own exchanges. The other 34 states  are being run either totally or partially by the federal government. Refer to the lead picture to see what your state is doing, then go to www.healthcare.gov for details.
8. How does the insurance provided by the exchanges compare with that of traditional insurance? Different exchange plans will have different levels of coverage (eg.bronze, silver, gold and platinum). You’ll get to select a plan based on your needs.
9. What about the costs? This is tricky. Obviously, the plans differ based on the one selected. Additionally, if you’re below 400% of the poverty level (which equals $45,960 for an individual and $92,200 for a family of four), you’ll be eligible for tax credits to bring down the costs of the respective plans. In general, the costs of individual insurance within the exchanges will be dramatically lower than private insurance for those who qualify.
10. Where do I sign up and/or get more information? Try www.healthcare.gov.

Straight, No Chaser: When (Not) to Visit the ER

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I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the life threats that should prompt you to rush to the Emergency Room.  Today, I’m going to give you some factual information that could save you some time and a lot of money and keep you out of the ER.  There are so many misconceptions about the appropriate use of an ER.  Let’s address five points you should consider before you come to see me or my colleagues.  The message is not meant to be disrespectful to you and your families, but it’s just straight talk, and remember, the most important consideration is if you ever feel yourself (or your family) to be in harm’s way, don’t even think about it, get to the ER, and we’ll sort it out for you.
1)   Your expectations are sometimes completely unrealistic about the appropriate use of the ER.  One of the most expensive and inefficient healthcare laws on the books is the Prudent Layperson, which places in the hands of the public the right to go to an ER if one ‘believes’ an emergency exists.  Of course, the result of this is 80% of ER presentations represent things that could have been seen elsewhere for a fraction of the cost (mostly strains and sprains, bumps and bruises, sniffles and coughs – none of which usually requires an ER visit).  Admit it.  Your family sometimes uses the ER as a convenience because we’ll see you quicker than your doctor and can do certain tests quicker.  That doesn’t make it right and certainly doesn’t make it cheap.  But it sure makes for good business.
2)   The ER is not a clinic or a take out restaurant, regardless of what you think or need.  The ER’s notoriety as the ‘facility of last resort’ doesn’t mean we’re a substitute for seeing your doctor.  We rule out life-threats.  We’re not necessarily trying to diagnose the issues you’ve had for 3 years.  We don’t have the equipment or inclination to diagnose chronic disease.  It’s called an emergency department and is a specialty just as much as Surgery, Obstetrics or anything else.  We understand if you leave with some degree of dissatisfaction when we don’t address the reasons you came that were not life-threatening and/or emergent, and your complaining doesn’t impose a different standard of care onto us.   All to which you are entitled on an ER visit (as spelled out in the EMTALA law) is a medical screening exam, which is still going to be expensive.  All this accomplishes is the ER doc determining that you really aren’t trying to die at this moment.  Just because you think you need an x-ray doesn’t mean we’re going to order one.  We’re practicing medicine, not taking orders.  I’m not doing a spinal tap on your child because you saw a news report on encephalitis when you don’t have the symptoms (and as a rule, that analogy fits whenever you say the words “Can you do…xxx…just to be sure?” to an ER physician).  We do care.  We will go the extra mile for you and accommodate you – within reason.
3)   The ER is the most expensive portal of entry into the healthcare system by design.  Controlled for the same typical presentations, the average cost for an ER visit is $1020, and the average cost for the same in an office setting is $140.  The government sets prices, not hospitals or physicians.  Hospitals are able to charge more for any presentation because the infrastructure and operating costs of hospitals are massive compared with your doctor’s office.  In fact, hospitals charge a facility fee of several hundred dollars just for you walking through the door, in addition to everything else.  Insurance companies also attempt to discourage this by charging you higher co-pays for your ‘bad behavior’ ($50-150 upfront) to be seen in the ER instead of your doctor’s office, and in some instances, they require pre-authorization.
4)   The ER, hospital and the medical care system in general in this country is not about charity (or health care for that matter).  The US system is capitalistic by design, and has been very successful at that, capturing 1/6th of the US Gross Domestic Product.  We spend $2 trillion a year on medical care, fully one out of every six dollars spent in this country.  It’s probably the very best place to conduct business in this country.  Your occasionally irrational fears are costing you money.  And this is how hospital bills have been the #1 cause of personal bankruptcy in the US.  Just because you’re not paying upfront doesn’t mean the hospital won’t be tenaciously coming after you for payment.
5)   About 80% of disease takes care of itself if you’re patient.  The body is able to fight off most disease.  Nearly all of your creature comfort symptoms can be addressed by over the counter preparations.  Stop letting your fears be played upon.  Use the internet and other resources available to you, and smartly (i.e. selectively) decide when you need to come to the ER.   And please call your primary physician first.
Doctors, nurses and pharmacists are still the best advocates you have left in the system, and we love taking care of you.  Virtually every survey this century shows that the aforementioned medical professionals are the most trusted in the United States, with teachers occasionally in the mix.  The ethics of healthcare providers offer a nice cover for the sometimes questionable (but legally permissible) behavior of insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and for-profit hospitals, who all too often are all about the profit margin.  The business of American medicine in the 21st century is business first and medical care second.  I’ve told you time and again that diet, exercise, moderation and ounces of prevention preclude all manners of disease.  Take care of yourself, lest you’ll become one of the many for whom medical care expenses destroy personal finances.
If you have any questions, comments or financial horror stories to share, I’m all ears.

Straight, No Chaser: Who Let The Dogs Out? Animal Bites

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Human Shark Week wouldn’t be complete without reviewing something getting bitten.
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Dogs bite almost 5 million people yearly, resulting in 800,000 visits to a healthcare provider. Injuries are highest for kids between ages 5-9.
Most dog bites are to the upper extremities (imagine yourself reaching out, petting or slapping a dog), but in kids most injuries are to the head and neck (they’re smaller). Here’s some tips to avoid getting bitten.

  • If you’re considering bringing a dog into your family, remember that dogs or dog breeds with histories of aggression are inappropriate in households with children (I’m talking to you, pit bull owner.). Also, spend time with a dog before committing. If your kids are afraid of any individual dog, hold off. That fear may create cues the dog will pick up on and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Spaying/neutering a dog actually reduces aggressive tenderness (no puns necessary).
  • Once you’ve acquired a pet dog, please never leave infants or young children alone with the dog. Train your dogs, focusing on submissive behaviors. Do not wrestle or otherwise become overly aggressive with your dog. If your dog develops aggressive tendencies, either get better training, or remove the pet from the household before it’s too late. Don’t disturb your pet if sleeping, eating or caring for puppies. Also avoid staring down your or any dog.
  • Do not approach an unfamiliar dog.
  • Regarding dogs you don’t know: Don’t pet any new dog without allowing it to see your hand and smell you beforehand. Do not run away screaming from a dog and scream; in fact, if you’re approached by an unfamiliar dog, your best move is to remain motionless. If you trip or fall over, roll into a ball and lie still.

Mee-Ow Ows
In general, cat bites and scratches are much worse than dog bites. Cat bites and scratches are more of the puncture wound variety, seeding and walling off very infectious bacteria deep inside of you, which then grow and cause infections. Dog bites are more of the ripping, tearing variety, which poses different problems, but they aren’t as dangerous from an infectious disease standpoint. Cat bites cause skin and blood infections. You’ll know this by warmth, redness, pain, and pus from the wound site. Fever may also be present if the infection is severe enough, and yes, cat bites can be fatal if untreated. You may have heard of ‘cat-scratch fever’. It’s a real phenomenon.
All bite wounds should immediately be washed under high pressure running water but you want to avoid any scrubbing. Pressure to bleeding wounds is important. Time is also important. Both cat and dog bites need to get evaluated. Expect to receive antibiotics in the vast majority of cases. Some bites will require stitches; others will not. That’s a decision for the medical professionals. Treatment may include tetanus and rabies vaccines.
Get in and be seen, especially with cat bites/scratches, which can cause loss of life and limb if not dealt with rapidly and effectively.
By the way, since this is my blog, I’ll just say stop it with letting your dogs lick you and kiss you in the mouth. That’s just nasty (and that’s medically speaking). Don’t you know where their mouths have been?
The Big Yow Wow! Ow
Shark bites are the things of legends, thanks to movies like Jaws and The Deep Blue Sea, which gives the impression that sharks are serial human killers. In fact, there are about 100 shark attacks worldwide yearly, with about 15-20% of attacks being fatal. I doubt that most Straight, No Chaser readers will be shark bait anytime soon, but the first thing I will mention that’s important to know is unlike other attacks by potential predators, playing possum doesn’t work with sharks. Fight back and fight dirty, attacking the eyes and gills. Apparently, sharks like easy food. In case you’ve ever wondered, sharks aren’t biting you because they’re hungry but because they’re curious. They don’t encounter humans often and similar to how a baby puts about anything in its mouth, sharks will take an ‘exploratory bite’. The typical human who swims frequently enough to be in shark infested waters isn’t obese enough to keep sharks’ interest and be a focus of their diets, particularly with so many other options. The other curiosity about sharks is after that first nibble, they tend to back off and wait for prey to die before returning for the kill. They don’t seem to like fighting wounded and aggressive victims. Rather lazy, I’d say.
The real danger in shark bites is the amputation. Single bites of arms and leg can cause enough blood loss and subsequent infection to kill you, just like any other amputation. Obviously a bite to your skull, chest or abdomen can kill instantly. Treatment primarily involves aggressive fluid resuscitation and other life-supportive measures, along with assessment of infection risk with antibiotics as necessary.
The Most Dangerous Animal of Them All
I’ll blog on human bites as a separate topic; it’s that frequent and important. For now, understanding that the human mouth is especially dirty and dangerous should hold you over. In the meantime, pay attention to your household pets and use the tips mentioned to avoid infection.