- Created on 18 September 2013
NEW YORK, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Walgreen Co is moving 120,000 employees to a private health insurance exchange from coverage provided directly from carriers, the company will announce Wednesday.
The pharmacy chain will join 17 other large employers on the Aon Hewitt Corporate Health Exchange as part of a growing movement to offer employees fixed dollar amounts to purchase their own plans on such exchanges.
The end-cost to employees depends on the plan chosen, but they typically get more options than under traditional arrangements. Private exchanges mimic the coverage mandated as part of the Affordable Care Act. Enrollment in the public exchanges starts Oct. 1.
"What happens to employer contributions over time? Will they put in as much as they put in the past? These are unanswered questions but potential negatives," says Paul Fronstin, a senior research associate with the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The benefit to Walgreen and other employers is unknown at this point, as their cost-savings are not clear.
Of the 180,000 Walgreen employees eligible for healthcare insurance, 120,000 opted for coverage for themselves and 40,000 family members. Another 60,000 employees, many of them working part-time, were not eligible for health insurance.
Aon Hewitt says other participants in its program include retailer Sears Holding Corp and Darden Restaurants Inc . These new additions raise enrollment to 330,000 from 100,000 last year, and Aon Hewitt estimates enrollment will jump to 600,000 next year, a fivefold increase from 2012.
By 2017, nearly 20 percent of employees nationwide could get their health insurance through a private exchange, according to Accenture Research. A recent report by the National Business Group on Health said that 30 percent of large employers are considering moving active employees to exchanges by 2015.
Other major providers of private exchanges include Mercer, a division of Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc, and Towers Watson & Co. Mercer said this summer that it had five major employers enrolled but did not name them. Towers Watson is in the process of launching an exchange. Smaller companies, like Buck Consultants, Willis North America Inc and regional players, are also starting exchanges.
There are also separate exchanges just for retirees. IBM , Time Warner Inc and General Electric Co recently announced they were moving retirees to exchanges for those not yet Medicare-eligible and other exchanges for those who are.
CHANGES IN COVERAGE
The five plan choices in Aon Hewitt's private exchange carry names used across the sector - bronze, bronze plus, silver, gold and platinum - and costs are based on the amount of coverage, says Ken Sperling, Aon Hewitt's national health exchange strategy leader.
Bronze and silver plans typically have high individual deductibles - $1,250 or more - meaning that they do not kick in until a participant's out-of-pockets costs exceed the amount of the deductible. Gold and platinum plans have lower deductibles and offer more coverage.
Healthcare premiums for these plans rose about 5 percent last year, consistent with the industry average recently calculated by the National Business Group on Health.
For some employees the exchanges could offer more choice. Walgreen's employees eligible for healthcare coverage were asked in the past three years to choose between two plans, both with high deductibles. Those plans were managed by Blue Cross Blue Shield or United Healthcare, depending on the area of the country.
Walgreen's offering last year matched the silver plan on Aon's exchange, so there are two options that are less expensive and two that are more expensive.
Based on Aon Hewitt's data collected so far, about 42 percent of participants choose a plan less expensive than they had previously used, while 26 percent choose a higher-cost plan and 32 percent stay at the same level.
Tom Sondergeld, senior director of health and well being for Walgreen, said Walgreen joined a private health exchange to offer its employees more choice, while still supporting a generous pharmacy benefit he said was central to the company's mission.
Walgreen is not planning any other major benefit changes for 2014, which starts in late October, Sondergeld said. The company will continue its reward-based wellness programs and a smoking surcharge of roughly $600. It will not change coverage for spouses, as UPS recently announced.
- Created on 18 September 2013
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File
WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama wants food makers and entertainment companies to spend less time advertising sweet and salty foods to kids and more time promoting healthier options.
Concerned about the nation's childhood obesity issues, the first lady on Wednesday is convening the first White House summit on food marketing to children to get involved parties talking about how to help consumers make healthier food choices. That includes enlisting the persuasive power of the multimillion-dollar food marketing industry.
As she helped kick off a nationwide campaign last week to encourage people to drink more plain water, Mrs. Obama said she would keep reaching out to new people and organizations and keep making the case for healthier choices like water and fruits and vegetables.
The White House says it has invited representatives from the food and media industries, advocates, parents, representatives of government agencies and researchers, though it did not release a list of names and organizations. Mrs. Obama will open the meeting with public remarks. The rest of the meeting will be closed to the media.
Consumer advocates say studies show that food marketing is a leading cause of obesity because it influences what children want to eat.
A 2006 report on the issue by the influential Institute of Medicine concluded that food and beverage marketing to children "represents, at best, a missed opportunity, and, at worst, a direct threat to the health of the next generation."
Improvements have come in the years since, especially after Mrs. Obama began drawing attention to childhood obesity with a campaign of her own in 2010.
She stood with the Walt Disney Co. last year when it became the first major media company to ban ads for junk food from its media channels, websites and theme parks. She also has praised the Birds Eye frozen food company for encouraging children to eat vegetables, including through promotions featuring characters from the Nickelodeon comedy "iCarly."
But the first lady and consumer advocates say more improvements are needed.
"Most of the food ads that kids see are still for unhealthy food, which makes it really hard for parents to feed their children healthfully," said Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest. Wootan planned to attend the summit.
In a speech earlier this year to a health conference, Mrs. Obama said limiting the promotion of unhealthy food to kids isn't the only solution.
"It's also about companies realizing that marketing healthy foods can be responsible and the profitable thing to do as well," she said.
The White House summit, which consumer advocates say marks the first time the White House has focused on this issue, could pick up where Congress and the administration left off a few years ago after the administration gave up trying to get the food industry to agree to voluntary marketing guidelines.
Preliminary guidelines released in 2011 asked food companies, advertisers and TV networks only to market foods to children if they are low in fats, sugars and sodium and included specified healthy ingredients. But the effort fizzled after many Republican lawmakers sided with the food industry, which accused government of overreaching.
The companies said the guidelines were overly broad and would limit marketing of almost all of the nation's favorite foods. The food companies also said they were feared government retaliation if they didn't go along with guidelines that were intended to be voluntary.
Large food companies then announced their own guidelines that, not surprisingly, were more lenient than what the Federal Trade Commission, the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had proposed under the direction of Congress.
The FTC publicly backed off some of the guidelines, including a recommendation that companies change packaging and remove brand characters from some foods. In late 2011, the agency said Congress "had clearly changed its mind" and said it would take another look. It never released updated guidelines.
New York University food and nutrition professor Marion Nestle, who also was attending the meeting, said studies show that voluntary restrictions don't work.
"Food marketing is the elephant in the room," she said. "If you're serious about childhood obesity, you've got to do something about food marketing."
- Created on 17 September 2013
The next time you reach out to shake someone’s hand, consider this finding: A recent study of hand-washing habits found only 5 percent of people who used the restroom scrubbed long enough to kill germs that can cause infections.
Thirty-three percent didn’t use soap, and 10 percent didn’t wash their hands at all, according to the study, based on Michigan State University researchers’ observations of more than 3,700 people in a college town’s public restrooms.
“These findings were surprising to us because past research suggested that proper hand washing is occurring at a much higher rate,” lead investigator Carl Borchgrevink, an associate professor of hospitality business, said in a university news release....
- Created on 16 September 2013
Up to 10% or more of adolescent and adult women under 49 years are iron deficient. Hispanic American and African-American women have double the prevalence for anemia compared to Caucasian women. The risk for anemia in adolescent girls is about 3%. Anemia is generally mild in young women, however, and is more likely to occur with one or more of the following conditions:
* Heavy menstruation for longer than 5 days
* Abnormal uterine bleeding, such as from fibroids
* Pregnancy. About 20% of women in industrialized countries have iron deficiency during pregnancy. Multiple pregnancies and births significantly increase the risk.
Anemia develops when you don't have enough robust, healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body. The blood cells may lack enough hemoglobin, the protein that gives blood its red color. Anemia affects one in 10 teen girls and women. It also develops in men and children and is linked to some illnesses.
Symptoms of Anemia
If you're often tired even though you've slept well or you lack the energy for normal activities, you may have anemia. It can be an underlying cause of memory or mood problems. Symptoms range from none to mild to life-threatening and may include:
* Numbness or coldness in hands and feet
* Low body temperature
People with anemia have less oxygen in their blood, which means the heart must work harder to pump enough oxygen to their organs. Cardiac-related symptoms include arrhythmia (an abnormal heart rhythm), shortness of breath, and chest pain.
Anemia Risk Factors
Women and people with chronic diseases have the greatest risk of anemia. When women lose blood in heavy menstrual periods, they may become anemic. Pregnancy also causes changes in a woman's blood volume that can result in anemia. Chronic diseases such as kidney disease can affect the body's ability to make red blood cells. A diet low in iron, folate, or vitamin B12 also increases your risk. And some types of anemia are hereditary.
Cause: Low Iron Intake
A diet that's low in iron can cause anemia. Iron from plants and supplements isn't absorbed as well as the iron in red meat. Digestive concerns such as Crohn's disease, celiac disease, or even having gastric bypass surgery can interfere with iron absorption. And some foods and medicines can hinder iron uptake when taken with iron-rich foods. They include:
* Other calcium-rich foods
* Calcium supplements
Cause: Vitamin Deficiency
The body needs both vitamin B12 and folate to make red blood cells. A diet too low in these vitamins sometimes can cause anemia. An autoimmune disorder or digestive problem also can prevent your body from absorbing enough B12. Animal-based foods and fortified breakfast cereals are good sources of B-12. Folate is in leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, and peas, and is added to breads, pastas, and cereals as folic acid.
Cause: Blood Loss
Losing too many red blood cells is a common cause of anemia. Heavy menstruation, ulcers, injury, or surgery can cause enough blood loss to lead to iron-deficiency anemia. Women who have heavy menstrual periods should be tested for anemia every year.
Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disorder in which the body produces an abnormal form of hemoglobin. This causes red blood cells to change from round to a sickle shape and become stuck together. That can make it difficult for them to pass through blood vessels, leading to pain and damage to body tissues. The red blood cells also die more quickly than normal red blood cells. In the U.S., sickle cell anemia is more common among African-Americans and Hispanics.
Living With Anemia
Treating your anemia and eating a well-rounded diet can give you more energy and enhance your life. Most people can manage their anemia through a healthy diet and iron or vitamin supplements, if a doctor says they are deficient in one of the key nutrients. If you have a chronic disease, then good management of your condition also will help you prevent or manage anemia.