Tag Archives: health care

Expert advice on keeping your health care costs down


| editorial@queenscourier.com

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(ARA) – Health care expenditures totaled roughly 2.6 trillion dollars in 2010, more than 10 times what they were in 1980. Average families are feeling the increases – health insurance premiums for a typical family of four have increased by 114 percent since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And health care costs now make up approximately 6.6 percent of the average family’s budget.

It’s true that the health care industry is immense and sometimes seems impossible to navigate but you are not powerless. Here are 10 tips for keeping health care costs manageable:

1. Negotiate with health care providers

If you have no insurance, consider negotiating with your medical provider for a discount in the amount that insurance would have required them to write off.

2. Pay in full

Many providers offer a “paid in full” discount if you offer to pay services in full at the date of service. This saves providers time and effort following up, so it can often be in their best interest to encourage up-front payments.

3. Stay informed

The more prepared and informed you are about your options, the more likely you are to receive better care and ultimately, you may save yourself money. Specifically, this means you should do research prior to getting additional medical services. Many exams and tests are very expensive and may not be considered medically necessary.

4. Be an active and inquisitive patient

Remember that you know your body better than anyone. When visiting a provider, you should always go prepared with a list of questions and concerns. If you take the time to get answers on your first visit, you will save time and money in the long run, as you will have fewer follow-up visits and reduce the potential for misdiagnosis.

5. Know your health insurance benefits

If you have health insurance, make sure you review your explanation of benefits (EOB) when you receive them. Insurance companies make mistakes, so make sure you are reviewing your EOBs for correct information on payments made, deductibles, or denied claims. If you have any questions, call your insurance company. If you wait, then denied claims could cost you hundreds of dollars.

6. Set up a flexible spending account if offered by your employer

If your employer offers a flexible spending account (FSA) as a benefit, take advantage. An FSA is a benefit that employers can offer their employees to help them save money on medical expenses – FSAs allow you to deduct a certain amount of pre-tax income each pay period for medical payments, and thereby reduce what you pay in federal income taxes. However, it is important to estimate your anticipated medical expenses carefully because deductions placed in an FSA must be used within the calendar year, or you forfeit your right to those dollars.

7. Investigate free prescription drug programs

Do you have trouble covering the cost of your prescription drugs? Lori Snyder, pharmacy technology program chair at Everest College in Reseda, California, suggests that you write to the pharmaceutical company that manufactures your medications. They all have programs which offer prescription drugs at no cost, and you may qualify.

8. Be wary of savings schemes

Take caution when looking at “Medical Discount Plans.” Many discount plans state that they can save you up to 60 percent on medical expenses, if you go to their providers. But some of these plans are simply out for your money. Before signing up for a plan, be sure to do your research by calling the plan’s providers, and getting price quotes for their services.

9. Shop around for treatment services

You wouldn’t buy the first shirt you see in a store without trying it on and comparing prices – so why would you commit to the first medical provider you call? In seeking out medical services, call around and ask for the fee schedules of the providers you need to see. They should be able to give you a list of procedures and their costs. Then you can compare prices of different providers prior to choosing.

10. Consider switching insurance providers

Remember, not all insurance plans are created equal. Many employers offer a choice of different insurance plans. Consider reassessing your family’s medical needs on an annual basis and negotiating premiums with insurers. They all want your business.

 

Three weeks in, health insurance reinstated for Con Ed workers


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Three weeks after contract negotiations began between Con Ed and representatives from the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2, the utility giant reinstated health coverage for its 8,500 locked out workers.

Local 1-2 spokesperson John Melia claimed the company’s decision to cut off health insurance at the start of the lockout was illegal.

“They broke the law, we caught them at it and they put insurance back in place,” said Melia. “They knew they broke the law. They knew they were in the wrong.”

According to Melia, Con Ed cost state unemployment assistance agencies millions of dollars after refusing to pay for workers’ benefits, forcing them to look elsewhere for help. Melia added that since the company is self-insured, revoking benefits was a “double crime against the 8,500 New York families” affected during the lockout.

“They don’t care about their customers and they don’t care about their workers,” said Melia. “How are they getting away with charging the people of New York to throw workers on the street?”

According to a Con Ed spokesperson, employees who worked after midnight on June 30 — the day the contract ran out –- continued to receive health care through the month of July. Those who did not work past the first of the month were released from their company-offered insurance and instead presented with the option of purchasing benefits through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) — a Department of Labor-sponsored program that provides dismissed or laid-off workers and their families benefits. The representative said only a very small number of workers retained coverage in the interim.

On July 15, Con Ed officials notified union leadership after deciding to reinstate coverage for all locked out workers through July. Medical costs incurred during the course of the lockout will also be covered. The official did not say why Con Ed executives came to this conclusion.

Neither side could say whether or not talks had progressed any further.

Predicting future Medicaid growth, WellPoint acquires Amerigroup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Health benefits company WellPoint announced that it reached a definitive agreement to acquire managed health care company Amerigroup. With the acquisition WellPoint said it will be able to better serve those looking for quality health care at an affordable price, particularly those with Medicaid, an area it predicts will grow in the future.

WellPoint will pay $92 per share in cash for all of the outstanding shares of Amerigroup, a value of about $4.9 billion. Following approval, the acquisition should close in the first quarter of 2013.

Once complete, the company will have the largest Medicaid enrollment base, with around 4.5 million members, and a Medicaid footprint in 19 states, said WellPoint’s chair, president and CEO Angela Braly during a July 9 conference call.

Both companies currently operate in New York, and will expand the areas in the state that they already serve.

In May, Amerigroup received final approval to acquire Health Plus, one of New York’s largest Medicaid managed care companies.

As one of the country’s top managed care companies, Amerigroup has the best Medicaid managed care platform, said Braly.

“We believe the partnership represents an opportunity to capitalize on the strengths of both companies and fundamentally meet the changing landscape in the health insurance industry,” said Maureen McDonnell, Amerigroup’s vice president of external communications.

Medicaid expansion is “unquestionable,” when looked at state-by-state, said Braly. WellPoint predicts that under managed care programs, Medicaid spending will increase by almost $100 billion by the end of 2014.

“First and foremost, there are significant growth opportunities ahead in the Medicaid marketplace, both resulting from economic, demographic, and budgetary issues, as well as health care reform,” she said.

The acquisition comes less than two weeks after the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. Part of the decision allows for states to opt out of Medicaid, the government program that provides health care for the financially needy. But WellPoint believes that despite the court’s ruling on health care reform, Medicaid will still grow.

 

To your health


| brennison@queenscourier.com

It’s like the 1960s all over again.

As the United States Supreme Court upheld parts of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), it harkened back to June of 1965, when the country — and our bipartisan elected officials — were divided over Medicare.

With a Cold War mentality, many feared that Medicare meant socialism — and the end of freedom as they knew it.

Today, millions of seniors depend on the coverage afforded them by Medicare, and claims the system is going bankrupt have spurred fears — and talks on how to keep Medicare solvent for an aging population.

We feel the Supreme Court’s ruling that ACA is constitutional transcends partisan politics and concerns itself with the people.

And that’s the bottom line.

All people should have access to health insurance, regardless of income, age, race — or existing conditions.

The ACA does just that.

By creating a “health care exchange,” individuals and small business owners will be able to select from a range of affordable heath care options.

Through these exchanges individuals with pre-existing conditions will not be charged higher rates and they won’t lose coverage if they get sick.

All businesses, except those with fewer than 50 employees, will be required to provide insurance to their workers.

But small businesses under the cut line — 340,000 which are eligible in New York — that do offer insurance can quality for a 35 percent tax credit, which will increase to 50 percent in 2014 if they enroll through the exchanges.

Going forward, companies can no longer impose lifetime limits on care or charge higher rates for children with pre-existing conditions.

And young adults that already receive coverage through their parents can remain on those plans until the age of 26.

Starting in August, insurance companies will also be required to cover women’s preventive services, including contraception.

What this all means, we feel, is that power has been given back to the people.

No longer will families fret over mounting medical bills.

No longer will parents of children born with conditions be forced to file bankruptcy — just to ensure their child gets the medical attention he or she needs.

And no longer will American people have to choose between a medical procedure or food on the table.

What this is is not socialism — it is the beginning of a healthier, fairer America.

Affordable Care Act: What it means for immigrants


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

When Sunnyside resident Blanca Palomeque had ovarian cancer two years ago she didn’t have full health insurance to cover her treatment.

She enrolled in the Medicaid Spenddown program, but it only provided her with six months of assistance and she was forced to pay $15 out of pocket for each visit to Elmhurst Hospital and $150 for each CAT scan during the next year-and-a-half of her battle.

Even after winning the war with the disease earlier this year, Palomeque, 49, still didn’t buy an insurance plan.

“I don’t have medical care, because it’s difficult to have it,” Palomeque said. “I don’t qualify for Medicaid health insurance, because my income is a little too high, and it’s difficult to afford private care.”

Instead, Palomeque, who emigrated from Ecuador 11 years ago and is a documented immigrant, prefers to pay for hospital visits instead of committing to a plan.

However, like many Queens immigrants, she is rejoicing after the Supreme Court’s recent approval of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), praising its expansion of the health care system, which will benefit legal residents and may even help undocumented immigrants. “I think it’s a really good idea, because now the community will be able to act fast on health insurance,” Palomeque said. “Sometimes people have illnesses that last a long time and it’s really difficult to go and pay each time.”

“As an organization we believe that it’s a step forward, because it opens up access to health care and health insurance to many people who are uninsured,” said Theo Oshiro, deputy director of Make the Road New York, which is a non-profit organization that predominately supports Latin immigrants in the city.

Of the approximately 2.2 million residents living in the borough, nearly 50 percent are foreign born, according to the 2010 Census, and documented immigrants will receive the same benefits from the act as native citizens.

This means they won’t have to worry about getting insurance if they have pre-existing conditions, and now their children can remain on their current plans until age 26.

Documented immigrants must also follow the mandate that requires everyone to have insurance or face a tax.

But if they don’t already have insurance or qualify for Medicaid, they will be able to purchase health care from the state-run “exchanges,” or collections of low rate insurance options when they become available in 2014.

“They just have to worry about everything they worried about before,” said Stan Mark, senior staff attorney for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “They have to struggle to get the minimal health care option that they can get.”

New York, which was one of the states that chose to expand its Medicaid coverage through ACA, will receive more than $2 billion in federal funding starting in 2014, and many immigrants will continue to receive care from it.

Immigrant groups officials say the down side to ACA is that it none of its benefits are available for undocumented immigrants, which could upset many foreign born residents.

But the law will affect them.

In 2003 Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued executive orders, (EO) 34 and 41, which replaced former Mayor Ed Koch’s EO124, but kept the same concept to protect immigrants.

The order “Ensures that all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, can access the city services that they are entitled to receive.” In addition, “City workers must protect the confidentiality of a person’s immigration status,” unless that person is suspected of illegal activity.

It was established so that undocumented immigrants would report crimes to the police, call firefighters, get medical treatment or send their children to school without fear of deportation.

Because of EO 34 and 41, undocumented immigrants have received care from public hospitals under the Health and Hospital Corporations (HHC), such as Elmhurst Hospital or Queens Hospital Center, and will continue to do so.

“For generations New York has been known as a city of immigrants, and for generations the public hospitals have cared for New York’s immigrant populations,” said HHC President Alan Aviles. “It is important to remind immigrant New Yorkers that they can get quality health care in our city without fear.”

What the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act means to Queens


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Last week, President Barack Obama’s landmark legislation to supply health care to most Americans was upheld by a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, and soon many uninsured Queens residents will have access to doctors, hospitals and preventive medicine.

The constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was passed in 2010, had been questioned by lawmakers because the law mandated that all Americans have health care or pay a fee.

However, Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, gave the surprising tiebreaker vote to upholding the law, deeming the penalty a tax, which Congress is normally allowed to enact.

“The courts looked at it in a constitutional manner and agree that what we did was constitutional,” said Congressmember Gregory Meeks, who represents parts of southeastern Queens. “The president’s achievement and what the Democratic controlled congress did is the right thing for America.”

Officials said the historic decision from the nation’s highest court will especially affect locals.

“The Supreme Court ruling to uphold significant sections of the patients’ bill of rights is a momentous feat for the future viability of Queens’ health care,” said Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, who sits on the Health Committee. “It is my hope that the reforms contained in the patients’ bill of rights will not only ensure the health and well being of our borough’s residents, but also enable us to expand our health care system in Queens”.

However, directly after the courts’ decision, local Republicans sided with party leaders, disclaiming the law’s benefits, and continuing bipartisan bickering over the controversial issue.

“Like most Americans, I am disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling today. ‘ObamaCare’ is expensive, expansive and unpopular,” said Councilmember Dan Halloran. “Even in upholding ‘ObamaCare,’ the Supreme Court held that it’s a tax — the biggest tax increase in American history. That’s the last thing we need in these economic times.”

But Obama later defended the mandate, citing two reasons.

“First, when uninsured people who can afford coverage get sick, and show up at the emergency room for care, the rest of us end up paying for their care in the form of higher premiums,” Obama said. “And second, if you ask insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions, but don’t require people who can afford it to buy their own insurance, some folks might wait until they’re sick to buy the care they need — which would also drive up everybody else’s premiums.”

To many people, ACA may seem confusing, because the law covers a significant range of changes in the insurance industry.

To break it down, the law forces insurance policies to become more secure and flexible for citizens that already have insurance.

Going forward, companies can’t impose lifetime limits on care or charge higher rates for children with pre-existing conditions.

Also, young adults that already receive coverage through their parents — approximately 77,800 of which are in New York — can remain on those plans until the age of 26.

In addition, starting in August, insurance companies will also be required to cover women’s preventive services, including contraception.

The law especially targets the more than 30 million Americans citizens that don’t have insurance by offering cheaper options.

These options and their prices will be clear by 2014, when each state will set up a range of affordable insurance choices in a marketplace known as “exchanges.”

With more than 2.7 million currently uninsured residents in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo established the New York Health Benefit Exchange in April, which will affect more than one million uninsured New Yorkers.

“We will continue to move forward with implementing the health exchange that will lower coverage costs for New York’s businesses and help ensure that uninsured New Yorkers have access to health care,” said Cuomo after the court’s decision.

Through these exchanges, individuals with pre-existing conditions will not be charged higher rates and they won’t lose coverage if they get sick.

All businesses, except those with fewer than 50 employees, are required to provide insurance to their workers.

But small businesses under the cutoff –340,000 of which are eligible in New York — that do offer insurance can quality for a 35 percent tax credit, which will increase to 50 percent in 2014 if they enroll through the exchanges.

Although the legislation has been upheld by the Supreme Court, officials in the Republican-led House of Representatives have vowed to trash the law in a vote on July 11, according to published reports.

Local Democrats are calling the ruling a sign that it’s time to move on.

“Republicans must act in the interest of Americans now, and put the politics aside,” Meeks said. “Instead of rhetoric about repealing the ACA, it is time for Republicans to work toward successful implementation.”

Politics aside, some locals in the business industry are saying now that the law has been upheld it’s time to work.

“The next three or four years is going to be a lot of work,” said Sher Sparano, president of the Benefits Advisory Service. “Now we have gotten over the hurdle of ‘does the law exist,’ now we have to roll up our sleeves and figure out the details of how the employers and employees move forward.”

 

Weiner resurfaces to talk health care


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

Former Congressmember Anthony Weiner, who once represented a large chunk of Queens at Capitol Hill, said the Supreme Court ruling on the national health care bill was a major victory and was happy it was ruled constitutional.

After a year in private life following his resignation, Weiner made his first public appearance on WNYC this morning to discuss to recent Supreme Court ruling.

“For tax payers and the City of New York it’s going to be a huge windfall because we have so many people who aren’t covered here,” said Weiner, who resigned from Congress last June following a Twitter photo scandal.

“It is true that the overall premise of health care reform is that we all have to be in it for it to work,” he went on to say.

Weiner noted several times during the interview that Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney had a similar health care plan when he was governor of Massachusetts.

When asked by host Bill Lehrner if his appearance – the first since resigning – was “dipping [his] toe” back into the public life, Weiner simply laughed and noted that the radio station had contacted him.

“I’m not putting my toe anywhere,” Weiner said. “I’m just going on my favorite radio show and talking about something I care about dearly.”

Queens politicians react to Affordable Care Act


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Just after 10 a.m. the Supreme Court handed down its ruling upholding President Barack Obama’s health care plan.

The court ruled 5-4 that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional.

Shortly after the decision, Queens politicians took to Twitter to comment on the ruling. Here’s a collection the pol’s reactions:

Congressmember Gregory Meeks: “ACA ensures children and young adults will stay on their parent insurance until age 26. ACA means that seniors are paying less for their prescription medication. With this decision, Americans will continue to benefit from the expanded access to quality, affordable health insurance.”

Congressmember Carolyn Maloney: “Today’s SCOTUS decision is one of the most historic in our lifetimes and a huge win for the American people. Proud to have helped pass ACA.”

Congressmember Joe Crowley: “Thrilled SCOTUS upheld health care law! Great victory for the American people!”

Congressmember Steve Israel: “By upholding the ACA, the Supreme Court has ensured that millions of Americans will benefit from critical consumer protections.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: “Very pleased SCOTUS upheld Obamacare. Middle class needs access to affordable care and deserve the important benefits this law provides.”

Congressmember BobTurner: “Today’s SCOTUS ruling is a shame for Americans, small businesses and all in need of care.”

Congressmember Nydia Velazquez: “SCOTUS’ health care ruling ends health discrimination against women and means children with preexisting conditions are not denied coverage.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo: “The Affordable Care Act will provide access to health care to millions of Americans nationwide ans more than 1 million New Yorkers.”

Council Speaker Christine Quinn: “The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act is great news for our city, state and nation.”

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio: “Hear that? It’s 43 million Americans breathing a sigh of relief, Affordable Care Act upheld.”

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman: “SCOTUS decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act is an historic victory for the 32 million Americans who will gain health care coverage.”

Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries, who is running for Congress in the 8th District which includes parts of Queens, issued a statement on the ruling.

“The Supreme Court has spoken and President Obama’s historic health care reform is now the law of the land. As I said during my campaign, I plan to go to Washington to work with the president, and one of my priorities is making sure that this new law is implemented fairly and effectively. I am also hopeful that Congressional Republicans will end their single-minded attempts to overturn or weaken this landmark law. With so many other challenges facing us, Congress needs to start its work on issues that will move our great nation forward.”

 

 

 

Queens’ Morning Roundup


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Supreme Court upholds Obamacare

The Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s historic health care law Thursday – a defining moment in the 2012 race for the White House. The stunning ruling – unexpected from a Court led by conservatives – was a huge victory for Obama, who staked much of his term on passing the national plan. Read more: [New York Daily News]

Police Search For Boyfriend Of Queens Homicide Victim

Police are looking for the live-in boyfriend of a Queens woman found dead in her apartment. Authorities said they want to talk to 33-year old Jason Bohn in connection with the Tuesday night death of 27-year old Danielle Thomas. Read more: [NY1] 

Police Search For Boyfriend In Connection With Murder Of Danielle Thomas Of Astoria

A man is suspected of killing his girlfriend after once threatening to hunt her down, “like a dog in the streets.” Several instances of documented domestic abuse caused Danielle Thomas, 27, to flee her Astoria apartment building, where police found her dead Tuesday night. The big question now is why did she return? Read more: [1010wins]

Queens Democratic Congressional candidate to Republican foe: Keep race and religion out of contest

Newly-minted Democratic nominee Assemblywoman Grace Meng kicked off her Sixth District Congressional run by thanking voters and challenging her Republican opponent, City Councilman Dan Halloran, to keep race and religion out of the campaign. Meanwhile, Halloran issued his first statement, in which he congratulated Meng, but painted her as a tax-and-spend candidate. Read more: [New York Daily News]

 

Mittman’s first presser focuses on health care


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Robert Mittman

An underdog in the 6th District Congressional race formally announced his candidacy — with the Democratic primary only one month away.

In front of a small group of supporters — each gripping a campaign poster and a bright, red apple that has grown to symbolize his run — Robert Mittman, a Bayside allergy doctor, said he was running to bring a “fresh, new” perspective to Congress.

“If you look at the other people running, they’re all the same thing — they’re all politicians. It’s three peas in a pod,” Mittman said. “For far too long, our elected officials have avoided the tough decisions in an effort to selfishly get re-elected. Now is the time to get the great borough of Queens back on track and get our political system working for us.”

Mittman, after taking a bite of an apple, compared the “beautiful, healthy piece of fruit” to his hopes for the economy. He compared his symbolic fruit to outgoing Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s signature carnation and said he had “the prescription for a healthy economy.”

His campaign kick-off was delayed, Mittman told The Courier a few weeks ago, because he had to defend his petitions both in Queens Supreme Court and the Board of Elections after primary opponent Assemblymember Rory Lancman challenged them. Mittman cleared the 938 signature hurdle with 1,220 valid petitions.

“The window of campaigning is very short in this election. He was able to remove 15 percent of my limited campaign time by tying me up in court. He accomplished what he wanted to,” Mittman said.

His wife, Susan — who cheered him on during the May 30 announcement — also represented him in court, saving the family as much as $25,000, Mittman said.

At his first press conference, held outside former St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst, Mittman stressed the importance of keeping health care facilities open in Queens and lambasted policy makers for “[overseeing] a substantial dismantling of our local health care system.”

Five of the borough’s hospitals have closed within eight years, including St. Joseph’s Hospital in Flushing, which shuttered in 2004; Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills, which flatlined in 2008; and St. John’s and Mary Immaculate Hospitals in Jamaica, which went under one year later. Peninsula Hospital in Far Rockaway shut its doors this April.

“I’m running because I believe we are at a critical time in our history,” Mittman said. “To me, the American Dream equals opportunity and without a good paying job or access to quality health care, that dream can only become a nightmare.”

Mittman outlined health care initiatives he said he would propose if elected. He said he hopes to eliminate the Medicare doughnut hole and provide full drug coverage for seniors, lower drug costs by extending patents, establish a federal work study program for aspiring doctors, establish strict guides on pharmaceutical companies and ensure no more hospitals in Queens will close.

The candidate garnered support from his 17-year-old son, mother and members of the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps. In regards to accusations of his run for Congress being a plant, Mittman said he was “the real thing.”

“We’re marching ahead and people are going to be behind me,” he said.