Monday, September 29, 2008

Two Good Ideas for a Bad Economy

Deductibles and health insurance premiums are going up rapidly, according to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits survey, especially among small businesses. About two-thirds of small businesses offer health insurance plans to their employees, and of those about one-third of the plans have a yearly deductible of $1,000 or more, according to the survey. Average health care premiums paid by employees have risen five percent since last year, and roughly doubled since 1999.

In response to this trend, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association has partnered with state governments in Oklahoma and Arizona to develop a health care premium subsidy program for small businesses with 50 or fewer employees, CQ HealthBeat News reported recently. Close to 20% of the population in both states is uninsured, according to the article. Over half of the employees who signed up for the Oklahoma program (called Insure Oklahoma), had been uninsured previously. Advocates of the partnership hope that these subsidies will decrease or eliminate the number of uninsured people in these states, CQ HealthBeat News reported.

Another good idea in today's economy: vegetarianism. A article in July cited a Cornell University study that showed that if all Americans ate a vegetarian diet (unlikely, I know, but possible), they could reduce the amount of fossil fuel used to produce food by one-third. Producing animal products consumes far more energy than producing plant products for human consumption. Plants such as feed corn must be grown and transported to animals in another field in order for the animals to grow large enough to eat. Then the animals or their dairy products must be processed and transported to the grocery store. Corn meant for human consumption only takes one field and, once harvested and processed, is transported directly to the grocery store.

The health benefits of eating a plant-based or plant-biased diet are well documented. Eating less meat and dairy and more fruits, vegetables, and grains can save money on both energy costs and health expenses. Eating more plant products might not be a radical idea, but it could directly impact the troubled economy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Big Pharma Bails Out SCHIP?

First, the bad news. In a survey of 686 Americans, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners found that Americans, feeling the pinch of our is-it-a-recession-yet? economy, have cut back on their health care spending. Twenty-two percent of those surveyed said they are visiting their health care provider less often, and 11% are filling fewer prescriptions, decisions that can have serious repercussions for patients. People in the poorest households, making less than $25,000 per year, are most likely to skip appointments and drop or delay filling prescriptions, according to the survey. An article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal pointed out that the number of prescriptions filled has dropped for first time in ten years, almost 2% in the most recent fiscal quarter.

If the poorest Americans are having trouble getting needed medical care, it's time for some intervention. Who's intervening? The pharmaceutical companies. Yesterday's Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report cited an article about this connection in CQ HealthBeat. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) have given $11.3 million to indirectly support the beleaugered State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a program targeted to children in low-income households and administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The PhRMA money will help fund advertisements by a SCHIP advocacy group in support of a SCHIP expansion bill vetoed by President Bush (HR 3963), Kaiser reported.

Insuring more poor children is ethicially sound. Not coincidentally, it will also boost sagging pharmaceutical industry profits if these children receive needed medication for asthma, diabetes, and other illnesses.