Diabetes Drugs and Osteoporosis – Have You Heard the Connection?

Diabetes drugs and their link to osteoporosis have long been studied. So 16,000 studies with 800,000 people involved were reviewed. Of this number, almost 140,000 experienced fractures to the hip. It is safe to say that the diabetics have a better chance of sustaining hip fractures.

The review did not mention the effect of diabetes drugs. That will come later. The thing they emphasized at this point is that those who have type 2 diabetes are more prone to sustain hip fracture by 70% while those with type 1 diabetes have a six more times risk to experience fracture to the hip.

Around this time, the researchers were just saying that the reason for the higher risk could be diabetes complications. They said that those with diabetes and have low blood glucose level, stroke, neuropathy and retinopathy have more chance of falling.

One study even went so far as to say that bone loss that can give rise to osteoporosis is a diabetes complication that is just not well known. In fact the researchers even said that osteoporosis from type 1 diabetes is different from the one that is often found among the aged.

In Germany, the study found an increase in the occurrence of osteoporosis and diabetes. This they say may be due to the lack of the insulin’s anabolic effects. Vascular complications are thought of as behind bone mass that is low which in turn leads to the increase in fracture risk.

What I like about this is the fact that they suggested ways to prevent fractures. To lower the risk for fractures the main thing to do is to maintain a tight control of the blood sugar level. It is also recommended that vascular complication has to be prevented or treated aggressively.

Note that they have not mentioned diabetes drugs as the culprit of osteoporosis among the diabetics. In fact, they are also pointing to the high fatty fat as responsible for the high risk to develop low bone mass. So what has this got to do with diabetes drugs?

Here is the warning that says that Avandia that is used to treat type 2 diabetes may lead to more risk of fractures to the bones. This is what GlaxoSmithKline issued to those who take diabetes drugs that contain rosiglitazone. The drugs that contain this are Avandamet, Avandaryl and Avandia. They gave out this warning after comparing rosiglitazone to metformin and others.

Experts say that Avandia makes the body reabsorb the bones thus making them more fragile. Therefore, the bones are more prone to break. Before, the drug has been found to raise the risk of bone fractures in women. This new report just solidifies this finding and is published in Nature. Scientists say that the drug encourages the action of osteoclass which are the cells that make the bones weaker.

The leader of the team from La Jolla, California’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Professor Ronald Evans, said that the balance between the affirmation of new bones and the taking away of old ones is delicate. Any piece of bone removed should be replaced by the same amount but with Avandia, the cells that are removed are encouraged while the cells responsible to produce bones are pacified. This makes the body break more bones than it is refilling it.

Ronald Evans emphasized that patients should not be taken off Avandia right away. But women should avoid Avandia because of the increased risk of fractures found among this population. Consult your doctor though as there are others that can be used to treat this condition for it looks like there may be a connection between osteoporosis and diabetes drugs.

Occupational Health – Workplace Health Management

Workplace Health Management (WHM) There are four key components of workplace health management:

  • Occupational Health and Safety
  • Workplace Health Promotion
  • Social and lifestyle determinants of health
  • Environmental Health Management

In the past policy was frequently driven solely by compliance with legislation. In the new approach to workplace health management, policy development is driven by both legislative requirements and by health targets set on a voluntary basis by the working community within each industry. In order to be effective Workplace Health Management needs to be based on knowledge, experience and practice accumulated in three disciplines: occupational health, workplace health promotion and environmental health. It is important to see WHM as a process not only for continuous improvement and health gain within the company, but also as framework for involvement between various agencies in the community. It offers a platform for co-operation between the local authorities and business leaders on community development through the improvement of public and environmental health.

The Healthy Workplace setting – a cornerstone of the Community Action Plan.

The Luxembourg Declaration of the European Union Network for Workplace Health Promotion defined WHP as the combined effort of employers, employees and society to improve the health and well-being of people at work

This can be achieved through a combination of:

  • Improving the work organization and the working environment
  • Promoting active participation of employees in health activities
  • Encouraging personal development

Workplace health promotion is seen in the EU network Luxembourg Declaration as a modern corporate strategy which aims at preventing ill-health at work and enhancing health promoting potential and well-being in the workforce. Documented benefits for workplace programs include decreased absenteeism, reduced cardiovascular risk, reduced health care claims, decreased staff turnover, decreased musculoskeletal injuries, increased productivity, increased organizational effectiveness and the potential of a return on investment (Mossinik, Licher1998 – Oxenburgh 1991).

However, many of these improvements require the sustained involvement of employees, employers and society in the activities required to make a difference. This is achieved through the empowerment of employees enabling them to make decisions about their own health. Occupational Health Advisors (OHA) are well placed to carry out needs assessment for health promotion initiatives with the working populations they serve, to prioritize these initiatives alongside other occupational health and safety initiatives which may be underway, and to coordinate the activities at the enterprise level to ensure that initiatives which are planned are delivered. In the past occupational health services have been involved in the assessment of fitness to work and in assessing levels of disability for insurance purposes for many years.

The concept of maintaining working ability, in the otherwise healthy working population, has been developed by some innovative occupational health services. In some cases these efforts have been developed in response to the growing challenge caused by the aging workforce and the ever-increasing cost of social security. OHA’s have often been at the forefront of these developments.

There is a need to develop further the focus of all occupational health services to include efforts to maintain work ability and to prevent non-occupational workplace preventable conditions by interventions at the workplace. This will require some occupational health services to become more pro-actively involved in workplace health promotion, without reducing the attention paid to preventing occupational accidents and diseases. OHA’s, with their close contact with employees, sometimes over many years, are in a good position to plan, deliver and evaluate health promotion and maintenance of work ability interventions at the workplace.

Health promotion at work has grown in importance over the last decade as employers and employees recognize the respective benefits. Working people spend about half of their non-sleeping day at work and this provides an ideal opportunity for employees to share and receive various health messages and for employers to create healthy working environments. The scope of health promotion depends upon the needs of each group.

Some of the most common health promotion activities are smoking reducing activities, healthy nutrition or physical exercise programs, prevention and abatement of drug and alcohol abuse.

However, health promotion may also be directed towards other social, cultural and environmental health determinants, if the people within the company consider that these factors are important for the improvement of their health, well-being and quality of life. In this case factors such as improving work organization, motivation, reducing stress and burnout, introducing flexible working hours, personal development plans and career enhancement may also help to contribute to overall health and well-being of the working community.

The Healthy Community setting In addition to occupational health and workplace health promotion there is also another important aspect to Workplace Health Management. It is related to the impact that each company may have on the surrounding ambient environment, and through pollutants or products or services provided to others, its impact on distant environments. Remember how far the effects of the Chernobyl Nuclear accident in 1986 affected whole neighbouring countries.

Although the environmental health impact of companies is controlled by different legislation to that which applies to Health and Safety at work, there is a strong relationship between safeguarding the working environment, improving work organization and working culture within the company, and its approach to environmental health management.

Many leading companies already combine occupational health and safety with environmental health management to optimally use the available human resources within the company and to avoid duplication of effort. Occupational health nurses can make a contribution towards environmental health management, particularly in those companies that do not employ environmental health specialists.

Coming up. Key steps in developing New Workplace Health Policies

The Health Care Crisis – and a Solution

We are presently facing a health care crisis that is getting more dire every day. Health care costs are increasing so rapidly that many companies who offered free health insurance to their employees are now passing a lot of the high cost on to their employees. Other employers are dropping their health care plans altogether because they have become too expensive. Millions do not have health insurance because they can’t afford the premiums.

There are many reasons that this situation is escalating out of control.

One reason is that the primary emphasis is on treatment of the symptoms of disease. There is too little emphasis on prevention of disease.

Most people don’t take care of themselves well enough, partially due to insufficient knowledge on how to prevent disease. Many people tend to eat too much and exercise too little. Many others have habits which impact their health, such as alcohol or tobacco.

We have an aging population. We live longer, but require more health care to accomplish that, partially due to insufficient attention to our health in earlier years.

Health care insurance encourages people to neglect their health because they think they can rely on a quick fix when they need it.

Medical choices are often made by others in the name of the patient, rather than the patient being involved in the financial and medical choices.

Many insured patients tend to overuse medical resources since those resources appear to be free or almost free, masked by the cost of the insurance.

What is the solution to this ever-expanding problem? How do we bring health care costs under control and make a better life for people?

There are many facets to the solution, but the most important part is disease prevention. Many of the nation’s biggest health problems can be prevented with proper knowledge and proper habits.

The emphasis for health care needs to be shifted from treating disease to prevention of disease. We need to stop disease before it manifests. This will not eliminate the need to cure disease, but it can diminish that need significantly. One very important by-product of this is a healthier population.

Now that we know the solution, how do we implement it?

It is implemented through proper health education. The knowledge of how to prevent disease has existed for thousands of years. The knowledge has been largely ignored, to our detriment. People got used to the idea of taking pills to treat the symptoms of disease rather than taking proper actions to prevent disease in the first place. This fostered bad habits and people increasingly lost the inner knowledge of what was good for their health and what was bad for their health. People began to crave junk food and a sedentary lifestyle – the opposite of what was good for their health.

How do we gain the proper health education and restore the inner knowledge to help guide our journey to better health? Ayurveda, the science of life, provides a wealth of information for restoring better health and balance to our systems. You can get more information on health at http://www.mindxpansion.com/health/. You can also check the balance of your own system or get a comprehensive Ayurvedic Analysis at http://www.mindxpansion.com/ayurvedic/. The solution to this momentous problem lies in the hands of each one of us. Start doing your part today and you will reap the benefits for many years to come.

Health Savings Accounts – An American Innovation in Health Insurance

INTRODUCTON – The term “health insurance” is commonly used in the United States to describe any program that helps pay for medical expenses, whether through privately purchased insurance, social insurance or a non-insurance social welfare program funded by the government. Synonyms for this usage include “health coverage,” “health care coverage” and “health benefits” and “medical insurance.” In a more technical sense, the term is used to describe any form of insurance that provides protection against injury or illness.

In America, the health insurance industry has changed rapidly during the last few decades. In the 1970’s most people who had health insurance had indemnity insurance. Indemnity insurance is often called fee-forservice. It is the traditional health insurance in which the medical provider (usually a doctor or hospital) is paid a fee for each service provided to the patient covered under the policy. An important category associated with the indemnity plans is that of consumer driven health care (CDHC). Consumer-directed health plans allow individuals and families to have greater control over their health care, including when and how they access care, what types of care they receive and how much they spend on health care services.

These plans are however associated with higher deductibles that the insured have to pay from their pocket before they can claim insurance money. Consumer driven health care plans include Health Reimbursement Plans (HRAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), high deductible health plans (HDHps), Archer Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Of these, the Health Savings Accounts are the most recent and they have witnessed rapid growth during the last decade.

WHAT IS A HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNT?

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged medical savings account available to taxpayers in the United States. The funds contributed to the account are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. These may be used to pay for qualified medical expenses at any time without federal tax liability.

Another feature is that the funds contributed to Health Savings Account roll over and accumulate year over year if not spent. These can be withdrawn by the employees at the time of retirement without any tax liabilities. Withdrawals for qualified expenses and interest earned are also not subject to federal income taxes. According to the U.S. Treasury Office, ‘A Health Savings Account is an alternative to traditional health insurance; it is a savings product that offers a different way for consumers to pay for their health care.

HSA’s enable you to pay for current health expenses and save for future qualified medical and retiree health expenses on a tax-free basis.’ Thus the Health Savings Account is an effort to increase the efficiency of the American health care system and to encourage people to be more responsible and prudent towards their health care needs. It falls in the category of consumer driven health care plans.

Origin of Health Savings Account

The Health Savings Account was established under the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act passed by the U.S. Congress in June 2003, by the Senate in July 2003 and signed by President Bush on December 8, 2003.

Eligibility -

The following individuals are eligible to open a Health Savings Account -

- Those who are covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).
– Those not covered by other health insurance plans.
– Those not enrolled in Medicare4.

Also there are no income limits on who may contribute to an HAS and there is no requirement of having earned income to contribute to an HAS. However HAS’s can’t be set up by those who are dependent on someone else’s tax return. Also HSA’s cannot be set up independently by children.

What is a High Deductible Health plan (HDHP)?

Enrollment in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) is a necessary qualification for anyone wishing to open a Health Savings Account. In fact the HDHPs got a boost by the Medicare Modernization Act which introduced the HSAs. A High Deductible Health Plan is a health insurance plan which has a certain deductible threshold. This limit must be crossed before the insured person can claim insurance money. It does not cover first dollar medical expenses. So an individual has to himself pay the initial expenses that are called out-of-pocket costs.

In a number of HDHPs costs of immunization and preventive health care are excluded from the deductible which means that the individual is reimbursed for them. HDHPs can be taken both by individuals (self employed as well as employed) and employers. In 2008, HDHPs are being offered by insurance companies in America with deductibles ranging from a minimum of $1,100 for Self and $2,200 for Self and Family coverage. The maximum amount out-of-pocket limits for HDHPs is $5,600 for self and $11,200 for Self and Family enrollment. These deductible limits are called IRS limits as they are set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In HDHPs the relation between the deductibles and the premium paid by the insured is inversely propotional i.e. higher the deductible, lower the premium and vice versa. The major purported advantages of HDHPs are that they will a) lower health care costs by causing patients to be more cost-conscious, and b) make insurance premiums more affordable for the uninsured. The logic is that when the patients are fully covered (i.e. have health plans with low deductibles), they tend to be less health conscious and also less cost conscious when going for treatment.

Opening a Health Savings Account

An individual can sign up for HSAs with banks, credit unions, insurance companies and other approved companies. However not all insurance companies offer HSAqualified health insurance plans so it is important to use an insurance company that offers this type of qualified insurance plan. The employer may also set up a plan for the employees. However, the account is always owned by the individual. Direct online enrollment in HSA-qualified health insurance is available in all states except Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Contributions to the Health Savings Account

Contributions to HSAs can be made by an individual who owns the account, by an employer or by any other person. When made by the employer, the contribution is not included in the income of the employee. When made by an employee, it is treated as exempted from federal tax. For 2008, the maximum amount that can be contributed (and deducted) to an HSA from all sources is:
$2,900 (self-only coverage)
$5,800 (family coverage)

These limits are set by the U.S. Congress through statutes and they are indexed annually for inflation. For individuals above 55 years of age, there is a special catch up provision that allows them to deposit additional $800 for 2008 and $900 for 2009. The actual maximum amount an individual can contribute also depends on the number of months he is covered by an HDHP (pro-rated basis) as of the first day of a month. For eg If you have family HDHP coverage from January 1,2008 until June 30, 2008, then cease having HDHP coverage, you are allowed an HSA contribution of 6/12 of $5,800, or $2,900 for 2008. If you have family HDHP coverage from January 1,2008 until June 30, 2008, and have self-only HDHP coverage from July 1, 2008 to December 31, 2008, you are allowed an HSA contribution of 6/12 x $5,800 plus 6/12 of $2,900, or $4,350 for 2008. If an individual opens an HDHP on the first day of a month, then he can contribute to HSA on the first day itself. However, if he/she opens an account on any other day than the first, then he can contribute to the HSA from the next month onwards. Contributions can be made as late as April 15 of the following year. Contributions to the HSA in excess of the contribution limits must be withdrawn by the individual or be subject to an excise tax. The individual must pay income tax on the excess withdrawn amount.

Contributions by the Employer

The employer can make contributions to the employee’s HAS account under a salary reduction plan known as Section 125 plan. It is also called a cafeteria plan. The contributions made under the cafeteria plan are made on a pre-tax basis i.e. they are excluded from the employee’s income. The employer must make the contribution on a comparable basis. Comparable contributions are contributions to all HSAs of an employer which are 1) the same amount or 2) the same percentage of the annual deductible. However, part time employees who work for less than 30 hours a week can be treated separately. The employer can also categorize employees into those who opt for self coverage only and those who opt for a family coverage. The employer can automatically make contributions to the HSAs on the behalf of the employee unless the employee specifically chooses not to have such contributions by the employer.

Withdrawals from the HSAs

The HSA is owned by the employee and he/she can make qualified expenses from it whenever required. He/She also decides how much to contribute to it, how much to withdraw for qualified expenses, which company will hold the account and what type of investments will be made to grow the account. Another feature is that the funds remain in the account and role over from year to year. There are no use it or lose it rules. The HSA participants do not have to obtain advance approval from their HSA trustee or their medical insurer to withdraw funds, and the funds are not subject to income taxation if made for ‘qualified medical expenses’. Qualified medical expenses include costs for services and items covered by the health plan but subject to cost sharing such as a deductible and coinsurance, or co-payments, as well as many other expenses not covered under medical plans, such as dental, vision and chiropractic care; durable medical equipment such as eyeglasses and hearing aids; and transportation expenses related to medical care. Nonprescription, over-the-counter medications are also eligible. However, qualified medical expense must be incurred on or after the HSA was established.

Tax free distributions can be taken from the HSA for the qualified medical expenses of the person covered by the HDHP, the spouse (even if not covered) of the individual and any dependent (even if not covered) of the individual.12 The HSA account can also be used to pay previous year’s qualified expenses subject to the condition that those expenses were incurred after the HSA was set up. The individual must preserve the receipts for expenses met from the HSA as they may be needed to prove that the withdrawals from the HSA were made for qualified medical expenses and not otherwise used. Also the individual may have to produce the receipts before the insurance company to prove that the deductible limit was met. If a withdrawal is made for unqualified medical expenses, then the amount withdrawn is considered taxable (it is added to the individuals income) and is also subject to an additional 10 percent penalty. Normally the money also cannot be used for paying medical insurance premiums. However, in certain circumstances, exceptions are allowed.

These are -

1) to pay for any health plan coverage while receiving federal or state unemployment benefits.
2) COBRA continuation coverage after leaving employment with a company that offers health insurance coverage.
3) Qualified long-term care insurance.
4) Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, including deductibles, co-pays, and coinsurance for: Part A (hospital and inpatient services), Part B (physician and outpatient services), Part C (Medicare HMO and PPO plans) and Part D (prescription drugs).

However, if an individual dies, becomes disabled or reaches the age of 65, then withdrawals from the Health Savings Account are considered exempted from income tax and additional 10 percent penalty irrespective of the purpose for which those withdrawals are made. There are different methods through which funds can be withdrawn from the HSAs. Some HSAs provide account holders with debit cards, some with cheques and some have options for a reimbursement process similar to medical insurance.

Growth of HSAs

Ever since the Health Savings Accounts came into being in January 2004, there has been a phenomenal growth in their numbers. From around 1 million enrollees in March 2005, the number has grown to 6.1 million enrollees in January 2008.14 This represents an increase of 1.6 million since January 2007, 2.9 million since January 2006 and 5.1 million since March 2005. This growth has been visible across all segments. However, the growth in large groups and small groups has been much higher than in the individual category. According to the projections made by the U.S. Treasury Department, the number of HSA policy holders will increase to 14 million by 2010. These 14 million policies will provide cover to 25 to 30 million U.S. citizens.

In the Individual Market, 1.5 million people were covered by HSA/HDHPs purchased as on January 2008. Based on the number of covered lives, 27 percent of newly purchased individual policies (defined as those purchased during the most recent full month or quarter) were enrolled in HSA/HDHP coverage. In the small group market, enrollment stood at 1.8 million as of January 2008. In this group 31 percent of all new enrollments were in the HSA/HDHP category. The large group category had the largest enrollment with 2.8 million enrollees as of January 2008. In this category, six percent of all new enrollments were in the HSA/HDHP category.

Benefits of HSAs

The proponents of HSAs envisage a number of benefits from them. First and foremost it is believed that as they have a high deductible threshold, the insured will be more health conscious. Also they will be more cost conscious. The high deductibles will encourage people to be more careful about their health and health care expenses and will make them shop for bargains and be more vigilant against excesses in the health care industry. This, it is believed, will reduce the growing cost of health care and increase the efficiency of the health care system in the United States. HSA-eligible plans typically provide enrollee decision support tools that include, to some extent, information on the cost of health care services and the quality of health care providers. Experts suggest that reliable information about the cost of particular health care services and the quality of specific health care providers would help enrollees become more actively engaged in making health care purchasing decisions. These tools may be provided by health insurance carriers to all health insurance plan enrollees, but are likely to be more important to enrollees of HSA-eligible plans who have a greater financial incentive to make informed decisions about the quality and costs of health care providers and services.

It is believed that lower premiums associated with HSAs/HDHPs will enable more people to enroll for medical insurance. This will mean that lower income groups who do not have access to medicare will be able to open HSAs. No doubt higher deductibles are associated with HSA eligible HDHPs, but it is estimated that tax savings under HSAs and lower premiums will make them less expensive than other insurance plans. The funds put in the HSA can be rolled over from year to year. There are no use it or lose it rules. This leads to a growth in savings of the account holder. The funds can be accumulated tax free for future medical expenses if the holder so desires. Also the savings in the HSA can be grown through investments.

The nature of such investments is decided by the insured. The earnings on savings in the HSA are also exempt from income tax. The holder can withdraw his savings in the HSA after turning 65 years old without paying any taxes or penalties. The account holder has complete control over his/her account. He/She is the owner of the account right from its inception. A person can withdraw money as and when required without any gatekeeper. Also the owner decides how much to put in his/her account, how much to spend and how much to save for the future. The HSAs are portable in nature. This means that if the holder changes his/her job, becomes unemployed or moves to another location, he/she can still retain the account.

Also if the account holder so desires he can transfer his Health Saving Account from one managing agency to another. Thus portability is an advantage of HSAs. Another advantage is that most HSA plans provide first-dollar coverage for preventive care. This is true of virtually all HSA plans offered by large employers and over 95% of the plans offered by small employers. It was also true of over half (59%) of the plans which were purchased by individuals.

All of the plans offering first-dollar preventive care benefits included annual physicals, immunizations, well-baby and wellchild care, mammograms and Pap tests; 90% included prostate cancer screenings and 80% included colon cancer screenings. Some analysts believe that HSAs are more beneficial for the young and healthy as they do not have to pay frequent out of pocket costs. On the other hand, they have to pay lower premiums for HDHPs which help them meet unforeseen contingencies.

Health Savings Accounts are also advantageous for the employers. The benefits of choosing a health Savings Account over a traditional health insurance plan can directly affect the bottom line of an employer’s benefit budget. For instance Health Savings Accounts are dependent on a high deductible insurance policy, which lowers the premiums of the employee’s plan. Also all contributions to the Health Savings Account are pre-tax, thus lowering the gross payroll and reducing the amount of taxes the employer must pay.

Criticism of HSAs

The opponents of Health Savings Accounts contend that they would do more harm than good to America’s health insurance system. Some consumer organizations, such as Consumers Union, and many medical organizations, such as the American Public Health Association, have rejected HSAs because, in their opinion, they benefit only healthy, younger people and make the health care system more expensive for everyone else. According to Stanford economist Victor Fuchs, “The main effect of putting more of it on the consumer is to reduce the social redistributive element of insurance.

Some others believe that HSAs remove healthy people from the insurance pool and it makes premiums rise for everyone left. HSAs encourage people to look out for themselves more and spread the risk around less. Another concern is that the money people save in HSAs will be inadequate. Some people believe that HSAs do not allow for enough savings to cover costs. Even the person who contributes the maximum and never takes any money out would not be able to cover health care costs in retirement if inflation continues in the health care industry.

Opponents of HSAs, also include distinguished figures like state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, who called them a “dangerous prescription” that will destabilize the health insurance marketplace and make things even worse for the uninsured. Another criticism is that they benefit the rich more than the poor. Those who earn more will be able to get bigger tax breaks than those who earn less. Critics point out that higher deductibles along with insurance premiums will take away a large share of the earnings of the low income groups. Also lower income groups will not benefit substantially from tax breaks as they are already paying little or no taxes. On the other hand tax breaks on savings in HSAs and on further income from those HSA savings will cost billions of dollars of tax money to the exchequer.

The Treasury Department has estimated HSAs would cost the government $156 billion over a decade. Critics say that this could rise substantially. Several surveys have been conducted regarding the efficacy of the HSAs and some have found that the account holders are not particularly satisfied with the HSA scheme and many are even ignorant about the working of the HSAs. One such survey conducted in 2007 of American employees by the human resources consulting firm Towers Perrin showed satisfaction with account based health plans (ABHPs) was low. People were not happy with them in general compared with people with more traditional health care. Respondants said they were not comfortable with the risk and did not understand how it works.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, early experience with HAS eligible high-deductible health plans reveals low satisfaction, high out of- pocket costs, and cost-related access problems. Another survey conducted with the Employee Benefits Research Institute found that people enrolled in HSA-eligible high-deductible health plans were much less satisfied with many aspects of their health care than adults in more comprehensive plans People in these plans allocate substantial amounts of income to their health care, especially those who have poorer health or lower incomes. The survey also found that adults in high-deductible health plans are far more likely to delay or avoid getting needed care, or to skip medications, because of the cost. Problems are particularly pronounced among those with poorer health or lower incomes.

Political leaders have also been vocal about their criticism of the HSAs. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. issued the following statement criticizing the HSAs “The President’s health care plan is not about covering the uninsured, making health insurance affordable, or even driving down the cost of health care. Its real purpose is to make it easier for businesses to dump their health insurance burden onto workers, give tax breaks to the wealthy, and boost the profits of banks and financial brokers. The health care policies concocted at the behest of special interests do nothing to help the average American. In many cases, they can make health care even more inaccessible.” In fact a report of the U.S. governments Accountability office, published on April 1, 2008 says that the rate of enrollment in the HSAs is greater for higher income individuals than for lower income ones.

A study titled “Health Savings Accounts and High Deductible Health Plans: Are They an Option for Low-Income Families? By Catherine Hoffman and Jennifer Tolbert which was sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported the following key findings regarding the HSAs:

a) Premiums for HSA-qualified health plans may be lower than for traditional insurance, but these plans shift more of the financial risk to individuals and families through higher deductibles.
b) Premiums and out-of-pocket costs for HSA-qualified health plans would consume a substantial portion of a low-income family’s budget.
c) Most low-income individuals and families do not face high enough tax liability to benefit in a significant way from tax deductions associated with HSAs.
d) People with chronic conditions, disabilities, and others with high cost medical needs may face even greater out-of-pocket costs under HSA-qualified health plans.
e) Cost-sharing reduces the use of health care, especially primary and preventive services, and low-income individuals and those who are sicker are particularly sensitive to cost-sharing increases.
f) Health savings accounts and high deductible plans are unlikely to substantially increase health insurance coverage among the uninsured.

Choosing a Health Plan

Despite the advantages offered by the HSA, it may not be suitable for everyone. While choosing an insurance plan, an individual must consider the following factors:

1. The premiums to be paid.
2. Coverage/benefits available under the scheme.
3. Various exclusions and limitations.
4. Portability.
5. Out-of-pocket costs like coinsurance, co-pays, and deductibles.
6. Access to doctors, hospitals, and other providers.
7. How much and sometimes how one pays for care.
8. Any existing health issue or physical disability.
9. Type of tax savings available.

The plan you choose should according to your requirements and financial ability.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1 Questions and Answers about Health Insurance- A Consumer Guide’ published jointly by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)
2 http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_savings_account
3 2002 AHIP Survey of Health Insurance Plans
4 “How High Is Too High? Implications of High-Deductible Health Plans” Davis, Karen; Michelle Doty and Alice Ho. The Commonwealth Fund, April 2005
5 http://www.fdhc.state.fl.us/schs/pdf/hsa_tri-fold_brochure.pdf
6 HSA/HDHP CENSUS 2008 by Hannah Yoo, Center for Policy and Research, America’s Health Insurance Plans
7″HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNTS Early Enrollee Experiences with Accounts and Eligible Health Plans” John E. Dicken Director, Health Care.
8 Thomas Wilder and Hannah Yoo, “A Survey of Preventive Benefits in Health Savings Account (HSA)Plans, July 2007,” America’s Health Insurance Plans, November 2007
9 Gladwell, Malcolm, “The Moral Hazard Myth”, The New Yorker (29-08-2005)
10 2008 Benchmark Survey HAS Bank
11. Employer Health Benefits 2007 Annual Survey, Kaiser Family Foundation
12. Health Savings Accounts and High Deductible Health Plans: Are They An Option for Low-Income Families?Catherine Hoffman and Jennifer Tolbert for Kaiser Family Foundation, October 2006
13. Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003

How to Become a Home Health Care Nurse

Home Health Care Nursing Information and Overview

Home health care is allowing the patient and their family to maintain dignity and independence. According to the National Association for Home Care, there are more than 7 million individuals in the United States in need of home health care nurse services because of acute illness, long term health problems, permanent disability or terminal illness.

Home Health Care Basics

Nurses practice in a number of venues: Hospital settings, nursing homes, assisted living centers, and home health care. Home health care nursing is a growing phenomenon as more patients and their families desire to receive care in their homes. The history of home health care stems from Public Health Nursing where public health nurses made home visits to promote health education and provide treatment as part of community outreach programs. Today academic programs train nurses in home care and agencies place home health care nurses with ailing individuals and their families depending on the nurse’s experience and qualifications. In many cases there is a shared relationship between the agency and the academic institution.

Many changes have taken place in the area of home health care. These include Medicare and Medicaid, and Long Term Care insurance reimbursement and documentation. It is important for the nurse and nursing agency to be aware of the many factors involved for these rules and regulations resulting from these organizations. Population and demographic changes are taking place as well. Baby boomers approaching retirement and will present new challenges for the home health care industry. Technology and medical care in hospitals has lead to shorter inpatient stay and more at-home rehabilitation. Increases in medical outpatient procedures are also taking place with follow-up home care. This has resulted in the decrease of mortality rate from these technologies and medical care has lead to increases in morbidity and chronic illness that makes the need for home health care nursing a greater priority.

Home Health Care Nurse Job Description

Through an array of skills and experience, home health care nurses specialize in a wide range of treatments; emotional support, education of patients who are recovering from illnesses and injury for young children and adults, to women who have experienced recent childbirth, to the elderly who need palliative care for chronic illness.

A practicing nurse must have the skills to provide care in a unique setting such as someone’s home. The nurse is working with the patient and the family and must understand the communication skills for such dynamics. Rapport is evident in all nursing positions, but working in a patient’s own living space needs a different level of skill and understanding. There is autonomous decision making as the nurse is no longer working as a team with other nurses in a structured environment, but is now as a member of the “family” team. The host family has cultural values that are important and are different for every patient and must be treated with extreme sensitivity. Other skills include critical thinking, coordination, assessment, communication, and documentation.

Home health care nurses also specialize in the care of children with disabilities that requires additional skills such as patience and understanding of the needs of the family. Children are living with disabilities today that would have resulted in mortality just twenty years ago. Genetic disorders, congenital physical impairments, and injury are just a few. Many families are familiar with managing the needs of the child, but still need expert care that only a home health care nurse can provide. It is important that a home health care nurse is aware of the expertise of the family about the child’s condition for proper care of the child. There are many complexities involved, but most important, a positive attitude and positive reinforcement is of utmost importance for the development of the child.

Medication coordination between the home health care nurse, doctor, and pharmacist, ensures proper management of the exact science behind giving the patient the correct dose, time of administration, and combinations. Home health care nurses should be familiar with pharmacology and taught in training about different medications used by patients in the clinical setting.

Many advanced practicing nurses are familiar with medication regiments. They have completed graduate level programs. Home health care agencies believe that a nurse should have at least one year of clinical experience before entering home health care. Advanced practicing nurses can expedite that training by helping new nurses understand the home health care market and teaching.

Employment and Salary

According to the United States Department of Labor, there were 2.4 million nurses in America, the largest healthcare occupation, yet many academic and hospital organizations believe there is a gross shortage in nursing staff. The shortage of nurses was 6% in 2000 and is expected to be 10% in 2010. The average salary for hospital nursing is $53,450 with 3 out of 5 nursing jobs are in the hospital. For home health care, the salary is $49,000. For nursing care facilities, they were the lowest at $48,200.

Training and continuing education

Most home health care nurses gain their education through accredited nursing schools throughout the country with an associate degree in nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN), or a master’s degree in nursing (MSN). According to the United States Department of Labor, in 2004 there were 674 BSN nursing programs, 846 ADN programs. Also, in 2004, there were 417 master’s degree programs, 93 doctoral programs, and 46 joint BSN-doctoral programs. The associate degree program takes 2 to 3 years to complete, while bachelors degrees take 4 years to complete. Nurses can also earn specialized professional certificates online in Geriatric Care or Life Care Planning.

In addition, for those nurses who choose to pursue advancement into administrative positions or research, consulting, and teaching, a bachelor’s degree is often essential. A bachelor’s degree is also important for becoming a clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners (U.S. Department of Labor, 2004).

All home health care nurses have supervised clinical experience during their training, but as stated earlier advanced practicing nurses hold master’s degrees and unlike bachelor and associate degrees, they have a minimum of two years of post clinical experience. Course work includes anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, nutrition, psychology, and behavioral sciences and liberal arts. Many of these programs have training in nursing homes, public health departments, home health agencies, and ambulatory clinics. (U.S. Dep. of Labor, 2004).

Whether a nurse is training in a hospital, nursing facility, or home care, continuing education is necessary. Health care is changing rapidly and staying abreast with the latest developments enhances patient care and health procedures. Universities, continuing education programs, and internet sites, all offer continuing education. One such organization that provides continuing education is the American Nurses Association (ANA) or through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Conclusion

There are many rewards to becoming a home health care nurse. Some rewards include the relationship with a patient and their family, autonomy, independence, and engaging in critical thinking. The 21st Century brings with it many opportunities and challenges. We must meet these challenges head on – there is an aging baby boomer population, a growing morbidity factor due to increased medical technology and patient care, and the growing shortage in nursing care.

Becoming a home health care nurse today is exciting and an opportunity to make a difference one life at a time. With clinical experience and proper education, a home health care nurse will lead the future of medical care.