Archive for July, 2013

5 Ways the Healthcare Industry Benefits from Social Media Marketing

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Social media marketing is not just for businesses looking to expand their reach and reputation – the healthcare industry can also benefit from utilizing social media. Here are 5 ways that healthcare providers and service organizations can benefit from social media marketing:

1. Patient education and outreach
Posting information about seasonal sicknesses, ways to stay healthy, and other pertinent health information is a great way to stay connected to patients or connect with potential ones. Chicago’s Sherman Health, a multi-hospital system, even worked with Demi & Cooper Advertising in Illinois to tweet a live surgery. “Twitter is an amazing platform if you look at it as we do. We see Twitter as a multi-device real-time messaging system. Sharing information from an OR is not a new idea. Twitter is a perfect medium for distributing information from an OR because it allows time for messages to be worded correctly. We were looking for new ways to help Sherman connect with their community, to provide information, and help people become more familiar with the hospital. We found that Tweeting the surgery was an excellent way to help potential surgical candidates become more comfortable with Sherman,” said associate creative director Marc Battaglia.

2. Patients participate in their own care
A recent study found that patients who are regularly online are more likely to accept patient-centered care and take part in their own care.
“When medical professionals attempt to gauge how much information to provide patients or try to decide how much they should involve patients in medical decision-making, they may be better off if they base their decisions on patients’ Internet use frequency rather than age, per se,” said the researchers from the University of Texas, the University of Florida and the University of Maryland.

3. Feedback and improvement
Social media allows your hospital to monitor what its patients are saying, which will let you identify issues and problems and give it the opportunity to improve. Facebook and Twitter have also become outlets for people to vent, so a hospital can identify patient frustrations and determine how to best solve patients’ problems with their care or service.

4. Patient interaction
With social media sites, patients are able to post questions for doctors and staff to get answers or advice quickly. This interactive method makes more sense than the patient scheduling an appointment to ask a question or wait on the phone for someone to be able to answer.

5. Building your healthcare organization’s reputation
Potential patients looking up your facility will look online to see what others are saying about your institution and services. It’s imperative to take control over your online presence. Responding to both negative and positive concerns proves that your organization is dedicated to serving the needs of patients. It’s better to proactively manage your online reputation than let it run rampant across social web.

“Social media isn’t going to go away, and ignoring it isn’t really a viable option. The best way to manage your reputation online is to participate,” said Battaglia. “Ignoring it is a short-lived strategy. Hospitals and healthcare facilities need to become involved and present helpful, safe, and accurate information.”

New Legislation May Fix How Medicare Pays Doctors

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

A new bipartisan bill in the U.S. House of Representatives seeks to base more physician reimbursement on performance and quality measures to remedy a flaw in how physicians are paid through Medicare.

House members seek to repeal Medicare’s sustainable growth rate (SGR) reimbursement formula that caused significant cuts to doctor payments from Medicare.

The bill would increase payments by 0.5 percent each year through 2018. Come 2019, Medicare will start tying payments to quality measurements such as clinical care, patient and caregiver experience, population health and other factors. To determine any bonuses in pay, physicians will be evaluated against their peers against various measures by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The American Medical Association and other groups expressed their support of the payment models because they will lower healthcare costs while providing better quality care.  A Forbes article stated that the SGA model would have hit some healthcare businesses by as much as 25 percent and large cuts like that would negatively impact patient care. It also noted that since not all medical services are the same, it’d be illogical to base reimbursement rates on the profit margins earned by different provider segments.

Read the final draft of the Medicare legislation here.

Patients Paying More for Hospital Care

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

According to new data from TransUnion, patients are paying even more for hospital care out-of-pocket, and access to credit that would help pay for treatment has diminished for some consumers. The agency analyzed data from 200 hospitals across the U.S. and compared it with their proprietary financial numbers.

The report found that the average patient payment responsibility on crucial medical procedures has increased practically 22% in the last year, from $1,678 in 2011 to $2,042 in 2012. The cost encompassed all of a patient’s inputs, including co-payments, co-insurance, and deductibles. The average deductible grew to $1,032 from $405, while average co-pays jumped to $117 from $65.

“Most people understand that healthcare costs have been increasing during the last decade, but TransUnion wanted to specifically take a look at the impact of those costs on the consumer wallet,” said President of TransUnion Healthcare Milton Silva-Craig. “Hospitals are discovering that data, analytics technology and improved infrastructure are needed to ensure they understand the payment behavior of patients, through a consumer lens, as they strive to better manage their reimbursement processes.”

Over the same period, credit accessible to the average consumer through credit cards, store cards and home equity loans was low, decreasing marginally to $34,301 from $34,430. TransUnion found that at the end of 2011, for every $100 in health care costs, consumers had $2,050 in revolving credit to make their health care payments. But at the end of 2012, the ratio dropped to 16.1 to 1, or $1,680 in available credit for every $100 of health costs.

“In the short term, it appears consumers on average have been able to successfully manage their increased out-of-pocket medical expenses with their existing credit facilities,” stated Silva-Craig. “But as those costs continue to rise, there is a concern that consumers — particularly those in the nonprime credit tiers, already strapped for cash — may find themselves in a tight position financially, as healthcare costs compete for a larger share of their disposable income.”

Even those with top-tier credit scores saw their access to revolving credit rise, but subprime borrowers, with the riskiest credit profiles, saw it fall. That caused concern that consumers may have trouble finding the means to pay for hospital care, as health costs use up more of patients’ disposable incomes.

“With more and more people struggling to make payments, healthcare organizations must ensure they are doing all they can to engage their patients in an open and transparent manner in determining the best method in which to make payment or assist them in qualifying for some type of benefit,” said Silva-Craig.

Medical receivables factoring is a solution for medical providers waiting on slow-payment. If your healthcare facility bills third-party vendors such as Medicare, Medicaid, HMOs or commercial insurance companies, medical factoring can get you the cash you need today.

Employer Mandate is Delayed, but Individual Mandate Stands

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

The employer mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been delayed by a year, but the individual mandate still stands as law. The individual mandate portion of the ACA states that uninsured individuals must have insurance by January 1, 2014 or face penalties (most likely 1% of family income). The uninsured will be eligible for federal subsidies of up to $5,000 depending on income to purchase insurance on healthcare exchanges. Those in the very low income brackets could qualify for Medicaid.

House Republicans are pushing for an individual mandate delay, but won’t likely get very far when it comes to overturning this portion of the law. Most major physician groups stand behind the Obamacare individual mandate because requiring everyone to have insurance lowers healthcare costs for all.

The employer mandate delay leaves about a million people to find insurance coverage to meet ACA requirements, according to the Urban Institute. A source at the Urban Institute noted that the point of the employer mandate was to make sure that employers offered coverage rather than forcing employees into the state-run insurance exchanges, but that’s pretty much the case due to the delay.

Nursing Makes CareerBuilder’s List of Hardest-to-Fill Jobs

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Even though the job market has been less than stellar, a new study from CareerBuilder found that 35 percent of hiring managers have positions that sat unfilled for over 12 weeks. Jobs in health care, sales and technology are the hardest to fill according to their online survey of more than 2,000 hiring managers.

The hardest to fill jobs (in order of jobs added between 2010 -2013) include:

Sales representative

Machine operator/Assembler/Production

Nurse

Truck Driver

Software Developer

Engineer

Marketing professional

Accountant

Mechanic

IT manager/Network administrator

Each of these hard-to-fill positions are experiencing positive job growth.

AMA Declares Obesity a Disease – The Impact for Employers

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

The American Medical Association has voted to reclassify obesity from a condition to a disease “requiring a range of medical interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention,” according to an AMA statement. Essentially, physicians will be professionally obligated to diagnose and treat obesity.

Obesity increases risk factors for many serious conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Nearly 30 percent of US adults are considered obese. Since most forms of insurance don’t cover obesity, the policy could improve access to obesity treatment such as nutritionists and trainers. Insurance may even begin to reimburse the time doctors spend talking to patients about nutrition and exercise. The bill would also increase obesity treatment options for Medicare patients and expand the types of providers allowed to offer obesity counseling.

Not only will the AMA decision impact patient care, it may also impact the staffing and employment industry. As of now, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of weight. Staffing agencies should watch carefully as the ADA deems nearly all diagnosed medical conditions as “disabilities.” Could it mean that employers will have to make reasonable accommodations for employees who fall into the obese category? Could obese employees seek additional protection from discrimination and terminations based on weight? An article on Workforce.com believes so.

According to Forbes magazine, the new classification may even make employers more hesitant to hire obese workers, especially since health insurance coverage is required under the Affordable Care Act. Some employers may also try to lower wages to offset the higher health insurance costs of obesity. It also may impact workplace wellness programs that offer financial incentives tied to weight management and obesity.

Demand for Medical Coding is High, While Supply of Coders is Low

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

With so many clinical and regulatory initiatives in limbo, numerous hospitals that are already operating with thin-stretched staffing are finding their resources being further taxed. While the demand for quality medical coding healthcare professionals is high and getting higher, the supply of these individuals is at historic lows. Some professionals in the coding industry believe the challenges and obstacles created by this medical coding staffing strain will be one of the worst healthcare has faced in around 10 years.

Health Information Management (HIM) departments are also affected by these challenges and for years, they’ve operated under an ever-worsening scarcity of qualified medical coders, a situation which will be exacerbated by looming changes to the industry. Though no one can project how widespread the shortage will be, some expect nationwide medical coder deficiencies as high as 30 to 50% as soon as later this year.

Medical coders typically review patient information for preexisting conditions, like diabetes, and also retrieve patient records for medical personnel and act as a liaison between the health clinician and billing offices.

One of the upcoming changes in the healthcare world is the expanding elderly population that will need more healthcare services and extensive care, which will increase the demand for trained medical coding workers. A second change is that the medical coding industry will lose many qualified professionals due to retirement over the next decade because of an aging medical coder workforce whose average age is currently projected at 54. Further aggravating the situation is the shifting environment in which coders are working, characterized by shorter days to bill, the ICD-10 transition, and other regulatory enterprises.

Unless the healthcare industry can draw the interest of a younger workforce, this combination of factors indicates that hospitals will face an uphill resource battle to uphold high levels of medical coding quality and acquiescence.

Hospital HIM departments are in a rare position to lessen the impact of the degenerating coder shortage. They have the ability to train internal medical transcriptionists, of which there is now an excess with technological advances in the field, to be medical coders. The change to coder is possible for many medical transcriptionists and is a win-win for hospitals looking to streamline costs without firing staff and for transcriptionists looking for job security. Medical transcriptionists trained in coding make themselves more valuable asset to their organization as they can be tapped to manage fluxes in volume and planned or unplanned staff deficiencies. However, it is the hospitals that ultimately must decide whether they want to spend resources and energy finding new coders or leverage the skills of good employees who are already associated with the organization.

Since faster than average growth is predicted in the medical coding field through 2020, it’s a good idea to be sure you’re prepared to handle any sudden growth spurts in business. Learn more about PRN’s medical coding factoring programs and how they can help manage cash flow with zero debt.

Reasons Behind the ACA Employer Mandate Delay

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

The Affordable Care Act employer mandate has been delayed by a year to 2015, announced the U.S. Treasury Department on July 2. The reprieve will give businesses some breathing room as they are now able to postpone offering worker health insurance for another year. Though the official reasoning behind the delay was to help businesses begging for more time, left unstated was the fact that the federal government hadn’t written key guidelines for employers, according to current and former administration officials, and computer systems that were supposed to run the program were not yet operational.

“The administration’s decision… to delay the implementation of the employer mandate is welcomed by the business community and will help avoid some serious near-term economic consequences of this law,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue in a statement.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010, and was set to go into effect on January 1, 2014. It required businesses with over 50 full time workers to offer affordable healthcare to them. The ACA demanded employer coverage just for those who work over 30 hours per week for a period of a month. Depending on the size of the company and the state in which it’s located, a business may be able to buy a less expensive small group policy through a standardized insurance exchange. If a company has fewer than 25 employees but they choose to offer insurance anyway, the ACA will provide a tax credit to balance the price. Smaller companies also have more incentive to self-insure, in which the businesses take on the financial risk of offering health benefits to its workers. Rather than paying premiums to insurers, they pay claims filed by workers and health care suppliers. Larger corporations with hundreds of employees or more often self-insure as well because they have the cash on hand to pay the majority of the claims filed right away.

The government’s computer systems are being tested now, but experts say there’s no way to tell how well they will work before the launch October 1.

According to an official in Obama’s administration, the Treasury Department realized they couldn’t address concerns and questions raised by employers in time for the employer mandate to go into effect, so they had to push the date back. He said the postponement was caused partially by the limited staffing and the wait for the Supreme Court’s review results.

“They were so late putting out regulations, and even as of today they have not produced proposed regulations, they knew it was not realistic to expect employers and insurers to implement their system changes,” said Catherine Livingston, a former health care counsel at the IRS.

According to the Treasury, the latest change won’t affect the individual mandate which demands most taxpayers buy insurance or pay a government fine. The timeline hasn’t changed for the application of the individual and small businesses exchanges – which are marketplaces where people and business owners can shop for insurance at the state level. The Department of Health and Human Services insists they’re prepared to open the exchanges as planned.

How Will DOMA Ruling Impact Employee Health Care Benefits?

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional. This decision will affect the economy as it will impact things like employee benefit packages. The ruling ensures that same-sex couples will have the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples, because it requires same-sex couples wed under state law to be recognized by the federal government as legal.

“People who are married will be treated as married for the 1,100 federal rights and benefits that apply to all married couples,” said Hunter Carter, a partner at the law firm Arent Fox in New York. “The most important are social security, taxes, federal pensions, federal worker benefits for federal employees and, of course, immigration.”

Same-sex couples living anywhere in the U.S. will now qualify for federal-employee benefits if they have a marriage license from any of the 13 states that recognize same-sex marriage, as well as Washington, D.C. For employers, the decision means that any federal benefits and laws that would apply to an employee’s spouse now extends to same-sex spouses in legally recognized marriages. The big ones that employers need to know are health and retirement benefits, taxes, and family leave.

Employers who have, even before the ruling, offered same-sex couples health insurance benefits were obligated to consider those as income to the employee, since “technically they were giving something of value to someone who wasn’t related to them” said Boston attorney Scott Squillace, who advises same-sex couples. From now on, federal tax law will think of those benefits as the same as an employee’s own health insurance, which means they’re tax-free for the employee.

“The rulings take effect immediately (possibly even retroactively). If marital status affects the delivery of benefits to an employee’s same-sex spouse or that spouse’s child, employers may need to amend the plan’s ‘spouse’ definition; reprogram tax reporting systems; and update enrollment forms, distribution election packages, tax notices, beneficiary designation forms, SPDs [summary plan descriptions], and the like,” according to Mercer.

Before the Supreme Court’s decision, DOMA guaranteed that benefits were limited for lawfully married same-sex couples. Now, the right to file joint federal taxes can save same-sex couples thousands of dollars, social security benefits will be available to same-sex spouses, and same-sex spouses won’t be taxed on the inheritance of their spouse’s estates.

Health Care Reform May Lower Insurance Costs for Some Businesses

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Numerous small business employers and owners are worried about their insurance costs rising under the health law next year. However, for some businesses, especially those with older workers or those who have employees who have been ill, the Wall Street Journal reports that costs may actually decrease according to business owners and insurance brokers.

Under a stipulation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which goes into effect in January, insurers will be forbidden from setting rates for healthcare coverage based on the health status of employers or their employees are at businesses with less than 50 or 100 workers, depending on the state. Rather, the rates will be announced on government-run health insurance marketplaces, or online exchanges, which are meant to extend the additional costs of insuring higher-risk policyholders, like those with prior sicknesses or pre-existing medical conditions.

A survey conducted in April by The Wall Street Journal and San Diego-based executive mentoring group Vistage International Inc., found that 12% of 783 businesses with less than $20 in yearly revenue believe their insurance premiums will be cheaper or stay roughly the same under the ACA. Similarly, a survey by eHealthInc. done in February found that 11%of 259 small business employers, most with less than 10 workers employed at their businesses, said they think their rates will go down next year.

Some business owners say costs could go down if the exchanges produce cheaper rates on individual plans, which would lead some employees to drop their employer-sponsored plans completely.

“If I insure fewer people, my benefit costs go down,” says Kurt Gabrick, who runs a software-consulting firm in Tucson, Ariz., with eight full-time employees. Right now, Gabrick says he pays half of his employees’ health-insurance costs—a total of around $4,000 a month—as part of a small group plan.

Both early renewals and self-funded plans will end up keeping more groups off the exchanges, which will reduce the savings for high-risk policyholders. Besides that, any savings from the exchanges will be contingent on whether they’re up and running by Oct. 1, the deadline for offering coverage that will be effective come January.

The federal government’s own health-insurance exchange for small businesses, called the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, which it will supervise in 33 states, isn’t expected to be fully operational and available until 2015.