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Health Costs

School bus driver: I work for the benefits

For the past nine years, Anne Walden has enjoyed her job of driving a school bus through rural areas of McDuffie County.

“I absolutely love it,’’ says Walden, 60. “I love my kids.”

McDuffie County

McDuffie County

But it’s still a job, and Walden is clear about the underlying reason why she does it: health insurance.

“We don’t make any money’’ compared to what other occupations pay, Walden said Monday, noting that her income is $8,800 a year. “Most drivers drive for the benefits.’’

But the health insurance that Walden gets through the state employee and teachers plan would end at the end of the year, if Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget proposal is ultimately approved.

Deal’s budget plan would eliminate health coverage for 11,500 “non-certificated’’ school personnel who work fewer than 30 hours a week, including school bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

The proposal has generated broad concern among lawmakers and health advocates.

And this week, a key teacher advocacy group that made waves in 2014 by backing changes to the State Health Benefit Plan has thrown its support behind preserving the insurance options for the school workers. full story

Workers face increased burden on health costs

Health care costs are increasingly squeezing American workers, especially those in Georgia and the South, a new report released Thursday finds.

Healthcare CostNationally, workers’ out-of-pocket costs for premium contributions and deductibles in 2013 accounted for a higher percentage of median family income in all states compared to 2003.

According to the report from the Commonwealth Fund, this higher burden for workers comes despite a slowdown in health insurance premium growth in most states, including Georgia, since 2010.

In Southern states,  where incomes are below the national average, worker costs for premiums and deductibles are especially high compared with median income, the report found.

Combined costs for premiums and deductibles ranged from 6 percent to 7 percent of median household income in the District of Columbia, Hawaii and North Dakota, to 12 percent or more in Texas and Florida. The average was 9.6 percent.

Those worker costs were 10.8 percent in Georgia in 2013, up from 5.5 percent a decade earlier.

“Incomes haven’t grown as much as health care costs, so we’re all feeling it,” said Bill Custer of Georgia State University, when he was asked to comment on the report by GHN.  full story

Feds punish 29 Ga. hospitals over harm to patients

The federal government is cutting payments to 29 Georgia hospitals for high levels of infections and patient injuries in the facilities.

The new Medicare crackdown on hospital-acquired infections and preventable injuries is similar to the existing federal penalties on excessive readmissions of patients within 30 days after discharge.

Overall, 721 U.S. hospitals are getting the new penalties, which means they will have their Medicare payments lowered by 1 percent.

WellStar Kennestone in Marietta

WellStar Kennestone in Marietta

The Georgia hospitals being penalized include some of the largest and best known in the state.

In the metro Atlanta area,  Emory University Hospital, Grady Memorial, WellStar Kennestone, Piedmont Hospital and Atlanta Medical Center are among those receiving cuts. full story

Arthritis: An all too common and costly disease

Outwardly, Kerry Tucker of Atlanta looks perfectly healthy.

But for the past 25 years, Tucker has battled constant stiffness and pain from psoriatic arthritis.

Kerry Tucker

Kerry Tucker

“Mornings are the toughest,’’ Tucker said at an Atlanta arthritis conference last week. Then there are the flare-ups that leave her in bed for days.

She’s among patients taking a breakthrough “biologic” drug – medications that have made a major difference in their ability to handle arthritis symptoms.

Yet these specially engineered drugs have a hefty price tag for insurers, employers and patients. That cost has consumer advocates alarmed about the potential financial impact on families.

Roughly one in four Georgians are estimated to have a form of doctor-diagnosed arthritis, according to the Atlanta-based Arthritis Foundation. More than 800,000 of them are “limited’’ by the condition, the CDC says.

Thousands of Georgia children have a form of juvenile arthritis. full story

What to expect in Year 2 of ACA enrollment

The Affordable Care Act exchange, which begins its second open enrollment period this Saturday, will offer many Georgians lower prices this time around.

Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University, said Thursday that the average premium statewide for a 40-year-old nonsmoker for the second-lowest “silver” plan will rise by 2 percent from the 2014 figure.

healthcaregovBut in some Georgia regions, the premium for that plan will drop by double-digit rates, he said.

Still, people looking for a second year of coverage in the exchange – or to get a policy for the first time – need to pay attention to many factors besides premiums. Deductibles, co-insurance, prescription drug coverage, and whether specific hospitals and physicians are in a network are among the major considerations.

One thing is almost certain: Healthcare.gov, the federal enrollment website, will work more smoothly during this enrollment period. Last year, the site was plagued with massive technical problems – so much so the federal government extended the open enrollment window. full story

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