News & Trends

Commerce Department&s Census Bureau, Uninsured Americans, The National Committee for Quality Assurance&s State of Health Care Quality report, Federal Employees Health Benefits Program premium increase of 11 percent for 2003



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The number of Americans without health insurance in 2001 rose to 41.2 million, or 14.6 percent of the total population, according to the United States Commerce Department’s Census Bureau. That’s an increase of 1.4 million from 2000, when 14.2 percent of Americans had no insurance. Revised figures put the total for 2000 at 39.8 million vs. 39.3 million in 1999, wiping out what was originally reported as a slight decline in the uninsured.

On the flip side, 240.9 million Americans were insured in 2001, an increase of 1.2 million from the previous year. There was a slight shift from the private to public sector, with 62.6 percent of those insured getting coverage from their employers and 25.3 percent from government programs compared with, respectively, 63.6 and 24.7 percent in 2000.

Roughly 16 percent of all employees and dependents eligible for COBRA continuation coverage signed on, according to Charles D. Spencer & Associates’ recent 2002 COBRA Survey. For all respondents, active employee costs per year were $4,947 compared to $7,438 for continuees.


More than 6,000 deaths and 22 million sick days could be avoided each year if "best practice" care found at the nation’s top organizations were universally adopted, says The National Committee for Quality Assurance’s State of Health Care Quality report. Specifically, the report indicates that if the standard of care were raised, some 1,200 deaths each year would be avoided by beta blocker treatment after heart attacks, 4,700 by cholesterol control, and 914 by cervical cancer screening.

The report did show encouraging results over previous studies, however. Within commercial health plans between 2000 and 2001, the percentage of patients with their high blood pressure under control rose 4 points to 55.4 percent, and 59.3 percent of heart attack patients had cholesterol under control in 2001, up nearly 6 points.

Meanwhile, an Employee Benefit Research Institute study reveals that higher health care costs have not inflated patient satisfaction. The 2002 Health Confidence Survey addressed Americans who received health care in the past two years. Forty-four percent are extremely or very satisfied in general, and 55 percent felt that way about their medical care. Both scores were down 2 points from the previous survey in 1998. On the other hand, 57 percent are extremely or very satisfied with their ability to choose their doctor vs. 54 percent in 1998.

Starting July 1, 2004, California workers can take six weeks off with partial pay to care for a newborn, newly adopted child or ill family member, thanks to the approved comprehensive paid family leave benefit. Funded entirely by payroll deductions (averaging $27 per year), workers will be eligible to receive 55 percent of their wages during their absence to a maximum of $728 a week.


When is an 11 percent premium increase good news? When the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program can compare its prospects for 2003 with the rate hikes of 20 percent or more that private employers are facing. Even better news for FEHBP, the 11 percent increase is down from last year’s 13.3 percent. And it all seems to come down to choice.

Next year, the FEHB Program will offer 188 health care choices across the nation, including a consumer-driven plan. Besides local HMOs, members will be able to choose from a dozen or more fee-for-service options, with FEHBP paying an average 72 percent of premiums.

U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James said the broad range of choices is a major reason for the relatively small premium increase.

"Because our program is designed to let employees and retirees compare benefits, costs and other features important to them in a health plan, they can select one plan from among many and get the most bang for their health care dollars," she explained, and that "promotes healthy competition among carriers for subscribers and helps contain costs."

It helps, of course, that FEHBP is the largest employer-sponsored health insurance program in the nation, covering nearly 9 million federal employees, retirees and their dependents.

Fifty-six percent of workers can’t afford health care without the company-sponsored benefit, indicates the AARP’s recent Staying Ahead of the Curve survey. That’s up 15 points from 1985.


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