Why Everyone Seems to Have Cancer
Half a century ago, the story goes, a person was far more likely to die from heart disease. Now cancer is on the verge of overtaking it as the No. 1 cause of death.
Troubling as this sounds, the comparison is unfair. Cancer is, by far, the harder problem — a condition deeply ingrained in the nature of evolution and multicellular life. Given that obstacle, cancer researchers are fighting and even winning smaller battles: reducing the death toll from childhood cancers and preventing — and sometimes curing — cancers that strike people in their prime. But when it comes to diseases of the elderly, there can be no decisive victory. This is, in the end, a zero-sum game.
HMSA is allowed smaller rate hike
The insurer had sought a 19 percent increase to cover policies held before Obamacare set in
The state Insurance Division has approved an 8.4 percent rate hike for Hawaii Medical Service Association policies for more than 8,250 individuals.
HMSA, the state's largest health insurer, originally requested a 19 percent premium increase in September.
The increase is for policies known as transitional "grandmothered" plans, which existed before the Affordable Care Act took effect in January. The policies aren't compliant with the ACA, also known as Obamacare, which requires greater benefits in new insurance plans that began this year.
"The hard work and in-depth analysis done by our health actuary and division staff resulted in the disapproval of a 19 percent increase, and therefore a savings for individuals of $2.3 million," Insurance Commissioner Gordon Ito said in a press release. "To date, the division will save health plan purchasers $25 million from mid-2014 into 2015."
In response to the ruling, HMSA said in an email, "Unfortunately health care costs continue to rise and we need to raise rates to cover these increases. Rates for some of our individual plan members will go up next year, such as those in our transitional grandmothered plans, and go down for others, like many of those enrolled in our Affordable Care Act plans."
In November 2013, President Barack Obama said states could decide whether to allow existing small-group and individual insurance policies to be extended through 2015.
Separately, HMSA will raise rates an average 3.8 percent for 3,141 members Jan. 1 but is cutting premiums by an average 6.2 percent for 6,527 individuals, previously saying it expects "most of our ACA individual plan members to use fewer health services than last year, leading to a lower average rate."
HMSA, which had 721,135 members at the end of the third quarter, saw profits soar 26-fold from the year-earlier period to $10.4 million.
The insurer said investment gains masked an operating loss of $8.5 million that was largely attributable to $6.3 million in fees and taxes related to Obamacare.
The company also boosted rates for small-business groups by 8.8 percent on July 1 for 110,000 consumers and 8,500 small businesses.
The Insurance Division is reminding consumers interested in signing up or changing health plans for 2015 to do so before open enrollment ends Feb. 15. The division earlier released a health insurance premium comparison guide at cca.hawaii.gov/ins.
Follow NASA's lead in keeping electronic health records
To avoid damage to communications from working satellites, the NASA Orbital Debris Program tracks half a million pieces of space junk that orbit Earth. The debris is an accumulation of flotsam and jetsam dating back to the first space programs. As the adoption of electronic health records continues to expand and the number of patient encounters continues to grow year by year, health care is compiling its own flotsam and jetsam. Increasingly at risk are the integrity and quality of patient health information.
New nurses left behind
The lack of jobs in Hawaii drives graduates away, which could hurt future demand
The tight employment market has left many registered nurses working in lower-level health care positions such as nurse aides or medical secretaries as a way to gain experience.
As Hawaii's population ages, health officials say eventually this nurse surplus could turn into a shortage as some graduates who can't find jobs move to the mainland or get out of the profession altogether.
Quality of life is vital factor in health care interventions
A prominent researcher from the National Institutes of Health once told me that the best health care is "everything I choose to prescribe, order and do for my patients," according to physicians; "everything my doctor orders and everything I want," the patient's standpoint; and "as little as possible without breaking the law or losing market share" when it comes to the insurance company. The tension among these vantage points is further aggravated because neither the social, political nor medical culture of the United States has come to terms with the fact that there are insufficient resources to purchase all the health care money can buy for every citizen.