Calm down, Ebola’s actually pretty difficult to catch

by Rob Cullen on October 16, 2014 - 1:29 PM

stop ebola mural

Ok, so we’ve avoided covering Ebola for months, mostly because we didn’t want to add to any unnecessary panic about the disease (although it looks like that ship has sailed). If you’re reading this site, chances are you live in a country with regular electricity and more than 50 doctors, which means Ebola really isn’t something you have to worry about. Notice that we used the present tense there– even though there are now three confirmed cases in the U.S. (the original patient and two nurses), there’s still no reason to panic.

We think that a lot of the current hysteria comes from the fact that while the President, public health officials, and the more responsible members of the media have told us not to worry, they haven’t done a great job of communicating why we shouldn’t worry.   [click to continue reading...]


alcohol consumption distribution

The graph above has been floating around social media lately, and the data it shows is surprising for a couple reasons: first, it shows that about half of all adults consume basically no alcohol. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, it shows that the top 10% of American adults– 24 million people– consume nearly 74 drinks per week on average; that’s ten drinks per day. That seems incredibly high, so over the past few weeks a bunch of really smart pundits and healthcare experts– like MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, The Incidental Economists Aaron Carroll, and Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post’s Wonkblog– have been trying to get their heads around how it’s possible.

They may have missed a likely explanation though: that the graph is wrong.   [click to continue reading...]


This year’s insurance cancellations explained in 8 tweets

by Rob Cullen on October 6, 2014 - 3:18 PM

picking a health plan

You might remember that around this time last fall, millions of Americans were getting cancellation letters from insurance companies because their plans didn’t comply with Obamacare’s new regulations. Since the exchanges were still a mess, and since President Obama had previously promised that if you liked your plan you’d be able to keep it, the administration said that it would let states allow insurers to renew noncompliant plans for up to three years. Not every state did this– but a couple dozen did allow insurers to renew their plans.

Now another round of cancellation letters is going out, a fact that’s sure to get a lot of attention from Republicans with it being an election year and all. However there are some pretty huge differences between the latest round and last year’s cancellations.   [click to continue reading...]


marilyn tavenner

Testifying before Congress last week, Medicare Administrator Marilyn Tavenner announced that as of August 15, 7.3 million people were enrolled in coverage through the Obamacare exchanges. It’s the first time the administration has released official enrollment numbers since back in May.

By itself the number doesn’t tell us much– it was up to the media to provide context, and different news site had completely different takes. The headline at Fox News was “Number of ObamaCare enrollees appears to be dropping”; while on MSNBC it was the opposite: “Obamacare enrollment numbers exceed expected figures.” The Associated Press split the difference, focusing mainly on whether or not 7.3 million is an accurate count.

Here’s the frustrating part: none of these stories is wrong necessarily. Yet even if you read all three, you still wouldn’t have a very good idea of what 7.3 million enrollees actually means for Obamacare.   [click to continue reading...]


Why you should NOT just auto-renew your Obamacare plan next year

by Rob Cullen on September 23, 2014 - 3:21 PM

choosing a planShopping for insurance is not a fun process. Obamacare made it easier, but there’s still a lot to figure out–things like what combination of premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and coinsurance is best; whether your doctor is in-network; and what specific drugs are covered, to name just a few.

If you bought coverage on the exchange last year, it’s tempting to blindly stick with what you have just to avoid the hassle of choosing– and the way Obamacare works, if you don’t do anything, you’ll automatically be re-enrolled in your current plan. While that might sound great, it could be trouble says National Journal’s Sam Baker:

People who decide to stick with the coverage they’ve already gotten through Obamacare, rather than switching plans, are at risk for some of the biggest premium spikes anywhere in the system. And some people won’t even know their costs went up until they get a bill from the IRS.

So for part two of our series on improving Obamacare we’ll look at why it’s so important to shop around, and possible fixes to these potential premium spikes.   [click to continue reading...]


Here’s how Pennsylvania’s Medicaid expansion plan works

by Rob Cullen on September 15, 2014 - 6:58 PM

corbett healthy pa announcement

Almost exactly one year ago, Pennsylvania’s Republican governor Tom Corbett announced that rather than implement Obamacare’s Medicaid coverage to anyone making less than 138% of the poverty line, he was putting forth his own plan. Named “Healthy Pennsylvania,” it would slash benefit to new and existing Medicaid recipients, charge premiums, institute a work requirement, and put new enrollees into private plans.

All of this needed federal approval, and after a long negotiation with the White House and Corbett have reached an agreement. The final version contains some elements of Corbett’s plan, but it looks much more like the state’s existing Medicaid system. If you’re a Pennsylvania resident, here’s what you should know about it.   [click to continue reading...]


More good news about Obamacare premiums for next year

by Rob Cullen on September 10, 2014 - 1:29 PM

A few weeks ago, we pointed out that there are a few different ways to calculate how much Obamacare premiums are changing next year. For example, you could simply look at the price of the average plan in an area from last year to this year. Or you could take it a step further and do a weighted average; that’s where plans with more enrollees count more heavily, so you get a better sense of how much premiums will change for the average policyholder.

That information is useful, but remember that the idea behind Obamacare is not that your premiums will never change; it’s that you’ll be able to shop around for the best deal without worrying about your health status. Last year most people picked one of the cheapest silver options in their area, so it would be really helpful to compare those prices to the cheapest options now.

That info wasn’t available when we wrote the post, but we have it now, thanks to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation– and the results are good news for anyone shopping for Obamacare coverage next year.   [click to continue reading...]


Fixing Obamacare, Part 1: The employer mandate

by Rob Cullen on September 3, 2014 - 4:03 PM

obama ceo's

Among psychologists, the term “catastrophizing” is used to describe a thought pattern where someone views an event or situation as worse than it actually is. There are two parts: (1) predicting a negative outcome, and (2) jumping to the conclusion that the negative outcome would be the end of the world.

“Catastrophizing” is the perfect way to describe how the Republicans have approached Obamacare over the past few years. There was seemingly no end to the predicted disasters: young, healthy people wouldn’t sign up, it would explode the federal deficit, insurance costs would skyrocket, it would lead to Medicare “rationing,”… the list goes on.

Of course, none of these predictions have come true– it’s become clear that Obamacare is working (and working particularly well in states that have embraced it). Meanwhile, Republicans have gotten quieter about it. As Bloomberg News reports, Obamacare is losing its punch as a campaign weapon: since April, the number of anti-Obamacare ads has dropped dramatically, while a Democratic senator in a tight race in Arkansas has begun touting its success.

That’s not to say that the law is working perfectly though. Now that there’s less nonsense floating around about how Obamacare is destroying America, we figured it might be a good time to look at some actual problems with the new law, and what Congress could do to fix them.

First up: a provision that Republicans and Democrats agree should probably be scrapped, yet Republicans are suing the president for not implementing it. Welcome to the employer mandate.   [click to continue reading...]


Has Congress done anything to screw over ALS patients recently?

by Rob Cullen on August 26, 2014 - 3:10 PM

Paul Ryan Mitt Romney ice bucket

Mitt Romney does the Ice Bucket Challenge with some help from Paul Ryan. We should point out that their proposed budget would have meant huge cuts to health research.

Glad you asked. In 2010, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) devoted $59 million towards ALS research– by 2013, that figure had dropped to $39 million. So what happened?

[click to continue reading...]

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Got questions about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? This might help.

by Rob Cullen on August 26, 2014 - 8:49 AM

ice bucket challenge kids

If you’re reading this you have access to the internet, which means by now you’ve seen (or at least heard about) videos of people dumping buckets of ice water on their heads to raise money and awareness about ALS. However, the videos tend to be short and don’t have much context, so if you’re curious for more information about ALS, how the challenge started, how well it’s working, and other issues that have been raised, read on.   [click to continue reading...]