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Timely health-care stories – from flexible spending to insurance exchanges

A couple of developments and year-end issues prompt health-care-related story ideas.

And if that’s not your beat, consider reading on anyway; sometimes technology, workplace, small business, personal finance and other ties develop from the main issues.

  • Insurance exchanges. The Department of Health and Human Services just awarded another $220 million in grants to help states plan and create the health insurance exchanges required by President Obama’s health-care reform package, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Doctors in surgery

Photo by Flickr user SarahMcD

If your state already has health-care exchange planning under way, check in to find out how that’s affected by the Supreme Court’s decision to address the constitutionality of the law.   As Politico points out, “States squirm over health exchanges,” and the decision of whether to proceed with planning to be ready by the Jan. 1 deadline or hold off in case the Supreme Court overturns the law.  (While health-care exchange aren’t required to be operational till 2014, the plans must be ready for review by 2013.) Minnesota, for example, is about to launch a site that lets consumers try out the exchange (even though actual policies won’t be sold.)

Look beyond the governmental issue:  How does the situation affect vendors like IT providers and consultants – small or medium businesses that may have been counting on a couple years’ worth of business?  And how are insurers gyrating to develop individual policies to be sold via the exchanges? Where is all the HHS grant money going?  It’s a good time for an update from the folks in your state who either are planning an exchange or lobbying against one.

  • Flexible spending accounts.  About 24 shopping days are left for consumers to use up leftover cash in their accounts or lose it forever.  Stories outlining solutions are always appreciated by readers; here’s a good one from Forbes you can use as a model – and here’s another batch of fresh tips from Employee Benefit News.  (That site, by the way, is a little gold mine of workplace-related story ideas, such as the one about unusual employer-provided benefits such as free house cleaning and Botox injections.)
  • Medicare open enrollment ends today.  Still time to get some tips and reminders online; one major change for next year, supposedly, help for people who fall into the “doughnut hole,” where prescription coverage is suspended until a dollar threshold is met.  And according to this White House blog post, many people have saved substantial amounts already thanks to the health-care reform rules; state-by-state lists of prescription drug savings and free wellness-care participation are linked to in the blog. This post by U.S. News & World Report is interesting food for thought and outlines a number of angles you can pursue on Medicare Part D providers in your region, such as the prevalence of higher co-pays and smaller covered-drug lists.  There are plenty of consumer caveats to be explored even after the Medicare deadline passes.

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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