BluesWeek: Helping Health Care Consumers Benefit from Patient Safety Awareness Week

Starting today, we’ll be publishing BluesWeek, a weekly snapshot of initiatives, events and other newsworthy items, here on Blues Perspectives. It previously was an email advisory sent mostly to news media.

March 4-10 is Patient Safety Awareness Week, and the Blues will be spotlighting the issue with a series of blog posts featuring helpful tips and other resources for patients. Watch for posts here and on A Healthier Michigan on topics like things health care consumers can do to stay safe.

BCBSM is offering tips for how to “Get Your Plate in Shape” and make good food choices during National Nutrition Month. Registered dietitian Grace Derocha has simple suggestions available to help take the complexity out of nutrition. Occasional blog posts exploring the theme will also appear on A Healthier Michigan.

The Blues Community Challenge wraps up Saturday, March 10 in Lansing. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan will award grants to the nine participating Lansing-area communities to support public health and wellness. The ceremony takes place at 9 a.m. at the Lansing Mall and includes health screenings, health and wellness displays, a celebratory walk through the mall and more.

There are two more Polar Plunge events taking place March 17 — one in Kalamazoo and another in Marquette. Participants jump into frigid waters to benefit Special Olympics Michigan. Blue Cross is encouraging employees and others to participate as part of a yearlong sponsorship of Special Olympics Michigan’s Healthy Athletes Program.

In case you missed it…

The March installment of the Healthier Michigan Radio Show takes an in-depth look at efforts to transform health care in Michigan. Joining host Ann Thomas were Dr. Jean Malouin, co-chair of the Michigan Primary Care Transformation project; Dr. Gina Buccalo, chief medical officer at St. John Providence Partners in Care; Dr. Kim Coleman, a Bloomfield Hills pediatrician who is part of the Blues’ Patient-Centered Medical Home program; and Marianne Udow, director of the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation. You can still catch the show Sunday, March 11 at 9 p.m. on WOOD-AM in Grand Rapids, or download a podcast version or listen online here.

There are just a few short weeks remaining in the “Make the Play for Healthy Habits” kid video contest on A Healthier Michigan. Children in grades 4 through 8 have through March 25 to upload a video that creatively demonstrates their ideas to make Michigan healthier. The public will have the opportunity to vote on the final 10 contestants, and the winner gets a school assembly visit from Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and an opportunity to guest blog on A Healthier Michigan.

Photo by UMHealthSystem

‘Total Body Health’ Junior Achievement Storefront to Educate Kids About Health Insurance and Financial Literacy

A Junior Achievement event in China.

Educating young people about health insurance and health care planning empowers them to make better choices as they grow into adulthood. This is why we are proud to partner with Junior Achievement and Quicken Loans in support of the Quicken Loans JA Finance Park to help prepare Detroit-area kids to make informed and responsible choices that impact their ability to manage personal finances and individual health. 

“Health care costs and insurance are an important part of a personal budget,” said Bridget Hurd, director of BCBSM Community Responsibility. “Teaching students about the importance of health insurance and factors that impact insurance costs, including healthy lifestyle choices, may lead them to adopt healthier habits while contributing to the overall reduction of health care costs.” 

The Quicken Loans JA Finance Park program for middle and high school students includes:

  • Twenty-seven classroom lessons
  • Curriculum aligned with Michigan Content Standards
  • Teacher lesson plans and student workbooks that cover financial institutions, debit versus credit cards, salaries and taxes, investing, budgeting, and career exploration

After students complete the Junior Achievement course work at participating schools, a field trip to JA Finance Park for a one-day simulation on budgeting is scheduled. JA Finance Park now includes a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan health insurance storefront that students can visit to learn more about managing health plan choices.

At the Blue Cross “store” in Finance Park, students learn about health insurance plan premiums, copayments and costs not covered by insurance. Students visit the storefronts again and make payments for each of their purchases. At the end of the day, students receive a checkout report that tells them whether they were successful in creating a balanced budget. 

An independent evaluation in 2008 tested the knowledge students gained about budgeting through their experience at JA Finance Park. Student scores moved from 52 percent correct on the pre-test to 72 percent correct on the post-test.

More than 8,500 students participate in the JA Finance Park program each year. 

Visit jamichigan.org to learn more about our partnership with Junior Achievement, or to volunteer at JA Finance Park.

Photo by MeiGuoGuan

Health insurance 101: Explaining hospital charges and patient costs

Eighth in a series of posts to help you better understand health insurance and how recent changes affect you.

If you’ve ever glanced at an Explanation of Benefits form, you know that it contains a confusing array of dollar figures, all for the same medical procedure.

The often wildly divergent figures illustrate how the modern health care system works.

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Health insurance 101 – How to read your Explanation of Benefits ( EOB)

Many people find their Explanation of Benefits statements difficult to understand or confuse them with a bill.
Different insurers use different terms and formats, so you should direct specific questions to your insurance company. But here’s a general guide for how to make sense of your EOB:

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Health insurance 101 – A glossary of common insurance terms

Sixth in a series of posts to help you better understand health insurance and how recent changes affect you.

Confused about health insurance? You’re not alone.

The health care industry is a highly regulated, complex delivery system with multiple stakeholders, including you as a consumer and the insurance plan that helps you pay for care. And in an era when costs are rising, insurance plan benefit designs are changing and health care reform heralds big changes, it’s not easy staying informed.

To help you make better sense of the intricacies of your insurance plan, we’ve put together a reference glossary and explanation of health insurance basics.

What is a health insurance premium?

A premium is the amount that an individual policy-holder or, if you have coverage through your job, your employer pays to a health plan each month to purchase health coverage.

What’s a deductible?

A deductible is a fixed amount that a subscriber (the person who is covered by the insurance plan) is required to pay each year toward his or her medical services before the insurance company will begin to pay for services.

For example, if the insurance company specifies a $250 annual deductible, the subscriber must pay for medical services until that amount reaches $250 for the year. Then, the insurance company will begin to pay a portion of the costs.

The use of deductibles reduces the cost of premiums by sharing some of the risk with subscribers. It also helps predict the overall expected costs for a group.

What is a copayment?

A copayment is either a fixed dollar amount or a percentage paid by the subscriber for medical services. Once a subscriber pays an agreed-upon copayment, the insurance carrier pays the balance. For example, the subscriber pays 25 percent of the total cost for services, and the insurance carrier pays the remaining 75 percent. The use of copayments reduces overall expenses for insured groups because the subscriber is sharing costs. It also gives the subscriber an incentive to use fewer services, one factor contributing to health care cost inflation.

What is coinsurance?

Coinsurance is a provision by which an insured individual shares in the cost of certain expenses; sometimes the term is used interchangeably with copayment. At Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, we use the term copayment to designate flat dollar amounts, while coinsurance refers to percentage amounts. For example, if a person is responsible for a percentage of a particular charge, it is considered coinsurance.

What is an Explanation of Benefits, or EOB?

An EOB is a statement mailed to a subscriber or insured individual explaining how and why a health insurance claim was or was not paid. There are various types of EOBs, but all have the same general format and contain the same claim information. An EOB is not a bill. Your care provider (doctor, hospital, clinic, etc.) will send you a bill.

You can also find a comprehensive glossary of health care terms on our corporate website. Health insurance 101: Rising health care costs
Health insurance 101: Costs influence plan designs
Health insurance 101: Consumer-directed plans
Health insurance 101: Rewarding wellness
Health insurance 101: Health savings accounts

Health insurance 101: Health savings accounts help consumers fill gaps in coverage

Fifth in a series of blog posts to help you better understand health insurance and how recent changes affect you. As we’ve noted throughout this series, consumers are shouldering more responsibility for their own health care spending. New consumer-directed health plans incorporate tools to ease the burden and help individuals make smarter decisions regarding their care. One way is through health savings accounts.

An HSA allows you to pay for current health care expenses not covered by your high-deductible health plan and save for future ones, all on a tax-free basis. The account is funded by the employee, the employer, or both, but the account is owned by the employee. Leftover balances can be rolled over from year to year.

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Health insurance 101: How Blues plans reward individual wellness

Fourth in a series of blog posts featuring frequently asked questions about health care insurance.

Previously, we discussed the rise of consumer-directed health care among insurance plans. Those plans sometimes involve provisions designed to encourage or even reward individuals who lead healthy lifestyles.

What incentives are insurance companies offering to members for pursuing healthy lifestyles?

An emerging subset of consumer-directed health plans involves wellness and care-management initiatives. These plans give members the opportunity to lower their premiums and copayments by taking steps to improve their overall health, such as quitting smoking or losing weight.

The Michigan Blues offer a variety of wellness-focused plans through the Healthy Blue ChoicesSM portfolio. Healthy Blue OutcomesSM rewards people who demonstrate tangible improvements in their health with more affordable health insurance coverage.

All of our Healthy Blue Choices programs ask members to complete online health assessments and meet certain health criteria. They encourage participants at risk for certain chronic conditions to speak with health coaches about their personal health issues, goals, treatment options and ways to improve their overall health.

Health insurance 101: Rising costs spur changes in health plan designs

Second in a series of blog posts to help you better understand health insurance and how recent changes affect you. We welcome your comments and questions.

As health care costs rise, the types of plans offered to employees are expanding.

From our own frequently asked questions:

My employer provides me with health insurance but keeps asking me to chip in more money to cover costs. Why can’t I just get a PPO that covers everything without asking me for any contribution, like before?

In general, the percentage of employers that offer group health insurance plans to employees is on the decline, a side effect of rising health care costs. Although the rate of premium costs has slowed in recent years, premiums continue to rise faster than inflation and wages.

While Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan still offers high-quality PPO plans, today’s health care market is shifting more toward consumerism, where individuals are encouraged to take control of their personal wellness and health care spending. And yes, that means employers who offer group coverage are offering high-deductible health plans that ask employees to share more in the costs of their coverage.

In the wake of laws enacted in recent years, insurers have begun offering plans that help individuals better absorb these expenses and use their health dollars more wisely.

A look at some of those plans in greater detail. See also: Costs are rising. What’s a consumer to do?

Health insurance 101: Costs are rising. What should consumers do?

First in a series of blog posts to help you better understand health insurance and how recent changes affect you.

Let’s face it: Health insurance can be a dry and complicated business. And it’s not easy deciphering the various concepts, jargon, and not-exactly-household words that define the business of insuring your health. But your health insurance is important. And with health care reform, ever-rising costs for care and other trends that are transforming the industry, it’s a good idea to keep yourself abreast of what the changes mean to you.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you understand what’s happening in health insurance, why it’s happening and what it means for you.

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