Helping make the health care system work for you

Want to search for an insurance plan by drug coverage? That might soon be possible

pills capsule drugs prescription medication

Photo by higlu via Flickr Creative Commons

SB 1052 fixes a problem that anyone taking a drug for a chronic condition may have encountered: It was nearly impossible to shop for an insurance plan by drug.

A bill that's intended to help consumers shop for insurance plans based on the prescription drugs they take advanced out of the state senate Thursday, by a vote of 30-6.

Senate Bill 1052, authored by Norma Torres (D-Pomona) strives to fix a problem that anyone taking a drug for a chronic condition may have encountered, according to a Torres spokesman: it's difficult - or almost impossible - to make apples-to-apples comparisons of how insurance plans cover specific medications.

A lack of confidence

A few weeks ago, Impatient readers met Charis Hill, who experienced just that problem.

She takes a weekly shot for a rare form of arthritis. Her prescription cost $5 under one plan; when she was bumped into a default plan, it suddenly cost $2,000. She worked with a certified enrollment counselor to find a new plan, but he had no way of telling how much her medication might cost on various plans.

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A young vet's frustration with long wait times at SoCal VA's

Courtesy of Lance MacNiven

Lance MacNiven served in the US Navy from 2006 to 2010. Today, he's frustrated by the long wait-times at the VA medical centers in West Los Angeles and Long Beach.

In the latest twist in the scandal brewing around the Veterans Health Administration, an interim report out today from the VA Office of Inspector General confirms that "inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic" throughout the system.

The report focused on the Phoenix VA, where the scandal started. But it also noted that, "to date, we have ongoing or scheduled work at 42 VA medical facilities and have identified instances of manipulation of VA data that distort the legitimacy of reported waiting times."

The report is mum about which other VA facilities have been implicated in "inappropriate scheduling" and/or "manipulation of VA data," so we don't know yet if the West Los Angeles or Long Beach VA's are being investigated. But as one Impatient reader tell us, seeking care at both facilities is time-consuming and frustrating.

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How to have the most important conversation you're not having

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A major goal of the guidelines is to encourage doctors to talk with patients and their families about the end of life – while they’re still healthy

Last week, ten major southern California health providers endorsed a new set of guidelines to help doctors and nurses handle end-of-life planning with their patients. A major goal of the recommendations is to encourage doctors to talk with patients and their families about the end of life – while they’re still healthy.

These conversations are critical but they’re not occurring often enough, said Dr. James Leo, medical director of best practice and clinical outcomes at Memorial Care Health System.

"I think it’s very clear from the fact that 80 percent of people in California say they would like to have a conversation with their physicians about advance care planning, but in fact, only 7 percent have - that there’s a huge gap," Leo told me.

Why are so few people talking about death?

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What's your experience with VA medical centers?

Miami Area Observes Veterans Day

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We don’t know yet if the West Los Angeles, Long Beach or San Diego facilities are being investigated.

Are you a veteran? Have you received care at the Veterans Affairs medical centers in Los Angeles, Long Beach or San Diego? Perhaps a veteran is a relative or a friend. As Memorial Day approaches – and as the VA comes under increasing scrutiny – we want to hear from you.

Here’s why:

There’s a scandal surrounding the VA medical centers. Some are accused of gaming the appointment system, and keeping veterans waiting so long to see a doctor that some of them died. President Barack Obama spoke out about it earlier this week, saying those who are responsible should be held accountable.

The largest veterans group, the American Legion, hoped the president would announce the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, but instead Mr. Obama stood by the embattled Secretary. The president said he would wait for the results of an investigation into the situation.

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Weigh in: Are you still having trouble reaching Blue Shield?

Young Son With His Career-Minded Mother

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Nine months after Covered California opened for business, people are still taking to social media to express frustration with call wait times with their new insurance companies.

Almost nine months after Covered California opened for business, customers are still having a heck of the time reaching their insurance companies. Blue Shield of California is well aware of these issues, company spokesman Sean Barry tells Impatient.

"Some customers haven’t received the service they deserved," he said.

To remedy this, the company hired more call staff, and made it easier to deal with some issues online, he said. Now that the open enrollment deadlines has passed, the average time that customers are forced to wait on the phone has dropped to just over 20 minutes in mid-May, Barry added.

The average call wait time for individual and family plan members (including those who came in through Covered California and new members who enrolled directly through Blue Shield) was 38 minutes in March and 34 minutes in April, Barry said.

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