All About Affordable Health Insurance Plans

While consumers search for affordable health insurance, they have price in their mind as the top priority. A general conception among the consumers is that cheap health plans should not be costly-the cheapest health plan available in the market is their target. However, this approach is not good. Sometimes, paying for a cheap health insurance plan but still not getting the required level of coverage results only in wastage of money.

With the implementation of the affordable care act, the reach of affordable health plans is set to increase. Or at least, this is what is believed to be the objective of healthcare reforms. However, lots of consumers are still in confusion about how things would work. In this article, we will discuss some detailed options that consumers can try while looking to buy affordable health plans.

To get a hand on affordable health insurance plans, consumers need to take of certain things. First among them is about knowing the options in the particular state of the residence. There are lots of state and federal government-run programs that could be suitable for consumers. Knowing the options is pretty important. Next would be to understand the terms and conditions of all the programs and check the eligibility criteria for each one of them. Further, consumers should know their rights after the implementation of healthcare reforms, and something within a few days, they may qualify for a particular program or could be allowed to avail a particular health insurance plan. If consumers take care of these steps, there is no reason why consumers can’t land on an affordable health plan that could cater to the medical care needs.

Let’s discuss some options related to affordable health insurance plans state-wise:

State-run affordable health insurance programs in California

While considering California, there are three affordable health insurance plans that are run by the state government. Consumers can surely get benefitted by these if they are eligible for the benefits.

• Major Risk Medical Insurance Program (MRMIP)

This program is a very handy one offering limited health benefits to California residents. If consumers are unable to purchase health plans due to a preexisting medical condition, they can see if they qualify for this program and get benefits.

• Healthy Families Program

Healthy Families Program offers Californians with low cost health, dental, and vision coverage. This is mainly geared to children whose parents earn too much to qualify for public assistance. This program is administered by MRMIP.

• Access for Infants and Mothers Program (AIM)

Access for Infants and Mothers Program provides prenatal and preventive care for pregnant women having low income in California. It is administered by a five-person board that has established a comprehensive benefits package that includes both inpatient and outpatient care for program enrollees.

Some facts about affordable health insurance in Florida

While talking about affordable health insurance options in Florida, consumers can think about below mentioned options:

• Floridians who lost employer’s group health insurance may qualify for COBRA continuation coverage in Florida. At the same time, Floridians, who lost group health insurance due to involuntary termination of employment occurring between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 may qualify for a federal tax credit. This credit helps in paying COBRA or state continuation coverage premiums for up to nine months.

• Floridians who had been uninsured for 6 months may be eligible to buy a limited health benefit plan through Cover Florida.

• Florida Medicaid program can be tried by Floridians having low or modest household income. Through this program, pregnant women, families with children, medically needy, elderly, and disabled individuals may get help.

• Florida KidCare program can help the Floridian children under the age of 19 years and not eligible for Medicaid and currently uninsured or underinsured.

• A federal tax credit to help pay for new health coverage to Floridians who lost their health coverage but are receiving benefits from the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Program. This credit is called the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC). At the same time, Floridians who are retirees and are aged 55-65 and are receiving pension benefits from Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), may qualify for the HCTC.

Some facts about affordable health insurance in Virginia

While talking about affordable health insurance options in Virginia, consumers need to consider their rights:

• Virginians who lost their employer’s group health insurance may apply for COBRA or state continuation coverage in Virginia.

• Virginians must note that they have the right to buy individual health plans from either Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield or CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield.

• Virginia Medicaid program helps Virginians having low or modest household income may qualify for free or subsidized health coverage. Through this program, pregnant women, families with children, and elderly and disabled individuals are helped.

• Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) helps Virginian children under the age of 18 years having no health insurance.

• In Virginia, the Every Woman’s Life Program offers free breast and cervical cancer screening. Through this program, if women are diagnosed with cancer, they may be eligible for treatment through the Virginia Medicaid Program.

Some facts about affordable health insurance in Texas

While talking about affordable health insurance options in Texas, consumers need to consider their rights:

• Texans who have group insurance in Texas cannot be denied or limited in terms of coverage, nor can be required to pay more, because of the health status. Further, Texans having group health insurance can’t have exclusion of pre-existing conditions.

• In Texas, insurers cannot drop Texans off coverage when they get sick. At the same time, Texans who lost their group health insurance but are HIPAA eligible may apply for COBRA or state continuation coverage in Texas.

• Texas Medicaid program helps Texans having low or modest household income may qualify for free or subsidized health coverage. Through this program, pregnant women, families with children, elderly and disabled individuals are helped. At the same time, if a woman is diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer, she may be eligible for medical care through Medicaid.

• The Texas Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) offers subsidized health coverage for certain uninsured children. Further children in Texas can stay in their parent’s health insurance policy as dependents till the age of 26 years. This clause has been implemented by the healthcare reforms.

• The Texas Breast and Cervical Cancer Control program offers free cancer screening for qualified residents. If a woman is diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer through this program, she may qualify for medical care through Medicaid.

Like this, consumers need to consider state-wise options when they search for affordable health coverage. It goes without saying that shopping around and getting oneself well-equipped with necessary information is pretty much important to make sure consumers have the right kind of health plans.

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Health Savings Accounts – An American Innovation in Health Insurance

INTRODUCTON – The term “health insurance” is commonly used in the United States to describe any program that helps pay for medical expenses, whether through privately purchased insurance, social insurance or a non-insurance social welfare program funded by the government. Synonyms for this usage include “health coverage,” “health care coverage” and “health benefits” and “medical insurance.” In a more technical sense, the term is used to describe any form of insurance that provides protection against injury or illness.

In America, the health insurance industry has changed rapidly during the last few decades. In the 1970′s most people who had health insurance had indemnity insurance. Indemnity insurance is often called fee-forservice. It is the traditional health insurance in which the medical provider (usually a doctor or hospital) is paid a fee for each service provided to the patient covered under the policy. An important category associated with the indemnity plans is that of consumer driven health care (CDHC). Consumer-directed health plans allow individuals and families to have greater control over their health care, including when and how they access care, what types of care they receive and how much they spend on health care services.

These plans are however associated with higher deductibles that the insured have to pay from their pocket before they can claim insurance money. Consumer driven health care plans include Health Reimbursement Plans (HRAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), high deductible health plans (HDHps), Archer Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Of these, the Health Savings Accounts are the most recent and they have witnessed rapid growth during the last decade.

WHAT IS A HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNT?

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged medical savings account available to taxpayers in the United States. The funds contributed to the account are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. These may be used to pay for qualified medical expenses at any time without federal tax liability.

Another feature is that the funds contributed to Health Savings Account roll over and accumulate year over year if not spent. These can be withdrawn by the employees at the time of retirement without any tax liabilities. Withdrawals for qualified expenses and interest earned are also not subject to federal income taxes. According to the U.S. Treasury Office, ‘A Health Savings Account is an alternative to traditional health insurance; it is a savings product that offers a different way for consumers to pay for their health care.

HSA’s enable you to pay for current health expenses and save for future qualified medical and retiree health expenses on a tax-free basis.’ Thus the Health Savings Account is an effort to increase the efficiency of the American health care system and to encourage people to be more responsible and prudent towards their health care needs. It falls in the category of consumer driven health care plans.

Origin of Health Savings Account

The Health Savings Account was established under the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act passed by the U.S. Congress in June 2003, by the Senate in July 2003 and signed by President Bush on December 8, 2003.

Eligibility -

The following individuals are eligible to open a Health Savings Account -

- Those who are covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).
- Those not covered by other health insurance plans.
- Those not enrolled in Medicare4.

Also there are no income limits on who may contribute to an HAS and there is no requirement of having earned income to contribute to an HAS. However HAS’s can’t be set up by those who are dependent on someone else’s tax return. Also HSA’s cannot be set up independently by children.

What is a High Deductible Health plan (HDHP)?

Enrollment in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) is a necessary qualification for anyone wishing to open a Health Savings Account. In fact the HDHPs got a boost by the Medicare Modernization Act which introduced the HSAs. A High Deductible Health Plan is a health insurance plan which has a certain deductible threshold. This limit must be crossed before the insured person can claim insurance money. It does not cover first dollar medical expenses. So an individual has to himself pay the initial expenses that are called out-of-pocket costs.

In a number of HDHPs costs of immunization and preventive health care are excluded from the deductible which means that the individual is reimbursed for them. HDHPs can be taken both by individuals (self employed as well as employed) and employers. In 2008, HDHPs are being offered by insurance companies in America with deductibles ranging from a minimum of $1,100 for Self and $2,200 for Self and Family coverage. The maximum amount out-of-pocket limits for HDHPs is $5,600 for self and $11,200 for Self and Family enrollment. These deductible limits are called IRS limits as they are set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In HDHPs the relation between the deductibles and the premium paid by the insured is inversely propotional i.e. higher the deductible, lower the premium and vice versa. The major purported advantages of HDHPs are that they will a) lower health care costs by causing patients to be more cost-conscious, and b) make insurance premiums more affordable for the uninsured. The logic is that when the patients are fully covered (i.e. have health plans with low deductibles), they tend to be less health conscious and also less cost conscious when going for treatment.

Opening a Health Savings Account

An individual can sign up for HSAs with banks, credit unions, insurance companies and other approved companies. However not all insurance companies offer HSAqualified health insurance plans so it is important to use an insurance company that offers this type of qualified insurance plan. The employer may also set up a plan for the employees. However, the account is always owned by the individual. Direct online enrollment in HSA-qualified health insurance is available in all states except Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Contributions to the Health Savings Account

Contributions to HSAs can be made by an individual who owns the account, by an employer or by any other person. When made by the employer, the contribution is not included in the income of the employee. When made by an employee, it is treated as exempted from federal tax. For 2008, the maximum amount that can be contributed (and deducted) to an HSA from all sources is:
$2,900 (self-only coverage)
$5,800 (family coverage)

These limits are set by the U.S. Congress through statutes and they are indexed annually for inflation. For individuals above 55 years of age, there is a special catch up provision that allows them to deposit additional $800 for 2008 and $900 for 2009. The actual maximum amount an individual can contribute also depends on the number of months he is covered by an HDHP (pro-rated basis) as of the first day of a month. For eg If you have family HDHP coverage from January 1,2008 until June 30, 2008, then cease having HDHP coverage, you are allowed an HSA contribution of 6/12 of $5,800, or $2,900 for 2008. If you have family HDHP coverage from January 1,2008 until June 30, 2008, and have self-only HDHP coverage from July 1, 2008 to December 31, 2008, you are allowed an HSA contribution of 6/12 x $5,800 plus 6/12 of $2,900, or $4,350 for 2008. If an individual opens an HDHP on the first day of a month, then he can contribute to HSA on the first day itself. However, if he/she opens an account on any other day than the first, then he can contribute to the HSA from the next month onwards. Contributions can be made as late as April 15 of the following year. Contributions to the HSA in excess of the contribution limits must be withdrawn by the individual or be subject to an excise tax. The individual must pay income tax on the excess withdrawn amount.

Contributions by the Employer

The employer can make contributions to the employee’s HAS account under a salary reduction plan known as Section 125 plan. It is also called a cafeteria plan. The contributions made under the cafeteria plan are made on a pre-tax basis i.e. they are excluded from the employee’s income. The employer must make the contribution on a comparable basis. Comparable contributions are contributions to all HSAs of an employer which are 1) the same amount or 2) the same percentage of the annual deductible. However, part time employees who work for less than 30 hours a week can be treated separately. The employer can also categorize employees into those who opt for self coverage only and those who opt for a family coverage. The employer can automatically make contributions to the HSAs on the behalf of the employee unless the employee specifically chooses not to have such contributions by the employer.

Withdrawals from the HSAs

The HSA is owned by the employee and he/she can make qualified expenses from it whenever required. He/She also decides how much to contribute to it, how much to withdraw for qualified expenses, which company will hold the account and what type of investments will be made to grow the account. Another feature is that the funds remain in the account and role over from year to year. There are no use it or lose it rules. The HSA participants do not have to obtain advance approval from their HSA trustee or their medical insurer to withdraw funds, and the funds are not subject to income taxation if made for ‘qualified medical expenses’. Qualified medical expenses include costs for services and items covered by the health plan but subject to cost sharing such as a deductible and coinsurance, or co-payments, as well as many other expenses not covered under medical plans, such as dental, vision and chiropractic care; durable medical equipment such as eyeglasses and hearing aids; and transportation expenses related to medical care. Nonprescription, over-the-counter medications are also eligible. However, qualified medical expense must be incurred on or after the HSA was established.

Tax free distributions can be taken from the HSA for the qualified medical expenses of the person covered by the HDHP, the spouse (even if not covered) of the individual and any dependent (even if not covered) of the individual.12 The HSA account can also be used to pay previous year’s qualified expenses subject to the condition that those expenses were incurred after the HSA was set up. The individual must preserve the receipts for expenses met from the HSA as they may be needed to prove that the withdrawals from the HSA were made for qualified medical expenses and not otherwise used. Also the individual may have to produce the receipts before the insurance company to prove that the deductible limit was met. If a withdrawal is made for unqualified medical expenses, then the amount withdrawn is considered taxable (it is added to the individuals income) and is also subject to an additional 10 percent penalty. Normally the money also cannot be used for paying medical insurance premiums. However, in certain circumstances, exceptions are allowed.

These are -

1) to pay for any health plan coverage while receiving federal or state unemployment benefits.
2) COBRA continuation coverage after leaving employment with a company that offers health insurance coverage.
3) Qualified long-term care insurance.
4) Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, including deductibles, co-pays, and coinsurance for: Part A (hospital and inpatient services), Part B (physician and outpatient services), Part C (Medicare HMO and PPO plans) and Part D (prescription drugs).

However, if an individual dies, becomes disabled or reaches the age of 65, then withdrawals from the Health Savings Account are considered exempted from income tax and additional 10 percent penalty irrespective of the purpose for which those withdrawals are made. There are different methods through which funds can be withdrawn from the HSAs. Some HSAs provide account holders with debit cards, some with cheques and some have options for a reimbursement process similar to medical insurance.

Growth of HSAs

Ever since the Health Savings Accounts came into being in January 2004, there has been a phenomenal growth in their numbers. From around 1 million enrollees in March 2005, the number has grown to 6.1 million enrollees in January 2008.14 This represents an increase of 1.6 million since January 2007, 2.9 million since January 2006 and 5.1 million since March 2005. This growth has been visible across all segments. However, the growth in large groups and small groups has been much higher than in the individual category. According to the projections made by the U.S. Treasury Department, the number of HSA policy holders will increase to 14 million by 2010. These 14 million policies will provide cover to 25 to 30 million U.S. citizens.

In the Individual Market, 1.5 million people were covered by HSA/HDHPs purchased as on January 2008. Based on the number of covered lives, 27 percent of newly purchased individual policies (defined as those purchased during the most recent full month or quarter) were enrolled in HSA/HDHP coverage. In the small group market, enrollment stood at 1.8 million as of January 2008. In this group 31 percent of all new enrollments were in the HSA/HDHP category. The large group category had the largest enrollment with 2.8 million enrollees as of January 2008. In this category, six percent of all new enrollments were in the HSA/HDHP category.

Benefits of HSAs

The proponents of HSAs envisage a number of benefits from them. First and foremost it is believed that as they have a high deductible threshold, the insured will be more health conscious. Also they will be more cost conscious. The high deductibles will encourage people to be more careful about their health and health care expenses and will make them shop for bargains and be more vigilant against excesses in the health care industry. This, it is believed, will reduce the growing cost of health care and increase the efficiency of the health care system in the United States. HSA-eligible plans typically provide enrollee decision support tools that include, to some extent, information on the cost of health care services and the quality of health care providers. Experts suggest that reliable information about the cost of particular health care services and the quality of specific health care providers would help enrollees become more actively engaged in making health care purchasing decisions. These tools may be provided by health insurance carriers to all health insurance plan enrollees, but are likely to be more important to enrollees of HSA-eligible plans who have a greater financial incentive to make informed decisions about the quality and costs of health care providers and services.

It is believed that lower premiums associated with HSAs/HDHPs will enable more people to enroll for medical insurance. This will mean that lower income groups who do not have access to medicare will be able to open HSAs. No doubt higher deductibles are associated with HSA eligible HDHPs, but it is estimated that tax savings under HSAs and lower premiums will make them less expensive than other insurance plans. The funds put in the HSA can be rolled over from year to year. There are no use it or lose it rules. This leads to a growth in savings of the account holder. The funds can be accumulated tax free for future medical expenses if the holder so desires. Also the savings in the HSA can be grown through investments.

The nature of such investments is decided by the insured. The earnings on savings in the HSA are also exempt from income tax. The holder can withdraw his savings in the HSA after turning 65 years old without paying any taxes or penalties. The account holder has complete control over his/her account. He/She is the owner of the account right from its inception. A person can withdraw money as and when required without any gatekeeper. Also the owner decides how much to put in his/her account, how much to spend and how much to save for the future. The HSAs are portable in nature. This means that if the holder changes his/her job, becomes unemployed or moves to another location, he/she can still retain the account.

Also if the account holder so desires he can transfer his Health Saving Account from one managing agency to another. Thus portability is an advantage of HSAs. Another advantage is that most HSA plans provide first-dollar coverage for preventive care. This is true of virtually all HSA plans offered by large employers and over 95% of the plans offered by small employers. It was also true of over half (59%) of the plans which were purchased by individuals.

All of the plans offering first-dollar preventive care benefits included annual physicals, immunizations, well-baby and wellchild care, mammograms and Pap tests; 90% included prostate cancer screenings and 80% included colon cancer screenings. Some analysts believe that HSAs are more beneficial for the young and healthy as they do not have to pay frequent out of pocket costs. On the other hand, they have to pay lower premiums for HDHPs which help them meet unforeseen contingencies.

Health Savings Accounts are also advantageous for the employers. The benefits of choosing a health Savings Account over a traditional health insurance plan can directly affect the bottom line of an employer’s benefit budget. For instance Health Savings Accounts are dependent on a high deductible insurance policy, which lowers the premiums of the employee’s plan. Also all contributions to the Health Savings Account are pre-tax, thus lowering the gross payroll and reducing the amount of taxes the employer must pay.

Criticism of HSAs

The opponents of Health Savings Accounts contend that they would do more harm than good to America’s health insurance system. Some consumer organizations, such as Consumers Union, and many medical organizations, such as the American Public Health Association, have rejected HSAs because, in their opinion, they benefit only healthy, younger people and make the health care system more expensive for everyone else. According to Stanford economist Victor Fuchs, “The main effect of putting more of it on the consumer is to reduce the social redistributive element of insurance.

Some others believe that HSAs remove healthy people from the insurance pool and it makes premiums rise for everyone left. HSAs encourage people to look out for themselves more and spread the risk around less. Another concern is that the money people save in HSAs will be inadequate. Some people believe that HSAs do not allow for enough savings to cover costs. Even the person who contributes the maximum and never takes any money out would not be able to cover health care costs in retirement if inflation continues in the health care industry.

Opponents of HSAs, also include distinguished figures like state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, who called them a “dangerous prescription” that will destabilize the health insurance marketplace and make things even worse for the uninsured. Another criticism is that they benefit the rich more than the poor. Those who earn more will be able to get bigger tax breaks than those who earn less. Critics point out that higher deductibles along with insurance premiums will take away a large share of the earnings of the low income groups. Also lower income groups will not benefit substantially from tax breaks as they are already paying little or no taxes. On the other hand tax breaks on savings in HSAs and on further income from those HSA savings will cost billions of dollars of tax money to the exchequer.

The Treasury Department has estimated HSAs would cost the government $156 billion over a decade. Critics say that this could rise substantially. Several surveys have been conducted regarding the efficacy of the HSAs and some have found that the account holders are not particularly satisfied with the HSA scheme and many are even ignorant about the working of the HSAs. One such survey conducted in 2007 of American employees by the human resources consulting firm Towers Perrin showed satisfaction with account based health plans (ABHPs) was low. People were not happy with them in general compared with people with more traditional health care. Respondants said they were not comfortable with the risk and did not understand how it works.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, early experience with HAS eligible high-deductible health plans reveals low satisfaction, high out of- pocket costs, and cost-related access problems. Another survey conducted with the Employee Benefits Research Institute found that people enrolled in HSA-eligible high-deductible health plans were much less satisfied with many aspects of their health care than adults in more comprehensive plans People in these plans allocate substantial amounts of income to their health care, especially those who have poorer health or lower incomes. The survey also found that adults in high-deductible health plans are far more likely to delay or avoid getting needed care, or to skip medications, because of the cost. Problems are particularly pronounced among those with poorer health or lower incomes.

Political leaders have also been vocal about their criticism of the HSAs. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. issued the following statement criticizing the HSAs “The President’s health care plan is not about covering the uninsured, making health insurance affordable, or even driving down the cost of health care. Its real purpose is to make it easier for businesses to dump their health insurance burden onto workers, give tax breaks to the wealthy, and boost the profits of banks and financial brokers. The health care policies concocted at the behest of special interests do nothing to help the average American. In many cases, they can make health care even more inaccessible.” In fact a report of the U.S. governments Accountability office, published on April 1, 2008 says that the rate of enrollment in the HSAs is greater for higher income individuals than for lower income ones.

A study titled “Health Savings Accounts and High Deductible Health Plans: Are They an Option for Low-Income Families? By Catherine Hoffman and Jennifer Tolbert which was sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported the following key findings regarding the HSAs:

a) Premiums for HSA-qualified health plans may be lower than for traditional insurance, but these plans shift more of the financial risk to individuals and families through higher deductibles.
b) Premiums and out-of-pocket costs for HSA-qualified health plans would consume a substantial portion of a low-income family’s budget.
c) Most low-income individuals and families do not face high enough tax liability to benefit in a significant way from tax deductions associated with HSAs.
d) People with chronic conditions, disabilities, and others with high cost medical needs may face even greater out-of-pocket costs under HSA-qualified health plans.
e) Cost-sharing reduces the use of health care, especially primary and preventive services, and low-income individuals and those who are sicker are particularly sensitive to cost-sharing increases.
f) Health savings accounts and high deductible plans are unlikely to substantially increase health insurance coverage among the uninsured.

Choosing a Health Plan

Despite the advantages offered by the HSA, it may not be suitable for everyone. While choosing an insurance plan, an individual must consider the following factors:

1. The premiums to be paid.
2. Coverage/benefits available under the scheme.
3. Various exclusions and limitations.
4. Portability.
5. Out-of-pocket costs like coinsurance, co-pays, and deductibles.
6. Access to doctors, hospitals, and other providers.
7. How much and sometimes how one pays for care.
8. Any existing health issue or physical disability.
9. Type of tax savings available.

The plan you choose should according to your requirements and financial ability.

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Small Business Health Insurance – The Best Policy Is A Great Agent

I have been a health insurance broker for over a decade and every day I read more and more “horror” stories that are posted on the Internet regarding health insurance companies not paying claims, refusing to cover specific illnesses and physicians not getting reimbursed for medical services. Unfortunately, insurance companies are driven by profits, not people (albeit they need people to make profits). If the insurance company can find a legal reason not to pay a claim, chances are they will find it, and you the consumer will suffer. However, what most people fail to realize is that there are very few “loopholes” in an insurance policy that give the insurance company an unfair advantage over the consumer. In fact, insurance companies go to great lengths to detail the limitations of their coverage by giving the policy holders 10-days (a 10-day free look period) to review their policy. Unfortunately, most people put their insurance cards in their wallet and place their policy in a drawer or filing cabinet during their 10-day free look and it usually isn’t until they receive a “denial” letter from the insurance company that they take their policy out to really read through it.

The majority of people, who buy their own health insurance, rely heavily on the insurance agent selling the policy to explain the plan’s coverage and benefits. This being the case, many individuals who purchase their own health insurance plan can tell you very little about their plan, other than, what they pay in premiums and how much they have to pay to satisfy their deductible.

For many consumers, purchasing a health insurance policy on their own can be an enormous undertaking. Purchasing a health insurance policy is not like buying a car, in that, the buyer knows that the engine and transmission are standard, and that power windows are optional. A health insurance plan is much more ambiguous, and it is often very difficult for the consumer to determine what type of coverage is standard and what other benefits are optional. In my opinion, this is the primary reason that most policy holders don’t realize that they do not have coverage for a specific medical treatment until they receive a large bill from the hospital stating that “benefits were denied.”

Sure, we all complain about insurance companies, but we do know that they serve a “necessary evil.” And, even though purchasing health insurance may be a frustrating, daunting and time consuming task, there are certain things that you can do as a consumer to ensure that you are purchasing the type of health insurance coverage you really need at a fair price.

Dealing with small business owners and the self-employed market, I have come to the realization that it is extremely difficult for people to distinguish between the type of health insurance coverage that they “want” and the benefits they really “need.” Recently, I have read various comments on different Blogs advocating health plans that offer 100% coverage (no deductible and no-coinsurance) and, although I agree that those types of plans have a great “curb appeal,” I can tell you from personal experience that these plans are not for everyone. Do 100% health plans offer the policy holder greater peace of mind? Probably. But is a 100% health insurance plan something that most consumers really need? Probably not! In my professional opinion, when you purchase a health insurance plan, you must achieve a balance between four important variables; wants, needs, risk and price. Just like you would do if you were purchasing options for a new car, you have to weigh all these variables before you spend your money. If you are healthy, take no medications and rarely go to the doctor, do you really need a 100% plan with a $5 co-payment for prescription drugs if it costs you $300 dollars more a month?

Is it worth $200 more a month to have a $250 deductible and a $20 brand name/$10 generic Rx co-pay versus an 80/20 plan with a $2,500 deductible that also offers a $20 brand name/$10generic co-pay after you pay a once a year $100 Rx deductible? Wouldn’t the 80/20 plan still offer you adequate coverage? Don’t you think it would be better to put that extra $200 ($2,400 per year) in your bank account, just in case you may have to pay your $2,500 deductible or buy a $12 Amoxicillin prescription? Isn’t it wiser to keep your hard-earned money rather than pay higher premiums to an insurance company?

Yes, there are many ways you can keep more of the money that you would normally give to an insurance company in the form of higher monthly premiums. For example, the federal government encourages consumers to purchase H.S.A. (Health Savings Account) qualified H.D.H.P.’s (High Deductible Health Plans) so they have more control over how their health care dollars are spent. Consumers who purchase an HSA Qualified H.D.H.P. can put extra money aside each year in an interest bearing account so they can use that money to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses. Even procedures that are not normally covered by insurance companies, like Lasik eye surgery, orthodontics, and alternative medicines become 100% tax deductible. If there are no claims that year the money that was deposited into the tax deferred H.S.A can be rolled over to the next year earning an even higher rate of interest. If there are no significant claims for several years (as is often the case) the insured ends up building a sizeable account that enjoys similar tax benefits as a traditional I.R.A. Most H.S.A. administrators now offer thousands of no load mutual funds to transfer your H.S.A. funds into so you can potentially earn an even higher rate of interest.

In my experience, I believe that individuals who purchase their health plan based on wants rather than needs feel the most defrauded or “ripped-off” by their insurance company and/or insurance agent. In fact, I hear almost identical comments from almost every business owner that I speak to. Comments, such as, “I have to run my business, I don’t have time to be sick! “I think I have gone to the doctor 2 times in the last 5 years” and “My insurance company keeps raising my rates and I don’t even use my insurance!” As a business owner myself, I can understand their frustration. So, is there a simple formula that everyone can follow to make health insurance buying easier? Yes! Become an INFORMED consumer.

Every time I contact a prospective client or call one of my client referrals, I ask a handful of specific questions that directly relate to the policy that particular individual currently has in their filing cabinet or dresser drawer. You know the policy that they bought to protect them from having to file bankruptcy due to medical debt. That policy they purchased to cover that $500,000 life-saving organ transplant or those 40 chemotherapy treatments that they may have to undergo if they are diagnosed with cancer.

So what do you think happens almost 100% of the time when I ask these individuals “BASIC” questions about their health insurance policy? They do not know the answers! The following is a list of 10 questions that I frequently ask a prospective health insurance client. Let’s see how many YOU can answer without looking at your policy.

1. What Insurance Company are you insured with and what is the name of your health insurance plan? (e.g. Blue Cross Blue Shield-”Basic Blue”)

2. What is your calendar year deductible and would you have to pay a separate deductible for each family member if everyone in your family became ill at the same time? (e.g. The majority of health plans have a per person yearly deductible, for example, $250, $500, $1,000, or $2,500. However, some plans will only require you to pay a 2 person maximum deductible each year, even if everyone in your family needed extensive medical care.)

3. What is your coinsurance percentage and what dollar amount (stop loss) it is based on? (e.g. A good plan with 80/20 coverage means you pay 20% of some dollar amount. This dollar amount is also known as a stop loss and can vary based on the type of policy you purchase. Stop losses can be as little as $5,000 or $10,000 or as much as $20,000 or there are some policies on the market that have NO stop loss dollar amount.)

4. What is your maximum out of pocket expense per year? (e.g. All deductibles plus all coinsurance percentages plus all applicable access fees or other fees)

5. What is the Lifetime maximum benefit the insurance company will pay if you become seriously ill and does your plan have any “per illness” maximums or caps? (e.g. Some plans may have a $5 million lifetime maximum, but may have a maximum benefit cap of $100,000 per illness. This means that you would have to develop many separate and unrelated life-threatening illnesses costing $100,000 or less to qualify for $5 million of lifetime coverage.)

6. Is your plan a schedule plan, in that it only pays a certain amount for a specific list of procedures? (e.g., Mega Life & Health & Midwest National Life, endorsed by the National Association of the Self-Employed, N.A.S.E. is known for endorsing schedule plans) 7. Does your plan have doctor co-pays and are you limited to a certain number of doctor co-pay visits per year? (e.g. Many plans have a limit of how many times you go to the doctor per year for a co-pay and, quite often the limit is 2-4 visits.)

8. Does your plan offer prescription drug coverage and if it does, do you pay a co-pay for your prescriptions or do you have to meet a separate drug deductible before you receive any benefits and/or do you just have a discount prescription card only? (e.g. Some plans offer you prescription benefits right away, other plans require that you pay a separate drug deductible before you can receive prescription medication for a co-pay. Today, many plans offer no co-pay options and only provide you with a discount prescription card that gives you a 10-20% discount on all prescription medications).

9. Does your plan have any reduction in benefits for organ transplants and if so, what is the maximum your plan will pay if you need an organ transplant? (e.g. Some plans only pay a $100,000 maximum benefit for organ transplants for a procedure that actually costs $350-$500K and this $100,000 maximum may also include reimbursement for expensive anti-rejection medications that must be taken after a transplant. If this is the case, you will often have to pay for all anti-rejection medications out of pocket).

10. Do you have to pay a separate deductible or “access fee” for each hospital admission or for each emergency room visit? (e.g. Some plans, like the Assurant Health’s “CoreMed” plan have a separate $750 hospital admission fee that you pay for the first 3 days you are in the hospital. This fee is in addition to your plan deductible. Also, many plans have benefit “caps” or “access fees” for out-patient services, such as, physical therapy, speech therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, etc. Benefit “caps” could be as little as $500 for each out-patient treatment, leaving you a bill for the remaining balance. Access fees are additional fees that you pay per treatment. For example, for each outpatient chemotherapy treatment, you may be required to pay a $250 “access fee” per treatment. So for 40 chemotherapy treatments, you would have to pay 40 x $250 = $10,000. Again, these fees would be charged in addition to your plan deductible).

Now that you’ve read through the list of questions that I ask a prospective health insurance client, ask yourself how many questions you were able to answer. If you couldn’t answer all ten questions don’t be discouraged. That doesn’t mean that you are not a smart consumer. It may just mean that you dealt with a “bad” insurance agent. So how could you tell if you dealt with a “bad” insurance agent? Because a “great” insurance agent would have taken the time to help you really understand your insurance benefits. A “great” agent spends time asking YOU questions so s/he can understand your insurance needs. A “great” agent recommends health plans based on all four variables; wants, needs, risk and price. A “great” agent gives you enough information to weigh all of your options so you can make an informed purchasing decision. And lastly, a “great” agent looks out for YOUR best interest and NOT the best interest of the insurance company.

So how do you know if you have a “great” agent? Easy, if you were able to answer all 10 questions without looking at your health insurance policy, you have a “great” agent. If you were able to answer the majority of questions, you may have a “good” agent. However, if you were only able to answer a few questions, chances are you have a “bad” agent. Insurance agents are no different than any other professional. There are some insurance agents that really care about the clients they work with, and there are other agents that avoid answering questions and duck client phone calls when a message is left about unpaid claims or skyrocketing health insurance rates.

Remember, your health insurance purchase is just as important as purchasing a house or a car, if not more important. So don’t be afraid to ask your insurance agent a lot of questions to make sure that you understand what your health plan does and does not cover. If you don’t feel comfortable with the type of coverage that your agent suggests or if you think the price is too high, ask your agent if s/he can select a comparable plan so you can make a side by side comparison before you purchase. And, most importantly, read all of the “fine print” in your health plan brochure and when you receive your policy, take the time to read through your policy during your 10-day free look period.

If you can’t understand something, or aren’t quite sure what the asterisk (*) next to the benefit description really means in terms of your coverage, call your agent or contact the insurance company to ask for further clarification.

Furthermore, take the time to perform your own due diligence. For example, if you research MEGA Life and Health or the Midwest National Life insurance company, endorsed by the National Association for the Self Employed (NASE), you will find that there have been 14 class action lawsuits brought against these companies since 1995. So ask yourself, “Is this a company that I would trust to pay my health insurance claims?

Additionally, find out if your agent is a “captive” agent or an insurance “broker.” “Captive” agents can only offer ONE insurance company’s products.” Independent” agents or insurance “brokers” can offer you a variety of different insurance plans from many different insurance companies. A “captive” agent may recommend a health plan that doesn’t exactly meet your needs because that is the only plan s/he can sell. An “independent” agent or insurance “broker” can usually offer you a variety of different insurance products from many quality carriers and can often customize a plan to meet your specific insurance needs and budget.

Over the years, I have developed strong, trusting relationships with my clients because of my insurance expertise and the level of personal service that I provide. This is one of the primary reasons that I do not recommend buying health insurance on the Internet. In my opinion, there are too many variables that Internet insurance buyers do not often take into consideration. I am a firm believer that a health insurance purchase requires the level of expertise and personal attention that only an insurance professional can provide. And, since it does not cost a penny more to purchase your health insurance through an agent or broker, my advice would be to use eBay and Amazon for your less important purchases and to use a knowledgeable, ethical and reputable independent agent or broker for one of the most important purchases you will ever make….your health insurance policy.

Lastly, if you have any concerns about an insurance company, contact your state’s Department of Insurance BEFORE you buy your policy. Your state’s Department of Insurance can tell you if the insurance company is registered in your state and can also tell you if there have been any complaints against that company that have been filed by policy holders. If you suspect that your agent is trying to sell you a fraudulent insurance policy, (e.g. you have to become a member of a union to qualify for coverage) or isn’t being honest with you, your state’s Department of Insurance can also check to see if your agent is licensed and whether or not there has ever been any disciplinary action previously taken against that agent.

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Disparities in US Healthcare System

Healthcare disparities pose a major challenge to the diverse 21st century America. Demographic trends indicate that the number of Americans who are vulnerable to suffering the effects of healthcare disparities will rise over the next half century. These trends pose a daunting challenge for policymakers and the healthcare system. Wide disparities exist among groups on the basis of race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geography. Healthcare disparities have occurred across different regional populations, economic cohorts, and racial/ethnic groups as well as between men and women. Education and income related disparities have also been seen. Social, cultural and economic factors are responsible for inequalities in the healthcare system.

The issue of racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare have exploded onto the public stage. The causes of these disparities have been divided into health system factors and patient-provider factors. Health system factors include language and cultural barriers, the tendency for racial minorities to have lower-end health plans, and the lack of community resources, such as adequately stocked pharmacies in minority neighborhoods. Patient-provider factors include provider bias against minority patients, greater clinical uncertainty when treating minority patients, stereotypes about minority health behaviors and compliance, and mistrust and refusal of care by minority patients themselves who have had previous negative experiences with the healthcare system.

The explanation for the racial and ethnic disparities is that minorities tend to be poor and less educated, with less access to care and they tend to live in places where doctors and hospitals provide lower quality care than elsewhere. Cultural or biological differences also play a role, and there is a long-running debate on how subtle racism infects the healthcare system. Inadequate transportation or the lack of knowledge among minorities about hospital quality could also be factors of inadequate care. Racial disparities are most likely a shared responsibility of plans, providers and patients. There’s probably not one factor that explains all of the disparity, but health plans do play an important role. Racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare do not occur in isolation. They are a part of the broader social and economic inequality experienced by minorities in many sectors. Many parts of the system including health plans, health care providers and patients may contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in health care.

It is seen that there are significant disparities in the quality of care delivered to racial and ethnic minorities. There is a need to combat the root causes of discrimination within our healthcare system. Racial or ethnic differences in the quality of healthcare needs to be taken care of. This can be done by understanding multilevel determinants of healthcare disparities, including individual belief and preferences, effective patient-provider communication and the organizational culture of the health care system.

To build a healthier America, a much-needed framework for a broad national effort is required to research the reasons behind healthcare disparities and to develop workable solutions. If these inequalities grow in access, they can contribute to and exacerbate existing disparities in health and quality of life, creating barriers to a strong and productive life.

There is a need to form possible strategies and interventions that may be able to lessen and perhaps even eliminate these differences. It is largely determined by assumptions about the etiology of a given disparity. Some disparities may be driven, for example, by gaps in access and insurance coverage, and the appropriate strategy will directly address these shortcomings. The elimination of disparities will help to ensure that all patients receive evidence-based care for their condition. Such an approach will help establish quality improvement in the healthcare industry.

Reducing disparities is increasingly seen as part of improving quality overall. The focus should be to understand their underlying causes and design interventions to reduce or eliminate them. The strategy of tackling disparities as part of quality improvement programs has gained significant attraction nationally. National leadership is needed to push for innovations in quality improvement, and to take actions that reduce disparities in clinical practice, health professional education, and research.

The programs and polices to reduce and potentially eliminate disparities should be informed by research that identifies and targets the underlying causes of lower performance in hospitals. By eliminating disparities, the hospitals will become even more committed to the community. This will help to provide culturally competent care and also improve community connections. It will stimulate substantial progress in the quality of service that hospitals offer to its diverse patient community. Ongoing work to eliminate health disparities will help the healthcare departments to continually evaluate the patient satisfaction with services and achieve equality in healthcare services.

It is important to use some interventions to reduce healthcare disparities. Successful features of interventions include the use of multifaceted, intense approaches, culturally and linguistically appropriate methods, improved access to care, tailoring, the establishment of partnerships with stakeholders, and community involvement. This will help in ensuring community commitment and serve the health needs of the community.

There is the need to address these disparities on six fronts: increasing access to quality health care, patient care, provider issues, systems that deliver health care, societal concerns, and continued research. A well-functioning system would have minimal differences among groups in terms of access to and quality of healthcare services. This will help to bring single standard of care for people of all walks of life.

Elimination of health care disparities will help to build a healthier America. Improving population health and reducing healthcare disparities would go hand in hand. In the health field, organizations exist to meet human needs. It is important to analyze rationally as to what actions would contribute to eliminate the disparities in the healthcare field, so that human needs are fulfilled in a conducive way.

Meenu Arora has contributed her articles for both online and hard copy magazines. Her articles have also been published in international magazines. Presently working in the healthcare industry, she has also written and edited Health Q-A columns for international magazine for 5 years.

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New Careers in Physical Therapy

If you are interested in a profession in the medical industry that is very hands on, but does not involve doing surgery or working in an office all day, a physical therapy degree might be just right.

Especially geared toward individuals who enjoy physical fitness, sports medicine and helping patients one on one, PT jobs are a great in-between that can be very fun, very rewarding, and make a real difference in other people’s lives.

While all doctors and medical personnel help people, a physical therapist is frequently the last specialist to work with patients after surgical procedures or illness, and through sometimes very long treatment processes, so they get to experience not only the hard work and the pain of therapy, but the joys of helping people get well again.

For a real people-person, going to school to become a physical therapist could be a wonderful career choice.

Physical Therapy Requirements

The educational requirements for someone to get a PT degree includes first obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree (which is required for entry into any physical therapy programs), and then completing a graduate program at any one of a number of accredited physical therapy schools.

A few graduate programs offer early guaranteed admissions programs for some students as well, where the students gain guaranteed future acceptance into the PT program while they are still high school students, and as long as they complete a required set of undergraduate college courses first.

In either case, it is of great importance that students make sure to choose only Commission on Accreditation in PT Education (CAPTE) accredited courses so that they fulfill the necessary educational requirements, both as undergraduate and graduate students or they will not be permitted to sit for their licensing examination.

Once enrolled in a program, there are two different degrees that a PT can earn, either a Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT), or a Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) or Master of Science in Physical Therapy (MSPT). DPT programs are professional entry-level degrees that all physical therapists must complete.

MPT or MSPT programs are continued education, specialty programs that can be taken after a physical therapist has earned their DPT. The DTP physical therapy degree program typically takes three years to complete. Upon obtaining their degree, physical therapists may then take their board licensure examination so they can become employed in their field.

In the UK, degree qualifications differ slightly in that schooling requirements to become a PT are currently that of a Bachelor’s Degree in Physiotherapy, only, with the DPT degree considered to be post-professional, continued education. However, this is supposed to change within the next few years, to where UK PTs will all be required to earn a DPT degree as well.

Physical Therapy Jobs

In order to hold a job as a physical therapist, professionals must have passed their state licensure exam so they may practice in their state. If they relocate to another area, a PT must take the licensing exam for that state in order to be allowed to get a new job.

In the US alone, there are close to 200,000 physical therapists licensed to practice at many different types of facilities, with many more individuals working as physical therapists in other countries.

PTs are employed by both inpatient and outpatient hospital facilities, physical therapy clinics, fitness centers, skilled nursing centers, extended care facilities, schools, hospices, educational and research facilities, private workplaces and sports medicine practices all over the world.

Main duties include assessing patient initial condition, implementing prescribed physical therapy requests by referring physicians, teaching proper use of physical therapy equipment, tailoring therapy to each patient’s ability and progression, and carefully monitoring that progress and reporting it back to the referring physician.

Physical Therapy Salary

Entry-level salary for a PT in the US is around $80,000 annually as of 2011, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). In the UK, starting salary according to the National Health Service (NHS) is £21,176 – £27,534 (band 5).

In both cases, PT salary rates rises substantially with experience and years on the job, and can increase up to as much as $100,000 or more in the US and up to band 7 (£40,157) in the UK (or higher in the private sector). Naturally, PTs who specialize will make slightly more than the base salary brackets.

Interested individuals who would like to learn more about physical therapy schools and program accreditation should contact their country’s professional association for physical therapists, which will be able to point prospective students in the right direction.

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Important Information on Earning a Physical Therapy Degree

Getting a physical therapy degree takes time, hard work and dedication. It requires 7 to 8 years of college education and clinical experience learning for those wishing to become degreed, licensed professionals who are eligible for employment as a physical therapist.

Physical therapy programs or `PT Programs` are a demanding course of study, but the good news is it is also one of the professions that provide the highest amounts of personal satisfaction to those in the field.

Not only do PTs enjoy the benefits of ease of finding employment due to an increasing demand, as well as a highly competitive salary, these professionals report the highest levels of satisfaction and self worth in that they have made a difference in other people’s lives, a feeling that is invaluable.

Educational Requirements for a Physical Therapy Degree

Students interested in becoming a PT must first complete four years of undergraduate learning at an accredited college or university.

It is recommended to know ahead of time which PT program the student will likely apply to, and understand their prerequisite requirements in order to make the most efficient use of undergraduate time, enrolling in the courses that will help the student gain acceptance into their program of choice.

In most cases, prerequisite classes include English classes, maths and sciences, providing the essential base education on which the more specialized sciences and other classes in their physical therapy major will build on.

In order to receive a PT degree, students must first earn their Bachelor’s degree, and then graduate a physical therapy postgraduate program to receive their degree of DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy.

Postgradute learning is largely done in the clinical setting, although there are some classroom courses as well. Working externships are a required part of obtaining their degree as well. Then, once graduated, students can take their licensing examination in order to be eligible for employment as a licensed physical therapist.

Transitional Physical Therapy Degree

Recently, there have been some changes made to the degree earned by physical therapists, requiring some professionals to update their degree from what has been termed a “transitional” DPT degree to the now accepted professional DPT degree.

In the past, there were two degrees offered depending on the physical therapy school, either the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), or the Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) or Master of Science in Physical Therapy (MSPT).

With how the profession has grown in the past 10 years or so, and the desire to standardize educational and professional requirements to obtain degrees, most countries now recognize the DPT as the main degree, and most schools have updated their curriculum’s so that they now offer this degree as well.

These changes, and this necessity to update degrees, stems from the public perception of the degree of “doctor” as opposed to “master”, and the need to continually update the education of those practitioners who have been in the field for a while, as therapies have gone through great change in recent years.

Updates On MSPT Degrees

It has been stated by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) that by the year 2020, all clinicians graduating from physical therapy programs will earn the degree of Doctor of Physical Therapy, and the MPT or MSPT degrees will no longer be recognized. Physical therapy schools are required to offer only a DPT degree by 2015.

Those PTs holding a degree of MPT or MSTP, or even DPT degrees which for some reason do not carry the same educational and clinical experience requirements as most others, are being encouraged to take the necessary transitional courses to receive their upgraded, professional DPT degree.

As the main governing professional organizations like the APTA in the US and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) in the UK begin to finalize the standardization of degree requirements, it is likely any PTs holding an MPT, MSPT or a t-DPT (transitional DPT, for graduates of programs currently being changed to fit created standards) will be required to take continuing education courses to elevate their transitional degrees to the new, accepted professional DPT.

PT School Recommendations

Recommendations for those interested in enrolling in school to become a PT is to find a program that is accredited by their country’s professional accreditation organization, ensure that the degree offered is the professional Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), and then find out which courses should be taken during undergraduate education to increase the chance of acceptance into the program of choice.

Most PT degree programs do not have open enrollment, meaning they accept only the best students who are prepared for the demanding clinical work ahead in order to earn their degree.

With the right preparation, and making sure to apply to the right schools, a student will have the best chance of success in gaining the best education and then getting the best position as a qualified physical therapist.

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Getting a Physical Therapy Certification

Physical therapy is a great health career for those interested in the more physical aspects of patient care, rehabilitation, and helping people get through the injuries and illnesses that can happen in life.

It is a highly demanding profession, but also said to be one of the most valuable and well-regarded where personal satisfaction is concerned, having been named one of the happiest and best jobs overall by US News & World Report magazine in their annual list of #100 Best Jobs.

There is also the option to continue their education and get their physical therapy certification, opening up the possibility for specializing, and even more job opportunities making it easy to see how careers in physical therapy can be a great path for those individuals who are interested in these specialized rehabilitation areas.

Advanced Careers with Physical Therapy Certification

Becoming a board certified physical therapist is the second-highest qualification that you can gain, one which enables them to specialize in a number of different areas of their profession.

It can be a long road to do so, but it is one filled with many different educational opportunities and learning environments. Prior to becoming board certified however, licensed physical therapists must first fulfill a residency in physical therapy.

After becoming board certified, you may then continue in their specialty even further by taking a Fellowship, which is the highest level of education and specialty available to licensed professionals.

Physical Therapy Residency – After completion of all postgraduate schooling and passing their national licensing examination, those holding the degree of Doctor of Physical Therapy (or MPT, or MSPT), then apply for residency in an available program which will provide them with a higher level of “real life” education while actually working as a physical therapist.

Other Requirements

Residencies usually last between 9 and 36 months and involve 1500 hours of service in a variety of settings in order to complete the requirements. PT residencies more specialized, currently available in the following areas: Cardiovascular and Pulmonary, Clinical Electrophysiology, Geriatrics, Neurology, Orthopedics, Pediatrics, Sports, Women’s Health, and Wound Care.

Physical Therapy Fellowships – Fellowships provide yet even more experience and education toward a specialty or sub-specialty area. In order to qualify to apply to a fellowship, PTs must have one or more of the following qualifications: they must have graduated a residency program, they must be board-certified, and they must show exceptional clinical skills in an area of specialty to be considered.

If accepted to a fellowship, You will accrue another 6 to 36 months and 1000 hours of more highly specialized learning in one of the following areas: Hand Therapy, Movement Science, Neonatal, Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy, and Sports – Division 1 Athletics. Many go on to teach, consult, or help to outline future residency and fellowship programs, as well as see patients in their specialty areas.

Becoming Certified in a Physical Therapy Specialty

Board approval in through specialty physical therapy certification is overseen and awarded in the US by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS), which also maintains a set of standards that residency and fellowship programs must uphold.

They also dictate the necessary qualifications that you must have in order to become board certified and receive a certification in any of the above-named specialty areas, and provide numerous means for licensed professionals to increase their education and advance their professional development.

Board certification in these areas involves fulfilling all clinical experience and educational requirements, then taking and passing an examination given by the ABPTS.

Certification is applicable for 10 years, after which those certified must re-test in their specialty, as well as fulfill a number of other qualifications. Failure to obtain re-certification by the date of expiry of the current certification will cause the PT to have their certification removed.

It is possible to – and recommended – for those holding physical therapy certification in any specialty begin their recertification process up to three years before their expiry date.

Although the profession is one that holds great importance the world over, and has seen dramatic growth over recent past years with estimation of continued growth, qualifications and certification practices vary greatly from country to country.

US requirements tend to be stricter than most for PTs there is a shift happening in the world of physical therapy as other countries are beginning to increase their educational and professional requirements, possibly due to increased demand, as well as knowledge of newer and better therapies.

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A Systemic Problem in Our Healthcare System

Those of you who are old enough to remember the Australian bush nurse Sister Kenny (1880-1952), will no doubt recall the brouhaha she caused within the medical establishment of her time. Elizabeth Kenny had devised a treatment for polio that was universally castigated by doctors of the day. In fact her methods proved time and again to be efficacious and became the forerunner for the practice of physical therapy as we know it today.

The reason Sister Kenny, and her struggles with the established order of medicine, is brought to mind is that licensed medical doctors all too often behave like members of a closed-shop union. In such an environment, no one is allowed to do work that is perceived as encroaching on their specialty, without consequent castigation and sanction. And, they vigorously lobby for laws to protect them from perceived interlopers.

In Sister Kenny’s case, she struggled for years to get her therapeutic methods accepted, even in the face of observable success, and admiring testimonials from patients. The medical profession cast aspersions on her methods and her person, largely because she wasn’t an accredited practitioner (only a nurse), and her methods contradicted generally accepted treatment standards.

In today’s contentious health care environment, alternative treatments are greatly frowned upon, and their practitioners ridiculed. Ask licensed doctors what they think of acupuncture, chiropractic, aroma or muscle activation therapy, and they will almost always turn up their noses. In fact, they have convinced the insurance industry that these methods are nothing more than palliatives bordering on quackery. Thus, patients are channeled into much more expensive surgical and drug treatments that often times provide no relief.

This is not to say that there aren’t quacks hovering around the practice of alternative medicine, just as there are quacks who are licensed to practice the approved variety. It is also not claimed that there alternative methods for all sicknesses or diseases. But it is also true that in most professions, wherever there is a buck to be made, a surfeit of willing hands will extend to accommodate. We see desperately sick people try all sorts of last gasp treatments, especially after traditional medicine has given up on them. And these alternative methods seldom work.

However, in the less well defined areas of pain management, due to a variety of causes, modern medicine has proven to be quite fallible. Countless thousands of people suffer through painful days of agony with only the promise of relief provided by dangerous drugs. Doctors prescribe many unproven medications because their pharmaceutical rep told them this was the cutting edge drug du jour for pain management. Big Pharma and the medical profession work hand and glove to push their latest (and expensive) drug on suffering patients. And since only licensed doctors can dispense them, this conduit is exploited by both parties. Why there might even be a financial incentive for the prescribing doctor. Heavens!

Because of the built-in aversion to examining or even testing alternative therapies, the healthcare system is saddled with more expensive, “accredited” treatments that push the insured patients in that direction.

Even though back surgery has been shown to be less than 50% effective, and much less costly alternative therapies have proven efficacious, they are ignored. Worse, just as in Sister Kenny’s case, they are scoffed at by the establishment. Such are the ironic side-effects of our costly for-profit health care system.

As another example of padding the bottom line is a practice that is becoming more common. Doctors are increasingly insisting on patients coming in for an office visit just to renew a prescription. Admittedly for some drugs it is necessary to monitor side effects (another indication of how dangerous some of them are), but in many cases it is totally unnecessary. As cuts in Medicare go into effect (which will increase, rather than cut costs), doctors will seek more ways to supplement their income. Once a professional is used to a certain level of earnings (no matter the discipline), it’s hard to accept less. Doctors are no exception.

So, the bottom line is that there just might be ways to improve both the costs of health care and the patients’ welfare by researching and approving alternative therapies. Sadly, that’s not even on the table for discussion.

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Physical Therapy Colleges and Programs of Study Which Are Offered

Nowadays a lot of school graduates think about their future careers. They usually know their likings and wishes and they try to strive to their aims. Being in a high school they understand what courses they have to finish in order to enroll successfully in this or that university.

There are a lot of different professions. Each student tries to find his or her destiny. Some of students are willing to become teachers, some of them would like to find a job in the field of technique, some students prefer to become economists and also some students would like to have a job in the field of medicine. The field of medicine is very diverse and is very useful for people. Usually specialists in the field of health and care are the most required professionals.

One of the branches of this field is the physical therapy. Physical therapy is very important and required branch because a lot of people have problems with their physical health or have some disabilities. That’s why there should be such professionals because they help people to move freely.

Physical therapy (or physiotherapy), often abbreviated PT, is a health care profession which aim is to restore functional ability and quality of life of people who have physical impairments or disabilities. Physical therapists (or physiotherapists) are primary healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat people of all ages, from newborns to the very oldest, who have different medical problems or other health related troubles, illnesses, or injuries that restrict their abilities to move and perform definite functional activities. Physical therapists examine each person and develop a proper plan using treatment techniques to contribute the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. In addition, Physical therapists work with individuals to preclude the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles, providing services to individuals and populations to create, maintain and restore the highest level of movement and functional ability throughout the lifespan. This includes providing services in circumstances where movement and function are threatened by injury, disease or environmental factors. Functional movement is the most important to what it means to be healthy.

Physical therapy has many specialties including cardiopulmonary, geriatrics, neurologic, orthopedic and pediatrics, to name some of the more common areas. Physical therapists practice in many settings, such as outpatient clinics or offices, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing facilities, extended care facilities, private homes, education and research centers, schools, hospices, industrial workplaces or other occupational environments, fitness centers and sports training facilities.

You can start your education of physical therapist in the college in the United States and Canada. Physical therapy colleges offer a great variety of diploma, certificates and degree programs depending on the course of study in which you would like to enter.

For those who just begin their education, a lot of therapy colleges offer doctoral and master’s degree programs to those students who have already done with the bachelor’s degree in related sciences. These obligatory degree programs include such courses as human anatomy, kinesiology, functional training, exercise, growth and development, prevention and intervention, psychosocial studies, orthotics and prosthetics, pharmacology, clinical orthopedics, electrotherapeutic modalities, rehabilitation, joint examination, and of course, physical therapies; among other associated subject matter. All these courses are very important for a physical therapist because they include the knowledge of the basis of the body and all possible variations of treatment of one and the same muscle and other parts of the body.

If you would like to become more advanced in training of physical therapy, then you can be offered four years of training. This is offered by physical therapy college. But this is only if you are willing to become more experienced and advanced. Usually the completing of diploma or certificate in the physical therapy college takes not more that the period of two years.

As for the studying on the bachelor degree program, you should know that it requires more thorough and detailed education. If you study by the bachelor degree program in the physical therapy college, then you will get acquainted with such courses as biomechanics, massage, anatomy, pharmacology, and other clinical sciences like orthopedics, clinical medicine and neurology, and other relative training. But you have mention that studying by the bachelor degree program will take four years, and only after studying four years you can complete your education and become a physical therapist.

There is one more opportunity for those who would like to become a physical therapy assistant. This opportunity can be given by accredited degree programs in the physical therapy colleges. This is an excellent opportunity for the candidates on the position of the physical therapy assistant. In different colleges the curriculum is very different, but usually the main courses don’t change. In order to become a physical therapy assistant you have to complete such courses as anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, as well as psychology. In most cases, different physical therapist educational programs in different physical therapy colleges provide students with training and certification in the basic first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). It is fact that education and training are the most important and essential as for physical therapists and for physical therapist aides. But you should know that the most important for these professions are skills and experience which are usually gained through internships and through different additional trainings on the job.

So, you have to make a right choice and be able to understand that the profession of the physical therapist is very difficult and requires a lot of effort and time. You have to be sure that you really would like to help people and take part in their lives. To be a physical therapist is very difficult and you should know that it requires a lot of time on education and training. In this article you’ve got to know about the physical therapy degree programs in the therapy colleges of United States of America and Canada. These colleges provide three degrees such as bachelor, master and doctoral. According to the degree you will have definite requirements of education. If you would like to become a physical therapist in two years, then you are welcome to complete your education by finishing the bachelor degree program. But except this you have to have a lot of trainings. Training in this profession is very important and it is required to have training for a long period of time. So, if you are sure that you definitely would like to become a physical therapist, then you have to choose the physical therapy college. You have to choose thoroughly, because your choice is the first step into your successful future career. The college which you will choose has to be accredited, because only in accredited colleges you will receive perfect education and you will definitely be given a proper job. So, if it is your dream, just be patient and try to move forward to your dream. Try to follow all the requirements given in the article and listen to the opinions of those people who know about this profession. Also it is advisable to search for the information in the internet. In the internet you can find a lot of useful information about physical therapy colleges and programs. There you can find requirements for admission and additional information about colleges and programs offered. Follow this information and you will definitely achieve your aim and also you will definitely have a successful profession in future.

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Obtaining of a Physical Therapy Degree Online

Recently a lot of students being in a high school think about their future careers. They usually understand and know their likings and wishes and they try to do everything in order to get closer to their aims. While in a high school they understand what courses they have to finish in order to enter successfully into the university which they like and wish.

There is a great variety of professions. Each student tries to find his or her own way on a professional path. Some of students are willing to become teachers, some of them would like to find a job in the field of technique, some students prefer to become economists and also some students would like to have a job in the field of medicine. The field of medicine is very diverse and is very useful for people. Usually professionals in the field of health and care are the most required specialists.

One of the branches of the field of health and care is the physical therapy. Physical therapy is very necessary and required branch nowadays because a lot of people have different problems with their physical health or have some disabilities. That’s why there should be professional physical therapists because they help people to move freely and become healthier.

Physical therapy is a branch of medicine that helps to treat people who have health problems, injuries, illnesses, or surgeries that limit their possibility of mobility and range of motion. The conditions which are treated by physical therapists include sports injuries, joint replacements, orthopedic surgery, burns, job-related conditions, and others. The physical therapist usually uses different treatment techniques that reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. Physical therapists work in such establishments as hospitals, outpatient facilities, and private offices. Physical therapists must be strong and able to move heavy equipment and lift patients.

Those students who are interested in healthcare for sports or physical activities can obtain a career in physical therapy. Physical therapists have to be strong in academics, especially science and have perfect interpersonal skills with the ability to communicate with others. The responsibilities of physical therapists include improving the physical condition of the patients like the proper functioning of limbs after an injury, surgery or illness, improving mobility, and reducing pain. They also work with patients who have different severe injuries or diseases like lower back pain, arthritis, cerebral palsy, to preserve physical disabilities from occurring or to restrain the effects of these disabilities. Those people who suffer from heart diseases or other related health problems are also recommended to use a physical therapist to treat joint pains and muscle problems.

For those students who wish to obtain an academic degree or who would like to continue their studies in their current field, there are many variants for education available. With such diverse activities and distractions in the daily lives of people, many of them are too busy to attend full-time courses at school in order to get their degree. Online degree programs offer different opportunities for people to take classes at their own wish and time while working toward graduation. The increased usage of Internet and computer in recent years has multiplied. This made the online degree programs very available variant for busy people. There are many kinds of classes and programs offered for online degrees.

Online educational programs are the best opportunity with the help of which you can obtain the specialty already working and having too little time for study. Obtaining the physical therapy degree will give you the possibility to help people to treat their injuries. But you should mention that the very important thing is that you have to mention the reputation and accreditation of the higher educational establishment in which you will enroll and will get your online physical therapy degree. You can make a research of accredited schools by joining different online forums where people usually share their opinions about the specific course of physical therapy. You can get there the best piece of advice from people who have some experience in getting this degree.

The online physical therapy degree programs are usually very convenient and can be completed in a very short period of time. There are different online physical therapy higher educational establishments which offer diverse courses the aim of which is to understand the human form and muscles. If you have already chosen the proper establishment for you, then you have to have some training in order to be able to maintain and restore patient’s health and shape. If you don’t choose yet the school, then you can have an opportunity to try yourself in one of the most popular online physical therapy degree schools which is called the Associate of Applied Science in Physical Therapy.

These courses usually prepare students for the first level in the profession of physical therapy, after these courses students can become physical therapy assistants. On this level you have to complete such courses as physiology, anatomy, communication, and the like. There are also offered physical therapy nurse programs which usually train students to help the patients to restore the function of the body, reduce pain, and increase the mobility of a patient. After getting the online therapy degree nurses usually work in such establishments as hospitals, physical therapy clinics and also in private clinics.

When you decided to get the online physical therapy program, then you have to know that there will be some documentary requirements which you will have to complete and fill out. Such requirements usually differ from one school to another. When you complete everything, you have to make sure that you prepared for that emotionally and mentally. Getting the online physical therapy degree will not make you very exhausted physically, but you still will need to be strong and prepared for difficulties.

You also have to know that it is advisable for you not to miss some online classes which are required as well as the on-campus trainings. They will be required from time to time. Because of the fact that this is a physical therapy course, it will be required to have the on-hand training. These are the only periods of time when you will have to be present in school. It is better for you to manage your schedule and time wisely and efficiently in that way that you will have an opportunity to complete the course without any problems. If you have a lot of intention and dedication to the study, an online physical therapy degree will be worth your efforts.

So, you have to make a right decision and be able to understand that the profession of the physical therapist is very difficult and requires a lot of effort and time. You have to be sure that you are really willing to help people and take part in their lives taking care of them and treating them. To be a physical therapist is very difficult and you should know that it requires a lot of time on receiving education and training. In this article you’ve got to know about the physical therapy degree program online and its advantages. The physical therapy colleges and universities offer three degrees such as bachelor, master and doctoral. It is good for you if you have obtained the bachelor’s degree, but it is really advisable for you to obtain the doctoral degree. Besides the online physical therapy degree is provided only on the doctoral level. But except this you have to obtain a lot of training. Training in this profession is very important and it is required to have training for a long period of time. If you are a practicing physical therapist or just have a willing to continue your education, it is greater for you to obtain your doctoral degree online. So, if you are sure that you definitely would like to become a physical therapist, you have to choose the physical therapy higher educational establishment. Your choice must be very precise, because your choice is the first step into your successful future profession. The college or school which you will choose has to be definitely accredited, because only in accredited colleges you will receive perfect and proper education and you will definitely be given a great job. So, if it is your dream, just be patient and try to go and move forward to your dream. Try to follow all the requirements given in the article and listen to the opinions of those people who know about this profession and have some experience in it. Also it is advisable to search for the information in the internet. In the internet there is a lot of useful information about physical therapy colleges and schools and different online programs. There you can find requirements for admission and additional information about higher educational establishments and online programs offered. Follow this information and you will definitely achieve your aim and also you will definitely have a successful profession in future.

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