SmartMoney Blogs

Pay Dirt
A daily look at what we buy, how we spend, and the companies that do right - and wrong - by their customers.

Healthcare - All posts in category Healthcare

  • Aug 31, 2012
    3:03 PM ET

    How to Save on College Health Plans

    As colleges upgrade their health plans to comply with the Affordable Care Act, some students (or their parents) may end up paying higher premiums.

    New regulations require the phasing out of caps on benefits, coverage of certain “essential” services and the elimination of co-pays for preventive care, including contraceptives. To cover these extra costs, several colleges have raised the price of their health plans. Others, particularly smaller schools, are choosing to drop coverage altogether.

  • Mar 9, 2012
    1:33 PM ET

    McDonald’s Profit, Americans Tip Scales


    McDonald’s healthier menu changed little: the fast-food giant’s profits are still growing – and so are American waistlines. The nation continues to fatten, according to a new survey. Some 26.1% of American adults defined themselves as obese in 2011, according to the “Well-Being Index” carried out by market research group Gallup and healthcare consultancy Healthways.

    These unflattering figures were extracted from Gallup’s daily tracking polls of over 350,000 people and the obesity rates were self-reported. Worse, the real obesity rate is closer to one-third of the population, says Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Washington-based non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest, as people tend to underestimate their own body weight.

  • Feb 10, 2012
    4:45 PM ET

    Bacon Milkshake: The Grossest Drink in America?


    Move over Paula Deen, cardiologists have a new worst nightmare. Jack in the Box launched a Bacon Shake – a drink for those determined to slurp pork through a straw.

    The shake is the headline-grabbing weapon in Jack in the Box’s provocative new “Marry Bacon” drive to promote its bacon products. Launched this month, the campaign’s slogan: “Love bacon? Marry it!” The Bacon Shake is made with real vanilla ice-cream, bacon-flavored maple syrup, whipped cream and topped off with a maraschino cherry. Jack in the Box spokesman Brian Luscomb says, “It’s a fun way to generate buzz for our brand.” And generate calories for his customers? “Shakes are definitely an indulgent treat,” he says. The 16-ounce version has 773 calories and 319 milligrams of sodium, while the bumper 24-ounce cup has 1,081 calories and 461 milligrams of sodium – which is nearly one-third of the daily intake of sodium recommended by nutritionists.

  • Jan 30, 2012
    3:50 PM ET

    Why Nutritionists Can’t Eat Fast-Food Profits


    Fast food restaurant sales are rising in large part due to bigger, juicier, prime beef burgers with delicious sounding names – not healthy options like salads and apple slices, experts say.

    In fact, fast-food sales continue to grow even as the chains increase prices. McDonald’s raised menu prices 3% in 2011. At Wendy’s, the recently released Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy” burger costs $3.49 to $5.79 depending on the size, a 10 to 20 cent increase on previous Wendy’s burgers of that size. Wendy’s is selling more hamburgers, fries and salads than a year ago, says spokesman Denny Lynch.  But Morningstar analyst Joscelyn MacKay says “no-one purposefully goes to a fast-food restaurant because it’s the healthiest choice.”

  • Jan 10, 2012
    9:57 AM ET

    CES: A Weight-Watching Plan for Baby

    Kelli B. Grant

    Last year, one of the most-buzzed about CES innovations was a baby monitor from Withings that lets parents use an app on their cellphone to peek in via a connected camera perched in baby’s room.

    We’re skeptical that a baby scale will create the same kind of interest or demand as a high-tech baby monitor, especially at an estimated price of $150 to $170 when it launches during the second quarter. “If Grandma and Grandpa want to know the baby’s weight every day, I guess this is the way to do it,” says Michelle Madhok, chief executive of deal site But largely, she says, it’s just more evidence of parental over-sharing and a broader consumer obsession with tracking all kinds of data.

  • Nov 28, 2011
    1:20 PM ET

    Do Doctors Write Too Many Prescriptions?


    Are American doctors too Rx-happy?

    As the government issues new warnings about the rise in prescription drug abuse, over half (52%) of Americans believe that doctors are too loose when it comes to dishing out prescriptions, according to a new survey. The survey, carried out by news, polling and social media site Poll Position, showed little difference between Republican voters (54%) and Democrats (55%) who were critical of physicians.

    Of those who took part in the survey, men and African-Americans felt strongest about this topic.  Around 53% of men and 59% of African Americans thought too many prescription drugs were given out by doctors;  51% of women agreed with that statement.

    Some experts believe that it isn’t just doctors at fault. There is also increased demand from patients, helped by aggressive advertising by pharmaceutical companies. Ann Woloson, executive director of of the U.S. Prescription Policy Choices, a non-profit consumer advocacy group based in Washington D.C. that campaigns for more affordable prices, says prescriptions for psychotropic medication in children and adolescents increased five-fold in the U.S. over the last decade helped by the marketing of such drugs. That’s nearly twice the rate in many European countries. “More needs to be done to counter the marketing of unnecessary drugs,” says Woloson.

  • Nov 1, 2011
    3:34 PM ET

    Drug Industry: Higher Prices Would End Shortages


    The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t agree with President Barack Obama’s prescription for averting the drug shortages that frequently leave cancer patients waiting for vital treatments. As was reported yesterday, Obama ordered the Food and Drug Administration to set up an early-warning system to prevent such medical shortfalls before they result in skyrocketing prices.

    Drug companies, however, say a better way to prevent the shortages would be to remove restrictions on how much they can charge for generic medications. In other words: higher prices. The FDA does not have the authority to force companies to produce the cheaper generic medicines, but the prospect of higher profits could do the trick, says the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America – an industry group.

    If market forces set prices for older generic drugs it would boost supply, says Devon Herrick, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a non-profit think-tank. “The problem is government price controls,” he says. “Firms don’t want to produce some of these drugs because there isn’t any money in it.”

  • Aug 18, 2011
    10:34 AM ET

    Blood Pressure Alert: Health Care Costs Set to Climb


    Consumers can’t get a break. Food prices keep rising, the market remains volatile and now health care costs are on the way up.

    The cost of employee health care benefits is expected to rise by more than 7% in 2012, according to a report released today by the National Business Group on Health, a non-profit industry association.

    In response, employers are planning to shift more of those costs to workers. Next year, more than half of employers plan to increase how much employees contribute to premiums and 39% plan to raise in-network deductibles, according to the same survey.

  • Aug 12, 2011
    5:09 PM ET

    Smile – But Only If You Have Dental Insurance


    Do Americans have more in common with their European cousins than they realized? Nearly half of Americans lack dental insurance and nearly three-quarters of those without such coverage are neglecting their teeth, a new study says. It may be a cliché, but Americans are famous for their pearly whites and porcelain veneers, while Europeans are often derided in the media for their wooden-looking teeth. If there is any truth to that, it seems the gap is closing.

    More people go without dental insurance due to cut-backs in employee benefits and rising insurance premiums, according to a new study by dental comparison website and in conjunction with David Neal, professor of psychology at the University of Southern California. Only a quarter without insurance visit the dentist one or two times a year. “Poor dental health is a silent epidemic in the U.S. and a trigger for serious health problems,” Neal says.

  • Aug 2, 2011
    2:08 PM ET

    Birth Control Without A Co-Pay Still Isn’t Free


    Starting next year, many health insurance plans will be required as part of the federal health-care law to cover contraceptive services without charging patients a co-payment. But that doesn’t mean they’re free.

    The Obama administration announced Monday that Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives — including birth control bills, intrauterine contraceptive devices (a.k.a. ICDs or IUDs) and sterilization — classify as preventative services under the law. The requirement also covers HIV screening, breastfeeding pumps and some wellness care visits for women, among other services.

    For women on the pill, savings could be substantial. For oral contraceptives, out-of-pocket costs range from $14 to $26 per pack, according to a study in the June 2011 issue of medical journal Contraception. The study, which tracked expenditures between 1996 and 2006, found that women’s out-of-pocket expenses for oral contraceptives amounted to 58% of the drugs’ cost, compared with an average 30% of those for other monthly medications.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to or tweet @SMPayDirt.