Health & Fitness (207)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Big retail stores, hotels, restaurants and other companies with lots of low-wage and part-time workers are among the main beneficiaries of the Obama administration's latest tweak to health care rules.
Companies with 100 or more workers will be able to avoid the biggest of two potential employer penalties in the Affordable Care Act by offering coverage to 70 percent of their full-timers.
That target is considerably easier to hit than the administration's previous requirement of 95 percent, but the wiggle room is only good for next year.
"It will be very helpful to employers," said Bill O'Malley, a tax expert with McGladrey, a consulting firm focused on medium-size businesses. "This gives them a bit of a transition period to begin expanding coverage on a gradual basis. There would be some cost savings to employers who otherwise were nowhere near meeting the standard for 2015."
It means that big companies, not only medium-sized firms, can benefit from the new employer coverage rules that the Treasury Department announced Monday. Under those rules, companies with 50 to 99 workers were given an extra year, until 2016, to comply with the health care law's requirement to offer coverage.
"I think it's pretty significant because the vast majority of the workforce is in large firms," said Larry Levitt, a health insurance expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. "It affects a much bigger swath of the economy."
President Barack Obama's health care law requires companies with 50 or more employees working 30 or more hours a week to offer them suitable coverage or pay fines.
The so-called employer mandate was written into the law as a guardrail to discourage employers from shifting workers into taxpayer-subsidized coverage. Small businesses with fewer than 50 workers are exempt. And more than 90 percent of the larger firms already offer health care.
But even if it directly impacts a relatively small share of companies, the mandate still represents a major new government requirement on businesses. At a time when the economy remains weak, implementation has been fraught with political overtones. The requirement was originally supposed to take effect in 2014, but last summer the White House delayed it for a year. Then came this week's additional delay for medium-size companies.
Treasury officials say the lower coverage standard for bigger companies should help employers struggling with the health care law's definition of a full-time worker as someone who averages 30 hours a week. Many firms have traditionally set a 35-hour week as the threshold for offering health care benefits.
To determine if an employer is subject to the mandate, the government doesn't actually count full-time workers. It uses a complicated formula that also averages part-timers' hours and converts them to the equivalent of full-time workers.
The next step is to determine how many workers averaging 30 or more weekly hours are being offered coverage.
Say a franchise owner with two dozen fast-food restaurants in a state is already providing coverage to 50 percent of its workers averaging 30 hours. A 70 percent threshold would be less onerous than expanding the offer to 95 percent of employees.
The Treasury Department says it works out to an easier path for companies already on the way.
Mark Holloway, a benefits expert with the Lockton consulting company, says that will help some companies avoid what he calls the law's "nuclear penalty," a $2,000-per-employee fine levied across a company's entire workforce, after adjustments.
But it would still leave in place a second, lesser penalty if workers at the company obtain subsidized insurance under the law.
"I would say it's good news, but it's not a panacea for companies," said Holloway.
"I think people have realized the law is here to stay and we are going to have to live with it," he added. "This is fairly good transition relief that pushed some things off, but employers are still going to have to figure out how to navigate this stuff."
High tech glasses developed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis may help surgeons visualize cancer cells, which could help reduce the number of surgeries need to eradicate the disease in many patients.
The glasses are so new they have yet to be named.
They're designed to make it easier for surgeons to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells, by making the cancer cells appear blue. Highlighting the diseased cells will help to ensure that no stray tumor cells are left behind during surgery.
The glasses were used during surgery for the first time Monday. Breast surgeon Dr. Julie Margenthaler performed the operation at BJC's Siteman Cancer Center. She says more development and testing will be done, but the potential benefits to patients is encouraging.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A day after Rachel Fredrickson won the latest season of "The Biggest Loser," after shedding nearly 60 percent of her body weight, attention wasn't focused on her $250,000 win - but rather the criticism surrounding her loss.
Experts cautioned that regardless of her current weight, the criticism being levied on social media about her losing too much isn't helpful. A more constructive message is needed, they say, centering on body image and healthy living.
The 5-foot-4, 24-year-old Frederickson dropped from 260 pounds to 105 under the show's rigorous exercise and diet regimen - but also time spent on her own before the finale. She was a three-time state champion swimmer at Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota, and said she turned to sweets for solace after a failed romance and gained the weight over several years.
Frederickson's newly thin frame lit up Twitter on Wednesday, with many viewers pointing to the surprised expressions on the faces of trainers Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper during the show's Tuesday night finale. Many tweeted that Fredrickson looked anorexic and unhealthy, while others congratulated her for dropping 155 pounds.
Frederickson's body mass index, a measure of height and weight, is below the normal range, said Jillian Lampert, senior director of the Emily Program, an eating disorder treatment program based in St. Paul, Minn. But she said the criticism directed against Frederickson isn't helpful.
"As a society we often criticize people for being at higher weights - that's part of why we have the TV show `The Biggest Loser' - and then we feel free to criticize lower weight," Lampert said.
A more constructive message to send young people would center on well-rounded health and the importance of eating well, moving well and sleeping well, she said.
"We certainly see a lot of people who struggle with eating disorders who use the same behaviors on that show to an extreme," she said. "That can't be helpful."
Joanne Ikeda, a dietitian and retired faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley's Department of Nutritional Sciences, added that focus needs to be on embracing body-size diversity.
"We are just obsessed with body size, women particularly. There's just tremendous body dissatisfaction," Ikeda said. "I'm sure even if she was the exact right size, someone wouldn't like the look of her fingers or the length of her hair."
"We should be happy we don't all look like Barbie and Ken," she said.
A listed phone number for Frederickson couldn't be found by The Associated Press late Wednesday. During an appearance on "Access Hollywood," Frederickson didn't directly respond to the criticism but said she intends to live a healthy lifestyle going forward.
"My journey was about finding that confident girl again. Little by little, challenge by challenge, that athlete came out. And it sparked inside me this feeling that I can do anything I can conceive. And I found that girl, and I'm just going to embrace her fully," she said.
In a statement released late Wednesday, NBC said it was committed to helping all of the show's past contestants live healthier lives.
Among the social media commentators was 36-year-old Shannon Hurd, who tweeted that Frederickson looked weak and unhealthy. In an interview Wednesday with AP, Hurd said she became anorexic at age 16 and has been recovering since she was 19.
"Looking at her `after' photo, I guess I saw ... a piece of myself way back when, and it really just struck something deep down," Hurd said from her home in suburban Denver. "I don't know if she's anorexic, but I do think her weight loss is so extreme there is no way her loss can be maintained through normal habits, and unfortunately that leads to distorted thinking."
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