Friday, December 28, 2007

Health Care and the New Year

Making People Smile. What a great tag line, and what a great way to view the world as we enter into a brand new year. Wow! Can you believe that another year has passed, and we are staring down the barrel at a brand new year--2008? Where has all the time gone? As each new year comes into view during the end of each Holiday Season, we look ahead for what benefits may be available for the New Year. We also look over the past year to see what successes we had and what failures we endured.

Health care has had alot of both. We saw the advent of in-store retail mini-clinics that have taken off with increasing popularity. Most all pharmacy chains, big-box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, and even some grocery chains have elected to partner with the companies that provide these services--Minute Clinic is an example of one of these clinics. MinuteClinic, which was co-founded by a family physician, is the largest of a growing number of retail clinics, are now in CVS, Targets, Wal-Marts and many other high-traffic retail outlets in metropolitan areas around the country. Patients with acute illnesses can enter these retail clinics without an appointment to see a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant, be diagnosed in a matter of minutes, and head back out the door, stopping by the in-store pharmacy to fill a prescription if needed. If the problem requires a physician, patients are referred to their primary care physicians. If they do not have one, the nurse practitioner refers them to one off the clinic's referral list.

While these clinics lack the personal nature of seeing a family physician who knows your complete medical history, their appeal is their convenience and affordability. The clinics are usually open in the evening and on weekends, and their prices are relatively low - and posted on menu-type boards for all to see.

With other medical news--several pronounced trends: promoting clinical Information Technology being pushed by the government; and the technology of personal health record is being expanded. Additionally, transparency of costs in health care is getting much more attention now as Consumer Directed Health Care is making more headway, especially in the employer market. HSAs are getting much more traction as individuals realize their value as not only a way to save money in the health care space, but also as a great tool for investing for the future. Millions of Americans will sign up for that type of plan this year, and an HSA is a very good tool to save money on out of pocket health care costs when combined with a high deductible health plan. More of those will be sold in 2008 as consumers wake up to the realization that they need to take charge of personal health care decisions.

New trends in health care will continue to develop, and our job as consumers is to make sure that they make sense, are affordable, and have enough available information to make informed and intelligent decisions on personal health matters. Looking ahead in 2008 will be a critical job that every American will need to do in order to save money and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Health Care and Comparison Shopping

Americans like a good deal, and they love it even more when the deal has more value than originally perceived. According to a very recent study just published by the Regence Group, seven out of ten consumers are likely to comparison shop and gather information on price and quality, especially for medical services. 

 With the advent of the internet, we are considerably more savvy now than 10 years ago when it comes to researching the best deals in the market place including health care options. There are websites that show various options for not only insurance, but also other medical needs and information. Transparency is the key factor when it comes to finding the best deal in health care.

Companies that provide information online are more likely to find consumers ready to make a purchase versus those businesses who make it more difficult to find out how to use their products and services. The Commonwealth Fund has recently stated that U.S. health care costs are projected to double in the next ten years. We need greater efficiency in the health care system in order to allow people the ability options for consumer-friendly choices. 

A lot of variations on the current theme are being proposed now by politicians, government agencies, and private industry. The real issue is that Americans must make wise choices when it comes to making health care decisions, especially when it comes to purchasing health related products and services, choosing medical providers, and taking preventive measures to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We need to be disciplined and creative in our approach.

Free websites like are good to search for multiple options for health products including prescription medications, contact lens, over-the-counter drugs and supplements, and more. Using the Internet's power of information to shop for the best price on expensive procedures and tests is gathering speed. Health insurance is getting more and more expensive all the time. 

Insurance websites like,, and even are portals for consumers to shop for coverage without committing to a specific agent for information. has valuable information on it, and a site called allow you to list the plastic or dental surgery procedure you need and then wait for doctors to bid to perform the procedure; and even more bizarre is and other sites like it that promote "medical tourism."

In August, 2006, President Bush signed an Executive Order requiring transparency in pricing and quality of health care with the intent of encouraging private insurance companies to follow his example. The four agencies that were included are:
The Department of Health and Human Services (oversight of Medicaid and Medicare),
the Veteran Affairs Department and the Department of Defense (oversight of military health care programs, i.e. TriCare), and the Office of Personnel Management (oversight of the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program) .

When it comes to making savvy purchases for health care, the true test is whether it makes sense for not only the short term, but also long term benefits. Is it practical and affordable, and can I use the service with nominal restrictions? Where can I use it, and how does it work? How long do I need to wait before I can use what I purchased or get a satisfactory response from the vendor, provider, or company? Is there an easy way to seek restitution if something goes wrong, or I feel that I have been mislead? These and more detailed questions should be considered before entering into an agreement for any health care purchase. 

Make sure that you get all questions answered before buying the product or service, and read the fine print before signing on the dotted line. Know what you are buying and what recourse you have if it doesn't work out.

Bargain shopping may work well at the local discount retailer, but not too great for medical needs. Remember, in most cases, you get what you pay for. And, if it sounds way too good to be true, it probably isn't. Like I tell my kids in elementary school.."Do your homework." It will pay off in the long run, and you may well end up saving money in the short run, too.

Until next time. 

Monday, December 17, 2007

Health Care and Consumer Driven Plans

Americans like choice. We like that our freedom allows us to make lifestyle decisions for where we live, what car we drive, where we go to church, and what type of health coverage we want. Health care in the U.S. continues to be challenged from every corner--including members from Congress, individual consumers, politicians at every level, business owners, and HR professionals. Many surveys have been taken to find out what are the most important aspects of choosing a plan that works best for the individual consumer. The selections are myriad when it comes to various parts of the country, the demographics related to specific regions, the costs associated with all the available plan designs, and a host of other criteria.

Yet with all the numerous options for health care available in the market place, the bottom line issues related to choice come down to cost and availability. How much will I pay when I purchase the health plan, and where can I use it? This is especially true when small business owners and companies are considering health insurance coverage for employees. With the cost of insurance premiums almost 75% higher than in 2000, many employers are starting to offer high deductible health plans combined with health savings accounts in order to keep costs lower. The Nashville Business Journal this month has reported that the current number of Americans who have this type of plan are at 4.5 million. The consensus is that the number of people who may purchase this consumer directed health plan will double in 2008 as they become more popular.

This type of plan reduces the cost of health care over traditional insurance. There are a number of plan administrators in the insurance world that provide the option to purchase the HDHP, but often the HSA is the missing component. Bank of America is one institution that has developed a consumer friendly product that will allow their HSA to be used with any high deductible health plan. Through their Benefit Solutions platform, both companies and individuals can purchase an HSA to work along with their HDHP. Additionally, the plan design is very consumer friendly and allows members to manage their account with relative ease. Often, employers will incentivize employees by contributing funds to the HSA for specific health services, needs, and goals. Employees are empowered to be more responsible for making health care choices and being more preventive with medical issues.

The concept of Consumer Directed Health Care was designed to encourage consumers to spend health care dollars wisely by requiring them to spend more of their own money for medical services before insurance kicks in. The theory is that consumers will not seek unnecessary care if they have to spend their own money, so the rate of health care inflation will slow down. According to Health Affairs, total health care spending is reduced when consumers have more responsibility for their health care expenses. The consumer is given a greater role in making decisions with their health care and paying for expenses. The consumer is more informed and has more choices with the aid of more information and available tools at their disposal.

According to the US Treasury website, Health Savings Accounts will change the way millions meet their health care needs because they are designed to help individuals save for qualified medical and retiree health expenses on a tax-advantaged basis. To encourage saving for health expenses after retirement, individuals age 55 and older are allowed to make additional catch-up contributions to their HSAs. Once an individual enrolls in Medicare they are no longer eligible to contribute to their HSA. Amounts contributed to an HSA belong to the account holder and are completely portable. Funds in the account can grow tax-free through investment earnings, just like an IRA. Also, funds distributed from the HSA are not taxed if they are used to pay qualified medical expenses. Unlike amounts in Flexible Spending Arrangements that are forfeited if not used by the end of the year, unused funds remain available for use in later years.

Consumer Directed Health Care is the wave of the future for those who want to take control of their health care issues. Ask your employer to check it out if that is not a current option, and do some research on what plan works best for you. After all, it's your money. Make the best of it.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Health Care and the Holidays

The Holiday Season is a time of cheer, remembrance, and celebration. It's a time to be festive and enjoy the time together with family and friends. This time of year from Thanksgiving to the New Year is full of parties, giving, and activities related to the Season. We look forward to this time regardless of our background, heritage, or religion. Most Americans cannot wait til the Holidays come as this time of year is the most anticipated Season of the year. We are encouraged by the spirit of giving, the attitudes of sharing and friendliness, and the freedom to express love and appreciation to those we hold dear, and sometimes even to complete strangers. That's one of the joys of this time of year--doing good to those we don't even know.

But with all this merriment, the Holiday Season is when the highest rate of suicides occur, and depression is at its worst for many people. The physical and mental stress at this time of year sends some people into a frenzy and others into a fit of despair. These feelings are the result of stress and anxiety brought on by many reasons. Good physical health is important. It helps us with our mental wellbeing and health; but during the Holidays many Americans abuse themselves with overeating and indulgence in other areas including alcohol, caffeine, and exotic foods. On a good overview of how to take care of your health during the Holidays by Cathleen Fenton is available. It talks about how to cope with stress and panic disorder. Medical News Today online even has a name for this called SAD--Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it can be destructive to our work and personal life.

Cathleen says that we can overcome depression by preparing in advance. Don't worry about going to all the parties; just pick a select number of events to attend and try not to "do it all." Feel confident in the decisions you make. Realize that all the activities during the Holidays are designed to give you options, not send you into a tailspin of worry and doubt. Also, remember that during this Season that although you may experience a sense of grief and loss (this can be anything related to death of a close friend or family member, or conflict that happened during the year), you can cope with the loss by reaching out to others who have experienced similar situations. The sense of loneliness often attributed to loss can be overcome by focusing on what really matters to you and not what others perceive as important.

Another reason many individuals have such difficulty during the Holidays is lack of sleep. Going without this important health regimen is a very good way to become fatigued and depressed. Less sleep has been proven by many scientific studies to lead to anxiety and an agitated emotional and mental state. Without adequate amounts of rest, the body is incapable of maintaining both physical strength and mental stability. With all the parties, meetings, events, and other activities that we feel we should attend, our bodies and brains start to wear out quickly if we don't take time out to rest and replenish our personal health bank. It's okay to be tired, but just don't over do it. Take time out when you feel stretched too far, and stop before you reach a point of exhaustion. Learn to recognize the symptoms of fatigue, and slow down to avoid that physical deprivation. Stress related to lack of sleep can cause insomnia, high blood pressure, headaches, and more. Also, statistics prove that more heart attacks occur in December and January than any other time of the year--many brought on by Holiday stress.

Finally, let's remember the Reason for the Season. This time of year is meant to be festive. Enjoy it. This time of year is meant to be reflective. Remember the good times past. This time of year is meant to be loving. Care for those around you whether you know them or not. This time of year is meant for giving. Give to those who are in need, and offer gifts to those who are not. This time of year is meant for looking ahead. Focus on the best opportunities for the year ahead. Stay healthy in mind, body, and spirit. To quote a friend, Lee Truax, who is an insurance executive and also involved in prison ministry reaching out to inmates:
"It is not the lights. It is not the presents. It is not the music. It IS about the coming of the Savior to earth to reach all mankind in the form of a baby in Bethlehem."

Best wishes during the Holiday Season. Until next time.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Health Care and our Military

As we look toward the Christmas Holiday, let's not forget the troops around the world in the American military. Considering the fact that today is Pearl Harbor Day, we can be thankful for our freedom because of the sacrifices made by those brave men and women in harm's way and who continue today with our current armed forces--some giving even the ultimate sacrifice to defend the U.S. from enemies both foreign and domestic. Health care is a bigger concept than just going to the doctor for a checkup. It extends beyond the physical to both the spiritual and mental health that each individual must keep in balance in order to have a healthy life. If any one of our capabilities get out of whack, we are like a 3-legged stool that has had one of those legs removed. Life then becomes more difficult, and our overall health is affected.

This post is a short one to propose the following: This a small way to say THANKS to some of the folks in the service that are unable to be with their families and friends this holiday season. (This does not require any of your personal information.)

Something cool that Xerox is doing . If you go to this web site, you can pick out a thank you card and Xerox will print it and it will be sent to a soldier that is currently serving in Iraq . You can't pick out who gets it, but it will go to some member of the armed services.

How amazing it would be if we could get everyone we know to send one!!! This is a great site. Please send a card. It is FREE and it only takes a second. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the soldiers received a bunch of these? Whether you are for or against the war, our guys and gals over there need to know we are behind them!

Our military needs to know we are concerned about their health and well-being. Let's show it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Health Care and Universal Health Coverage

Lately there has been a huge amount of buzz created by politicians who want to re-create the American health care system from the ground up. Health care is becoming the single most hotly debated topic in political circles, second only in comparison to the discussion about the Iraq War. Health care is a topic that everyone talks about, but no one has come up with a solution that doesn't involve government intervention. Politicians this year are now considering themselves experts on how to handle doctor visits, medicine, co-pays, and all things medical. They rant and rave about the cost and the terrible way people are mistreated who are uninsured, and the politicians continue to complain about how terrible the conditions are in hospitals and clinics. They focus on patient abuse and incompetant medical staff and spiraling expenses that are "out of control."

The most commonly feared new word that has found its way into the American language is "Hillary-care"--a phrase that causes most Americans to shudder because of what it represents. Originally conceived during the early years of the Clinton administration in the early 1990's, a National Task Force on Health Care Reform was established with Hillary Clinton leading the charge for universal health care. For an overview of this campaign and its history since then, Wikipedia has information available online under the heading: "1993 Clinton health care plan." Pushback came from all corners, including Democrats who have over the last several years since then have offered variations on the same them versus going to a single-payor system, similar to socialized health care in countries like the UK and Canada. Most often, the criticism was about having government telling us what doctors to visit and when to go for treatment. In the history of our nation, no one has ever liked the government telling us what to do when individual liberties or matters of personal choice are on the line.

Several states now have a version of universal health care for uninsured residents. Massachusetts under Governor Mitt Romney, now a presidential candidate, passed a plan that has had over 300,000 people sign on. However, this state-mandated health insurance plan has a penalty tied to it if residents don't sign up for enrollment. Help, or penalty? And who is subsidizing those who cannot afford to pay the premium? That's right--the taxpayer, as if residents in that state don't pay enough taxes. And other states are watching the outcome there to see if they want to do their own version of the same trick. The state requires you to participate on a personal choice.. I am wondering about the Constitutionality of forcing state control on individual liberty.

In California, the argument is raging like the wildfires that have scorched the state. According to the Small Business Review online this year, the current debate in Sacramento over how to cover the uninsured and rein in premium costs could set a pattern for the rest of the nation—and have major ramifications for small business owners. Governor Schwarzenegger is pushing for one variation, and their state legislature wants another. Over 12% of the nation's population are California residents, and the saying "As California goes, so goes the nation" means that this controversy once settled with a mandated insurance plan by the state may very well be the tone set as a template for the rest of the states. I pray for wisdom by those legislators to not bankrupt their state and come up with legislation that makes sense.

Sure..there are plenty of Americans who are uninsured. At last count according to the U.S. Census, about 47 million people don't have insurance of any type. But when the raw numbers are crunched on who can afford it and who can't, the surprising fact is that many Americans have personal income that can support insurance. However, for whatever reason they choose not to purchase coverage. Rather than the government cramming health care down my throat as a way to further intrude on my lifestyle, I would just as soon make that choice myself. Fortunately, I currently have very good health insurance, and it is expensive. But it's still my choice.

In 2007, the conversation about universal health care has heated up to a fever pitch. Current presidential debates are almost comical as all the participants in the contest, both Democrat and Republican, are jostling for position as the "top dog" when it comes to their positions in this category. These are viewable on many sites for everyone to see who wants what for national health care. A snapshot of each player's opinion on this topic is available for you to find out which one of the candidates has the best platform.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Health Care and Staying Healthy

Over the last decade, Americans have become more sedate in lifestyle choices. With the advent of the internet, computer games, and digital satellite TV we have turned into a nation of major couch potatoes. So far, the population with 2 out of every 3 persons in the U.S. is overweight, and our rate of obesity in the nation has reached epidemic proportions--about 72 million people based on information reported by the CDC . According to the Mayo Clinic website, obesity is described as having a high amount of body fat. However, obese people are more susceptible to diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health issues. The Mayo Clinic also reports that one third of all Americans are considered to be obese, and over 25 million children and adolescents are overweight according to Mayo and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We are more sedentary and eat more junk food than people in the rest of the world. Unhealthy snacks, carbonated beverages with high sugar content, and multiple hours of video games are making our society fatter and more unhealthy day by day. Yahoo Health online indicates that we are jeopardizing our future by not paying attention to our lifestyles. According to their information, poor habits in diet and exercise lead to many health problems associated with being overweight. In addition to HBP, obese and overweight Americans may also suffer from sleep apnea and other breathing problems--this in turn can lead to heart problems and a life filled with additional major health related issues.

Overall, Americans need to get fit. The Journal of the American Medical Association said in November, 2007, that obesity is associated with the inability for obese individuals to accomplish simple functional abilities such as bending over to pick up an item. Increased weight affects your quality of life and ability to do simple tasks according to Medline Plus. Over the past three decades, the number of people in the U.S. who are obese has doubled. The CDC reports that being seriously overweight can also lead to stroke, arthritis and some cancers.
Face it. Being fat is not good, especially if obesity continues into senior adulthood. A study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys this year has stated that elderly obese individuals have a higher risk of being disabled and will experience severe difficulty in activities of daily living (ADL) such as the ability to dress and feed yourself. Every bodily function becomes much more difficult when people are significantly overweight. Here are some more stats from the report:
--The age bracket most obese is 40-59
--Men are slightly more obese than women by 2%
--Over 50% of both African-Americans and Hispanics women are obese
According to Healthwise as reported on Yahoo Health this month, Americans need to come up with a working game plan to get and stay healthy. The skills for making wise health decisions are simple--consider your choices with your family doctor, learn the facts, determine your needs and values for the best possible outcome, come up with a written plan, go to work on it and track your progress. Although not as simple as eat less and exercise, the solutions to overcoming obesity and being overweight are available through many resources both on and offline. You can access help with local clinics, YMCA, toll free help lines, internet sites, community services, and many more options.
The bottom line about the size of your bottom is that you need to take control of your personal health situation. No one else will do if for you unless you happen to be incapacitated or unable to function due to medical or mental health reasons. Making wise choices about your health, your weight, your lifestyle is going to pay tremendous benefits in the long run. Staying healthy with the proper eating habits, diet, and exercise plan will be incredibly beneficial for the rest of your life and pay rewards well into your senior years. Don't eat too much, and start an exercise routine that helps your lifestyle get and stay healthy. Plan to stick with it, and talk with your doctor if you need assistance in coming up with a plan. Set up a system to track your progress and a support group if you need extra help and encouragement.
Good health is priceless. Unhealthy living will make you pay a price. Until next time. Let me know what you think.