Senior Centers Visiting

Vantage Point: Senior Centers Offer More Than You Think

In my role at Health Alliance Medicare, I’ve had the pleasure to work with senior centers in Chelan, Grant, Douglas, and Okanogan counties.

The word “center” means a source of influence, action or force. The first senior center started in New York in 1943 to provide education and recreation. Today’s senior center is an oasis, providing familiarity in an ever-changing world for long-time members, while carefully evolving to attract the new energy and ideas of those aging in.

The senior centers I visit are very different. Some are limited on space. Others boast grand dining and dance halls. Some are open select days. Others host a full calendar of events.

Still, they all have people who go above and beyond to make life better—either working as staff or volunteering. It is remarkable how in even the smallest towns, senior center members share meals, dance or play cards. Gathering fills the centers’ walls with a camaraderie that is authentic and intoxicating.

Through senior centers visits, I have met those with cool confidence that only comes from experience. I have felt privileged to shake the hands of veterans from every branch of the military. I met a farmer turned cowboy poet. I enjoyed wonderful lunches with even more flavorful stories. I even met “Elvis” during one event—but was more inspired by the women who helped their friend dance without the use of her walker.

Before my visits, it is fair to say I had an old-fashioned idea of senior centers.

I realize now they are as diverse as the people who frequent them. Senior centers provide a space where everyday moments bring a sense of purpose, fulfillment and harmony. All share a common goal of helping people age gracefully and independently.

I believe they hold our communities’ richest treasures.

The challenge is getting people to overcome perceptions and walk through the door. If you take those first steps, you might find a room full of friends you just hadn’t met yet.

Young Invincibles Growing Up

Young Invincibles Feel the Love for Health Insurance

Young Invincibles

Young invincibles are young, healthy, independent, and don’t have a lot of cash to throw around, but, like everyone else, they need help when it comes to:

  • Understanding their options under the new health care law
  • Choosing the plan that’s best for them
  • Listening to their mother

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Conventional Wisdom

All kidding aside, the conventional wisdom surrounding young invincibles in need of insurance isn’t so conventional, after all. Sure, they aren’t flocking to the exchanges in droves, but they aren’t avoiding them, either.

In fact, according to this article by Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of Young Invincibles, as well as this press release from his organization’s website, it seems these youngsters are signing up in numbers proportional to the overall population, and possibly even at a higher rate than their older and wiser counterparts.

So good job, Mom—it turns out you raised them right!

What’s the Deal?

This may be their first time around the health insurance block, but the appeal to reason, and their very limited budgets, is bringing youthful buyers to the table. One small car or bike accident, sports injury, or even a bad case of mono could add up to HUGE medical bills that a struggling student or first-rung employee could never afford.

While many feared the typical response to the pay premiums vs. pay a tax penalty debate would be to just pay the penalty, stats show many young invincibles can do the math:

Paying a penalty and all of their potential medical costs for a year is not a good deal.

Not so Invincible, After All

It’s important to note that young invincible isn’t a title these people gave themselves. Obviously, they’re well aware it’s a big, dangerous world out there, and the smart play is getting yourself covered.

In fact, not only are your super-smart kids signing up to protect their wallets, they’re actually signing up to protect their (gasp!) health. They’re taking advantage of subsidies to buy up from the high-deductible catastrophic plans many assumed they would purchase, and investing in more benefit-rich Silver, and even Gold and Platinum, plans.

And why wouldn’t they? With many plan premiums starting under $100 a month, it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and financial security.

Take Good Care of My Baby

So Mom, while we know you always want to take care of your kids, maybe it’s OK to let them leave the nest. And here’s something else that might ease your mind:

We’re here to help.

Keeping your family healthy and safe is a priority for us, too. Maybe you already have our group or individual plans, or know someone else who does. After all, we’ve been helping people find plans that meet their needs and situations for over 30 years, since before most of the young invincibles were even a gleam in anyone’s eye!

We have great plans, a great network of doctors and hospitals, and great people ready to explain the options, answer questions, and find the right match for your babies, as if they were our own.

Get signed up. To learn more or shop for plans, call 1-888-382-9771, visit us online at HealthAlliance.org, or stop by our Anthony Drive location in Champaign today!

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Don't Miss Your Deadline!

The End is Near: March 31, 2014

NPHIt’s crunch time, and tomorrow may be too late. We know you understand the definition of a deadline, but what happens if you miss March 31? In short, nothing good!

Let’s run through a few questions you might have about what this deadline really means and why waiting might mean less money in your bank account.

What happens if I don’t enroll in a plan by March 31?

After the deadline, an individual can no longer enroll in a plan. You’d have to:

  • Wait until the next Open Enrollment Period (in Fall 2015)
  • Qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (for example, marriage or the birth of a child).

On top of that, you have to pay a tax penalty. And that doesn’t mean you’re covered, you’ll still have to pay 100% of your medical costs!

If I wait until the end of March to enroll, will I have to pay the tax penalty? I’ve heard if my gap in coverage is more than 3 months, I still have to pay.

As long as you’ve completed the application process by March 31, an exemption will keep you from having to pay a penalty on your 2015 tax returns.If you want to learn more about this exemption, visit the CMS’s Enrollment Period FAQ.

Does enrolling in a Short-Term plan save me from the tax penalty?

No. Individuals on short-term plans will pay the penalty on their 2015 tax return (unless they meet an exemption).

Can I change my plan after March 31?

No. You’ll have to wait until the 2015 Open Enrollment Period to make changes to your plan.

The only exception to this rule is adding a newborn. You have about a month to add your new little bundle of joy to your plan.

You can cancel your plan at any time, but depending how long you go without coverage, you may have to pay a penalty.

How will the government really know whether I have insurance?

Great question. When you submit your federal taxes in 2015, the forms will have a new question about health insurance coverage. Health insurance companies, like Health Alliance, will also have to send the IRS info about who has a coverage with us.

You still have time to enroll in a plan.  And we’re here to help you find one that fits your needs (yes, even if it’s in the last 10 minutes!)

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In Case of Emergency

ER Care vs. Urgent Care

Your 2-year-old has an earache. You slip and sprain your ankle. You’re feeling chest pain. Do you know where you should be getting care in each of these cases?

It can be hard to know, but it’s important because if you go to the emergency room when it’s not actually an emergency, your insurance may not pay for your care.

A trip to the ER is usually the most expensive kind of care. The average ER visit costs more than the average American’s monthly rent.

If you don’t need help right away, you can save time and money by setting up a same-day appointment with your doctor or going to an urgent care or convenient care clinic. These usually have extended hours, you don’t need an appointment, and many clinics have them.

But when something happens and you need care right away, you should know which things you should go to an urgent care location for, and when you should go to the ER.

Emergency Room or Convenient Care?

Earache

Visit convenient care. This needs care to keep it from getting worse, but it won’t pose a serious health risk if not treated immediately.

Sprained Ankle

Visit convenient care. This injury isn’t life threatening, but you may need medical attention to treat it.

Chest Pain

Go to the ER. This could because of a serious problem and is normally considered a medical emergency.

A trip to the ER is usually the most expensive kind of care. If you don’t need help right away, you can save time and money by setting up a same-day appointment with your doctor or going to an urgent care or convenient care clinic. These usually have extended hours, you don’t need an appointment, and many clinics have them. Carle, for example, has a few convenient care options.

Let these examples be your guide to where you should go:

Emergencies

Urgent Care Situations

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Poisoning
  • Broken bones
  • Fainting, seizures, or unconsciousness
  • Sharp wounds
  • Serious bleeding
  • Constant high or rising fever
  • Migraine headaches that don’t improve
  • Uncontrolled vomiting or diarrhea
  • Bronchitis
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Cuts, even minor ones, that need closed
  • Constant high or rising fever
  • Migraine headaches that don’t improve
  • Uncontrolled vomiting or diarrhea
  • Bronchitis
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Cold and flu
  • Minor infections, like bladder, sinus, or pink eye
  • Rash or sunburns
  • Sprains and strains
  • Back and neck pain
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Earache
  • Strep throat
  • Minor cuts
  • Minor work illness or injuries

 

It’s not always easy to know if you should go to the emergency room, especially when you need to act fast. The key is to trust your judgment. If you believe your health is in serious danger, it’s an emergency.

Understand Blood Pressure

Understanding Blood Pressure

Getting your blood pressure checked is nothing new. But do you understand it all?

What Exactly Is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure’s the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common disease when that pressure of the blood flowing through the blood vessels is too high.

If your blood pressure gets too high, it can cause serious damage which can lead to blockage which can cause heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.

There are 2 main types of high blood pressure:

  • Primary high blood pressure is the most common type and it tends to develop as you age.
  • Secondary high blood pressure is caused by another medical condition or use of certain medicines and it usually goes away when this issue is treated.

Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure

  • Age – Men usually develop it around age 45 and women after age 65.
  • Race – High blood pressure and serious complications are more common for African Americans.
  • Family history – It tends to run in families.
  • Certain chronic conditions – Kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea can raise your blood pressure.
  • Stress
  • Pregnancy
  • Being overweight
  • Not being physically active
  • Tobacco use
  • Too much salt
  • Too much alcohol
  • Too little potassium
  • Too little vitamin D

If you have some of these other risk factors, your doctor may set your blood pressure target lower.

What Are the Numbers?

  • Systolic is the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts, the top number.
  • Diastolic is when your heart rests, the bottom number.

 What Are They Doing?

When a nurse takes your blood pressure, you might wonder what they’re doing. These are the steps they’re following:

  • They wrap the blood pressure cuff around your arm.
  • They place a stethoscope under the cuff at the crease of your elbow (where the major blood vessel of the upper arm is.)
  • They inflate the cuff until it stops the flow of blood.
  • They slowly loosens the cuff’s valve to let the blood start to flow again and listen for sounds in the blood vessel.
  • Then, the first tapping noise they hear, they’ll note as the systolic number, the maximum pressure when the heart contracts.
  • The taps fade, and they note the pressure at the last tap as your diastolic number, the minimum pressure while your heart’s at rest.
  • Along with your numbers, they note which arm they took your blood pressure on and how you were positioned, like sitting with your feet flat.

 Where Should My Numbers Be?

Systolic Measure

Diastolic Measure

What to Do

Normal

Below 120

Below 80

Maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid raising your levels.

High-normal

120 to 139

80 to 89

Make lifestyle changes.

High

140 to 159

90 to 99

Make lifestyle changes. Possibly start a low-level diuretic.

Extremely High

160 or higher

100 or
higher

Often 1 or 2 meds are required right away, plus lifestyle changes.

Source: Consumer Reports, “onHealth”, Volume 23 Number 2

It’s also normal for your blood pressure to change when you sleep, wake up, are active, and are excited or nervous.

If you’re worried about your blood pressure, keep an eye on your levels and take them with you to your next appointment. A broad look at your numbers can help your doctor put you on the right track for heart health.

The Right Kind of Falling in the Winter

Long View: Don’t Let Falling Lead You Down a Slippery Slope

Our central Illinois weather definitely challenged us this winter. Slippery conditions are my least favorite. I took a tumble in a local grocery store parking lot and “fortunately” there were plenty of spectators to help me up. I am guessing it was on camera, too.

For some of our older friends and family members, the potential for falling is not based on the weather, but a year-round concern. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Every 15 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 29 minutes, an older adult dies following a fall.”

Sobering statistics, to say the least.

This year, Health Alliance Medicare, with Catholic Charities of Decatur, St. Mary’s Hospital, and the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging (ECIAAA), is supporting a program called A Matter of Balance. This evidence-based program helps people learn to avoid falls and teaches them how to increase strength and enhance balance.

Mike O’Donnell, ECIAAA executive director, reviewed the training materials and told me, “Older adults at risk of falling often fear injury, a broken hip and having to be in a nursing home. This program encourages us to reduce the risk of falling by using sensible safeguards. We can all choose not to allow fear of falling to take over our lives by using good judgment and common sense. The fear of falling can often lead to isolation and feeling out of touch.”

Specially trained volunteer coaches lead the eight, 2-hour classes that make up the program. The classes involve group discussion, problem solving, skill building, video tapes, and exercise training. A physical therapist attends one of the classes to answer questions and discuss safety issues.

Now that I think about it, this kind of training wouldn’t hurt any of us. As usual, prevention is the best course.

The program is open to anyone, whether you’d like to learn for yourself or to better help others.

If this seems like a good idea, please contact Nicole Kirlin at Catholic Charities of Decatur at 217-428-0013, or by email at Kirlin_dec@cc.dio.org. She would be happy to talk with you and let you know if A Matter of Balance is available in your area.

I had every intention of signing up myself. I guess it must have slipped my mind. I won’t make that mistake again!

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