Cleaning Meds Out of the Cabinet

Long View: Leave Prescribing to the Pros – Don’t Mix Your Meds!

I used to visit my aunt and uncle in Missouri whenever I got the chance. They were older but still lived on their own. My uncle Bill took a lot of medicine, as is often the case with a 90-year-old. The problem was my aunt, his caregiver, felt she knew better than his doctor.

She would cut his pills in half because she thought they were making him “groggy.” She also would “prescribe” outdated meds. I found my aunt’s secret stash in a shoe box in the closet.

Both of them also took over-the-counter meds … to keep their joints limber, eyesight sharp and other things she was sure would enhance their golden years. Her approach was dangerous, but I could only help while I was there.

So, what can a caregiver do?

Brad Berberet, acting director of the Health Alliance Pharmacy Department, shared this advice.

“Many people know different drugs can interact with each other, causing unexpected side effects,” he said. “However, most people forget that interactions can occur between prescribed medications and over-the-counter (OTC) medications and herbal supplements.  Patients should let their doctor and their pharmacist know about all OTC and herbal supplements they are taking, especially when they start a new medicine.”

Our chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Parker, shared similar advice.

“When you take medication exactly as prescribed, your doctor can better monitor you for side effects,” he said. “It’s important to be honest with your doctor to assure you have the best chance of a positive, not harmful, impact to yourself or those you love.”

You can help your loved ones get rid of old medicine. Don’t just flush them. Check for places that dispose of drugs safely, like your pharmacy or hospital. Your local senior center may have suggestions.

My PCP does a medicine review every time I have an appointment. Just keeping a list of how much medicine you take and when helps your doctor. You can ask your doctor to make changes to your list so it stays current.

While I’m sure my aunt had the best intentions, her approach to medicine was dangerous. Be sure to talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new medicine, prescription or over-the-counter. Not only will you avoid harmful interactions, but you will probably feel better, too.

 

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.

Balancing Daily Tasks with Dementia

Vantage Point: Summer Activity Opens Eyes, Prompts Compassion

I love all the fun activities that come with summer—festivals, parades, vacations, theme parks, and backyard barbecues. One of my recent summer activities, however, was unlike any I’ve ever done before, and the profound experience will resonate with me for the rest of my life.

I had the opportunity to watch a video of the Virtual Dementia Tour®, compliments of Assured Home Health and Hospice in Moses Lake. The tour gives family members and professional caregivers the chance to experience (as closely as possible) the physical, mental, and emotional challenges people with dementia face every day.

Before the tour, the group takes a short pretest. One of the questions is, “Do you think people with dementia are justified in their actions?” The answer choices are “yes,” “no” and “somewhat.” Most people answer “somewhat.”

After the pretest, the activity alters the participants’ mental and physical abilities when they put on these items.

  • Goggles that restrict their vision, as if they have macular degeneration
  • Headphones with garbled or random background noises, like people with mental disorders experience
  • Gloves with the fingers taped together and with popcorn kernels in the fingertips, and shoes with popcorn kernels in the toes, to represent neuropathy and arthritis

The group then goes to another room. Organizers give participants five everyday tasks, like sorting laundry and setting the table, to complete without help in a certain time frame.

Watching the people go through the experience made me think of being in a carnival maze, where you have a warped sense of bearings, balance, and judgment.

Most participants find the experience eye-opening. Even if they thought they knew what to expect, many didn’t anticipate bursting into tears of frustration or falling on the ground in confusion. Many change their pretest answer about behavior being justified from “somewhat” to “yes” in the post-test.

If you have a loved one with dementia or are a caregiver, I suggest you take the Virtual Dementia Tour. If you live in Grant County and want to sign up for a tour through Assured Home Health and Hospice, please call Julie Johnson at 509-766-2580 or Terri Riley-Brown at 509-765-1856.

ABC’s Nightline featured a powerful story about the Virtual Dementia Tour.  If you don’t take the tour, you can still see what the experience is like by watching this clip.

I hope you make fun memories with family and friends this summer. I also hope you take time to either watch the Nightline clip or sign up for the Virtual Dementia Tour so we can all increase our understanding and compassion for people with dementia.

 

Shannon Sims is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. She has four adult sons and two grandsons. During her time off, she performs as part of a rodeo drill team on her horse, Skeeter.

Wedding Day

Kick Wedding Stress to the Curb

Wedding Stress

Stress (including wedding stress) can cause headaches, high blood pressure, and much more.

Planning a wedding is a happy, fun time, but it’s also very stressful. I’m getting married this August, and wedding planning has been one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. I’ve been lucky, though, because my fiancé, Shane, has made planning a wedding a partnership, not a solo gig for me. If you feel like your fiancé isn’t helping enough, or might wrongly assume you want to call all the shots yourself, speak up right away to get everyone on the same page.

I hope these tips help you keep your sanity while planning your wedding.  They’ve definitely helped me keep mine!

Plan on a Timeline

When I began my planning, I went to a chain bookstore and bought a planning book. It was nothing terribly fancy, just something that offered a timeline and helpful hints.

The planner helped reassure me that I wasn’t forgetting something or waiting too long to do it. You don’t need to spend money on a book or planner to stay organized, but I think it’s important to find or create some kind of timeline to keep you on track.

Knock Out Big Things First

Once you tell people you’re engaged, the next words out of everyone’s mouth (after congratulating you) are, “When’s the big day?”

First things first, pick a date and create a guest list, even if it’s a rough one. You’ll need this info when you seek out ceremony and reception sites. The sooner you can find (and hopefully book) a ceremony site, reception site (if different from the ceremony site), photographer, bakery, and band or DJ, the better. The rest, like wedding colors and flowers, will begin to fall into place after that.

Shane and Kristy
(Photo Credit: Seth Carpenter) Shane and Kristy pose for an engagement photo at Lake of the Woods in Mahomet, Ill.

Another big thing to keep in mind is the honeymoon (if you’re taking one). If you’re traveling somewhere out of the country, you’ll want to make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get your passport if you don’t already have it and to shop for deals. Booking our honeymoon is where Shane excelled. He kept his eye on deals for the flight and hotel to make sure we got the most out of our money. He also laid out options he found as to when and where we would fly out and when we would return. I recommend shopping around a bit to get the best bang for your buck.

I’m also glad to have Assist America on my side to lessen the stress of being out of the country. Assist America can help me get medical referrals, replacement prescriptions, hospital admission,s and much more, no matter where I’m at in the world. Visit HealthAlliance.org to learn more about Assist America.

Take a Break

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the details involved in wedding planning. Even if you have a small bridal party and guest list, there are still a lot of details. I don’t think I realized the scope of it until I started planning.

In my moments of immense wedding stress, when the planning ride was getting bumpy and I wanted to scream, I took a break. I told myself I wasn’t going to think about it for the next couple of days. After that time off, I jumped right back on the wedding planning horse for a calmer ride.

Ask for Help

Although this is true for most stress, it especially rings true in wedding planning. If you’re struggling with any part of the planning, for example, finding a band/DJ, let someone know. You shouldn’t suffer in silence! Your significant other, bridal party or parents are usually happy to help. That’s what they’re there for!

Delegate

This tip goes along with asking for help. As hard as it can be to let go, you don’t need to do everything yourself. Surely you can find a few things to hand off to someone else, no matter how large or small the detail. Again, your bridal party, fiancé, parents, and future in-laws are usually more than happy to help out.

Follow these tips, and you’ll be less stressed about your wedding. Best wishes to all the soon-to-be brides and grooms out there!

Summer Relaxing with a SEP

What’s So Special About Summer?

Didn’t buy health insurance by the deadline? Had some unexpected changes since then and need a plan, fast? A Special Enrollment Period (SEP) might be right for you. We have just what you need this summer to take a little of that heat off.

Dog Days
  1. Ice Cream
  2. Humidity More Ice Cream
  3. Getting a Special Chance to Buy Health Insurance

Every year, as summer turns to fall, and fall to winter, millions of Americans buy health insurance. During that season, the government gives everyone a chance to buy the plan they need, but by early spring, time’s up!

But here’s some good news, everyone knows the world doesn’t stop turning during the summer months. That’s why some special rules help you out when life gets interesting.

Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) are special chances to buy or make changes to your health insurance plan the rest of the year. Here’s a quick Q&A on how they work.

Interested in signing up or need to learn more? Give us a call at 1-888-382-9771! We’re here to help.

Q:  What’s an SEP?

A: After March 31, only people with a qualifying life event can change their individual or family plan or enroll in a new plan. That’s called having an SEP.

Q: What’s a qualifying life event?

A: Events include:

  • Getting married
  • Having, adopting, or the placement of a child
  • Permanently moving to a new area with different health plan options
  • Losing other health coverage because
    • You lost your job
    • You don’t work enough hours to stay on your employer’s plan
    • Your employer stops paying for your plan or stops paying as much
    • Your plan doesn’t cover the essential health benefits as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
    • A big increase in how much you pay for your plan

Q: Is a change in my income a qualifying life event?

A: For people who already have a qualified health plan, a change in income or household status can be a qualifying life event. Both of these events might change how much government help you can get to pay for your plan.

Don’t forget, you can apply for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) any time.

Q: Why don’t I always qualify for an SEP if I lose my coverage?

A: Some events don’t count as a qualifying event:

  • Losing your plan because you didn’t pay your premiums
  • Choosing on your own to quit other health coverage
  • Losing coverage that’s not minimum essential coverage, like a short-term plan or (in some cases) a catastrophic plan

Q: What if I don’t have a qualifying life event?

A: You have to wait until the next Open Enrollment Period (OEP), which will begin during the fall. The government sets the start and end dates of OEP, not Health Alliance.

You can enroll in a Short-Term plan at any time. But remember, they don’t meet the requirements of the ACA for being a qualified health plan, which means you’ll have to pay a tax penalty in 2015.

Q: How long do I have to enroll in a plan after a qualifying event?

A: 60 days.

Q: How do I enroll?

A: You get to choose how you’d like to enroll. Find what works best for you, and if you need help along the way, call us at 1-888-382-9771. Or if you’re in the Champaign area, stop by our office at 206 W. Anthony Drive (near Alexander’s Steakhouse) for help!

Q: When will my coverage start?

A: Your start date depends on your qualifying event.

If you have questions about an SEP or about your situation, give us a call at 1-888-382-9771 or stop by our office—we’re more than happy to help you find the answers.

Wowed By Washington

Wowed by Washington: The Wild and the Wilderness

Emily Beach, a Health Alliance employee in the Communications Department, visited Washington to learn more about the members we serve and what it’s like to live in North Central Washington. Read about the first part of her trip.

My next day in Washington was as busy as the day before. After grabbing a quick breakfast at the hotel, Ericka and I headed to the Town Toyota Center for a tour and a meeting with some folks with the Wenatchee Wild. We can’t say too much now, but keep your eyes and ears open come hockey season!

Next we visited the Wenatchee Senior Center. I got to watch a S.A.I.L. (Stay Active and Independent for Life) class in action and had just started to immerse myself in the bustling thrift store when I was reminded of our next appointment. My wallet thanks our tight schedule.

The next stop was in Leavenworth, with a drive through Cashmere. Shannon made sure to take me along the charming Cashmere main street and past the Aplets & Cotlets factory. In Leavenworth, we visited the beautifully updated Cascade Medical Center. It almost looked like a cabin with the gorgeous mountain view and natural light. I wish all waiting rooms looked like that one!

Leavenworth

We stopped for a delicious lunch at Fresh Burger Café, just down the street. We ate outside to enjoy the sunshine and killer view. Being from the Illinois flatlands, I could just stare at the mountains all day. But that would mean I would have missed exploring Leavenworth. The town is filled to the brim with quaint shops, flower boxes, and wooden signs that bring to mind Bavarian Germany.

Fresh Cafe

The most exciting moment for me? The pretzels! I am from Freeport, Illinois, and our high school mascot is the Pretzels. I have pretty intense Pretzel Pride.

Pretzel Case
Pretzel Shop
Pretzel Decoration

Shannon also took me a little way into the Cascades outside Leavenworth. This looked more like the Washington I knew from Olympic National Park. I wish we had time for a full hiking adventure, but I was grateful to be able to snap this roadside photo along the Tumwater Canyon. Views like this inspire me!

Tumwater

Sound like a full day? You only know the half of it!

Service Tailored to You

Candid, Not Canned

Are you looking for a health insurance company that’s happy to hear from you, wants to answer your questions and will treat you like a person instead of a policy? That’s Health Alliance.

We hate to toot our own horn, but not only did J.D. Power recently rank Health Alliance “Highest In Member Satisfaction Among Commercial Health Plans In The Illinois/Indiana Region,” we also have great members who let us know when we’re doing a good job and encourage us to keep making your experience better. Here’s a personal note from Health Alliance member Kathleen W., cheering us on!

After hours of frustrating navigation on Healthcare.gov, multiple calls to their 800 number, long hold times of 20 minutes and more, and dealing with agents who did little more than read the script that didn’t apply to me, I made a decision to call Health Alliance.

I was met with a very pleasant voice from a frontline agent who transferred me to the department I needed to answer my questions. I was lucky enough to talk to Char, who was absolutely fabulous!!!  She answered my questions, actually answered the questions I asked and didn’t read the answer from a script!

She was knowledgeable, friendly, and funny, and honestly, Char is why I chose Health Alliance. During a follow-up call to the 800 number I was transferred again to the same department and had the pleasure of speaking with another terrific agent! She too was knowledgeable and funny and made me glad that I chose Health Alliance!

I have over 20 years in call centers, experience in agent training and operations management, and I know great customer service when I hear it!  Keep up the great work!!

– Kathleen W., Health Alliance member

Thanks, Kathleen! We’re happy to help!

Give us a call at 1-888-382-9771 or visit HealthAlliance.org to discover more!

 

*Health Alliance Medical Plans received the highest numerical score among commercial health plans in the Illinois/Indiana region in the proprietary J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Member Health Plan Study (SM). Study based on 34,315 total member responses, measuring seven plans in the Illinois/Indiana region (excludes Medicare and Medicaid). Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of members surveyed December 2013–January 2014. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com.

Fighting Hunger Through Food

Long View: Solving Hunger One Bite at a Time

It seems I might be a little fixated on food. A number of friends and family members seem to think I live mealtime to mealtime, which may explain my recent weight gain. As many of us enjoy Central Illinois’ bounty, it’s important to remember many of our neighbors are not so lucky.

In Illinois, we are fortunate to have access to food banks across the state. Julie Melton is the director of Marketing and Development at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank (EIF). They distribute millions of pounds of food to over 100,000 individuals across their network of more than 220 sites. She told me, “Based on our Hunger in America Study, a full third of the seniors in the Eastern Illinois Foodbank’s service area experience food insecurity rates of 15 percent to 41 percent. In some areas, more than 42 percent of seniors are food insecure, which is among the highest rates of senior hunger in Illinois.”

You can help fight food insecurity, which means someone doesn’t have reliable access to nutritious, affordable food.

“Every $1 donation can buy $10 worth of food or provide 6 meals for neighbors in our community,” Melton said.

Jim Hires, executive director at the EIF, said, “Older American food insecurity is a growing problem. Addressing senior hunger has become an increasingly major concern and focus across the nation, and especially in our 14-county region. The Eastern Illinois Foodbank and our agency partners are committing more of our resources to this issue in the coming months and long term.”

Donating and volunteering at your local food pantry or soup kitchen are better ways to give. Your nearest food bank will be thankful for any support you offer. Search for one nearby at FeedingIllinois.org.

Solving hunger won’t happen overnight. But we can all help one small bite at a time. There are people in all of our communities who don’t have enough to eat. After seeing these statistics, I am more thankful for my food. I bet you will be, too.

 

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.

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