Honoring a Veteran

Vantage Point: Serving Those Who Served Us

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.  – John F. Kennedy

I have three sons who served in the armed services, one who is still an active-duty Marine. Every word of that quote means a tremendous amount to my family. We understand how the rigors, values and experiences of serving in the military shape a life. What I did not realize—until talking with Patti Strawn, RN, CHPN, of Central Washington Home Health and Hospice—was how that service influences how a veteran faces serious illness and the end of life.

There are currently 22 million U.S. veterans, and 1 of every 4 people who dies is a veteran. 20% of Confluence Health hospice patients are veterans, and understanding how to care for them seems the least we can do to repay them for their service.

A friend is a Vietnam vet, and even when going out for dinner he always chooses a seat facing the room and an exit. Many veterans cannot stand the thought of laying flat, and for some it takes a long time just to get into bed because of feelings of being trapped or confined.

Imagine that person in a nursing home, hospital, or hospice situation.

Each veteran’s needs are unique and can be influenced by a number of factors, like which war they fought in, rank, branch, enlisted or drafted, prisoner of war and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For some veterans, the pride of serving their country is a source of comfort at the end of life. For others, hard memories may bring up pain, emotional issues, and the need for forgiveness. The military culture of stoicism, “big boys don’t cry” and guilt for making it back when others did not can also present hurdles—especially when the inability to express those long-hidden feelings prevents a peaceful passing.

It is never too late to welcome a hero home. In celebration of Memorial Day, Health Alliance Medicare encourages you to honor veterans still with us by acknowledging their brave and selfless service, and by encouraging them to register with their local Veterans Affairs (VA) office. The VA works to make sure every single veteran has compassionate end-of-life care.

Visit WeHonorVeterans.org for additional information or resources.

Your Pets and Asthma

Your Pets Breathing

You’re not the only one who sometimes has trouble breathing, your pets do too. Cats, dogs, and even horses can have a hard time catching their breath.

It might sound strange, but their triggers and symptoms look a lot like yours:

Pets Triggers

  • Smoke
  • Cleaning products
  • Dust (in the house, litter, or barn)
  • Trees, grass, and mold

Pets Flare-ups

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Panting

62% of American households have pets. 95.6 million people own cats, and 83.3 million have dogs. And just like you, staying away from triggers and taking meds can help control animals’ breathing problems.

“We manage your pet’s triggers and use all the same human drugs to treat them, and that really helps,” says Dr. Brendan McKiernan, a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist and University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital director. He’s practiced for more than 40 years and is known around the world for his work on cats’ and dogs’ breathing diseases.

If you notice your cat or dog is having trouble breathing, and it’s more than the occasional hairball, take your pet to the vet. If it’s serious, take them right away.

Even though you have things in common, don’t ever share your meds with your pets. Even though their troubles might look like yours, Dr. McKiernan says, “You have to be careful. It’s like a little 10-pound baby.” You can really hurt pets with too much medicine which could make them much sicker.

Fried Chicken Diet

Long View: Why the Fried Chicken Diet Doesn’t Work

I am guessing many of you are in the same boat as me—wondering what to do about that pesky winter weight.

It’s a common problem, and I know I should do something about it. I get inspired with the first nice days of spring, but it seems by wintertime, I am adding another layer of winter warmth, so to speak.

I know many fad diets don’t work long-term. I have heard about the Paleo Diet, but I can’t picture myself eating like a caveman. The Grapefruit Diet worked for me, sort of, but only because I hate grapefruit.

Probably not the way for me to go.

When I have a question, I go to an expert, and we have one here at Health Alliance. Her name is Karen Stefaniak, and she is our wellness program administrator. She told me many diets don’t work long-term because people limit what they eat but don’t make behavior changes.

“Unfortunately most people on restrictive diets eventually gain back the weight they lost and possibly a little more,” she said. “It’s a shame to go through all that effort to end up where you started. Changes in a person’s behavior are the only way to ensure a long-term success.”

She continued: “The key to successful weight loss is to set specific goals you can reach. For example, rather than saying you are going to lose 20, set a goal to lose one pound a week. Each week, pick  a couple of things you can do that will help you lose that pound, like exercising more, limiting sweets or cutting down on snacks after dinner. Success breeds success.

“Reaching the goal of losing that first pound in week one will motivate you to keep going. You’ll begin to lose the weight slowly and at the same time learn behavior patterns that will help you keep the weight off. As always, talk with your doctor before starting any type of diet or exercise program.“

Well, Karen shared some do-able suggestions for starting a weight-loss plan. You could recruit a friend or coworker to start the journey together. I will give it a try, but I’m still hoping someone will come up with The Frito and Fried Chicken Diet. Oh wait, I am on that one now.

Wellness Visits to Prevent

Vantage Point: Wellness Visits – Well Worth Your Time

Every spring I look forward to taking my horse for a checkup. I like to hear how healthy and well taken care of he is. I cannot say I feel the same about taking time from my busy schedule for my own yearly wellness visits. Still, as I read my recent screening results and compared them to last year, I saw my scores got better. That makes me feel good about taking care of myself.

I also like the quality time I get with my doctor compared to more urgent visits when I’m sick. During the wellness exam, doctors really take the time to ask how you feel, talk about concerns and help you set health goals to help keep problem visits at bay.

Health Alliance Medicare plans cover wellness visits at no charge. Our plans also cover the routine screenings that are right for your age and gender. Please note, though, that if you bring up a problem during the wellness visit and your doctor treats or helps you deal with that problem, you might have to pay for the visit. Remember, your health is most important, so don’t be afraid to share concerns with your doctor, just be aware that doing so could change the visit from a wellness visit to something else.

Wellness (also called preventive) visits change when you move to Medicare. Medicare covers a “Welcome to Medicare” exam within 12 months of getting your Medicare Part B benefit and an annual wellness visit after that. Be sure to say you have Medicare when you schedule the exam so it is billed correctly.

Health Alliance Medicare supports members not just when they’re sick, but throughout their lives, and focuses on prevention by covering the wellness exams, immunizations, and disease screenings you need. In addition, Health Alliance Medicare may offer you a free health risk assessment with our nurse practitioner, right in the convenience of your own home. If so, I encourage you say yes to this important and free part of your coverage.

Like I do with my horse, sometimes we take care of others better than we do ourselves. But early detection of health problems through a wellness visit can save your life. The time is well worth it.

Essential Health Benefits: Get More for Your Money

Upgrading to the Meal

That glorious moment when the server at a restaurant clarifies that your meal comes with a drink … not for an extra cost, but with. Wow, what a moment. As of January 1, 2014, your health insurance plan comes with Essential Health Benefits.

If you’ve been a Health Alliance member before, we’ve covered many of these benefits for years, so you won’t see or feel much change. But if you’re new to us, welcome and enjoy!

Essential Health Benefits stretch across 10 categories. By law, no matter your age, gender, or medical history, you’re covered in these 10 areas.

Essential Health Benefits


Ambulatory Patient Services Care you get at a doctor’s office, clinic, or outpatient surgery center, including home health services and hospice care.
Emergency Services Care provided in an emergency situation where you believe your health is in serious danger, like chest pain, a broken bone, or unconsciousness.
Hospitalization Care from doctors, nurses, and hospital staff, room and board, surgeries, and transplants you receive during your hospital stay, or care in a skilled nursing facility.
Laboratory Services Testing to help a doctor diagnose an injury, illness, or condition, or monitor how well a treatment is working.
Maternity and Newborn Care Prenatal care through newborn care.
Mental Health Services and Addiction Treatment Inpatient and outpatient care to treat a mental health condition or substance abuse.
Rehab Services and Devices Services and devices to help you regain mental and physical skills lost because of injury, disability, or a chronic condition.
Pediatric Services Wellness visits and recommended vaccines and immunizations for infants and children, as well as dental and vision care for children under 19 years old.
Prescription Drugs Antibiotics and medicines to treat an ongoing condition, like high cholesterol.
Preventive and Wellness Services and Chronic Disease Treatment Physicals, immunizations, preventive screenings, and care for chronic conditions, like asthma and diabetes.

*Some services do have limits.

Affordable Care

Crunching Numbers for You

The Affordable Care Act is here to make health care affordable! Let’s run through some facts about the kinds of help you can get paying for your Health Alliance individual insurance plan, called premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies.

What’s a premium tax credit?

A premium is what you pay monthly to have insurance. A premium tax credit lowers your cost to make a plan affordable for you.

What is a cost-sharing subsidy?

A cost-sharing subsidy makes other health insurance costs affordable, like your deductible, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket max.

Who qualifies for help?

There’s a little math involved here. First, you need to know your individual or family income. If your income falls between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level, you can get help from the government.

You can get government help if you’re…
An individual with a gross income* of $12,000-$46,000 a year
A family of four with a gross income of $24,000-$94,000 a year

*Gross income is everything you make in a year, before any taxes or deductions.

What’s the federal poverty level?

The federal poverty level depends on your family’s size. In 2013, it was $11,490 for a single adult and $23,550 for a family of four. You can make up to 4 times that amount and still get help!

How much help will I get?

Again, there’s a little math involved. A few tools online will do the math for you, or a Health Alliance rep can help find your subsidy amount. Call or stop by our Champaign location at 206 W. Anthony Drive, near Alexander’s Steakhouse—we’ll crunch the numbers for you.

How do I apply this help to my bill?

The only thing you have to do is pick a plan from the Public Marketplace. Any public plan will let you apply for government help. The government deals directly with us after you enroll to apply its help to your bill.

What can I do if I don’t qualify for help, but I still don’t have a lot of money? 

  1. Think about your individual risk. Your individual risk is the plan’s medical deductible added to the out-of-pocket max. This is the most you’ll have to pay (besides the monthly premium,) before a plan will cover 100% of your costs. What are you OK with paying if the worst were to happen?
  2. Pay attention to a plan’s deductible and out-of-pocket max. The higher your deductible and out-of-pocket max, the lower your monthly premium. Keep in mind that if you get sick or hurt, you will have to pay for all your medical costs until you meet your plan’s deductible.
  3. Call or stop by. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s smart. When you need medical advice, you call the doctor. When you need health insurance insight, you talk to our helpful reps.
Moving Day

Long View: Tough Talks Now Can Save Hurt Feelings Later

Did you ever notice how much stuff you have packed in your house? It seems to have a life of its own! There was a point where I thought, “If I bring one more thing home, something will pop out of an upstairs window.” The thought of moving with all these treasures in tow is daunting. Imagine if you had to do so without notice or against your wishes. That would be a nightmare.

Sadly, some of our older friends and family members find themselves in that situation. They need to transition suddenly from independent living to a group or assisted-living facility, whether the move is short-term or permanent.

It seems talking about this tough situation ahead of time could save a lot of pain later.

There are some early signs that it is time to talk about moving options. Trouble getting dressed or not being able to make food are a couple of warnings that a change is in order. Sudden changes in behavior or severe forgetfulness are more alarming, and require fast action to protect your loved one.

Rosanna McLain is the director of the Senior Resource Center at Family Services of Champaign County. She advises, “Get your family member to his or her doctor so the cause of the changes can be determined, and then develop a plan of action. It’s best to talk about their wishes before the need is there.

“It’s tough to bring up sometimes, but our family members should be the drivers of their lives and make their wishes known ahead of time. Remember, you can find caregiver support programs at local senior centers and Area Agencies on Aging. Experienced specialists can help guide you through difficult times like these, so give them a call.”

There you have it. It wouldn’t hurt for all of us to plan for the future. Simplifying our lives and possessions as we go along is probably the best plan. I intend to clean out the junk room this spring. Of course I’ve had the same plan for the last three springs. Wish me luck tackling those treasures.