Take a Vacation = Take Care of Yourself
September 27, 2022
You work hard but do you also take time to relax, seek adventure, and recharge your mind and body? There are some major benefits to taking a vacation although many employees come up with excuses not to use all their vacation time each year.
Memo to Employees: Taking a Vacation Has Benefits
After you come up with a bounty of excuses for not taking a vacation—you feel guilty about being away from your office, you may think a vacation would be too expensive, or you are saving excess time for an unexpected event—you may be able to overcome these obstacles when you realize a vacation can provide the following benefits.
- Improves mental health. A recent study reports that after taking a vacation, travelers feel less anxious, happier, and well-rested.
- Prevents heart disease. By taking time off, you can lower your stress levels caused by working, which can, in turn, prevent your risk for heart disease or heart attacks.
- Brings happiness before, during, and after a trip. Planning a vacation helps you visualize the happiness your vacation will bring that will be experienced during your trip and as fond memories after you return to work.
- Increases productivity and creativity. When your brain is exposed to new experiences including languages, sights, sounds, and cultures, you feel revitalized, and your creativity is boosted. If you take regular time to relax, you’ll be less likely to experience burnout.
- Strengthens relationships. Traveling and exploring with other travelers—friends, family, or even a tour group– can add some fun and closeness to your relationships.
Memo to Employers: Encouraging your workers to take a vacation has benefits
If you are an employer, encourage your workers to take time off. Both you and your team deserve a break and the freedom to schedule vacations. To encourage your employees to take vacations, pay attention to these tips from Business News Daily:
- Acknowledge your employees’ need for vacation time.
- Build a process through which team members can cover for colleagues taking time off.
- Regularly remind employees of deadlines to submit holiday vacation requests.
- Show interest in your employees’ vacation plans.
- Clearly explain your time-off policies in your employee handbook.
- Promote a healthy work-life balance as part of your company culture.
- Lead by example and take vacations.
Whether you rely on colorful printed brochures or flashy online resources, start planning a well-deserved vacation now! When you decide on an international, stateside, or local adventure, check on any medical precautions, prescriptions you may need to have at the ready for the duration of your trip, and health and travel insurance policies. Then, record all your travel arrangements for your getaway at insureyouknow.org.
Calling All Employers to Support Mental Health
August 15, 2022
According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2022 Work and Well-being Survey, eight in 10 U.S. workers say they would prefer to work for companies that provide support for mental health concerns. Of the employees surveyed, 71 percent believe employers are more concerned about the mental health of their employees now than in the past.
When asked to select from a list of a dozen possible supports that they would like to see employers offer, flexible work hours were the most chosen support at 41 percent of workers, followed by a workplace culture that respects time off at 34 percent, the ability to work remotely at 33 percent, and a four-day work week at 31 percent.
Potential Benefits of Supporting Mental Health
- Increased productivity: Research shows that nearly 86 percent of employees treated for depression report improved work performance. Also, treatment of depression has been shown to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism (lost productivity occurring when employees are not fully functioning in the workplace because of an illness, injury, or other condition) by 40 to 60 percent.
- Increased retention: In a 2019 survey of more than 1,500 employees nationwide, more than a third of the respondents said they had left a job due at least in part to mental health. Of these, 59 percent said mental health was the primary reason.
- Decreased health care and disability costs: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, rates of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases are twice as high in adults with serious mental illness. The connection between physical health and mental health prompted the American Heart Association to release a report called Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis. It urges employers to provide comprehensive programs for the prevention and treatment of mental illness. The report found that the cost of doing nothing is higher than investing in evidence-based prevention and treatment.
Ways to Support Employee Mental Health
With these findings in mind, employees should consider implementing the following five ways to support employee mental health:
1. Understand how mental health impacts your employees.
- Make mental health training mandatory for your company’s leaders to help them be more aware of and invested in this aspect of their employees’ well-being.
- Train managers on what to do if they see signs of emotional distress or substance abuse.
- Use mental health calculators to estimate the prevalence and associated costs of untreated depression and alcohol and substance abuse at your workplace.
- Consider using surveys such as the Work Limitations Questionnaire and the Brief Job Stress Questionnaire to measure how your employees’ health and stress levels affect their productivity.
2. Include mental health coverage as part of your health care plan.
- Learn about the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. It requires insurance coverage for mental health conditions, including substance use disorders, to be no more restrictive than insurance coverage for other medical conditions.
- Avoid plans that offer “phantom” mental health coverage. And find out how many psychologists and psychiatrists are in-network.
- Provide a health savings account (HSA) to help offset out-of-pocket costs.
3. Establish an employee assistance program (EAP).
Many companies use an employee assistance program (EAP) to support workplace mental health. While some employees may be reluctant to use this resource due to fear of stigma, shame, and lack of understanding about how these confidential programs work, you can take the following actions to increase EAP usage:
- Provide direct access to mental health professionals via phone or in person.
- Offer this resource to employees as well as to their immediate family members.
- Make it easy for employees to know with whom to talk or where to go to access mental health resources.
- Emphasize that your EAP can be accessed confidentially and free of charge.
4. Use communication to reduce stigma and increase access to mental health resources.
- Don’t wait until open enrollment to mention mental health benefits and community resources. Promote them frequently, such as in monthly newsletters.
- Ensure that your executives mention emotional well-being every time they talk about recruiting talent and building an inclusive culture that helps employees bring their best selves to work.
- Offer workshops so employees can learn more about mental health and resilience.
5. Promote well-being.
- Build as much flexibility as possible into all employees’ schedules.
- Offer access to apps that can help with sleep and stress reduction.
- Consider offering a meditation room, mindfulness training, or yoga classes at work.
- Encourage employees to use their vacation time. Some companies do this by limiting the number of vacation days employees can roll over into the next year.
- Provide accommodations and develop a return-to-work process so that employees who need to take a leave of absence because of a mental health issue feel supported when they come back.
And finally, create opportunities for employees to build connections with one another, such as through social events, affinity groups, and social media platforms.
APA Survey Conclusions
The APA survey shows that the U.S. currently has a workforce that seeks improvements to mental health support at work. While the pandemic may have exacerbated stressors among workers, particularly those in marginalized communities, it also provided an opportunity for employers to take action to prioritize employee well-being.
Whether you are an employer or an employee, you can support mental health coverage as part of your company’s health care plan. At insureyouknow.org, you can document healthcare benefits that cover your mental health concerns, a list of the healthcare providers with whom you visit, and a record of prescriptions you take for physical and mental health issues.
In August, Embrace National Wellness Month
July 14, 2022
When you think about “wellness,” being physically fit may come first to your mind. During National Wellness Month in August, if you also focus on self-care, managing stress, and adopting healthy routines, you can establish lifestyle changes and add long-lasting habits to your list of wellness goals.
At Chopra.com, you’ll learn that self-care is simply one of the best medicines for managing stress. Self-care means the daily, weekly, and lifelong behaviors, actions, and thoughts you take to preserve or improve your long-term health and happiness.
You can make small self-care changes, including:
- Increase your water intake.
- Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet.
- Monitor your sleep and make adjustments for better sleep habits.
- Join a yoga, walking, or aerobics class.
- Learn to meditate and practice it daily.
These small steps can lead to many more healthy habits in your lifestyle.
There are many healthy ways to manage stress, including:
- Recognize the things you can’t change.
- Avoid stressful situations.
- Get exercise.
- Change your outlook.
- Do something you enjoy.
- Learn new ways to relax.
- Connect with loved ones.
- Get enough sleep.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Learn to say no.
Adopting Healthy Routines
Physical activity is any body movement that works your muscles and requires more energy than resting. Walking, running, dancing, swimming, yoga, and gardening are a few examples of physical activity.
Being active can:
- Protect your heart.
- Improve blood flow.
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Give you more stamina and the ability to cope with stress.
If you’re inactive, you’re nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease than if you’re active. Learn more about the benefits of physical activity on the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website.
Keeping Track of Your Health
When you go to your healthcare provider for an annual wellness check or during the year for other medical concerns, you probably receive follow-up messages about lab test results, diagnoses, or medications recommended. Your healthcare provider keeps your medical record on file but it’s a good idea for you to maintain your personal health record.
What kind of information should you put in a personal health record? You could start with:
- Copies of your health insurance cards and vaccination records.
- Your name, birth date, blood type, and emergency contact information.
- Date of last physical.
- Dates and results of tests and screenings.
- Major illnesses and surgeries, with dates.
- A list of your medicines and supplements, the dosages, and the length you’ve taken them.
- Any allergies.
- Any chronic diseases.
- Any history of illnesses in your family.
During National Wellness Month, you can save your personal health record at insureyouknow.org and keep updating it after each visit to your healthcare provider or if you have any changes in your health conditions or prescriptions.
Drought Eased by Rain and Your Call to Action
May 1, 2022
Is it raining today or is rain in the forecast this week? Rain can bring relief to drought—a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall, leading to a shortage of water. Droughts can last a single season, a whole year, or for many years, and can affect a few hundred or millions of square miles.
Public health implications of drought include concerns about water, food and nutrition, air quality, sanitation and hygiene, recreational risks, and infectious and chronic diseases.
Reduced stream and river flows can increase the concentration of pollutants in water and cause stagnation that kills fish and other aquatic life. Many parts of the United States depend on groundwater as a primary source of water. Groundwater sometimes contains naturally present germs and harmful chemicals from the environment, such as arsenic and radon. More often, human activities contaminate groundwater.
What Can You Do? Learn to correctly use fertilizers and pesticides; maintain septic systems; properly remove or store wastes; and prevent chemical spills at work sites.
Food and Nutrition
Drought can limit the growing season and create conditions that encourage insect and disease infestation in certain crops. Low crop yields can result in rising food prices and shortages, potentially leading to malnutrition.
What Can You Do? Whether you grow your vegetables or buy them at a farmer’s market or grocery store, select drought-tolerant vegetables specifically bred for drought resistance. Popular choices include lima beans, pole beans, corn, mustard greens, okra, squash, Heatwave II tomatoes, Black Diamond watermelons, and most herbs.
The dusty, dry conditions and wildfires that often accompany drought can harm your health. Fire, combined with dry soil and vegetation, increases the number of particulates suspended in the air, such as pollen, smoke, and fluorocarbons that can irritate the bronchial passages and lungs, making chronic respiratory illnesses like asthma, bronchitis, and bacteria pneumonia worse.
What Can You Do? Learn about CDC’s EXHALE strategies to help people with asthma achieve better health: Education on asthma self-management; X-tinguishing smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke; Home visits for trigger reduction and asthma self-management education; Achievement of guidelines-based medical management; Linkages and coordination of care across settings; Environmental policies or best practices to reduce asthma triggers from indoor, outdoor, or occupational sources.
Sanitation and Hygiene
Having water available for cleaning, sanitation, and hygiene reduces or controls many diseases. Drought conditions create the need to conserve water, but conservation efforts should not prevent proper sanitation and hygiene.
What Can You Do? Your attention to personal hygiene, cleaning, hand washing, and washing of fruits and vegetables can be done in a way that conserves water and reduces health risks. Install low-flow faucet aerators in your business and home to reduce water consumption while maintaining hand washing and other healthy hygienic behaviors.
If you engage in water-related recreational activities during drought, you may be at increased risk for waterborne disease caused by bacteria, protozoa, and other contaminants such as chemicals and heavy metals.
What Can You Do? The best way you can prevent swimming-related illnesses from spreading is to keep germs out of the water in the first place. This means that if you or your child has been sick with diarrhea in the past two weeks, you should stay out of the water. To protect yourself from the most common swimming-related illnesses, keep water out of your mouth when you swim and dry your ears after you swim.
Increases in infectious disease can be a direct consequence of drought. Viruses, protozoa, and bacteria can pollute groundwater and surface water when rainfall decreases. If you get your drinking water from a private well or if you have an underlying chronic condition, you may be at higher risk for drought-related infectious disease.
What Can You Do? To prevent the spread of acute respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses from person to person, be diligent in handwashing. If you get your drinking water from a well, check it at least every spring to make sure there are no mechanical problems and test it once each year for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels. If you suspect other contaminants, you should test for those as well.
Conditions associated with drought may negatively impact people who have certain chronic health conditions such as asthma and some immune disorders. Drought-related changes in air quality, such as increased concentrations of air particulates and airborne toxins resulting from freshwater algal blooms, can irritate the eyes, lungs, and respiratory systems of persons with chronic respiratory conditions.
What Can You Do? By making healthy behavior part of your daily life, you may prevent the exacerbation or occurrence of chronic disease conditions. Heed warnings about adverse weather conditions and stay indoors, avoid strenuous outdoor activities, and take prescribed medications. Talk to your health care provider if symptoms worsen.
Diseases Transmitted by Insects and Animals
In periods of limited rainfall, both human and animal behavior can change in ways that increase the likelihood of vector-borne diseases. During dry periods, wild animals are more likely to seek water in areas where humans live. These behaviors increase the likelihood of human contact with wildlife, the insects they host, and the diseases they carry.
Stagnant water provides additional breeding grounds for certain types of mosquitoes that can transmit the West Nile virus to humans.
What Can You Do? If you collect rainwater, don’t let the water get stagnant and become a manmade mosquito breeding area. Dump out any standing water, including in outdoor pet bowls and flowerpots. Pick up litter—bottles, cups, cans, car tires, and other containers that can hold water—on your property. Keep your lawn free of overgrown trees, brush, weeds, and tall grass. Plant mosquito-repelling herbs, flowers, and plants, including peppermint, lavender, marigolds, and feverfew.
Your portal at insureyouknow.org is an ideal place to keep track of your home insurance and maintenance records, annual surveys of your property, and records of repairs and purchases needed for water resources, including septic systems or wells.
Before You Take a Deep Breath Outside This Spring
April 15, 2022
You’ve got cabin fever and spring weather is beckoning you to enjoy the great outdoors. Before you venture forth–even if it’s just to your backyard—curtail allergic reactions to pollen that may cause you to have hay fever and start to sniffle and sneeze.
Causes and symptoms
The biggest spring allergy trigger is pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds that release tiny grains into the air to fertilize other plants. When these particles get into the nose of someone who’s allergic, they send the body’s defenses into high gear.
The immune system mistakenly sees the pollen as a danger and releases antibodies that attack the allergens leading to the release of histamines into the blood. Histamines are chemicals that trigger a runny nose, itchy eyes, dark circles under your eyes, and other symptoms that are familiar if you have allergies.
Pollen counts tend to be particularly high on breezy days when the wind picks up sneeze-inducing grains and carries them through the air. Rainy days wash away allergens.
Being inside may protect you from windblown pollen, but other seasonal triggers, such as mold and dust mites, can be prevalent inside your house and cause allergic reactions.
Start with your primary physician who may refer you to an allergist for tests. An allergy specialist may give you a skin test, which involves either pricking the surface of the skin with a tiny amount of allergen or injecting a tiny sample of a diluted allergen under the skin of your arm or back. If you’re allergic to the substance, a small red bump (called a wheal or hive) will form. You may also undergo a blood test to detect and measure the allergen-specific antibodies in your blood.
Many over-the-counter and prescription drugs can ease the symptoms of allergies. They include:
- Antihistamines reduce sneezing, sniffling, and itching by lowering the amount of histamine in your body.
- Decongestants shrink blood vessels in the nasal passageways to relieve congestion and swelling.
- Antihistamine/decongestant combos combine the effects of both drugs.
- Nasal spray decongestants relieve congestion and may clear clogged nasal passages faster than oral decongestants without some of the side effects.
- Steroid nasal sprays ease inflammation and are the preferred initial treatment.
- Eye drops relieve itchy, watery eyes.
- Immunotherapy gives you gradually increasing doses of the allergen until your body can handle it. The treatment can relieve your symptoms for a longer time than other types of allergy medications. Although it doesn’t work for everyone, it can stave off some people’s symptoms for a few years.
If you feel like you need over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants for more than a few days, ask your doctor to recommend an effective regimen, which may include:
- Prescription medications, including steroid nasal sprays,
- Allergy shots, or
- Under-the-tongue immunotherapy tablets.
Some natural and alternative remedies for allergies that may ease your symptoms include:
- Nasal irrigation, a way to rinse your nasal passages with saline solution
- Butterbur, an herb from a European shrub that shows potential for relieving seasonal allergy symptoms
- Acupuncture, a technique in which practitioners stimulate specific points on the body—most often by inserting thin needles through the skin
Talk to your doctor before you start any herbal product or alternative treatment. Some can cause side effects or react with medications you take.
After you choose and try allergy remedies, keep track of your selections and effectiveness at insureyouknow.org. On this handy portal, you’ll also be able to retain health insurance coverage records, details about office visits and allergy tests, and dates of prescriptions so you’ll know when you need refills to prevent seasonal allergies from interrupting your spring activities.
Steps to Take in American Heart Month
February 15, 2022
February, celebrated as American Heart Month, is a time to reflect on your heart health, consider your risk factors, and take steps toward preventing heart disease and stroke.
Review these seven signs for heart disease risk:
- Smoking. More than 35 million adults in America are smokers, and thousands of young people pick up the habit daily. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you’re a smoker, do your best to quit or cut down. The American Lung Association can help tobacco users figure out their reasons for quitting and then take the big step of quitting for good.
- Physical inactivity. Regular physical activity helps improve overall health and reduces the risk for heart disease, stroke, and premature death. In people with cardiovascular disease, physical activity can help manage their conditions; exercise training has been shown to have a positive effect on people with certain types of heart failure, and cardiac rehabilitation, which includes physical activity training, helps improve the health of people who have had a heart attack or bypass surgery.
- Nutrition. Make heart-healthy diet decisions. Eat whole foods low in trans-fat, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar. Nutritionists recommend that you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
- Overweight/Obesity. People overweight or obese have a higher risk for heart disease. Carrying extra weight can put extra stress on the heart and blood vessels. To find out if your weight is in a healthy range, you can calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) at CDC’s Assessing Your Weight website.
- High Cholesterol. Your health care team should test your blood levels of cholesterol at least once every 4 to 6 years. If you have already been diagnosed with high cholesterol or have a family history of the condition, you may need to have your cholesterol checked more often. Talk with your health care provider about this simple blood test. If you have high cholesterol, medicines and lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk for heart disease.
- Diabetes. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels carefully. Talk with your health care team about treatment options. Your doctor may recommend certain lifestyle changes to help keep your blood sugar under control. These actions will help reduce your risk for heart disease.
- High Blood Pressure. Millions of people in the United States have high blood pressure, and millions of them are as young as 40 or 50. If you are one of them, talk to your doctor about ways to control it. High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, so have it checked on a regular basis. Your health care team should measure your blood pressure at least once every 2 years if you have never had high blood pressure or other risk factors for heart disease.
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, also called hypertension, your healthcare provider will measure your blood pressure more often to make sure you have the condition under control. Ask how often you should check your blood pressure which can be done at a doctor’s office, at a pharmacy, or at home.
Your health care team might recommend some changes in your lifestyle, such as lowering sodium in your diet; your doctor also may prescribe medicine to help lower your blood pressure.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have put off scheduling a routine annual physical examination. Healthcare professionals take precautions daily to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in their facilities. If you feel comfortable with your vaccination status and safety measures in place, make an appointment to find out if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol and to address other risk factors.
After you check in with your healthcare provider to rate your risk for heart disease and stroke, keep track of recommended prevention steps, prescribed medications, lab test results, and a calendar of completed and upcoming appointments at insureyouknow.org.
The Most Wonderful/Stressful Time of the Year
December 1, 2021
Welcome to what is referred to as both the “most wonderful” and the “most stressful time of the year.” During the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be experiencing stress and depression—unwanted emotions that can ruin your holidays and impact your physical and mental health.
Although you can’t control inflation, high gas prices, food and toy shortages, and shipping delays, you can be realistic, plan ahead, and seek support to overcome holiday stress and depression. You may even end up embracing the “most wonderful time of the year.”
Tips to Deal with Seasonal Pressures
Be realistic. COVID-19 cases are on the rise in some areas and even if you’ve been vaccinated, you may decide not to gather with friends and relatives in person. You can opt for a virtual celebration or increase efforts to share photos, texts, emails, phone calls, or videos with loved ones.
Avoid overspending, especially if you’re already feeling financial stress. Consider alternatives to expensive gifts by donating to charities in giftees’ names or by making and giving homemade presents.
Strive to decorate your home, create meals and desserts, and select gifts that will be appreciated not because they are “perfect” but because they are heartfelt and sincere.
Plan ahead. Compile lists of recipients and specific gift ideas; don’t go to browse in busy stores, hoping for inspiration. Save time and frustration caused by traffic and parking congestion by shopping online for items on your gift list. Schedule specific times to shop, bake, and attend social events. Plan menus and then create a detailed grocery list to prevent forgetting needed ingredients.
Acknowledge your feelings. Stress about gatherings with family and friends, or feeling grief about missing loved ones, may result in sadness and grief. Take time to acknowledge and express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. If you celebrate in person or in other ways as described above, set aside differences and controversial topics and concentrate on positive conversations.
Practice mindfulness by bringing your attention to the present moment and avoid getting stressed about past or future events.
Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events, or communities. Many helpful organizations have websites, online support groups, social media sites, or virtual events that can offer support and companionship.
Volunteering your time and doing something to help others also are good ways to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Consider dropping off a meal and dessert at a friend’s home or to a community center that serves less fortunate individuals during the holidays.
Learn to say no. Set priorities based on preserving your well-being and don’t overextend yourself or you may wind up feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Learn to feel guilt-free when you decline invitations and recognize that you sometimes need to allow yourself to say no to demands on your time.
Maintain healthy habits. Get ample sleep, eat well—even at holiday events—and stay physically active in your daily routine. Maintaining healthy habits during the holiday season will be one of your best defenses against stress. When you feel a bout of stress coming on, have a healthy snack before a holiday party to curb your desire for high-calorie food and drink. Try deep-breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga. Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol, and drug use.
Take a breather. Make time for yourself. Find an activity you enjoy like taking a walk, listening to calming music, or reading (or listening to) a book. Disconnect temporarily from social media and electronic devices.
Seek professional help if you need it. Even after following all the tips listed above, you may find yourself feeling continuously sad or anxious, beset by physical complaints and lack of sleep, and unable to face daily chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. If you rely on medications to maintain your physical and mental health, make sure your prescriptions are up-to-date and that you have an adequate supply when your doctor’s office or pharmacy may be closed or have reduced hours during the holidays.
At InsureYouKnow.org, you can keep a handy record of your prescriptions, refill expiration dates, and contact information for healthcare providers who prescribe and pharmacies that fill your medications.
Medicare Enrollment: Open Until December 7
October 28, 2021
Medicare is a national health insurance program administered by the federal government for people 65 or older. You’re first eligible to sign up for Medicare three months before you turn 65. You may be eligible to get Medicare earlier if you have a disability, End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
From October 15 through December 7 every year, depending on your circumstances, you are allowed to enroll in or switch to another Medicare Advantage plan or Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, or to drop your plan and return to Original Medicare. View a complete list of Medicare enrollment dates.
If you qualify for Medicare coverage or know someone who may need your help to learn about Medicare, coverage options, and how to apply, keep reading for a quick course in Medicare Basics.
Medicare and Medicare-approved private insurance companies offer the following options for you to get health care coverage:
- Part A (Hospital Insurance): Helps cover inpatient care in hospitals, skilled nursing facility care, hospice care, and home health care.
- Part B (Medical Insurance): Helps cover:
- Services from doctors and other health care providers
- Outpatient care
- Home health care
- Durable medical equipment (like wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds, and other equipment)
- Many preventive services (like screenings, shots, or vaccines, and yearly “wellness” visits)
- Part C (Medicare Advantage): Medicare-approved private insurance companies that provide all Part A and Part B services and may provide prescription drug coverage and other supplemental benefits.
- Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage): Medicare-approved private insurance companies that provide outpatient prescription drug coverage.
- Medicare Supplemental Insurance (Medigap): Extra insurance you can buy from a private company that helps pay your share of costs in Original Medicare. Policies are standardized, and in most states named by letters, like Plan G or Plan K. The benefits in each lettered plan are the same, no matter which insurance company sells it.
- You need both Part A and Part B to buy a Medigap policy.
- Some Medigap policies offer coverage when you travel outside the United States.
- Generally, Medigap policies don’t cover long-term care (like care in a nursing home), vision, dental, hearing aids, private-duty nursing, or prescription drugs.
- If you’re under 65, you might not be able to buy a Medigap policy, or you may have to pay more.
- Medigap policies are standardized, and in most states named by letters, like Plan G or Plan K. The benefits in each lettered plan are the same, no matter which insurance company sells it.
- Find a Medigap policy that works for you.
When you first sign up for Medicare and during open enrollment periods, you can choose one of the following two ways to get your Medicare coverage.
- Original Medicare (Includes Part A and Part B)
- With Original Medicare, you can go to any doctor or hospital that takes Medicare, anywhere in the United States. Find providers that work with Medicare.
- Join a separate Medicare drug plan (Part D) to get drug coverage. If you choose Original Medicare and want to add drug coverage, you can join a separate Medicare drug plan. Medicare drug coverage is optional. It’s available to everyone with Medicare.
- If you have other insurance you also may have other coverage, like employer or union, military, or veterans’ benefits, learn how Original Medicare works with your other coverage.
- Medicare Advantage (Part C)
- Medicare Advantage is a Medicare-approved plan from a private company that offers an alternative to Original Medicare for your health and drug coverage. These “bundled” plans include Part A, Part B, and usually Part D.
- In most cases, you’ll need to use doctors who are in the plan’s network.
- Plans may have lower out-of-pocket costs than Original Medicare.
- Plans may offer some extra benefits that Original Medicare doesn’t cover—like vision, hearing, and dental services.
- Most Medicare Advantage Plans include Part D coverage.
- Below are the most common types of Medicare Advantage Plans:
- Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) Plans
- Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) PlansPrivate Fee-for-Service (PFFS) PlansSpecial Needs Plans (SNPs)
- Find a Medicare Advantage Plan for 2022.
Generally, you pay a monthly premium for Medicare coverage and part of the costs each time you get a covered service. There’s no yearly limit on what you pay out-of-pocket, unless you have supplemental coverage, like a Medicare Supplement Insurance. Get Medicare costs for current premium rates.
Health Insurance Assistance
Contact your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to get free personalized health insurance counseling. SHIPs aren’t connected to any insurance company or health plan.
Sign Up Process
When you’re ready, contact Social Security to sign up for Medicare coverage:
- Apply online (at Social Security): This is the easiest and fastest way to sign up and get any financial help you may need. You’ll need to create your secure my Social Security account to sign up for Medicare or apply for Social Security benefits online.
- Call 1-800-772-1213. TTY users can call 1-800-325-0778.
- Contact your local Social Security office.
- If you or your spouse worked for a railroad, call the Railroad Retirement Board at 1-877-772-5772.
Note: Medicare provides your coverage, but you’ll sign up through Social Security (or the Railroad Retirement Board) because they need to see if you’re eligible for Medicare, including whether you (or another qualifying person) paid Medicare taxes long enough to get Part A without having to pay a monthly premium. They also process requests to sign up for Part B for Medicare.
After you’ve met all the requirements to apply for Medicare coverage, have made your choices, and have signed up online, keep track of your decisions and copies of your Medicare, Medigap, and Medicare Advantage Plan membership information at insureyouknow.org.
What’s New for Flu?
September 30, 2021
During flu season last year, a record-low number of flu cases was linked to face mask wearing, remote work and school attendance, and physical distancing. But this year, experts fear that the reopening of schools, decreased adherence to pandemic precautions, and surging breakouts and Delta variant infections could result in a serious flu and COVID-19-season.
Take note of differences for 2021-2022 flu season
The Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC) pinpoints a few things that are different for the 2021-2022 influenza (flu) season including:
- The composition of flu vaccines has been updated.
- All flu vaccines will be quadrivalent (four component), meaning designed to protect against four different flu viruses. For more information: Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccine | CDC.
- Licensure on one flu vaccine has changed. Flucelvax Quadrivalent is now approved for people 2 years and older.
- Flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time.
- Guidance concerning contraindications and precautions for the use of two flu vaccines – Flucevax Quadrivalent and Flublok Quadrivalent – were updated.
Take time now to get a flu vaccine
You can get your flu vaccine as you normally do, whether that’s through your health care provider or your local pharmacist. CDC has been working with health care providers and state and local health departments on how to vaccinate people against flu without increasing their risk of exposure to respiratory viruses, like the virus that causes COVID-19, and has released Interim Guidance for Immunization Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses.
- Flu vaccines help to reduce the burden of flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths on the health care system each year.
- This season, all flu vaccines will be designed to protect against the four flu viruses that research indicates will be most common.
- Everyone 6 months and older should get an annual flu vaccine, ideally by the end of October.
- Vaccination of people at higher risk of developing serious flu complications is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness.
- People at higher risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with certain chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease, and people 65 years and older.
- Vaccination also is important for health care workers, and other people who live with or care for people at higher risk to keep from spreading flu to them. This is especially true for people who work in long-term care facilities, which are home to many of the people most vulnerable to flu.
- Children younger than 6 months are at higher risk of serious flu illness but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for infants should be vaccinated instead.
Take preventive actions to reduce the spread of flu
close contact with people who are sick.
- If you are sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
coughs and sneezes.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to prevent the spread of germs.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with viruses that cause flu.
- For flu, CDC recommends that people stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessities. Fever should be gone without the need to use a fever-reducing medicine. Note that the stay-at-home guidance for COVID-19 may be different. Learn about some of the similarities and differences between flu and COVID-19.
- In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, local governments, or public health departments may recommend additional precautions that you should follow in your community.
Take antiviral drugs if prescribed
- If you are sick with flu, antiviral drugs can be used to treat your illness.
- Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. They are prescription medicines and are not available over-the-counter.
- Antiviral drugs can make flu illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications.
- Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within 2 days of getting sick, but starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a higher risk factor or is very sick from flu.
- If you are at higher risk from flu and get flu symptoms, call your health care provider early so you can be treated with flu antivirals if needed. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking this drug.
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever. Visit CDC’s website to find out what to do if you get sick with flu. Learn about some of the similarities and differences between flu and COVID-19, and the difference between flu and the common cold.
After you have gotten your vaccine for the 2021-2022 flu season, keep a record of the date of and description of your injection at insureyouknow.org. On this secure website, you also can keep copies of your insurance cards and driver’s license that could be helpful when you fill out medical forms at your doctor’s office or neighborhood pharmacy.
August = Back to School
July 30, 2021
Back to School Month has been observed in August since the 1960s to help parents, students, and teachers prepare for a new academic year. In addition to shopping for back-to-school supplies, backpacks, and clothes during the month, parents also will need to address how the coming academic year could look different, especially if their children attended virtual classes exclusively during the 2020-2021 school year.
In reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, physical arrangements in schools could result in the placement of desks far apart from one another, maintenance of physical distance by teachers and students, the possibility of students and teachers staying in their classrooms for lunch, and the wearing of face masks.
COVID-19 also can affect children and young people socially, emotionally, and mentally. These issues also need to be addressed when students return in person to school.
COVID-19 Prevention in Schools
To help students return to school in person, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools, that includes the following key takeaways.
- Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.
- Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.
- Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated. Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
- CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking.
- Screening testing, ventilation, handwashing, and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are also important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.
- Students, teachers, and staff should stay home when they have signs of any infectious illness and be referred to their healthcare provider for testing and care.
- Many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not currently eligible for vaccination. Therefore, this guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies to protect people who are not fully vaccinated, including students, teachers, staff, and other members of their households.
- COVID-19 prevention strategies remain critical to protect people, including students, teachers, and staff, who are not fully vaccinated, especially in areas of moderate-to-high community transmission levels.
- Localities should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies.
COVID-19 Stress and Coping
According to the Child Mind Institute, “Children who are heading back to the classroom this fall are facing unusual challenges, and one of them is anxiety about being separated from their families after months of togetherness. For some kids it will trigger separation anxiety, in addition to the anxiety they may feel about leaving their safe harbor from the pandemic.”
“Kids are just really used to being home with their parents now,” notes Jennifer Louie, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. Even kids who had comfortably adjusted to being in school before the pandemic are finding it stressful to be separated now. And, she adds, “there is the added fear that other people are not as safe as we thought they were.”
For some children, the excitement of going back to school after so many months stuck at home will outweigh potential anxiety, Dr. Louie notes. “But I think the kids who already have anxiety are more prone to being more anxious going back.”
So, parents have a complicated mission dealing with all this anxiety and uncertainty: reassuring children that it’s safe to be away from them, while also encouraging them to be careful and preparing them to be flexible in case the situation changes. How do you do that? Here are some pointers from the Child Mind Institute.
- Validate their feelings: Parents should stay calm and positive. If your child lets you know that he’s worried or is having negative feelings about going back to school, reassure him that his feelings are normal. The knowledge that he is not alone in this experience will help your child feel he’s being heard and understood. Kids appreciate knowing what you’re doing to manage the situation and are willing to work together to ask and answer questions that can help them stay calm.
- Set the tone: Try to keep your own anxiety at bay so you don’t fuel your child’s apprehensiveness about returning to school in person. If your child has questions that you can’t answer, work together to find guidance from school or medical authorities.
- Help them think positively: Try to help your children focus on positive features about returning to school. What are they looking forward to? What do they hope they will enjoy each day at school with their friends and favorite teachers?
- Practice separation: For children who are anxious about being apart, experts suggest practicing separation, starting in small ways and building tolerance for more independence. Encourage your children to play independently and not rely on the constant presence of a parent.
- Have a routine: Making sure that your child has a predictable routine leading up to school can help kids, especially younger ones, feel more secure. Before the school bell rings on the first day of school, your children can practice getting up early and participating in morning routines, discussing homework expectations, and adhering to bedtime rituals.
- Emphasize safety measures: Review with your child the measures that her school has taken to put safety rules in place to minimize risk and keep everyone safe.
- Encourage flexibility: Since there is a possibility that children who start school in person may be expected to switch back to remote learning, at least for some periods of time, it’s helpful for kids to know that you’re prepared for changes that may occur.
Going back to school this year will have a new set of challenges when students return in person to campuses nationwide. Parents should review the safety rules and regulations for their children’s specific school and actively participate in keeping everyone safe.
At insureyouknow.org, you can keep your family’s COVID-19 vaccination records, immunization documentation, and lists of prescriptions in a safe place.