Don’t Forget the Sunscreen!

                                                                               Christina Falahee                                                                                 Wellness Coordinator/Health Coach


During the summer, many of us are excited to spend time outdoors after being cooped up all winter. It’s during these warm months we spend most of our time outdoors. Although the sun is a great source of vitamin D, moderation is key.

July is National Ultraviolet Safety Month which is a great way to shine a light on the effects of UV rays and spread the importance of sun safety. UV radiation is the leading cause of skin cancer in the United States. It can cause eye damage including cataracts and macular degeneration.

 Who are Most Susceptible?

  • Had skin cancer before
  • Have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
  • Have many moles, irregular moles or large moles
  • Have freckles and burn before tanning
  • Have fair skin, blue or green eyes, or blond, red, or light brown hair
  • Live or vacation at high altitudes (the strength of UV rays increases with elevation)
  • Live or vacation in tropical or subtropical climates
  • Work indoors all week and then get intense sun exposure on weekends
  • Spend a lot of time outdoors
  • Have certain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus
  • Have certain inherited conditions that increase your risk of skin cancer, such as xeroderma pigmentosum or nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome (Gorlin syndrome).
  • Have a medical condition that weakens your immune system, such as infection with HIV
  • Have had an organ transplant
  • Take medicines that lower or suppress your immune system
  • Take medicines that make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

 How Do I Protect Myself from UV Rays?

  • Seek Shade: UV light is the strongest between the hours of 10am and 4pm. If you are unsure how strong the sun’s rays are, use the shadow test: if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are the strongest, and it’s important to protect yourself.
  • Protect Your Skin with Clothing: Clothes provide different levels of UV protection. Dark colors generally provide more protection than light colors. A tightly woven fabric protects better than loosely woven clothing. Dry fabric is generally more protective than wet fabric.
  • Read Your Sunscreen Labels: Sunscreens with broad spectrum protection protect against both UVA and UVB rays and with sun protection factor (SPF) provides UVB ray protection. Values of 30 or higher are recommend. Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming and sweating, even if it’s labeled “water resistant”. Be sure to check the expiration date on the sunscreen. Most sunscreen products are good for at least 2 or 3 years, but you may need to shake the bottle to remix the ingredients.
  • Wear Your Sunglasses: Effective sunglasses should block glare and 99 – 100% of UV rays and have a wraparound shape to protect the eyes from all angles.
  • Routinely Check Your Skin for Any Changes: Birthmarks, new moles and marks should be consistently examined for alterations in size, shape and color or if they look and feel differently from other moles and marks on your body.

The High Cost of Insulin

                                                                                          Adam King CPhT, PRS                                                                    Pharmacy Savings Program Manager


Rarely a week goes by where I don’t hear about the high cost of insulin, either from employees that participate in HPA’s program or through media outlets.  Yes, the cost of insulin is high, and there are few generics available to combat the problem.

I do have good news!  There are steps that you can take to lower the cost of your insulin prescription:

  • Manufacturer coupons- Most of the major manufacturers of insulin do offer copay discount cards. You can find a list of them on the website needymeds.org.  If you are using Humalog, note that the manufacturer program only covers the U-200 pen.
  • Look into switching brands- Some insulins can be used interchangeably. Lantus, Toujeo, and Basaglar are all the same insulin made by different companies, but Lantus will cover the entire cost of your copay where the other two have a limit on their copay cards.   Novolog and Humalog are nearly identical but may require a dose conversion to switch from one to the other.  Always consult with your physician before changing insulins and doses.
  • The makers of Humalog offer a discount on their products through a company called Blink Health. If you have a health plan with a high deductible, this may be an option for you.  Since Blink Health processes the prescription payment, you won’t be able to pay for the discount with your health savings account.  However, you can pay yourself back from that account if it is properly set up and still enjoy the tax benefit and cash discount.
  • If your child is insulin dependent, investigate your state’s Children’s Special Health Insurance Plan. These plans offer affordable premiums based on your income and reduces copayment at the pharmacy to $0.  Depending on your state, children may be eligible to participate up to the age of 21.
  • Vials of insulin are less expensive than the pen versions of the same insulin. If you feel comfortable drawing insulin into a syringe, this may be another option to lower cost.

These strategies can help you while the government works toward a longer-term solution to the problem.  The Food and Drug Administration is looking at ways to increase competition and introduce lower cost insulins, but they must first re-write a few regulations which is likely going to take a year or two.

April is National Stress Awareness Month

                                                                                      Olivia Keeley                                                                                         Winter Wellness Intern


Did you know that April is National Stress Awareness Month? Probably not, because we constantly try to ignore the mental and physical demands stress brings upon us. According to the American Psychological Association, a survey taken in 2017 reported 80% of respondents experiencing at least one symptom of stress in the past month. Stress happens to all of us. Sometimes it seems unavoidable and overbearing. Whether a stressful situation occurs at work, home, school, or on the roads we must learn ways to cope with it. It is always important to remember that taking time for yourself is essential for your mental and physical health. It’s healthy to relax, renew, and rejuvenate!

According to the American Heart Association, stress can lead to a lot of unwanted complications. Health troubles such as: heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, weight gain, concentration and memory issues, sleep problems, depression, headaches, anxiety, and digestive complications are few of many health related issues that could take a toll on your body. Negative stress can prevent us from performing our best physically, mentally, and emotionally. Although no one lives a completely stress free life, we can still manage it throughout the week.

The American Heart Association provides healthy habits we can turn to in a stressful situation:

  • Stress-Busting Activities – Try doing activities that allow you to relax or avert your negative energy to something positive! Meditation, journaling, playing a favorite sport, taking a walk in nature, exercising, or listening to music are just a few activities you can attempt to limit your stress.
  • Positive Self-Talk – Rather than letting a stressful situation put you down, try shifting your thoughts from negative to positive by changing your mindset. Instead of saying, “Everything is going wrong” try switching that to “I can handle this one step at a time”. Or, instead of saying something like, “I can’t do this” try saying “I’ll do the best I can. I’ve got this”.
  • Give Up Bad Habits – Having too much alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine can increase blood pressure and heighten feelings of anxiety. Try cutting back on those unhealthy habits to reduce your stress.
  • Laugh Often – Laughter enhances your mood and helps you forget about things that may cause you to stress out. Listen to a funny podcast or put on a comedic movie. Tell jokes with friends and share laughter together!
  • Slow Down – Plan ahead and stay organized with a planner or desk calendar so you don’t have too much on your plate at once. Without having to rush to get things done, you will feel calmer and satisfied that you’re ahead of schedule.

When you take these small steps to manage your stress, you will feel more creative, more alive, and have time to appreciate small moments of happiness.  Furthermore, you will be able to recognize when you need to take time for yourself to be your healthiest version of you!

The Price You Pay At The Pharmacy Is Not An April Fool’s Joke

                                                                                  Adam King, CPhT, PRS
Pharmacy Savings Program Manager


You walk into the pharmacy, plunk down your insurance card thinking you just got the best possible price for you and your insurance on your generic medications, right?  Well not so fast!  If you want to really save money on your prescription, where you fill your prescription is just as important as which medication you take.

Let’s consider the cholesterol drug atorvastatin which is better known as Lipitor®.  These prices were actually paid by members of the same prescription drug plan for a 90-day supply.

If the first thing that strikes you is that the chain retail stores charged the highest price, then you are very observant.  When it comes to negotiating with insurance companies chain pharmacies with thousands of stores have the highest negotiating power with insurance companies.  They can often dictate what the insurance company reimburses them which explains the higher cost.

The second thing you will notice is that member 1 got the best deal which is free.  The advantage here is that the member did receive the medication at no cost to themselves and the employer.  The store in this case is using this medication as a “loss leader”, or a method to get you to the store hoping you will purchase other items.  While free is a great price, just remember the retailer is hoping you’ll reward their “generosity” by spending money with them elsewhere.  These pharmacies will also often have higher charges for other medications you might fill.

If you want to save money without strings attached independent pharmacies, regional grocery chains, and hospital outpatient clinics do not share the same negotiating power of the large chains.  Instead the insurance company can often dictate the maximum allowed price the pharmacy can charge the patient.  This is how they claim to save health plans money, and in truth they are half right.  If you use one of these pharmacies, ask them if it might be possible to get a lower cost on your medication by paying out of pocket rather than billing insurance for some of your medications.  You’d be surprised how many insurance companies charge abnormally high rates for low cost generics.  While most people think HIPAA is a privacy law, its regulations are also put in place that give you the right not to bill your insurance.

Member 6 got upset by the higher cost he was paying at a larger chain pharmacy and decided to do some price shopping and discovered that one of the big box warehouse club pharmacies had a discounted “cash” price of $20 for his medication.  Cash pricing refers to prices charged by providers without billing the prescription or service to the insurance company.  So rather than bill their insurance, member 6 paid out of pocket to save money.  While member 6 got a good deal on that medication, member 6 did not get the best deal.

There is one cautionary warning on member 6’s tactic.  Member 6 should now get all their medications at that pharmacy to avoid a potentially dangerous drug interaction as there is no central database that tracks every medication that is filled unless those medications are filled by a pharmacy and billed to an insurance plan.

Member 7 used a discount mail order pharmacy to fill their prescription again by doing some price shopping.  Online mail order pharmacies are convenient and often inexpensive just make sure you order your medication early to allow for the delivery time.  Be aware that if the pharmacy advertises drugs from Canada, that they may be sourcing those medications from third world countries that have very lax pharmaceutical regulations.  What you think may be your cholesterol medication may very well just be a sugar pill.

If you choose to have an online discount pharmacy fill your medication, make sure that you get a good deal on all your medications.  Also verify that the pharmacy is registered with your state board of pharmacy which oversees that the pharmacy is following state and federal regulations related to pharmacy practice and drug sourcing.  The website should also be registered with the Verified Pharmacy Program offered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.  Again, this pharmacy will not bill your insurance, so you should make sure that the pharmacy is aware of all the medications you take and that there is a pharmacist available to answer questions about your medication.

Last, it pays to have a patient advocate that is aware of all the tactics companies use to maximize their profits at your expense.  Health Plan Advocate offers a certified and licensed pharmacy technician that will help you, your company, and your colleagues save money.  If your employer does not offer this benefit, ask your human resource department to contact us about this valuable service.

Wellness Committee Best Practices

                                                                                         Toni Sperlbaum                                                                                           VP of Sales and Marketing


Whether your wellness program is in its infancy or has been around for a while, The Institute for Health and Productivity Studies has determined that there are three primary best practices to be successful; leadership support/promotion, devoting sufficient resources to health promotion efforts, and a wellness committee.

Have you ever heard the phrase “Culture eats strategy for lunch”?  We as HR professionals can strategize the “best wellness program” all day long, but if your culture is directly interfering with your wellness efforts (your manager rolls their eyes when you leave to do your biometric health screening, walking or stretch breaks are considered you skimping out on your job, the organization celebrates “Donut Friday” every week, etc.), then the strategy means nothing.  A wellness committee is going to be the accountability point for your strategic plan and will be the grassroots effort to changing that culture.

The role of a wellness committee is to communicate, participate in, motivate, and support the organization’s worksite wellness program.  They will foster collaboration and enthusiasm among employees, provide a link between employees and management, represent and share co-workers’ ideas and concerns, encourage a positive work environment, and can reshape the company’s culture to promote healthy living.

What are the best practices?

  • Meet regularly (every other month or quarterly)
  • Call for new members annually
  • Set terms on your committee to continue getting fresh ideas
  • Get a good cross section of representatives, considering gender, age, type of departments/workers, management types, etc.
  • Don’t get all of your runners and skinniest people on the committee. This is so important!  It’s easy to think “they are a runner, they should be on the committee!” The truth is, unhealthy employees can relate to the unhealthiest representatives and that is exactly the kind of traction we are looking to get
  • Set committee procedures – have a formal agenda, create minutes, nominate a chair
  • Set ground rules – be prompt and courteous to others’ ideas, establish “voting” to determine which ideas get implemented, protect employee confidentiality when sharing ideas/concerns, and follow through on promises and commitments made.
  • Have the committee (not HR) develop the strategic plan, a mission statement, and a vision for the program. The mission statement is there to guide activity planning and facilitate smart spending (your CFO will love that).  If the activities do not directly impact the mission statement, it is not carried out.
  • HR should not be involved in this committee. It should be employee run for the most effective results (although holding the chair accountable through one-on-one touch-bases is absolutely acceptable and encouraged).

Other ideas for committees

  • Have your CEO put out a letter or video charging the organization to make wellness a priority, and invite members to join the committee. This will very boldly give permission.
  • Have supervisors nominate their employees. This gets supervisors involved, giving permission for their employee’s participation, and give them the chance to recognize the employees by nominating them for a special project
  • Have an application process for interested employees. This lets members know what they’re in for and committing to.
  • Host an awards luncheon at the end of the year. Give awards to committee members or wellness champions for highest personal participation in activities, the highest group participation in screenings/HRAs, the most additional programs implemented, and many others!  Invite supervisors, senior leadership, and even family members would be great recognition for the employee.

There are many ways to utilize a wellness committee, but if you have many of the above processes in place, your committee is off to a GREAT start!

National Sleep Awareness Week

                                                                              Hannah Roberts                                                                                    Winter Wellness Intern


National Sleep Awareness Week falls in March. Sleep plays an important role in maintaining physical health, mental health, quality of life, productivity, and safety. How you feel when you are awake depends on the quality and quantity of sleep your body is getting. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. In addition to getting enough sleep, regularity is key for an individuals’ sleep to be most beneficial for their body. Sleep is important for your brain to work properly, helping you to learn, problem solve, and cope with emotions.

On top of not feeling your best, not getting enough sleep can increase an individuals’ risk for various health problems. Ongoing sleep deficiency increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Individuals who are sleep deficient are also less productive at work, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes. Lack of sleep can become a safety concern when driving or operating machinery.

The National Sleep Foundation provides the following tips for a good night sleep:

  1. Stick to a sleep schedule – this means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day including weekends. Regularity makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  1. Relax before bedtime – incorporate a routine to wind down leading up to bedtime. Dimming bright lights and reducing stress or anxiety is important due to their ability to make it more difficult to fall asleep. It is also important to avoid alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, and heavy meals two to three hours before going to sleep, although a light snack 45 minutes before bed is okay. Avoid electronic devices because of the light they emanate stimulates brain activity.
  1. Exercise daily – exercising (not at the expense of sleep) improves overall health and can reduce stressors making it difficult to obtain quality sleep. Higher intensity exercises are best, but incorporating light exercise is better than no exercise.
  1. Evaluate your room – the optimal sleep environment is between 60 and 67 degrees. There should be no distracting noises or lights. Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable and supportive, and that they are free from allergens that may disturb your sleep.

If you are having trouble sleeping do not hesitate to speak with your doctor. It can be helpful to record your sleep and the tips you have tried in a sleep diary to share with your physicians.

National Cancer Prevention Month

                                                                           Christina Falahee                                                                                           Wellness Coordinator


February is National Cancer Prevention Month. Most of us know someone or have been personally affected by cancer and know how terrible of disease it is. Educating yourself and your loved ones of the preventable actions you can take to lower the risk of developing cancer is very important.

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has found that more than 40 percent of all cancers diagnosed and nearly half of all deaths from cancer in the United States can be attributes to preventable causes such as lack of physical activity, excess body weight, excessive exposure to the sun and smoking.

Below are seven cancer prevention recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research:

  1. Be a Healthy Weight                                                                                  Next to not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of cancer. Aim to be at the lower end of the healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) range. Body Fat releases insulin, estrogen and other hormones into the bloodstream, which can spur cancer growth.
  1. Be Physically Active                                                                                    Physical activity in any form helps to lower cancer risk. Work toward achieving 45 to 60 minutes moderate-intensity physical activity daily.
  1. Eating a Diet Rich in Whole Grains, Vegetables, Fruits and Beans  Plant based foods which contain fiber, vitamins, minerals and other substance that can help protect cells in the body from damage that can lead to cancer.
  1. Limit Consumption of Fast Foods and Other Processed Foods High in Fat, Starches or Sugars                                                                Limiting these foods helps control calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight.
  1. Limit Consumption of Red and Processed Meat                                  Eat no more than moderate amounts of red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb. Eat little, if any, processed meat.
  1. Limit Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Drinks                              Drink mostly water and unsweetened drinks.
  1. Limit Alcohol Consumption                                                                        Limit your consumption to one drink for women and two for men per day.

 

 

Top 5 Programming Ideas for Heart Health Month

                                                                          Toni Sperlbaum                                                                                           VP of Sales and Marketing


The American Heart Association (AHA) states that 1 in 3 women will die from a heart related incident.  They also are 11% less likely to receive bystander CPR than their male counterparts.  February is Heart Health Month, with “Go Red For Women” being the AHA’s movement to raise awareness of heart disease in women.

February’s focus provides a great opportunity for organizations to promote heart health to both their male and female employees. There are MANY ways for you to do this, most free or low cost. Here are our top 3

  1. Promote and Celebrate National Go Red for Women Day (Friday, February 1)
    Have a photo contest and encourage your staff to wear red! You can even have awards for best red accessories, most red overall, best decorated workspace, and more.  Don’t forget to post your #GoRed photos on your organization’s social media pages and @Health Plan Advocate. We will feature your organization on our sites too!  What a FUN way to show your customers and employees your commitment to wellness.
  2. Host a Lunch & Learn on Heart Disease
    There are many organizations (HPA included!) who can do an educational seminar on preventing heart disease and learning the signs of a heart attack. There are also a variety of CPR and AED classes available through organizations like The American Red Cross that could save a life.  Also consider hosting free and open blood pressure checks for your employees.  Education is essential!
  3. Host a Heart Healthy Potluck:
    Red foods, healthy foods, sugar free beverages and healthier desserts. Decorate the table with hearts and don’t forget the red plates and cups!  The AHA’s Heart Check Recipe Guidelines would be perfect to send out as a guide for what is considered healthy.
  4. Heart Healthy Testimonials:
    Do a call for testimonials from your workforce. Is anyone a heart disease survivor who is willing to tell their story? Celebrate their life!  Has anyone made heart healthy changes? Lost weight, stopped smoking, ran a race, or similar?  Feature them!  We learn best from others’ experiences and we get inspired by their successes.  Feature these stories in a newsletter, on your intranet, on a cork board in the break room, an Eboard, etc.  Better yet, if your CEO or executive and middle leaders have stories, focus on them.  Middle and upper management’s involvement in wellness is essential to your program’s success.  You can even have a photo contest of their heart healthy activities!
  5. Heart Healthy Scavenger Hunt:
    Around the lunch hour, come up with a quiz of 10 questions and post the answers somewhere throughout your facility so they have to walk around and search for the answers to your quiz, while getting some steps in! The quiz can consist of questions like “#1. What is a healthy blood pressure level?” and they have to find the “#1” posted on a wall or on the floor somewhere with the answer of “<120/80”. You can find more helpful stats here.

Take advantage of the opportunity (you have ALL of February to do it!). Just a little bit of planning ahead can get your employees excited and having FUN all while learning and bringing awareness to the dangers of heart disease.

 

 

January: National Blood Donor Month

Todd Freitag                                                                                     Sales/Wellness Coordinator


January is national Blood Donor Month, and it just so happens to be the time of the year we give blood less. Blood donations typically drop off during and immediately after the winter holidays, which makes January a critical time for the American Red Cross. The Red Cross needs to collect more than 13,000 donations every day to keep the blood supply ready and available to meet the needs of about 2,600 hospitals, clinics and cancer centers across the country.

National Blood Donor Month has been observed in January since 1970 with the goal of increasing blood and platelet donations during winter – one of the most difficult times of year to collect enough blood products to meet patient needs. During the holidays and the end of the year, we all become overwhelmed with holiday parties, visiting friends, shopping, wrapping up end of the year deadlines and personal goals; not allowing time to donate. Not only do busy schedules play a role, but Mother Nature herself can wreak havoc on times of donation, forcing cancellations of many blood drives. We like to think that during the holidays, we are all taking breaks to relax and unwind, but those in need of blood and platelet donations are in need no matter what time of year.

Every two seconds of every day, someone needs blood. The reason to donate is simple…it helps save lives. Blood is essential to life for several important reasons including the fact that blood circulates through our body and delivers essential substances like oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells. It also transports metabolic waste products away from those same cells. But did you know that donating blood has it’s health benefits for the donor?

  • Blood donation helps in lowering the risk of cancer. By donating blood the iron stores in the body are maintained at healthy levels. A reduction in the iron level in the body is linked with low cancer risk.
  • Reduced risk of hemochromatosis; a health condition that arises due to excess absorption of iron by the body. This may be inherited or may be caused due to alcoholism, anemia or other disorders. Regular blood donation may help in reducing iron overload.
  • Regular blood donation reduces the weight of the donors. This is helpful to those who are obese and are at higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and other health disorders.
  • After donating blood, the body works to replenish the blood loss. This stimulates the production of new blood cells and in turn, helps in maintaining good health.

Before you donate, a health professional will ask about your current and past health, including some very personal questions, to make sure that you can donate. You will be asked these questions every time you give blood, because the list of who can give blood may change, or your health may change. Having a long-term illness, such as diabetes, doesn’t mean you can’t donate. You may be able to give blood if your health problem is under control. But you shouldn’t donate blood if you feel like you’re getting a cold or the flu.

The Increasing Cost Of Diabetes In America

                                  Emily Zoeller, EP-C,CHWC                                      Wellness Coordinator & Health Coach

Diabetes – it affects more than 30 million people in America, with 84 million additional people who are prediabetic. This is a costly problem that is growing at an alarming rate. From 2012 to 2017, the cost per year for a diagnosed diabetic in America rose, about 133.5% rise in cost over the 5 years.

Not only is it expensive for the person diagnosed with the condition, but also for the insurance plan, and costly on the person health. For those with Diabetes, they cost the insurance plan 2.3 times more than someone without diabetes.

Even though costs have risen for this disease it itself, there is also other factors to consider – Associated conditions like neuropathy, amputation, liver disease, vision issues, and more.

In 2017, 4,110 people a day were diagnosed with Diabetes, and watching your diet and exercise can significantly help to avoid prediabetes, and therefore diabetes. So, what can be done to help now?

Physical Activity: Get out and get active! Haven’t exercised in a while? Some exercise is better than none. Start small, gradually working your way up in time and intensity.

Be Mindful of your Nutrition: Watching your sugar and carbohydrate intake. Watching your daily intake of sugar can be harder than you think. When looking at nutrition labels, use this tip to get some perspective: for every 4g of sugar in a product, that will be one teaspoon of sugar. Try switching out simple carbohydrates for complex carbohydrates.

Know Your Numbers: Stay connected with your physician. Having a relationship with your physician can be very important. Knowing your Glucose and A1C values are essential.