Designer creates dress shirts infused with magnets for those with limited mobility and dexterity

February 14, 2019  
Filed under Aging Parents, Health & Wellness

When your career is coaching college football and you spend two hours outside of practice exercising every day, one of the last concerns on your mind is being diagnosed with a serious medical condition. The unthinkable happened to Don Horton, however, when he was told he had Parkinson’s disease. Don’s diagnosis not only led to changes with his body, career and life, it inspired his wife Maura to return to the workforce as an entrepreneur and the inventor of MagnaReady —  the first fashionable dress shirt infused with a magnetic closure system designed specifically for people with limited mobility and dexterity.

 

The idea for MagnaReady came after Don returned home from an away game with the North Carolina State University football team. He shared a story with his wife that night about how after the game he was in the locker room getting ready for the flight home and discovered that he was unable to button his dress shirt because of the side effects of Parkinson’s disease. One of his players at the time, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, came to Don’s aid, helping him to button his shirt. The humbling experience was one Maura never wanted her husband to have to go through again.

 

“The moment I heard my husband’s story, I knew I had to take action and give him back the ability to perform the simple task of dressing independently, a task most of us take for granted every day,” said Maura, CEO of MagnaReady. “I used my background in fashion to come up with the basic design for a magnetically infused shirt, and after some trial and error, I had a finished product that seamlessly combined quality with functionality.”

 

She knew there were millions of other people with Parkinson’s and other mobility-limiting conditions who could benefit from her invention. Maura added the role of entrepreneur to her already busy schedule and launched the MagnaReady business.

 

For more information visit: www.magnaready.com.

 

How Sugar Affects Your Heart

February 5, 2019  
Filed under Food, Health & Wellness

Valentine’s Day seems like the perfect excuse to eat your favorite delicious treat. There’s nothing quite like enjoying something sweet from your sweetheart, but did you know how devastating for your health it can be if you consume too much sugar?

We hear a lot about the effects of sugar on our health nowadays, especially when it comes to added sugar. You can even find it in products that you wouldn’t expect to have any, such as ketchup, bread, or barbecue sauce. But is sugar that dangerous for our health and if so, how should we ensure we can avoid it?

 

Sugar Is Everywhere

If you think you’ll be fine since you aren’t crazy about desserts and sweets, you still may be consuming too much sugar from other products. For example, one can of soda could be enough to satisfy the daily recommended dose of sugar. You shouldn’t exceed 25 grams of sugar for women and 37.5 grams for men. Even if you avoid the obviously sweet foods, you should be aware that even seemingly healthier options, such as fruit yogurt, have a lot of sugar. Start reading labels on products, and you may be surprised at the amount of sugar in some of them.

 

What’s So Dangerous About Sugar?

As a carbohydrate, sugar can cause an increase in the levels of triglyceride in your blood. Since triglycerides are fat, it’s easy to imagine what kind of adverse effects that can have on your arteries. What’s more, higher than recommended sugar intake has also been linked with lowering the levels of good cholesterol (HDL), increasing blood pressure, and causing various other cardiovascular diseases. This effect is due to increased body weight and fat, which is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular diseases.

 

How to Avoid Sugar

If you want to cut back on sugar in your diet, it’s important to pay attention to what you’re eating. As we recommended earlier, start reading the labels on all of the processed or packaged food you buy. Eat as much fresh food as possible and prepare your own meals. A diet rich in vegetables, fat, and protein will naturally lower your carbohydrate intake.

Unfortunately, sugar is addictive and challenging to give up. To not to be overwhelmed, start giving up things one by one, beginning with the biggest offenders, like soda. After a period of going without sweetener, the things you used to love might taste unpleasant for you.

 

Keeping Your Cholesterol Low

Avoiding sugar isn’t the only thing you can do to keep your cholesterol low and your heart healthy. A natural fiber supplement like Cholesterade can help you keep those aspects of your health under control. Eating healthy and supplementing well are among the best health practices you can adopt. Those are the right decisions that make the difference between wellness and illness in life.

 

 

6 Ways To Stay Energized During the Winter Months

January 31, 2019  
Filed under Feature Stories, Health & Wellness

When it’s cold outside, and the weather is frightful, it can be truly delightful once in a while to hole up with a good book, a blanket and a cup of tea. But equally important is keeping up your energy, staying active and maintaining your mental well being through the shorter days of winter.

One of the reasons people are affected seasonally is a lack of sunlight, which not only disrupts your body’s internal clock, but impacts the levels of serotonin: the hormone which affects mood. SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder—is a serious condition that is in fact considered to be a subtype of depression. It’s effects are wide ranging, including things like irritability, social withdrawal, difficulty with concentration, sleeping and a general feeling of lack of energy on the mild end, to serious mental health issues like suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression.

Even if you’re not afflicted with SAD, staying active and keeping up your energy levels is a key way to deal with the long winter months. Here’s how:

Do what you usually do

It’s important to keep to your normal routines, as much as possible, despite the weather. If you’re a runner, keep running! Maybe take it to a gym treadmill on icy days, or when the temperature gauge hits a new low, but keep running! If you’re a walker, bring it indoors and take up mall walking when the roads and pathways won’t permit an outdoor jaunt. There are countless ways to alter your usual activities so that they are safe and enjoyable, even through the coldest of winter days.

And keeping to your routine has healthful benefits. Most people who have habits and routines that they stick to feel less stressed and more like they’ve accomplished something from what the brain sees as a task list. It can help to reduce anxiety and encourage a general feeling of well being.

Get some energy from nature

Communing with the great outdoors, even in less than perfect weather, can have a tremendous impact on your mood and energy levels. When you feel house / building bound, it’s harder to summon the get up and go that you need to enjoy the everyday moments. Spend a little time outside, among trees, whether that’s on a nature trail or your local park: it will remind you that there is a greater world out there and that you should enjoy every bit of it!

 

Choose the right food and drink

Fatty, salty foods, or alcohol in excess are never a good idea but even more so during the winter. You want to have stable blood sugar levels and minimal spikes from sources like caffeine, in order to stay happy and healthy. And it probably goes without saying that one too many spiked toddies may not be the best route to maintaining good health. Instead, look for vitamin rich foods:

  • Legumes and nuts – beans and lentils, all vitamin, protein and fiber rich, with just the right types of fats contained in nuts like walnuts.
  • Dark green leafy veggies – kale, spinach and the like are chock full of all the good vitamins and minerals your body craves, including iron.
  • Lean meats – turkey, chicken and pork are good options, in moderation.
  • Fish – particularly varieties with high Omega-3s, like salmon. The healthy fats are good for your brain and its chemistry.
  • Eggs – a good protein boost with a healthy dose of vitamin D.
  • Dark chocolate – if you have a sweet tooth, stick to chocolate with 70% cocoa or higher for your fix.
  • Avocados and bananas – while you might not choose to eat these together, either have a good amount of B6, the vitamin necessary to produce serotonin, which is your mood hormone.

Keep in mind too that while you might still be active, it’s possible that you are less active during the colder, winter months than in the middle of summer, so temper your usual eating habits, in line with your workouts!

Make sure you iron levels are stable

Of all the important levels to maintain in your body, iron is vital. If you’re feeling sluggish and tired, a leading culprit for many is low iron levels. Since most of us cannot get the amount of iron we need from our diet (only about 10% is absorbed that way), iron deficiency anemia is a widespread issue. Iron supplements have historically been difficult to absorb and even harder for to tolerate, but a new formulation called Active Iron can give you 138% of your daily dose, without the usual side effects. Active Iron is absorbed quickly and easily through the small intestine, thanks to new technology that binds it to whey-protein, making it easier to tolerate, even on an empty stomach.

Keep moving and dress for outdoor success

Part of enjoying the great outdoors, even in winter, is being dressed for it. If you’re warm and dry, you’ll enjoy it a lot more! Layer your clothes with a moisture wicking layer next to your skin, a layer for warmth and a third layer to block the wind and wet. In warmer weather, you can always drop a layer, but this is the best way to ensure that if you’re active outside, you won’t get cold too.


Get a little light

A little light therapy can really help deal with the general feeling of unwell that comes from a lack of daylight sunshine. Posited as a treatment for SAD, light boxes are designed to provide a replacement for sunshine, fooling your brain chemically into thinking you’ve absorbed some restorative rays. Look for a light that is designed specifically to treat SAD, if you’re looking for an effective mood booster.

You should always check in with a doctor before applying any type of therapy in your life, but most will tell you that a little light in the dark of winter can go a long way.
With all the ways that you can boost your mood and your energy through the cold winter months, there’s no reason to not enjoy them, snow and all!

Is Hearing Loss a Sign of Dementia?

January 24, 2019  
Filed under Health & Wellness

Most Baby Boomers address their hearing with a series of simple questions.

Can I hear my children when they call me on the phone? Yes.

Can I hear the television? Check.

Are my ears causing me discomfort (i.e. ringing, pain)? Nope.

And that’s the “test” for many Americans aged 60 and older. No harm. No foul. No formal assessment from a team of health care professionals.

However, Baby Boomers must take the possibility of hearing loss seriously. Why? Well, hearing loss may be linked to more than your ability to hear. It may be connected to your ability to think.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, hearing loss may increase your risk of cognitive problems and even dementia, a condition marked by memory loss and trouble with thinking, problem-solving and other mental tasks.

Gradual hearing loss is a common symptom of aging, but a study from researchers at Trinity College Dublin suggests that age-related hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline and dementia. The risk of impairment of hearing, vision and other senses increases with age, and almost 15 percent of individuals age 70 and older have dementia.

 

Protect Brain Health
One in three cases of dementia could be prevented by addressing important lifestyle factors, including taking actions to avoid hypertension, hearing loss, diabetes, depression and obesity, according to a report from the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care. By taking steps to address lifestyle factors early on, the incidence of dementia could be reduced by as much as 20 percent.

Social engagement is one of the activities that protects brain health. If you suffer from hearing loss, you may miss out on more than just conversations. If your ears can no longer pick up on as many sounds, your hearing nerves will send fewer signals to your brain. As a result, your chances for mental decline seem to go up the worse your hearing is. When you strain to hear, your brain experiences cognitive overload, and works harder to decipher what people are saying. It doesn’t have the time to put the information into your memory bank. As areas of your brain go unused, they shrink or get taken over for other duties—and that means less resources for other tasks like memory.

It is often hard to separate the signs of hearing loss from those of dementia, and often one condition may mimic the other. Like any medical condition, the sooner you seek treatment, the better your outcome will be. Because hearing loss often occurs gradually, it can be difficult to recognize when you have it. The only way to know for sure is to get your hearing checked.

 

Get Your Hearing Assessment

A hearing assessment begins with an audiologist asking routine questions. The testing is easy and painless, taking about 30 minutes. (Allow 60 minutes for a typical appointment.) The visit may include four parts:

  • An otoscopy, which is an ear exam conducted by an audiologist or hearing specialist using an otoscope to look at the three parts of the ear. He/she will use an otoscope, an instrument that features a light bulb, magnifying lens and a cone that is inserted into the ear canal.
    Baseline hearing assessment, which determines the severity of future hearing loss and will dictate a specific course of action to address the damage. The baseline hearing assessment can determine which type of hearing loss you may have.
    Speech understanding assessment, which indicates how well you can understand speech in a noisy environment.
    Familiar voice test, which requires one of your family members to attend the appointment. Your family member will step outside the room (about eight feet away) and pronounce a series of words. Then, the test will be repeated with different words from 12 to 15 feet away.Preserve Memory, Brain Function for Baby Boomers
    If your hearing assessment reveals a hearing loss, you aren’t alone. Nearly half of Baby Boomers have a form of hearing loss—but there is hope. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 28.8 million U.S. adults can benefit from using a hearing aid.

 

A study conducted at Columbia University Medical Center found that using a hearing aid may offer a simple, yet important, way to prevent or slow the development of dementia by keeping adults with hearing loss engaged in conversation and communication.

 

Since hearing loss can impact memory and other aspects of brain function, it is important to have a hearing assessment. Schedule yours today by calling 866-837-8286 (866-TEST-AT-60), or by visiting campaignforbetterhearing.us.

 

 

Is High Blood Pressure Linked to Hearing Loss?

January 24, 2019  
Filed under Health & Wellness

When was the last time you had your blood pressure checked?

It was probably within the past year and most likely you can remember if it was high or within the normal range.

But when was the last time you had your hearing checked?

Typically, hearing loss starts around age 30 and increases progressively over the years. Since it often occurs gradually, it can be difficult to recognize when you have hearing loss. The only way to know for sure is to get a hearing assessment.

Hearing loss is the fourth leading cause of disability in the U.S. and the third most prevalent chronic health condition facing seniors. Nearly half of people age 75 and older and approximately one-third of people ages 65 to 74 have hearing loss. In the next forty years, as the population ages, hearing loss is expected to nearly double.

Connecting High Blood Pressure, Hearing Loss
Recent research is now linking high blood pressure to hearing loss. Some researchers have even called the ear “a window to the heart.”  David R. Friedland, M.D. found that audiogram patterns (or hearing assessment results) strongly correlate with arterial disease, even acting as a heart-health test for those at risk. This means that doctors might be able to use those patterns as screening criteria to assess your risk for a cardiovascular event like a heart attack.

Blood pressure numbers of less than 120/80 mm Hg are considered within the normal range, according to the American Heart Association. But when high blood pressure (130/80 mm Hg) is left untreated it can directly affect your hearing by serving as an accelerating factor in the degeneration of the auditory system as you age. When you have high blood pressure, blood vessels all over the body, including the ears are injured because blood flow to the body is impaired. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 million people in the United States have hypertension.

When blood vessels in your ears are damaged, fatty plaque builds up and can affect your hearing. The inner ear, which is very sensitive to blood flow, is one of the key areas responsible for hearing. Within the inner ear there are critical hair cells; the hair cells have vital structures that detect and respond to sound, transmitting nerve signals to the brain. In addition to high blood pressure, certain medications, excessive exposure to loud noises, aging or an infection can damage the hair cells.

If you suffer from high blood pressure for a long period of time, it can permanently damage the hearing organs. Not only is high blood pressure a cause for concern, any sudden change in your hearing is a significant warning sign and should not be ignored. A study published by the American Heart Association, found that sudden sensorineural hearing loss can be an early warning sign of an impending stroke.

 

Attention Baby Boomers: Control Blood Pressure, Prevent Hearing Loss

Since high blood pressure can accelerate hearing loss, getting your hearing checked can be a lifesaver—literally. The good news is that researchers found that controlling blood pressure can prevent further hearing loss. Although medication can be used to regulate blood pressure, simple dietary and lifestyle changes can also work wonders:

 

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise for 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
  • Eat a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
  • Reduce sodium intake.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.


Your Hearing Assessment is Just a Click Away

Despite the degree of severity, hearing loss will affect your quality of life. If you are suffering from hearing loss, don’t dismiss it as part of the aging process. Since high blood pressure and hearing loss often go hand-in-hand, recognizing the connection could save your hearing or your life. Schedule your hearing assessment today by calling 866-837-8286 (866-TEST-AT-60), or by visiting campaignforbetterhearing.us.

Winning Tomatoes Add Vibrant Color and Flavor to Gardens and Meals

January 16, 2019  
Filed under Food, Health & Wellness, Home & Garden

By Melinda Myers

Impress your guests with a garden, container and dinner table filled with tasty and colorful winning tomato varieties. Small-fruited varieties are perfect for salads and snacking and those with larger fruit ideal for slicing, canning and sauces.

These winning tomatoes were tested nationally by All-America Selections (AAS), a non-profit plant trialing organization (all-americaselections.org). Volunteer judges evaluated the plants for flavor, improved performance, growth habit, productivity, or pest resistance in the garden. Only superior, new, non-GMO varieties receive the AAS winner’s title.

Include a few Firefly plants when looking for the perfect snacking and salad tomato. It’s smaller than a cherry and larger than a currant tomato; just the right size to pop in your mouth without embarrassment. The extremely sweet pale white to pale yellow fruit will stand out in the garden, on the relish tray or in a salad.

Join the foodie trend by growing the slightly larger striped Red Torch tomato. The one-and-a-half-inch oblong fruit are red with thin yellow stripes. Enjoy an early harvest and eat Red Torch tomatoes fresh from the garden or cooked into a sweet and sour cherry tomato sauce to serve on bread or over chicken and other vegetables.

Boost your early harvest season with Valentine grape tomatoes. You’ll enjoy the vivid deep red color and sweet flavor. Plus, this productive plant provides plenty of tomatoes for snacking, salads and to share with friends.

Add some purple to the mix with Midnight Snack. This cherry tomato ripens to red with a blush of glossy black-purple.  Judges declared Midnight Snack a big improvement in the flavor of purple tomatoes.

Pot up one or more Patio Choice tomatoes for your patio, deck or tabletop. Each compact 18-inch plant produces up to 100 yellow cherry tomatoes.  Just one fruit-covered plant in a decorative pot creates as colorful a centerpiece as a bouquet of yellow flowers.

Don’t forget to add Red Racer cocktail tomatoes to the mix.  The fruit are about the size of ping pong balls and perfect for stuffing, flavorful enough for salads and hearty enough for soups and stews.

Dress up your salads, sauces and sandwiches with colorful tomato slices. The six Chef’s Choice tomato varieties provide a rainbow of colors for the relish tray.  Guests will have trouble deciding between the red, orange, pink, yellow, green and now black-fruited varieties. These beefsteak tomatoes have the right balance between sugar and acid; perfect for eating fresh and cooking.

Consider mixing any of these winning tomato varieties in with your ornamental plants. A few tomatoes tucked into mixed borders or at the back of a flowerbed can add color, texture and interest to any landscape. Just be sure there’s easy access for harvesting and use decorative obelisks and towers to support taller varieties in style

Feeling Unmotivated? Remove this Word from your Vocabulary in 2019

December 13, 2018  
Filed under Feature Stories, Health & Wellness

By Carol Tuttle

 

I want you to pause for a moment and think of that thing you needed or wanted to do this year—but it’s December and you still haven’t gotten around to yet, and you keep putting off.

The idea or project is just sitting there, and the unfinished-ness of it is weighing on you. But when it actually comes down to doing it, you seem to have lost all motivation.

So how do you recover motivation to do something you think you should do?

You can start by giving up this one word in 2019—and replacing it with something much more powerful!

 

Say goodbye to the S-word

Should.

That one word can zap your motivation to do something faster than anything.

I’ve found that whenever I used the word “should” I would procrastinate and avoid the activity or project I thought I “should’ do. That’s because the word “should” in the dictionary indicates a meaning of obligation or duty.

Notice how often you might say something similar to these:

  • I should go work out.
  • I should eat healthy.
  • I should lose 10 pounds.
  • I should get out of debt.
  • I should clean that closet.
  • I should learn how to ____.

Why ‘Should’ can sabotage your success

Whatever it is for you, it might even be a necessary or good idea (organize a closet, clean out the car, take a class, plant a garden). But if you’re trying to force it, you either just won’t make the time or have the energy, or you’ll probably keep putting it off because you don’t enjoy it. Or it might be a good thing to do, but maybe not for you to do. Or maybe not at this time.

 

Get clear on what you want first

Now, for every “should” statement you say, ask yourself, “Is this what I want?” Or do you think you should do it because someone told you to or you feel under some obligation to do it? Sometimes our choices are influenced more about what others want than we want.

Although they might all be great choices, until we personally own them for ourselves we will not be motivated to follow through.

So, the first step to healthy motivation in the new year is to examine your “shoulds” and get clear on what it is YOU want.

You can also clarify what it is you want so it matches the outcome you want to create (i.e. I want to clean the closet so I can always find what I need.)

Once we claim a choice for ourselves, we then can declare them with “I am” statements.

Then replace “I should” with “I am”

  • I am working out
  • I am eating healthy.
  • I am losing 10 pounds.
  • I am debt free.
  • I am cleaning that closet.
  • I am learning how to ____.

Take your choice even higher with gratitude

An even higher vibration of belief is to act as if you have already accomplished it and imagine your success with these statements of gratitude:

  • I am grateful I choose to workout.
  • I am grateful I eat healthy.
  • I am grateful I lost 10 pounds.
  • I am grateful I am debt free .
  • I am grateful I cleaned the closet.
  • I grateful I have learned  how to ____.

This simple but powerful shift can make a world of difference!

Remember, when you declare your intentions you uplift your energy so it can support you with the motivation to do it when it is right and timely for you.

Mobile Devices and Neck Pain: How to Avoid ‘Tech Neck’

December 12, 2018  
Filed under Business, Health & Wellness

Are you reading this on your phone, computer or another mobile device? Are you looking down, shoulders hunched, while doing so? If so, your posture may be contributing to neck pain, headaches and other symptoms consistent with “tech neck,” according to Kaliq Chang, MD, of Atlantic Spine Center.

 

Tech neck, also called “text neck,” is a growing phenomenon that’s due to the ubiquitous presence of screens – such as cell phones and tablets – in our daily lives. In 2017, Americans spent nearly 6 hours each day using digital media, including more than 3 hours on non-voice activities on mobile devices, according to a survey done by eMarketer.

 

But the curved posture most of us assume while emailing, texting or reading on our devices simply isn’t good for the cervical spine, better known as the neck, Dr. Chang says. Since our properly positioned neck muscles are designed to support the weight of our head – about 10 to 12 pounds – constantly dropping our heads forward to look at a device actually puts about 60 pounds of force on the neck, he explains.

 

“Tech neck is actually an overuse or repetitive stress injury,” Dr. Chang adds. “Rolling our heads and shoulders forward places a great deal of strain on the spine and can pull it out of alignment, even leading to pinched nerves and disc herniations. It’s not necessarily a minor problem.”

 

Symptoms of tech neck

How do you know if you’re dealing with tech neck? In addition to soreness in the neck and shoulder areas, Dr. Chang says symptoms also include:

 

·        Stiff neck

·        Neck spasms

·        Unexplained headaches

·        Upper back pain, ranging from nagging discomfort to sharp spasms

·        Shoulder tightness

·        Radiating pain down the arms and into the hands

 

Even more concerning is that children and young adults – among the heaviest users of mobile devices – are developing these symptoms as their spines continue developing, Dr. Chang notes.

 

“Some research suggest that tech neck can lead to chronic spine problems and even early development of arthritis in the neck,” he adds. “Because the consequences can be lifelong, it’s especially important to avoid tech neck and to see a doctor if your symptoms won’t go away.”

 

How to prevent tech neck

Prevention, of course, is always the best option when it comes to health problems, including tech neck. But since cell phones and other mobile devices can’t be ignored in modern-day society, how can this be accomplished? Dr. Chang offers these tips:

 

·        Hold your cell phone or tablet at eye level whenever possible. “Even better is to also keep your laptop or desk top computer screen at eye level as well,” he says.

·        Take breaks every 20 to 30 minutes. “Look up from your screen for several minutes,” Dr. Chang recommends. “Even better, get up from your chair and walk around.”

·        Limit device use to only necessary tasks. “Reducing screen time is a healthy goal for many reasons, not just spinal health,” he says.

·        Exercise and stretch muscles in the neck, shoulders and upper back on a regular basis.

 

Dr. Chang, an interventional pain management specialist, also suggests sitting at a slightly reclined position when using devices – not strictly upright.

 

“Sitting at a 25- to 30-degree angle, with good lower back support, places much less force on the spinal discs in the back and neck than sitting up ramrod-straight,” he says. “This way, neck and shoulder muscles aren’t taxed to hold your head up.”

 

“The bottom line is to be mindful of your neck and shoulder position whenever you’re using a mobile device,” Dr. Chang adds. “Vigilance is key to preventing tech neck.”

Response to daily stressors could affect brain health in older adults

November 20, 2018  
Filed under Aging Parents, Health & Wellness

Taking typical daily annoyances such as a long wait at the doctor’s office or a traffic jam on the freeway in stride may help preserve brain health in older adults, while emotional reactions could contribute to declines in cognition, a new study from Oregon State University has found.

“These results confirm that people’s daily emotions and how they respond to their stressors play an important role in cognitive health,” saidRobert Stawski, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and the study’s lead author. “It’s not the stressor itself that contributes to mental declines but how a person responds that affects the brain.” Read more

DVHA Launches Tool to Help Vermonters Compare 2019 Health Plans and Save Money

October 22, 2018  
Filed under Health & Wellness, News

Recent changes mean that Vermonters who take a few minutes to compare plans will find more choices and more financial help than ever before

 

In preparation for open enrollment, state officials have launched the 2019 version of an online tool that helps Vermonters weigh insurance options and choose the health plan that best fits their needs and budget. The 2019 Plan Comparison Tool is accessible from VermontHealthConnect.gov and allows individuals and small business employees to easily screen at least 26 health plan options.

As in past years, the tool allows members to compare total costs in an average year or bad year, view doctor directories and drug lists, and much more. New this year, the tool also provides members with the ability to see their total costs in a low-use year (or “good year”) and the likelihood of someone with their age and health status having a good year.

With big changes on the horizon, the tool is an essential five-minute step for all current and prospective members of Vermont’s health insurance marketplace.

Three big changes in marketplace

First, it’s important to note that most Vermonters who purchase health insurance on their own qualify for financial help to lower the cost of coverage. Due to a complex set of events initiated by recent federal changes, that financial help will go way up in 2019. Subsidized single members will receive over $1,200 more in 2019 than they did in 2018, while couples and families will generally receive over $2,500 more.  This means that most members will see significant savings if they explore all options (see what the typical member pays in 2018 vs. 2019).

A second change is that premiums for silver-level qualified health plans (QHPs) are increasing much more than other metal level plans. This is especially notable because three out of five (60%) individuals are currently enrolled in silver plans. It is especially important for these members to actively explore their alternatives.

Finally, to help small business employees and higher income individuals whose incomes are too high to qualify for financial help, Vermont developed “reflective silver” plans. These plans – available only by calling Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont (BCBSVT) or MVP Health Care (MVP) directly – give unsubsidized members the opportunity to buy silver plans for closer to the price they paid for similar plans in 2018. Reflective silver plans are displayed on the 2019 Plan Comparison Tool, but only if the tool determines that the user does not qualify for subsidies.

“We want Vermonters to know that there were policy changes at the federal level that could impact the cost of their current plans,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I want to thank the members of my Administration, legislature, and stakeholders across the state who came together to respond to these changes with a focus on affordability for Vermonters. The key remaining step is for Vermonters to pick the right plans and, fortunately, the Plan Comparison Tool is here as a resource to help them do just that,” Governor Scott added.

Time to take action

Current Vermont Health Connect members aren’t required to compare health plans or to take any action at all. As long as they continue to pay their bills, members are automatically renewed into the 2019 version of their 2018 plan. In past years, most members have gone this route. Due to this year’s changes, however, officials are strongly encouraging members to invest the time needed to be sure they’re in the best plan for them.

“This is not the year to auto-renew,” said Cory Gustafson, Commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access. “Comparison shopping is how Americans try to get the best deal possible for all kinds of consumer choices. That is true for every purchase, every year, but it’s especially true for health insurance in 2019. The difference between the ‘right plan’ and ‘wrong plan’ could easily be thousands of dollars. Fortunately, the Plan Comparison Tool will help Vermonters identify the right plan.”

About the Plan Comparison Tool

The Plan Comparison Tool was developed by the non-profit Consumers’ Checkbook and has won the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s award for best plan choice tool. This is the fourth year that Vermont is using the tool. It has been used in nearly 60,000 sessions over the last twelve months.

After taking a couple minutes to enter age, income, health status, and expected use of medical services, the anonymous tool tells the user if they qualify for financial help to lower the cost of coverage. It also presents the estimated total annual costs (premium minus subsidies plus estimated out-of-pocket) of each of the 26+ qualified health plans. The user then has several options for sorting and screening results, or they can dive into plan details and link to more information on the BCBSVT and MVP websites.

“This kind of resource is very important because a consumer just can’t figure out: is a plan with the $200 deductible and a $10,000 out-of-pocket limit better for me than a plan with a $2,000 deductible and $4,000 out-of-pocket limit—and how about differences in co-pays, co-insurance, etc.?” said Robert Krughoff, president of Consumers’ Checkbook. “People don’t know how much various health services cost or their likelihood of needing different services – and even health insurance experts can be hard-pressed to figure out which plan is best without a helpful tool. Vermont Health Connect is a leader in making this help available.”

About 2019 Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment is the time when new applicants can use the marketplace to sign up for health and dental plans for the coming year. It is also an opportunity for existing members to change plans – an option that many more members than usual will want to consider for 2019.

This year’s Open Enrollment runs from November 1 to December 15, just like last year. Vermonters who sign up or request a new plan will have a start date of January 1.  Those who miss the deadline could have to wait until January 2020 to start health coverage, although residents who qualify for Medicaid can sign up throughout the year and those who qualify for a Special Enrollment Period generally have 60 days to sign up.

Starting November 1, applicants can sign up in one of four ways: online, by phone, by paper, or with an in-person assister. For more information or to get started, visit http://VermontHealthConnect.gov or call 1-855-899-9600.

 

Next Page »