Monthly Archives: May 2017

A Health Emergency Fund

Even with good health insurance, a health emergency or a prolonged illness can be a financial disaster. Health insurance deductibles, co-payments, emergency room costs, and other costs of illness can add up in a hurry.

A health savings account (HSA) is one way you can put aside tax-free money for a health emergency. HSAs were established in 2003. If you are covered by a type of insurance known as a high-deductible insurance plan, you can make tax-deductible contributions to an HSA. Your employer may also make tax-deductible contributions.

11 Weird Body Quirks—Explained!

“An HSA account is very different from having a general emergency fund account,” says Joseph J. Porco, managing member of the Financial Security Group, LLC, in Newtown, Conn. “An emergency fund is about more than just out-of-pocket medical expenses. If possible, it’s a good idea to have both.”

How Much of an Emergency Fund Do You Need?

For an older adult, a health emergency might result in the need for long-term care, possibly for the rest of the senior’s life. For a young adult supporting a family, a medical emergency might be much more than just the cost of illness. Your health emergency could cause a disability that results in loss of income over an extended period. That means you should save enough to cover all your expenses.

“Most advisers would say you should have enough emergency funds saved to cover your family expenses for three to six months. I would recommend trying to put enough aside to cover all your expenses, not just health expenses, for 6 to 12 months,” says Porco.

How much you need for a health emergency and how much you can actually put into an emergency fund will depend on your family size, your income, your health status, and your age. But your first step is to understand your health insurance situation.

“The best way to start is to sit down with a financial adviser and figure out what your insurance actually covers and what it doesn’t cover. What are your insurance limits? What kind of medical bills might arise that you would be responsible for? Get some expert advice on how best to cover your actual needs,” advises Porco.

9 Surprising Things That Can Make You Sick

What Insurance May Not Cover

How much insurance companies actually pay for accidents, cancer treatment, or surgery depends on what kind of insurance you have, but there are usually limits. Here are some facts to consider:

  • Cost of illness. Most insurance companies have a cap on how much they will pay for a long-term illness. A recent survey found that 10 percent of people with cancer have hit their lifetime cap and are no longer covered by insurance. Looking forward, however, the new health care reform law will eliminate caps on lifetime insurance by 2014.
  • Emergency room cost. If you have an accident that requires emergency treatment and you end up in an emergency room outside your insurance network, you may not be covered. One study found that HMOs in California denied one out of every six claims for emergency room costs.
  • Surgical coverage. You may be surprised at what your insurance company considers non-covered surgery. There can be a big gray area between covered “reconstructive” surgery and uncovered “cosmetic” surgery. Even when surgery is covered, your deductible may be $500 or more, and you may still be responsible for up to 25 percent or more of surgical costs, depending on the specifics of your plan.

NFL players is a habit that starts in the locker room

Retired National Football League players who abused opioid painkillers while active were most likely to use and abuse the same drugs after leaving the sport, the results of a telephone survey and analysis found.

The survey found more than half of the retired NFL players interviewed used opioid painkillers during their career. Of those, 71 percent reported misusing the drugs while playing, and 15 percent said they still abuse the prescription medication, Dr. Linda B. Cottler, of Washington University School of Medicine, and colleagues reported online in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

The former broadcaster and NY Giants great, Frank Gifford, said, “pro football is like nuclear warfare. There are no winners, only survivors.”

The findings from Cottler’s survey support Gifford’s assessment.

An analysis of survey data showed the rate of opioid misuse while the retired players were active in the NFL was roughly three times greater than the lifetime rate of nonmedical use of opioids in the general population of approximately the same age.

Misuse in the past 30 days in retired players was seven percent, versus less than two percent in adults 26 and older in the general population. Looking only at men in the general population, the abuse rate is about two and half percent.

The final sample included 644 former players listed in the 2009 Retired NFL Football Players Association Directory who had retired from 1979 to 2006 and had at least one phone number listed.

They completed a phone interview that discussed general demographic data, health status, pain, impairment, alcohol use, prescription opioid use, and illicit drug use. Prescription opioid use was measured for while a player was active as well as over the past 30 days. Participants were categorized into users and nonusers. Users were subcategorized as having used the drugs as prescribed, or having misused them.

Misuse was defined as taking more of the drug than prescribed, using it in a way other than prescribed, using it after a prescription ended, using it for a different reason, or using it without a prescription.

When compared against players prescribed opioids while in the NFL and with those who were non-users during their NFL careers, 17 percent of those who misused while playing used as prescribed in the past 30 days, 15 percent misused in the past 30 days, and 68 percent reported no use.

In a multivariate analysis, moderate to severe pain, undiagnosed concussions, and drinking 20 or more alcoholic drinks a week were the strongest predictors of misuse. Undiagnosed concussions were reported by 81 percent of misusers.

“This association might have been due to the fact that those who choose not to report concussions are the same players who choose not to reveal their pain to a physician, thus managing their pain on their own,” the researchers wrote. “They may believe that if they report a concussion, they will be pulled from active play.”

The researchers noted the study may have been limited by lack of detailed pain information from while a player was active, a small sample size, a more inclusive definition of misuse that included abuse of opioids a player was prescribed, and a sample that included potentially more-healthy-than-average retired footballers — the researchers noted interviews with former players not in the Retired Players Association uncovered “multiple examples of serious and heavy opioid abuse.”

They added that future research could measure number of alcoholic drinks and level of pain while active in the NFL against opioid use and abuse.

A special exercise program as well as talk therapy

Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome who participated in programs aimed at helping them overcome their symptoms — a combination of exercise and counseling — improved more than those whose treatment was intended to help them adapt to the limitations of the disease, a large randomized trial found.

Mean fatigue scores among patients treated with graded exercise therapy — a tailored program that gradually increases exercise capacity — were 3.2 points lower than scores in patients who received specialist medical care alone, according to Dr. Peter D. White, of Queen Mary University of London, and colleagues.

Furthermore, fatigue scores were lower by 3.4 points among patients receiving cognitive behavioral therapy, in which a therapist works with the patient to understand the disease, alleviate fears about activity, and help overcome obstacles to functioning.

In contrast, among patients who were treated with a program known as adaptive pacing therapy, which emphasizes energy limitations and avoidance of excess activity, scores differed by only 0.7 points the researchers reported online in The Lancet.

In a press briefing describing the study findings, co-investigator Dr. Trudie Chalder, of King’s College London, said, “We monitored safety very carefully, because we wanted to be sure we weren’t causing harm to any patients.”

“The number of serious adverse events was miniscule,” she added.

Another co-investigator, Dr. Michael Sharpe, of the University of Edinburgh, commented that a difficulty in the management of chronic fatigue syndrome has been ambiguity — about the causes and whether these treatments recommended by NICE actually are effective.

“The evidence up to now has suggested benefit, but this study gives pretty clear-cut evidence of safety and efficacy. So I hope that addresses the ambiguity,” Sharpe said during the press briefing.

4 Ways to Save Energy With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

However, the investigators conceded that the beneficial effects of these treatments were only moderate, with less than one-third of participants being within normal ranges for fatigue and functioning, and only about 40 percent reporting that their overall health was much better or very much better.

“Our finding that studied treatments were only moderately effective also suggests research into more effective treatments is needed,” they wrote.

In addition, they stated that their finding of efficacy for cognitive behavioral therapy “does not imply that the condition is psychological in nature.”

The importance of cognitive behavioral therapy was further emphasized by Dr. Benjamin H. Natelson, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

“This approach of encouragement of activity and discouragement of negative thinking should be a tool in every physician’s armamentarium,” he said.

“We know that cognitive behavioral therapy and gentle physical conditioning help people cope with any chronic disease — even congestive heart failure and multiple sclerosis,” Natelson said in an interview with MedPage Today.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by persisting or relapsing fatigue for at least six months that cannot be explained by any other physical or psychiatric disorder.

The fatigue is debilitating, and often is accompanied by joint and muscle pain, headaches, and tenderness of the lymph nodes.

In an editorial published with the study, Dr. Gijs Bleijenberg, and Dr. Hans Knoop, of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, explained the differences in these types of treatment for chronic fatigue.

The devices as possibly carcinogenic to humans

Cell phones may cause brain cancer, a panel of experts reporting to the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Tuesday.

After reviewing dozens of studies that explored a possible link between cancer and the ubiquitous hand-held phones, the experts classified cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” and placed them in the same category as the pesticide DDT and gasoline engine exhaust.

The panel determined that an increased risk for glioma, a malignant form of brain cancer, appears associated with wireless phone use.

Globally, it’s estimated that 5 billion cell phones are in use. “The number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children,” the International Agency for Research on Cancer said in a news release issued Tuesday.

The IARC made the announcement in Lyons, France, based on the work of 31 scientists from 14 countries. It will present its findings to the WHO, which may then issue its recommendations on safe cell phone use.

Experts said children are especially vulnerable.

“Children’s skulls and scalps are thinner. So the radiation can penetrate deeper into the brain of children and young adults. Their cells are dividing at a faster rate, so the impact of radiation can be much larger,” Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told CNN.

Until Tuesday’s announcement, the WHO had said that cell phones were safe to use.

The international experts behind Tuesday’s announcement met for eight days to review exposure data, studies of cancer in humans and in experimental animals, and other relevant data, looking for associations between cancer and the type of electromagnetic radiation found in cell phones, televisions and microwaves.

Dr. Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said this new paper is important “first and foremost just because of the large number of users worldwide that have access now to this technology.”

Also, the scientists found notable gaps in the existing research, he said, which “suggest interesting areas of future research that will improve the evidence base which we have in order to make decisions about the usage of mobile phones in the future.”

Responding to Tuesday’s announcement, John Walls, vice president of public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group representing the wireless industry said: “Today, an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) working group in Lyon, France categorized radiofrequency fields from cellphones as possibly carcinogenic based on ‘limited evidence.’ IARC conducts numerous reviews and in the past has given the same score to, for example, pickled vegetables and coffee. This IARC classification does not mean cell phones cause cancer. Under IARC rules, limited evidence from statistical studies can be found even though bias and other data flaws may be the basis for the results.

Five ways beer boosts your brain

Beer drinkers, take note: Your favorite pint may be healthier than you realize. When it comes to good-for-you happy hour beverages, we tend to think mainly of red wine and its heart-friendly antioxidants. Recent research, however, reveals that beer may also help what ales you, from reducing the risk of osteoporosis to beating brain fog.

But before you go on a beer binge, remember that moderation is key to reap its health perks. That means no more than two 12-ounce beers a day for men and one for women. “If you overdo it, alcohol can take a toll on your health, contributing to liver damage, certain cancers, heart problems, and more,” says Andrea Giancoli, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. People with certain health conditions — including gout, high triglycerides, or breast cancer, for example — should avoid drinking beer or other alcohol because it can exacerbate those health problems, according to Joy Bauer, RD, nutrition and health expert for Everyday Health and The Today Show.

Too much alcohol can also cause weight gain. After multiple rounds, calories can add up quickly (a 12-ounce regular beer can pack up to 150 calories, while a light beer has around 100).

But for most of us, here are five healthy reasons to toast your next beer:

Beer Boost No. 1: A Stronger Skeleton

Make no bones about it: Beer in moderation may protect bone health thanks to its high silicon content. Participants who sipped one or two beers a day had greater bone mineral density than those who drank more or fewer beers, found a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Silicon helps stimulate bone-building cells, and the estrogenic effect of alcohol also has a protective quality for bones,” says study author Katherine Tucker, PhD, professor of nutritional epidemiology at Northeastern University in Boston. Which brew boasts the most silicon? Try an India Pale Ale. A 2010 University of California Davis study found that IPAs had the highest levels of the mineral.

Beer Boost No. 2: A More Powerful Ticker

A beer a day may keep heart disease away. “Alcohol raises levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol,” says Arthur Klatsky, MD, senior consultant in cardiology at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif. “It also has anti-clotting effects, which keeps blood vessels clear and healthy.” In fact, Israeli researchers found that people who drank one beer daily had lower levels of fibrinogen, a protein that helps promote blood clotting, than those who abstained from drinking. (Blood clots can cause heart attack and stroke.) Study participants drank Maccabee beer, but researchers believe that any type of beer could have similar heart-healthy effects.

Beer Boost No. 3: Healthier Kidneys

Finnish researchers found that men who drank beer had a 40 percent lower risk of kidney stones compared to those who drank other types of alcohol. The benefit may be due to beer’s high water content. Dehydration can increase the risk of kidney stones, which are little deposits of salt and minerals such as calcium that can form in your kidneys. Beer’s hops (a kind of flower that gives beer its bitter flavor and acts as a preservative) may also help prevent kidney stones by slowing the release of calcium from bones.

Help explain a decrease in deaths from heart disease

More medicine cabinets across the country are stocked with bottles of Lipitor, Zocor, and Crestor — three of the top selling cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins — than they were two decades ago, and that might be a good thing.

A quarter of Americans age 45 and older are currently taking these medications, up from just 2 percent about 20 years ago, according to the latest report on the country’s health from the National Center for Healthcare Statistics.

Several cardiologists contacted by MedPage Today and ABC News said they were unaware that such a high proportion of patients take statins, but noted the findings go hand-in-hand with recent statistics on heart disease.

10 Horrible Foods for High Cholesterol

“These results … may explain some of the recent remarkable declines in hospitalizations for heart attacks and heart failure,” Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist from Yale University, said in an e-mail.

Dr. Christopher Cannon of Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said there is “no disconnect. The increased statin use is a direct cause of a lower rate of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality that has been observed over the past decade.”

Indeed, the report shows that the percentage of adults with high cholesterol has fallen over the last two decades, from 20 percent to about 15 percent. As well, deaths from heart disease have declined across all age groups, while the prevalence of heart disease itself has remained stable over the last 10 years.

Thus, the total burden of heart disease may be high, said Dr. Robert Califf of Duke University, but “the age of onset and death are significantly later.”

Still, researchers are hesitant to attribute all good outcomes in heart disease to statins alone.

“The decline in death rates comes from improved risk factor control, especially blood pressure reductions, smoking cessation and bans, improved lipids, and better care of heart attacks,” Dr. James Stein, director of preventive cardiology at the University of Wisconsin, said in an e-mail.

Dr. Krumholz added that the value of leading a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t be lost in the increased use of medication.

3 Tips for Taking Statins Safely

Overall, heart disease is responsible for 25 percent of deaths in the U.S. — but cancer comes in at a close second, accounting for 23 percent of mortality, according to the report, which paints an overarching portrait of health in the United States.

Stroke follows at 6 percent, and chronic lower respiratory diseases and unintentional injuries are each responsible for 5 percent of deaths.

In general, however, life expectancy is getting longer, climbing over the past two decades. It’s greatest among white women, who in 2007 were expected to live 80 years, up from 77 in 1980.

And while the gap in life expectancy between whites and blacks still exists, it narrowed after 1990, the researchers said.

Obesity rates still remain high, with a third of adults and a fifth of children over age 5 classified as such — and two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese.

Paying someone else’s medical bills

What is medical identity theft? In this serious and growing problem, someone else uses your personal information to obtain medical goods or services. Medical identity theft affects consumers, health care providers, and insurance organization. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), medical identity theft accounts for about 3 percent of all identity theft, and the World Privacy Forum claims it’s the most difficult form of identity theft to correct.

When you are the victim of medical identity theft, incorrect information about diagnoses and treatments may appear on your medical records, potentially affecting your health care providers’ decisions about your care and treatment. Also, in addition to paying for treatment you didn’t receive, in some cases you might be denied treatment or coverage because of fraudulent medical or insurance information.

But there is some good news: HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations and the Identity Theft Protection Act, already in place, give you many of the tools you need to get errors corrected at your doctor’s office and with your insurance provider. Of course, like any crime, you’re better off preventing it from happening in the first place.

Spotting Medical Identity Theft

Among other signs, the FTC states that you may be a target of a potential medical identity theft or fraud if you are charged for medical services you didn’t receive. Keep a calendar to track your appointments, treatment dates, and any hospital admission and discharge dates. If the explanation of benefits from your insurance provider or Medicare isn’t exactly right, clear up the error as soon as possible.

Medical receipts, prescription drug information, health insurance forms, and any documents bearing your health care providers’ names might be all a clever thief needs to begin off-loading other medical claims to you. If you don’t need to keep medical documents, shred or burn them, and peel off labels from your prescription medications before recycling the containers.