Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Don’t believe the myths about the flu

Would you like to spend a few days or even weeks this winter sniffling, sneezing, coughing, wiping your nose and feeling exhausted and maybe nauseated?

I think it’s safe to assume that everybody would respond “no.” So if nobody wants to get the flu, why isn’t everybody getting the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and reduce your chances of getting the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine. Getting vaccinated is especially important for people who have certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease, and for pregnant women, young children and people 65 and older.

Many people may avoid getting a flu shot because they believe one of these myths:

Myth #1: The flu shot is expensive.
In most cases, the cost of a flu shot is covered by your health plan, whether you buy health insurance on your own or are covered through your employer, Medicare or Medicaid. More employers are now offering free onsite flu shot clinics at the office. The financial and personal costs and the potential for missed days of work or school from the flu far exceed the cost of the vaccination.

Myth #2: Flu shots are only for people who have other health problems
Influenza does not discriminate against age or health habits. Just because you’re young or don’t typically get sick doesn’t mean you can’t catch the flu. You can catch the flu from someone who has yet to exhibit any signs or symptoms of being sick.

Myth #3: Flu shots are inconvenient
Getting a flu shot takes no more than five minutes. Most neighborhood pharmacies even offer walk-in options, so you don’t need to make an appointment. If you are unemployed or your employer doesn’t offer flu shots, you can go to your primary care doctor or nearby wellness clinic, most retail pharmacies or contracted flu shot providers. To find a list of flu shot providers near you, visit Flu.gov and enter your zip code.

Myth #4: The flu isn’t serious
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Thus, everyone should do everything they can to prevent getting sick with the flu. In addition to getting vaccinated, please remember to wash your hands regularly to help reduce the spread of germs. And if you are sick with the flu, stay home to prevent spreading flu to others.
Flu activity typically begins to increase in the late fall, so be sure to make your and your family’s health a priority and get a flu shot this year. If you do, you’ll likely be able to enjoy the fall and holidays a little more.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Three Questions You Should Ask Before You Select Your Health Insurance Plan

Open enrollment is the time each fall when most Americans select or change their health benefits for the following year. 

Choosing health care coverage is one of the most important decisions people make. Therefore, it’s essential that consumers fully understand their options during open enrollment so they can choose a plan that will help them enhance their health and possibly save money. 

Even with health insurance coverage now available in many states through government exchanges, the vast majority of Americans – nearly 158 million – continue to obtain health benefits through their employer. Many companies set aside a two-week period between October and December for when their employees can select health benefits.  So, if you are purchasing health insurance through your company’s health plan now is the time to start getting prepared.

Here are three important questions you should ask before selecting your health care benefits:

What are my options?
It may sound simple, but taking the time to review your options is very important. In many cases, people who review their health plan options carefully may find ways to save money on their health care costs – whether it’s through selecting a plan that will cover more of their expected health costs for a major event (such as having a baby or surgery), evaluating prescription drug coverage, or having the opportunity to enroll in an incentive-based wellness program.

Some insurers, including UnitedHealthcare, offer wellness programs or incentive programs that may help you lower your cholesterol, quit smoking or lose weight. These incentives may include gym membership discounts, lower premium costs or merchant gift cards.

Is my doctor in-network?
Even if you don’t plan to make any changes to your health insurance this year, it’s always good to ensure that any doctor you see – or plan to visit in the coming year – is in your plan’s care provider network.

Many insurers offer a broad choice of local in-network health care professionals, and these in-network care providers agree in advance to what they’ll charge for specific procedures. You should also call before your procedure to verify the care providers are in-network. If you plan to visit a doctor or hospital outside the network, be sure to understand how your costs will differ from those of an in-network care provider.

Should I look for a plan that includes vision and dental coverage?
Specialty benefits like dental and vision plans are often available at a minimum cost, and cover annual teeth cleanings and eye exams. Many vision plans also offer reduced pricing on frames and lenses. Research suggests that there is a connection between oral health and overall health, so adding a dental plan may help prevent more serious medical problems.

For help navigating open enrollment, visit www.uhc.tv, a public online resource with simple, fun videos that help people learn about health care, open enrollment and what to consider when choosing a plan. UHC TV features a “Health Insurance 101” channel with short videos like this one that gives tips on open enrollment:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Pennsylvania women are leading the way

Have you experienced the hottest new trend in tailgating, the Phan Cave?

If so, you can thank a couple of intrepid Philadelphia entrepreneurs, Jacqueline McDevitt and Colleen O’Hara, who came up with the idea to provide a hassle-free tailgating experience that maximizes the parking lot experience while minimizing the time and effort to coordinate it.

In fact, their business idea is so great that it just won a $10,000 prize at the 2014 Pennsylvania Business Plan Competition, which challenged women entrepreneurs across Pennsylvania to submit their business plans for a chance at the prize. The finalists pitched their business presentations, “Shark Tank-style,” to judges Lori Greiner, known as the “warm-blooded shark” on ABC’s hit TV show “Shark Tank;” Julia Hearthway, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry; and Renee Amoore, founder and president of the Amoore Group Inc.

Phan Cave co-founders Colleen O’Hara, left, and Jacqueline  McDevitt, right, won the Business Plan Competition after pitching their business to a panel of judges that included Lori Greiner, center. Photo Credit: Joe Appel Photography.

The Business Plan Competition was part of the Women’s Mentorship Symposium held on September 30, a day that celebrated women’s leadership roles in Pennsylvania businesses, non-profits and government. More than 500 women attended the symposium, which was hosted by the Pennsylvania Commission for Women. As chair of the Commission, I was honored to be a featured speaker alongside Governor Tom Corbett, First Lady Susan Corbett, and Lori Greiner.

The symposium also included a speed mentoring program that matched up entry level and mid-level career women with senior-level executive women in a variety of professions. Topics ranged from work-life balance to career transitions to salary negotiations, all in a fast-paced setting.

It was a pleasure to see so many women come together to celebrate the accomplishments that women have made in Pennsylvania and encourage future women to take leadership roles in the economic and civic development of our commonwealth.

After all, it was not so long ago that young women had trouble finding mentors in the workplace because so few women held positions of leadership. But because of initiatives like the Pennsylvania Commission for Women and the Women’s Mentorship Symposium, it’s getting easier for women to find their roles as leaders. Today, women like the founders of Phan Cave are forging ahead confidently to build successful businesses across our commonwealth.

I look forward to seeing how the next generation of women leaders will use the helping hands of their mentors to accomplish great things and solve big problems. As Lori Greiner said in her keynote address, “You can make anything happen!”

From left to right:  Gina Pferdehirt, Vice Chair of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women and Public Relations and Community Relations Director of UPMC Health Plan; Pennsylvania First Lady Susan Corbett; Lori Greiner, the “warm-blooded shark” on ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank;” and Sue Schick, Chair of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women and Chief Growth Officer at UnitedHealthcare Community & State. Photo Credit: Joe Appel Photography.

Monday, September 29, 2014

YouTube videos give health tips and some laughs

For those of us with a tightly packed schedule, YouTube videos are a great way to sneak in a little entertainment or education. In just a couple of minutes, you can learn how to make a healthy new recipe or get a much needed laugh.

UnitedHealthcare has its own YouTube channel, called UHC-TV, that provides a wide variety of entertaining videos about different aspects of health. Our education series offers evidence-based medical tips about common health concerns, such as managing diabetes, performing a breast self-examination, or treating your child’s fever. Other videos feature experts with valuable advice on nutrition, exercise, preventive health care and healthy habits.

We also show “Sidewalk talk” videos, in which our hosts interview passersby to find out what they know (or don’t know) about various health items, such as common terms used in health insurance plans or healthy blood pressure levels.

Of course, my favorites are the “Laugh Rx” videos from our professional comedy event in Chicago. A little laughter can go a long way to improve your mood and provide a much-needed energy boost.

Here are the top ten most-viewed videos on UHC-TV. A few have been watched more than 50,000 times!
1. Losing 50 Pounds Safely
Take some time to enjoy these great resources and have a few laughs!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Health on the Go: New Tools are Helping Consumers Make Better Health Care Decisions

The health care system is rapidly evolving. People are paying more personally for their health care and taking more control of decisions regarding the care they receive.

Simply put, it has become increasingly important for you to have access to resources and services that help you make informed decisions about the quality and cost of the health care you receive, helping to protect both your health and pocketbook.

Online resources have paved the way to better information which leads to better decisions. Today you can comparison shop for health care services, much like you would airline tickets or electronics. According to a recent survey by UnitedHealthcare, 14 percent of respondents report using online resources to comparison shop for health care services. This number is likely to increase, given the popularity of mobile technology coupled with consumers taking a more active role in making health care decisions.

New online and mobile resources can help you more easily anticipate and manage health care expenses. One example is Health4Me, a free mobile app for iPhone and Android devices. Health4Me provides cost information for more than 635 medical services, including MRI, knee replacement and childbirth. The app also enables people to locate nearby health care providers, and convenience care, urgent care and emergency care facilities.

Some insurance carriers have mobile apps that can provide you with personalized price estimates based on actual contracted rates with health care providers and facilities. These personalized resources can also give you 24/7 access to registered nurses, access to personal health benefits information and ID card, and the ability to receive a callback from a customer service representative.

Greater use of medical price transparency services could help make health care more affordable. Providing health care prices to consumers, health care professionals and other stakeholders could reduce U.S. health care spending by more than $100 billion during the next decade, according to a 2014 report by the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.

In addition, the use of online comparison tools can also help you select high-quality health care providers,
according to a new study from UnitedHealthcare.
The study found that users of myHealthcare Cost Estimator™, an online and mobile quality and price comparison service available to all consumers through the Health4Me app, were more likely than nonusers to select high-quality health care providers across all specialties, including primary care physicians (7 percent more likely) and orthopedists (9 percent more likely).

There are also significant price variations for health care services and procedures at hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide, yet research has shown that higher-priced care providers do not necessarily deliver higher-quality care or better health outcomes.

In this new era of health care, transparency and education through technology can help you get better control your health and the cost of care. Take a few minutes to download the Health4Me app, or log in to your insurance provider’s website and learn more about the tools and services that can help you make the best health care decisions for you and your family.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Celebrating America’s Health Centers and Healthier Communities

As the health care system changes around us, more people are gaining access to health insurance coverage - yet there are still more than 60 million Americans who do not have access to primary care. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), nearly half (42 percent) of these individuals are low-income, 28 percent live in rural areas—and do have health insurance.

That’s where Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) come in.  In the United States, more than 1,200 Centers receive grants under Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act (PHS) and serve 22 million patients (including more than 920,000 farmworkers and 1,145,000 people who are homeless) at 9,000 locations. The FQHCs qualify for enhanced reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, as well as other benefits as long as they assist underserved populations, offer a sliding fee scale, provide comprehensive services, and have an ongoing quality assurance program and a community-based governing board of directors.

UnitedHealthcare helps support Health Centers through a broad network of dedicated health care specialists and hospitals – and the need is great; one out of every 15 people living in the United States seeks primary health care from a Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA)-funded Health Center. As part of our partnership with FQHCs, UnitedHealthcare regularly seeks advice and input from FQHC leaders through our National FQHC Advisory Group; participates in the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) industry conferences; collaborates with local Primary Care Associations (PCA) and, during National Health Center Week each year, takes time to recognize our nine-year involvement and shared mission to help people live healthier lives regardless of their age, income or ability. 

Last week UnitedHealthcare celebrated National Health Center Week with centers across the country, we are thankful for each and every one of our partners and the commitment we share to help people access the quality health care services they deserve.

Monday, August 4, 2014

PA’s Diverse Scholars attend health forum in D.C.

Meet Sophia Barrios, a sophomore majoring in bio-behavioral health at Pennsylvania State University who intends to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine and serve underrepresented communities, particularly children. Sophia is the secretary of Penn State’s Latino Caucus, an umbrella organization for 19 Latino organizations, and a 2014 United Health Foundation Diverse Scholar.

Chiemeka Onyima of Philadelphia’s East Falls/Germantown area is a first year medical student at Drexel University College of Medicine. He holds a bachelor of science in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.  Onyima intends to become an anesthesiologist and specialize in pain medicine. He hopes to devote much of his career to developing hospitals and improving health care in West Africa.

Sophia and Chiemeka were awarded scholarships from United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative to pursue careers in primary health care. 

United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative, will award nearly $2 million in scholarships during the 2014-15 school years to students from diverse, multicultural backgrounds. The initiative aims to increase diversity in the health care workforce by supporting promising future health professionals as they pursue their education. The Diverse Scholars program is part of United Health Foundation’s ongoing commitment to building a more diverse health workforce.

Since 2007, United Health Foundation has awarded more than 1,400 scholarships totaling $9.3 million to support diverse students pursing health careers.

United Health Foundation announced the 2014-15 scholarships at its sixth annual Diverse Scholars Forum. This year’s forum is the largest yet, bringing more than 100 scholarship recipients to Washington, D.C., from July 23 to 26, to celebrate their accomplishments and inspire them to work toward strengthening the nation's health care system. This year's forum provided the scholars with opportunities to hear from members of Congress and leaders in a variety of health fields, and to network with and learn from one another.

Congratulations to Sophia, Chiemeka and all of the scholarship recipients. I look forward to the celebrating the advances in health care that will come from your dedication and commitment to helping all Americans.

For more information about the Diverse Scholars Initiative, visit http://www.unitedhealthfoundation.org/Initiatives/FutureHealthWorkforce/DiverseScholars.aspx