What’s in your medicine cabinet?

You might have missed it, but last Saturday, April 27th, was National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. (No, I don’t think Hallmark makes a card for that.)

Since 2007, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has partnered with state and local law enforcement agencies to sponsor prescription drug drop-off sites where unused drugs can be collected and disposed of safely and properly.

The effort is an attempt to get addictive prescription medications off the streets. I don’t know how many of the returned drugs are narcotics; maybe the officials don’t even sort them before disposal. I would guess the unwanted … Continue reading

New prescription? Ask for it in writing

I try to be as vigilant as possible when it comes to medical expenses, but I can still be caught napping on occasion.

Last summer while working in my garden I was stung on the ankle by a wasp. Within 24 hours, my leg from the knee down was swollen to twice its normal size.

Although technically not an allergic reaction, it was a severe local reaction. I wondered what would happen if I were stung on the face or neck. So, last month when I saw my doctor for my annual exam, I asked her if it might be … Continue reading

The high costs of medical mistakes

I mentioned in a previous post that three years ago my husband almost died from a series of medical, um, misjudgments, let’s say. I know sometimes things go wrong for no reason, but I also know his three-day ICU stay could have been prevented.

He never received a “mea culpa” from the doctors or hospital; all we got were the medical bills. Our insurance, a catastrophic/health savings account (HSA) plan, paid 100% of the costs after we met our deductible and out-of-pocket maximum ($10,000). At that point we stopped receiving bills, so I don’t know the exact total of … Continue reading

What’s in your toothpaste?

The other day I was in Target shopping for toothpaste, and I thought, “Wow, do Americans really need this many toothpastes?”

At first glance I couldn’t even find the toothpaste I normally use, no doubt because the packaging had changed. It’s probably “new and improved.” Aren’t they all?

Ignoring the hyperbole of “advanced”, “intense” and “extreme”, I started looking at the ingredient lists on the backs of the boxes. I know exactly which ingredients I want to see to get the most effective toothpaste at the lowest price.

For me, the most important ingredient in a toothpaste is fluoride. … Continue reading

Be prepared – Learn basic first aid

One of the advantages of being a nurse/mom is that I can tend to a wide variety of illnesses and injuries without seeking medical help. I have probably saved my family a lot of money over the years!

Anyone can learn the basics of providing first aid. I taught American Red Cross First Aid and CPR classes for years, and I highly recommend taking a class, whether you are a parent or not. Even kids as young as 13 or 14 can take the classes.

Spring is a good time to sign up for a class. Once schools are out … Continue reading

The kindness of strangers

Yesterday I posted about the bomb blasts in Boston and questioned how the enormous medical bills would be paid.

Later, I was surprised to read an article on NBC News online that seemed to answer my question, at least in part: “Bomb’s medical costs could be in the millions, experts say.” The reporter gave an initial—and probably low—estimate of about $9 million.

According to a health economist quoted in the article, “It’s probably on the magnitude of $40,000, $50,000 (per person for emergency-room care). But for the people who will be hospitalized for weeks, you could easily be looking at Continue reading

Tragedy’s heavy toll

Like many others, I’m still trying to understand Monday’s horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon. Who did this, and why?

What I do know is that our emergency response and medical teams are the best in the world; I used to work in the OR of a large, level-one trauma center and have seen these teams in action. The injured will receive swift and highly-skilled care without regard to pre-existing conditions or insurance status.

However, a different team, the patient accounts personnel, will work quickly to document victims’ names, addresses and insurance carriers (if any).

It seems a second tragedy … Continue reading

Should smoking be considered a pre-existing condition?

That is the opinion of the health exchange boards in Washington, D.C., California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont (so far).

Each state (and D.C.) that creates a health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has an exchange board that is responsible for establishing certain rules and guidelines. Some definitions in the federal reform law have proved to be ill-defined and open to interpretation, such as “pre-existing condition.”

Most insurers that sell individual health plans charge smokers higher premiums because smokers … Continue reading

Vitamin D – Yes, no or maybe?

The sunshine supplement

Last week I learned that my vitamin D level is slightly below normal. My physician recommended that I take a daily vitamin D supplement of 1000 to 2000 IU.

I didn’t want the test, but what’s done is done. Now I need to decide what the test result means to me, and if I should follow my doctor’s recommendation.

A few years ago, vitamin D was the new wonder supplement. Various studies associated a low vitamin D level with an increased incidence of all kinds of diseases, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, prostate cancer, breast cancer, … Continue reading

Check and check again

Medical errors happen

The other day I saw my doctor for an annual exam.

This year I was determined to ask my doctor NOT to order a vitamin D level.

I have had my vitamin D level tested for the last three years and it costs me approximately $100 out of pocket. (It is not considered preventive by the Affordable Care Act.)

Earlier this year, the health advocacy group Choosing Wisely recommended against routine screening for Vitamin D level in healthy adults. Well, I am a healthy adult, and my previous vitamin D levels have been normal—albeit at the lower … Continue reading

Look behind the front

The news media recently picked up a report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that stated: “…11 percent of school-age children…have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” Boys are diagnosed twice as often as girls.

Some experts in pediatric psychology and psychiatry are concerned that ADHD is being diagnosed too hastily and treated too recklessly with prescription medications, specifically Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta. Sales of these drugs reached $9 billion in 2012. Overall health care costs related to ADHD are in the tens of billions of dollars—and will increase right along with the diagnoses.

Are there … Continue reading

Obamacare: A double whammy for some

A few days ago, more bad news came out about the cost of individual health insurance in 2014. The Society of Actuaries (the financial risk experts that determine insurance costs) reported that next year insurance companies must anticipate paying out at least 32% more in medical claims.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will require insurance plans to provide more comprehensive coverage (essential benefits) and cover millions more people with pre-existing conditions. There is considerable doubt about how many young, healthy people and how many small businesses will participate in the insurance exchanges. If they don’t, premiums will rise even … Continue reading

Pass the salt

Two reports last week reminded Americans—again—that we are eating too much salt (sodium), and the media gleefully passed on the news—again—that what we eat is killing us.

Possibly. But it’s not helpful to focus the blame on salt, when it alone is not the problem.

The American Heart Association (AHA) reported that, on average, adults consume 4,000 mg of sodium every day, or about twice what’s recommended. The United States Dietary Association (USDA) recommends no more than 2,300 mg/day (about 1 teaspoon); the AHA advises less than 1,500 mg/day.

In a coordinated analysis, researchers from Harvard Medical School concludedContinue reading

The Z-Pak deception

Several years ago, when my son was in middle school, he developed a nasty sinus infection. He didn’t have a fever, and I suspected it was a viral infection that would run its course unaided. I told him this, but he was unimpressed.

Partly to make him feel better, and partly because I wanted my diagnosis confirmed, I made an appointment for him to see our pediatrician.

I had a good relationship with our pediatrician. We shared the same philosophy of watchful waiting and not rushing to order unnecessary tests and prescribe unnecessary drugs.

Unfortunately, it was his day off. … Continue reading

What is the Quack Miranda Warning?

This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

You have probably seen this warning many times, but perhaps never paused to consider what it meant. Or, maybe you haven’t seen it, because it usually appears in very fine print and is only obvious if you are looking for it.

What is it, what does it mean, and why is it important?

In 1994 congress enacted the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), effectively allowing any product under the broad classification of … Continue reading