Equal rights for vision!

For the last 15 years, my family has purchased an individual health insurance policy. Individual plans, as opposed to employer-based insurance, usually don’t cover vision. We could buy a separate vision policy, but in an average year the premiums would cost more than our annual eye exams, glasses and contacts combined.

Even Medicare doesn’t pay for routine eye exams and corrective lenses, except one pair after cataract surgery.

Of course, eye diseases and injuries (your mother always told you not to run with pointy objects, didn’t she?) are covered as medical care.

But I’ve always wondered why screening exams for … Continue reading

It’s about quality, not quantity

I am a child of the 70’s, and I remember the thrill of being able to stay up past my bedtime, on occasion, to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show. So it was with sadness that I read the recent news that Valerie Harper, aka Mary’s best friend Rhoda, had been diagnosed with a rare and incurable form of brain cancer.

I watched her interviewed on television and was moved by her spirit, her humor, and her eloquence. “While you’re living, LIVE!” she entreats the audience.

In another post about end-of-life stuff, I quoted a doctor saying that … Continue reading

Boning up on calcium

Out of sight, out of mind

The other day I was cleaning out a kitchen cupboard and unearthed an economy-sized bottle of calcium tablets. Oops! I should be taking one or two of those every day.

Or should I?

Everyone knows calcium is necessary for bone health. Most women have been told by their doctors that they need extra calcium after menopause because without estrogen’s help, bones do not absorb it well. Low calcium leads to osteoporosis, which leads to broken bones, which lead to huge health care costs. Oh no!

Too much of a good thing—or the wrong thing

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Medicare: No longer the light at the end of the health care tunnel

During the presidential campaign last year, Paul Ryan, the vice-presidential candidate, presented his plan for what we all know is much-needed Medicare reform (too many baby boomers; too little money). Under his plan, seniors would choose a  “Medicare certified” private health insurance plan and, depending on the senior’s income, a percentage of the premium would be subsidized.

His plan sounds a lot like the new health insurance exchanges that are set to begin in 2014, doesn’t it?

Yesterday, an article on the National Review Online caught my attention because the author presented a compelling scenario by which the government could … Continue reading

Do you didgeridoo?

didgeridoo playerAs I was skimming through some of my favorite medical blogs the other day, I ran across a post by Dr. Synonymous, a family medicine doctor somewhere in middle America. His post referred to the time and place of his first “Didgeridoo Hullabaloo” session that he was offering for his patients that suffered from snoring and sleep apnea.

What is a didgeridoo? It’s a native Australian wind instrument, which can be up to 10 feet long! It works like a large kazoo, and produces a low, resonant sound something like an elephant.

And how does this help snoring? Snoring and … Continue reading

The probiotics con

Probiotics are of limited use

As a nurse, I often give patients the advice to eat yogurt when taking antibiotics to decrease the risk of developing diarrhea or, in women, vaginal yeast infections.

Why yogurt? Because it contains live, beneficial micro-organisms—now called probiotics—that are thought to replenish the “good” bacteria incidentally killed when taking antibiotics. In theory, eating yogurt makes sense. At best, it helps; at worse, you get a tasty snack with some extra calcium.

In the last few years, however, I have seen probiotic-laced products (fortified yogurt, snack bars, capsules) account for an increasingly large part of the … Continue reading

Got a craving?

In another bit of good news this week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that Americans are actually eating less fast food. Since 2006, an American adult’s total daily calories from fast food has dropped from 12.8% to 11.3%.

This number, although small, surprised me. It is no secret that America is in an obesity epidemic; more than one-third of adults meet the definition of obesity with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher. In children, the obesity rate is about 15%.

Obesity is tied to all sorts of chronic health problems such as heart disease, … Continue reading

A possible silver lining to Obamacare

Last fall I blogged about an inherent unfairness in our health insurance system. (I know, there’s more than one.) In short, those with employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) generally have lower premiums, lower out-of-pocket costs, and better coverage than those of us that buy health insurance through the individual market.

With the new insurance exchanges, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is supposed to decrease costs and improve coverage. Because of the law’s mandates for preventive services and essential benefits, coverage will be more equitable with the large, ESI plans. Whether premiums will be more affordable continues to be a topic of much … Continue reading

Got (breast)milk?

I was surprised recently when I read the following article on Kaiser Health News: Nursing moms get free breast pumps from health law.

Really?

So I went to Healthcare.gov, the official website of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and found the expanded list of essential benefits/preventive services for women that went into effect on August 1, 2012. Breast pumps, listed under “Breastfeeding Support, Supplies and Counseling,” are indeed considered “preventive” and must be covered without cost sharing (co-pays or deductibles).

According to the factsheet: “Breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive measures mothers can take to protect Continue reading

Will coverage for pre-existing conditions really be affordable?

The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) was created by the health reform law and enacted in 2010 to provide coverage for low and moderate-income people who could not buy health insurance because of a pre-existing condition—the “uninsurables”.

The plan was to be funded through 2013 until the law’s signature provision—that insurers could no longer exclude those with pre-existing conditions—kicked in on January 1, 2014.

Sadly, the plan has already run out of money and enrollment was suspended February 16th, leaving many thousands without access to health coverage until at least 2014.

Related story from Kaiser Health News: Feds increase Continue reading

To drink or not to drink

Few things make me crazier about health care in the media than reading back-to-back, conflicting stories.

For example, last week I read the article A drink a day linked to healthy aging. A few days later I read Even a drink a day boosts cancer death risk, alcohol study finds.

Like many Americans, I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner and the occasional beer or cocktail when I’m out with friends. What’s a girl to do?

First, take a closer look at the studies.

These studies are “observational”. That is, participants fill out questionnaires over an extended … Continue reading

Pucker up

Did you ever stop to wonder how the skin of your lips differs from the skin on the rest of your face?

The skin over your lips is very thin and highly vascular, hence their typical “vermilion” or red color. Your lips also have more nerve endings, making them very tactile and sensitive.

These anatomical differences make our lips attractive and nice for kissing, but they also make our lips vulnerable to dryness, sunburn and chemical sensitivities.

Painful and unattractive, chapped lips are especially common in the winter because of the dry, cold air outside, the dry, warm air inside, … Continue reading

“The Drugs I Need”

Several years ago, Consumers Union (the publishers of Consumer Reports) released a hilarious animated music video—The Drugs I Need—satirizing both the pharmaceutical industry and the unending American quest for the perfect “cure all” drug.

I recently watched the video again on YouTube and found the song’s humorous message just as fitting as it was almost 10 years ago. Be sure to check out the fine print “disclaimer” at the bottom of the screen.  😆

FN

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Good health – No miracle required

nomiracleI laughed the other day when I read a post on the blog Science-Based Medicine. The author denounced the all powerful Dr. Mehmet Oz for his frequent promotion of “miracle” products on his eponymous show, and commented that:

This constant drive for miracles must keep the producers in a perpetual panic. They need at least five miracles per week.

Which episode incited the author’s scorn? “Dr. Oz’s 13 Miracles for 2013.” Wow, that’s a lot of miracles.

Related post from Science-Based Medicine: Dr. Mehmet Oz completes his journey to the Dark Side

Like snake oil salesmen of old, the … Continue reading

Premiums, mandates and penalties

I posted a couple weeks ago that health insurance companies wanted to increase the penalty I mean tax on people who ignored the individual coverage mandate. The companies fear the penalty tax, only $95 the first year, is not stiff enough.

Well, according to recently released information from the IRS and the Department of Health and Human Services (overseers of the health law), the insurance companies have cause for worry. Not because so many people will ignore the mandate, but because so many people will be exempt.

Related reading from National Review Online: Obamacare’s pressure points

Who will be exempt? … Continue reading