Monday, April 29, 2013

Turn down the volume

Hearing health professionals in New Jersey and across the country are urging local teens and young adults to take steps to prevent hearing loss, a condition that is becoming more common among young people.

One in five teens already has some hearing loss, in part due to the growing use of ear bud headphones to listen to music. Nationwide, more than 48 million Americans suffer from hearing loss, which can contribute to social isolation, lower earnings, and higher risk of falls.

Many Americans are unaware of the dangers of prolonged exposure to loud noises; according to a recent survey from ORC International and hi HealthInnovations. The survey, which polled 1,015 adults ages 18 and older, revealed that just 45 percent of Americans are aware of the prevalence of hearing loss among teens and young adults.

Dr. Sikka, UnitedHealthcare’s regional medical director in the Northeast region says there are many steps people can take to prevent and treat hearing loss.   Some examples she sites include:

·         Follow the 60-60 rule, which means limit the use of ear buds to 60 minutes at a time and at 60 percent of the music player’s maximum volume.

·         Limit exposure to loud noises: People should limit their exposure to loud sounds, such as music, lawn mowers, or motorcycles, all of which can cause hearing loss. Exposure to noises of 100 decibels or more can result in hearing loss after as little as 15 minutes. 

·         Talk to your doctor and schedule a hearing test – There are common signs of hearing loss, such as turning up the volume on the TV or radio, having trouble hearing people on the phone, or difficulty with following conversations in noisy environments. If you notice any of these symptoms, talk with your physician and get a hearing test.

·         Research custom-programmed hearing aids – Hearing aid technology has advanced. Hearing aids are now more comfortable, very tiny, and provide better sound quality. Some newer companies, including UnitedHealthcare sister company hi HealthInnovations, offer custom-programmed hearing aids for less than $1,000 per device – a savings of 60 percent or more compared to devices sold through traditional channels. 

·         Review your insurance plan – Some insurance plans, including employer-sponsored and Medicare Advantage plans from UnitedHealthcare, now cover some or all of the cost of hearing aids, helping to make treatment and support more affordable.

By taking care of your hearing health, you can reduce your risk of developing hearing loss. For people that have hearing loss, it is important to seek care to help reduce the serious health consequences associated with the condition. People who treat their hearing loss reported significant improvements in their relationships, well-being, mental health, and safety.

 Just 45 percent of Americans are aware of the prevalence of hearing loss among teens and young adults

Friday, April 12, 2013

New Jersey seventh-grade students show off their health smarts

The news about childhood obesity is often more troubling than uplifting.

But when you have seventh grade students willing to spend weeks studying about health and then excitedly racing to buzz in with answers to health questions, you know that something is going right.

Last week, UnitedHealthcare and the YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge and South Amboy, New Jersey held the UnitedHealthcare Health Bee at Edgar Middle School in Metuchen.  Five schools participated in the competition: Edgar Middle School, Herbert Hoover Middle School, South Amboy Middle School, Iselin Middle School, and Fords Middle School.

The UnitedHealthcare Health Bee is the culminating event of the Westfield and Metuchen YMCA’s seventh grade initiative.  Research indicates that seventh grade is a key junction in a young teen’s attitudes and behaviors regarding body image, health, nutrition and self-esteem.  The seventh grade initiative aims to help students at this critical time develop healthy habits that will follow them into adulthood.  The program covers food and nutrition, physical fitness and health and science.  In some instances, a free pre-teen membership to the Y with access to the exercise equipment, pool and gym is a part of the program as well.

Congratulations to the winners the Metuchen YMCA competition: “Team Edgar” of Edgar Middle School took first place, the “Herbert Hoover Hornets” of Herbert Hoover Middle School took second place, and no one could deny that “Team South Amboy” showed top-notch spirit.  Congratulations to all participants!

Michael McGuire with 2013 Metuchen Health Bee Team Spirit Award winners!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Don’t forget April 15th deadline for HSA contributions

This time of year you can almost hear the clock ticking as Americans and their accountants rush to beat the April 15th deadline for filing income taxes.

But many forget another very important money-saving deadline that comes the same day as tax day. April 15th is also the very last day to make a contribution into a health savings account (HSA).

An HSA is a medical savings account available to consumers enrolled in a high-deductible health plan. The funds contributed to an HSA are not subject to federal income tax, nor are any accumulated income earned in an HSA.  Consumers can pay for insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays, prescription drugs and other eligible medical costs from the HSA throughout the year and can then roll over unused amounts into future years, potentially creating a kind of medical expense nest egg over time.

And according to the experts, you should save money for future medical needs.  A recent study by Fidelity Benefits Consulting estimates that a 65-year-old couple who retired in 2012 will need $240,000 just to cover their medical costs in retirement.

Having an HSA tends to make people pay more attention not just to what they are paying for healthcare, but also to the care they receive. A study by UnitedHealthcare shows that five percent more of HSA members sought preventive care than a peer group of traditional preferred provider organization (PPO) members. HSA members were 16-percent more likely to get cervical or prostate cancer screenings and those with heart conditions were 20-to 40- percent more likely to get important tests.

HSAs are becoming more popular as more employers and individuals learn about the benefits. The Insurance industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans reported in 2012 that more than 13.5 million Americans with individual or employer group coverage had an HSA-qualified plan, an increase of 18 percent from 2011.

The federal government gives employees and employers (who are allowed to add funds to the HSAs of employees) until April 15th of the year to add funds to an HSA account for the prior year. That means that if you have an HSA you can cut your taxes while accumulating money for future medical care.  The HSA limits for 2012 are $3,100 for an individual and $6,250 for a family. HSA holders 55 and older can contribute and deduct an additional $1,000.

If you don’t have an HSA and you want to find out more about it, click here