Tips for National Influenza Vaccination Week

This week is National Influenza Vaccination Week in the U.S. Established by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2005, this week highlights the importance of continuing flu vaccination through the holidays and beyond. Vaccines against the flu are the best defense against the virus and developing flu-related complications.

 

The CDC holds National Influenza Vaccination Week in December as vaccinations tend to drop quickly after the end of November, leaving many vulnerable during the holiday season. Going on vacation or having relatives visiting from afar can expose people to different strains of the flu than what they have built a immune response to, which can spread illness for those unprotected. The flu vaccine protects against multiple strains of the flu viruses. Yearly vaccinations are recommended because flu viruses are always changing, and each year the vaccine is updated to better match circulating influenza strains.

The CDC recommends everyone over the age of 6 months to get a flu vaccine every season. Children younger than 2 years old, or children with health problems such as asthma, diabetes, or other chronic conditions are at the highest risk of severe complications of the flu and should get the flu shot. The best way to protect infants under 6 months old is to surround them with people who have been vaccinated.

 

vaccinationAmid reports that the flu vaccine is less effective than usual this year, NeedyMeds is offering more tips to stay healthy in the midst of cold and flu season.

  1. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough and sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow. This will reduce the spread of germs through touching objects or one’s face.

  2. Wash hands often, especially after blowing your nose or coughing. The CDC suggests washing using warm water and soap, and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds and drying with a single-use towel.

  3. Regularly disinfect common surfaces in your home that your family touches every day, including countertops, telephones, computers, faucets, and doorknobs.

  4. Ensure you and your family eats a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, gets plenty of rest, and exercises regularly. These steps will keep your immune system in prime shape to help fight off illness.

  5. Know the difference between a cold and the flu. The flu generally comes on strong with severe symptoms, including fever, sore throat, chills, body aches, cough, runny/stuffy nose, diarrhea, vomiting, headache and fatigue. Although colds can exhibit some of the same symptoms, they usually are not as severe and often do not last as long.

  6. It’s also important to know the difference between a cold and seasonal allergies. With the similarities in symptoms, it can be easy to self-medicate for the wrong condition.

    • With a cold, you’re likely to wake up with a sore, painful throat. With allergies, the throat has more of an itch or tickle rather than soreness.

    • Colds follow a relatively slow progression and last for a few days, whereas allergies can come on almost instantly, with symptoms of coughing, sneezing, and congestion striking all at once and can last as long as allergens are in the environment—sometimes a matter of hours, other times for weeks.

    • Sneezing with itchy eyes or mouth are associated with allergies rather than colds.

    • Fevers can appear with colds, but do not affect those suffering from allergies.

    • It’s important to know you don’t have both a cold and allergies, as this can lead to chronic sinus problems if left untreated.

  7. Stay home from school or work if you or your child are sick.

 

For those in need of assistance procuring the influenza vaccine our database of free/low-cost/sliding-scale clinics has information on over 5500 clinics that offer immunization services. Search your ZIP code to find medical clinics near you that may offer free or low-cost immunizations. Another resource is a web tool called HealthMap Vaccine Finder that shows pharmacies near you that are administering flu shots. The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card can help with the price of prescribed medicines, even over-the-counter decongestants or fever-reducers. The free discount card is also available as a printable download and in the NeedyMeds Storylines app for iPhone and Android. NeedyMeds also has information on over 1,900 coupons and rebates offered for medications or medical supplies that can be searched by category (such as Cold/Flu or Allergies) or product name.

 

CBO Scores Tax Reform/Healthcare Repeal

This year we have been tracking the evolution of healthcare in the United States under the Trump administration, from the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) bills failing to pass through Congress, the expiration of the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) which covers 9 million children—many of whom have chronic health conditions—to Executive Orders undermining the Affordable Care Act (ACA; aka Obamacare) to the effect of destabalizing the insurance markets, causing confusion among consumers and higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs. More recently the U.S. Congress has been focused on tax reform, though critics have described efforts as a healthcare repeal disguised as a tax bill. This week the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has scored the Senate’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act bill that, if passed, could take effect on January 1, 2018.

 

For those concerned with America’s growing debt, the CBO analysis finds the $1.4 trillion would be added to the federal deficit over the next decade. Critics decry raising taxes for lower-income families while lowering taxes for those who make over $100,000 annually. The primary concern to poor Americans comes from the tax bill’s effect on health care. The Senate’s tax bill repeals the Obamacare individual mandate that requires almost all Americans to have health insurance or else pay a penalty. As with all previous attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the CBO has calculated that the change would cause insurance premiums to rise leading to millions losing their insurance in the coming years.

With no individual mandate, those opting out of buying insurance (most often lower-income people) would no longer face a tax penalty but would also lose tax credits and subsidies from the government that offset the costs for poor Americans. Poverty has a major impact on health, with people of all ages under the poverty line having generally poorer health, so lack of insurance could leave those who experience accidents or health conditions with extraordinarily high out-of-pocket costs.

 

Despite low public support, the Senate aims to vote on the tax bill as early as this week. NeedyMeds will try to keep our users up-to-date on further developments on health care in America. We at NeedyMeds prefer to remain apolitical—we work in a diverse office with people of varying backgrounds and views—but we believe in being informed and that those in need deserve care. It should be clear that NeedyMeds supports improved access to care as well as lower costs for medications and healthcare services for all.

NeedyMeds also encourages Americans to be active in the legislative process: If you have an opinion on the future of the Affordable Care Act or other important issues in the United States, call 202-224-3121 to reach the U.S. Capitol switchboard; from there you can be connected to your elected House Representative or Senator’s office.

NeedyMeds will continue to provide information as the need for assistance navigating the often expensive landscape of health care rises. The NeedyMeds website has databases of Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs), Diagnosis-Based Assistance (DBAs), and Free/Low-cost/Sliding-scale Clinics to help those in need. The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card can save users up to 80% off the cash price of prescription medications for those without insurance or choose to use the card instead of insurance. In addition to the plastic card, the card is available in a printable form or the NeedyMeds Storylines smartphone app for Apple and Android devices. For more help finding information, call our toll-free helpline Monday-Friday 9am-5pm Eastern Time at 1-800-503-6897.

Health Tips for the Holidays

This week is Thanksgiving in the United States, marking the beginning of the holiday season. The holidays are a great opportunity to enjoy being with loved ones, but they are not without their demands. Physical, emotional, and mental stress can accompany the holiday joy and can make everything a little harder for those already experiencing difficulties with their health. We at NeedyMeds have tips for staying healthy during the holiday season.

  • Travel safely. Last year we shared a blog with tips for traveling, especially for those travelling with a chronic illness. Whether traveling by car or by air: plan ahead, stay safe, and prepare for any personal health needs.

  • Wash your hands. Keeping your hands clean is an important step to avoiding sickness and spreading germs, especially while travelling or preparing food.

  • Stay warm. The holiday season brings winter to much of the United States and cold temperatures can cause health problems, especially the very young and elderly adults. Stay dry and dress warmly in several layers.

  • Manage stress. The holidays can be stressful—familial obligations, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and even less sunlight can contribute to the deterioration of mental health. Balance commitments, down time, and enjoyment; make sure to get enough sleep.

  • Eat healthy & stay active. Holidays are often times of hearty meals followed by sweet desserts, but it is important to keep a balanced diet. Don’t skip out on the colorful fruits and vegetables at Thanksgiving dinner, and try not to be weighed down by the “food coma”—get out and be active.

 

thanksgiving-2903166_960_720NeedyMeds does not have resources specifically for the holidays, but there are programs that offer meal delivery or food pantries for those in need with certain diagnoses. These can be found in our Diagnosis-Based Assistance database. We also have an upcoming webinar about Holiday Health with an Autoimmune Condition next week, which you can register for here for more targeted information on maintaining holiday health.

We wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday from all of us at NeedyMeds.

Transgender Awareness Week

Transgender Awareness Week falls between November 14-20 every year and is meant to help raise visibility of a vulnerable and underserved community.  ‘Transgender’ is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned at birth; ‘gender identity’ is one’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both, or neither.

 Transgender Pride Flag

Transgender Pride Flag

Transgender and gender-nonconforming people can face significant problems with accessing health care. Finding a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable of transgender health issues can be a hurdle itself; some healthcare professionals may believe that there is something wrong with someone because they are transgender—they are wrong. Even after finding a knowledgeable and sympathetic doctor, insurance may not cover the cost of treatment. Many transgender people are on a dosage of hormones which can affect one’s blood pressure, blood sugar, or in rare cases contribute to cancer. Some cancers found in transgender people can appear atypical—trans men are at risk for ovarian and cervical cancers, and trans women can be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Transgender/gender non-conforming people experience gender dysphoria, a clinically significant distress recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) caused by a person’s assigned birth gender differing from the one with which they identify. This leads to increased depression among the transgender community, which can be exacerbated by being rejected by family and friends, abuse/violence, or discrimination.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) protects against discrimination based on gender identity. Despite these protections, over 27% of transgender/gender non-conforming people report having been denied health care. Even paperwork can be a barrier to access for transgender individuals as standard forms often only list “male” or “female.” Nearly 21% of transgender people in the US report being subjected to harsh or abusive language from a healthcare professional, and an almost equal amount say healthcare providers have blamed them for their own health conditions. Transgender people report the highest rates of discrimination and barriers to care among the LGBT community.

 

Transgender rights and protections have been waylaid in 2017 by the Trump administration. The Department of Justice announced in October that civil rights laws do not protect transgender people in the workplace, reversing a guideline instituted by President Obama on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Earlier this year, the Department of Education rescinded Obama’s Title IX guidance for transgender/gender non-conforming people in schools. Critics of these changes to remove protections from an already vulnerable population call the new guidelines “license to discriminate” while supporters claim it is their “religious liberty” to deny services or access to individuals based on belief.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has information on finding insurance for transgender-related health care. To further help those in need, NeedyMeds has a growing list of programs in our Diagnosis-Based Assistance database for transgender/gender non-conforming people that offer various forms of assistance such as financial aid or legal services. We also have listings for recreational camps/retreats and academic scholarships for LGBT youth and their families. If you know any programs assisting transgender/gender non-conforming people that we don’t have listed on our site, leave a comment and let us know about it.

 

ACA Open Enrollment

The Affordable Care Act (ACA; aka Obamacare) Health Insurance Marketplace begins its fifth Open Enrollment period today. American healthcare consumers can sign up on the federal insurance exchange at healthcare.gov or through their state marketplaces. This year, there is increased confusion and anxiety surrounding Open Enrollment due to changes (and attempted changes) made to the ACA under the Trump administration.

 

Previous years Open Enrollment period ran 90 days after November 1 until the end of January but has been cut to 45 days this year unless you qualify for the Special Enrollment Period, extending the enrollment period by an additional 60 days. Further limiting access to enrollment, the healthcare.gov website has scheduled weekly 12-hour maintenance outages. Advertisements encouraging public awareness in Open Enrollment are also cut, with some allocated funds being used for an anti-ACA ad campaign, and federal health representatives have been told not to engage in outreach to help more people access enrollment.

 

There is also considerable confusion, with many Americans being unsure as to the status of the Affordable Care Act due to frequent changes and attempted changes to the healthcare law. Other than the enrollment period’s length and the funds used for advertising diminished, an Executive Order earlier this month opened the marketplace to low-benefit insurance plans and an order to cease subsidy payments that help cover 10 million American’s healthcare premiums. These changes are expected to raise insurance premiums for nearly everyone as well as out-of-pocket costs for the most vulnerable Americans. For many this drastically changes the Affordable Care Act and potentially changes the nominal Obamacare to “Trumpcare” despite protestations that any failures of the law remain the fault of the original authors regardless of the Trump administration’s enacted changes.

 

GAC_open_facebookSince federal resources are refraining from outreach, organizations such as Get America Covered are reaching out to combat misinformation and encourage enrollment. In order to avoid a minimum $695 penalty for not having health insurance, Americans must be covered by insurance before the end of the year. For those who have applied through insurance exchanges in previous years, they have to update their information and compare their options for 2018. If you have questions about signing up or want to talk through your options with a trained professional, free assistance can be reached by calling 1-800-318-2596 or visiting http://localhelp.healthcare.gov.

 

NeedyMeds will continue to provide information as the need for assistance navigating the often expensive landscape of health care rises. The NeedyMeds website has databases of Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs), Diagnosis-Based Assistance (DBAs), and Free/Low-cost/Sliding-scale Clinics to help those in need. The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card can save users up to 80% off the cash price of prescription medications for those without insurance or choose to use the card instead of insurance. In addition to the plastic card, the card is available in a printable form or a smartphone app for Apple and Android devices. For more help finding information, call our toll-free helpline Monday-Friday 9am-5pm Eastern Time at 1-800-503-6897.

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