American Heart Month

February marks American Heart Month in the US.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, affecting Americans of all backgrounds. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds and someone dies from heart-disease related causes every minute. During American Heart Month, everyone is encouraged to examine their heart health and take charge with heart-healthy behavior.

There are a number of risk factors for heart disease. High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are major risk factors for one’s heart health. Almost half of Americans (47%) are affected by at least one of these risks. A diagnosis of diabetes also comes with increased risk of heart disease, as well as poor diet, obesity, and excessive alcohol use.

There are different types of heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common diagnosis, resulting from plaque buildup inside of arteries. Others are affected by arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat; congenital heart defects; cardiomyopathy, or weak heart muscles; heart valve problems; heart infections; or cardiovascular disease.

file4671234819876The first step in being aware of your heart health is to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Regular check-ups—even when you are not sick—can give great insight into one’s overall health and is a great opportunity to ask questions about improving your health. Check your blood pressure and cholesterol and set goals with your doctor if they are high. Regular exercise and healthy eating can greatly improve one’s heart health. Start walking every other day, control portion sizes with meals while eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting fats and sodium. Quitting smoking can cut one’s risk for heart disease and stroke, and not starting leaves one at a distinct advantage. Lastly, take any blood pressure or cholesterol medications as prescribed. It is important to take them as directed by your doctor to ensure the most benefit to your heart health. Getting a full night’s sleep and reducing stress can also have an impact on your overall heart health.

One out of every four deaths in the United States is from heart disease. Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States over $200 billion each year in healthcare costs, medications, and lost productivity. NeedyMeds’ Disease Information Page for Heart Disease has information on the assistance available for those in need, including Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) that offer medications for low or no cost as well as Diagnosis-Based Assistance. Support can also be found in our State Sponsored Program, including the CDC’s WISEWOMAN program to provide low-income, under-insured/uninsured women with chronic risk blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. For those working towards better heart health and need help remembering to take prescribed medications on time, NeedyMeds Storylines app can keep you informed on when you need to take your medicine and you can track your health. Use our website to find assistance or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

 

Tips for Managing your Weight

Last week was National Healthy Weight Week in the United States. So close to the New Year, many are still chasing resolutions they made – often to lose weight. An estimated 80% of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by the first week of February, so we are offering some tips from our partners at Health Storylines.

 

Top 4 Tips to Manage your Weight

By: Zana Toulany, R.Ph, Director, Patient Experience

Health Storylines

 

It’s the new year, and for many of us, that means new goals.  The most common New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight!  See below for our top 4 tips to help you manage weight:

Eat Fat

You can’t live without fats.  Eating small amounts of good, or unsaturated fats, can keep you feeling fuller for longer.  Examples include nuts, fish, and olive oil.

Clean your Kitchen

It’s often easier to eat healthy if you place healthy snacks (fruits, vegetables, nuts) on your kitchen counter.  Clear the clutter in your kitchen to make it easier for you to reach for healthy options!

Temptation Bundling

This is a great way to reduce procrastination.  Temptation bundling is when you combine two activities together – one that you like doing, and one that you don’t like doing.  For example, you could watch your favorite TV show while running on the treadmill.

Track your Progress

It can be helpful to track your weight loss progress over time.  Simply use the ‘vitals tracker’ in the free NeedyMeds HealthStorylines app and track your weight daily (available online at NeedyMeds.HealthStorylines.com, or on the Google Play or App Store).

 

For more tips and to learn how to manage your weight online using NeedyMeds HealthStorylines, tune into our webinar.

 

Thyroid Awareness Month

January is Thyroid Awareness Month. The thyroid is a small hormone-secreting organ in the neck that helps regulate the body’s metabolic needs. When the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormone the body slows all of its functions, a condition known as hypothyroidism. Alternatively, an overactive thyroid could produce too much hormone sending the body’s systems into overdrive causing a condition called hyperthyroidism.

 

Your thyroid’s function is incredibly important to many of the body’s systems, including heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and skin. If something is wrong with the thyroid there are a wide variety of symptoms that may occur. Hypothyroidism often presents with pervasive fatigue, depression, weight gain, fluid retention, brittle hair/nails, dry/itchy skin, muscle pain/stiffness, slow pulse, sensitivity to cold or certain medications, and excessive or irregular menstrual bleeding. Symptoms vary from person to person.

Hyperthyroidism can present with high heart rate, anxiety or irritability, trembling hands, weight loss despite no change in diet/eating habits, muscle weakness, frequent loose bowel movements, and an accelerated loss of calcium in the bones increasing the risk of osteoporosis and fracture. Diagnosis of a thyroid disorder could be related to underlying issues, and often need confirmation from an endocrinologist.

 

Thyroid Awareness Month is an important time to learn about how your body functions. An abnormally behaving thyroid contributes to numerous health conditions, including serious mental and physical health issues.  If you have questions or concerns, there are things to ask your doctor or pharmacist.

 

NeedyMeds has a Diagnosis Information Page about Hypothyroidism, a one-stop destination for information on the diagnosis as well as commonly prescribed medications linked to any available Patient Assistance Programs. We also have listings for Diagnosis-Based Assistance for thyroid cancer. For more resources for those in need, check our website Needymeds.org or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

 

Medicaid Work Requirement

Medicaid is the United States’ public health insurance program for people with low incomes and chronic health conditions. Medicaid covers one in five Americans; mostly children, people with disabilities, and the elderly. The Affordable Care Act (ACA; aka Obamacare) expanded Medicaid coverage to include the working poor (those who make 138% of the Federal Poverty Level or below) who do not typically have access to affordable care. Thirty-two states have implemented the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. Some states, along with the Trump administration, have pushed for imposing a work requirement for Medicaid recipients.

 

Of the 25 million affected by the Medicaid expansion nearly 80% live in working families, many of whom are self-employed. Close to half of working Medicaid enrollees work for small businesses which often do not offer health coverage. Most of those who are not working report inability to work due to illness, disability, or caregiving responsibilities.

 

post-thumbKentucky is the first state to have the work requirement waiver approved by the Trump administration. Kentucky’s HEALTH (Helping to Engage and Achieve Long Term Health) program requires 80 hours of work, job training, or other qualified “community engagement” per month. Going to school or taking care of a child or elderly relative exempt Medicaid recipients from the new mandate. Those who do not pay their premiums for sixty days subsequently lose their coverage for six months, only to be reinstated after payment along with taking a health and financial literacy course. Under Kentucky’s HEALTH program, Medicaid enrollees pay between $1 and $15 per month, depending on income (pregnant women and children are exempt).

 

Supporters of the Medicaid work requirement argue that expanding coverage to low-income Americans disincentivizes “able-bodied” adults from being responsible for their care, and imposing the requirement to work promotes self-sufficiency. Opponents of the new measures say establishing work requirement will lead to fewer people enrolled in Medicaid—not because of working adults moving on to support themselves through private insurance—but due to administrative obstacles in verifying work status or documenting an exemption.

 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are accepting the Medicaid work requirement waivers as a demonstrative project to test whether they would “promote better mental, physical, and emotional health” among working poor. Under federal law the CMS must consider if a waiver is “likely to assist in promoting the objectives” of Medicaid; advocacy groups are likely to legally challenge the Trump administration’s guidelines, arguing that work requirements do not promote the objectives of Medicaid by adding a barrier to healthcare coverage. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has issued an executive order that would repeal the Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in the state—stripping Medicaid coverage from nearly half a million Kentuckians—should the proposed overhaul of the federal-state health plan be struck down in court.

 

There will be further developments in health care in America, and we at NeedyMeds will try to keep up-to-date on the details. We are committed to 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.

State of Healthcare 2017

Health care in America was a constant subject of conversations in public venues and political forums in 2017. There has been confusion about health insurance, failed legislation, Executive Orders reversing Obamacare guidelines, tax plans affecting healthcare costs, and the failure to fund healthcare programs that cover millions of low-income Americans. People in the United States continue to count healthcare costs as a major concern.

State of Healthcare 2017

We at NeedyMeds prefer to remain apolitical, but it is difficult to avoid the partisan nature of the changes in health care in America since the Trump administration’s inauguration last year. Donald Trump ran on the platform of repealing the Affordable Care Act (aka ACA; Obamacare), saying it would be “so easy.” He claimed his Obamacare replacement would have “insurance for everybody” and that “Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.” In practice, all “Trumpcare” bills failed to pass through Congress due to bipartisan disagreement over the destabilization they would cause in millions of Americans to losing insurance and the expected increase in premium costs.

 

Meaningful legislation did not affect Obamacare until Executive Orders allowing insurers to offer low-benefit insurance plans and ending subsidies to insurance companies that help cover low-income Americans. The ACA was also impacted by the tax bill passed late December 2017 that included an end to the individual mandate—a rule requiring most Americans to have health coverage designed to ensure that not only sick people buy insurance, thereby lowering premiums for everyone. Those opting out of insurance will generally be healthier people—leading to increased premiums for those left paying them—and poorer people who may not consider the cost of insurance to be immediately beneficial. 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.

 

Low-income Americans may also be feeling the grip of healthcare costs as government programs have limited funding. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Community Health Centers Fund have both faced debilitating cuts as they expired September 30, 2017. They were partially funded until March with the latest temporary federal spending bill, but the uncertainty of future funding has millions of Americans concerned for the health care of their children, themselves, or the jobs of 160,000 healthcare professionals working in community health centers across the nation to help those with low-income and are often covered by CHIP or Medicare/Medicaid.

 

Other unexpected factors have the potential to shake up healthcare policy in America going into 2018. The Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned after it was discovered he was misusing taxpayer funds while overseeing a budget of over $1 trillion meant to finance health programs that affect over 100 million Americans, regulating food and pharmaceutical industries, and sponsoring biomedical research in the United States. Former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar is currently nominated for the position, awaiting Congressional approval. The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) were all fired last week, alarming many healthcare policy analysts. Founded by the Clinton Administration in 1995, PACHA advised the White House on HIV/AIDS policy strategy by unpaid appointees designed to include doctors, members of the healthcare industry, and people living with HIV. The mass dismissal follows six members resigning over the summer, citing the Trump administration’s apparent disinterest in helping the HIV/AIDS community.

 

As said, 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 health care 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.

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