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October 2017

How to Make Halloween Healthier for You and Your Children

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Halloween can be scary. Ghosts, ghouls and goblins abound, but the most frightening part of Halloween might be how many calories our children bring home in their trick-or-treat bags.

The candy in an average trick-or-treat bag can contain as much as 7,000 calories, according to Dr. Donna Arnett at the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s school of public health, and all that candy can lead to tooth decay and a lot of extra pounds for the entire family.

What’s a health-conscious parent to do without ruining one of the most kid-friendly celebrations of the year?

  • Instead of candy, opt for healthier or non-food alternatives. Candy is fun, but healthy food can be as well. Making small oranges, popcorn balls or fruit cups with pumpkin faces drawn on them can encourage healthier eating while still getting into the Halloween spirit. Give trick-or-treaters dried fruit, fruit leathers, crackers or trail mix.

Or, if you want to avoid giving out candy or snack foods altogether, give small toys, stickers, temporary tattoos, pencils, Halloween erasers or glow-sticks. Kids receive plenty of candy on Halloween and will enjoy being surprised with the “extras” they gather while trick-or-treating.

  • Get out and exercise. Candy consumption certainly increases on and around Halloween, but so does walking. Fitbit recently analyzed its data and found the average user walked an additional 2,750 steps on Halloween. While those extra steps won’t cancel out all those candy bars you ate, the added walking and exercise can help you control your weight and improve your health.

Take family walks around the neighborhood before Halloween to plan your trick-or-treating route. The additional movement can benefit the whole family.

  • Fill your little goblins’ tummies with healthy food before they hit their candy stash. Eating a healthy dinner before trick-or-treating will help ensure your kids are properly fueled and less tempted to snack their way around the neighborhood. Plus, for safety you should save your candy until you get home to screen for anything potentially hazardous.

If you return home and your family has more candy than they should eat, search online for a local dentist or other business participating in candy-donation or buy-back programs. Call first for each location’s program details.

This Halloween, have fun dressing up and eating a few treats, but balance the usual indulgence with making healthier choices.

Prepare for Open Enrollment and Save on Health Care Costs

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Texans covered by employer-sponsored health insurance plans and Medicare will soon select or switch their health benefits for 2018 during open enrollment periods. Consider the following tips as your open enrollment approaches:

1. Know your open enrollment dates
Open enrollment isn’t the same day or at the same time for everyone:

  • For the more than 177 million Americans with employer-provided coverage, many companies set aside a two-week period between September and December when employees can select health benefits for the following year.
  • For the more than 58 million seniors and other people enrolled in Medicare, open enrollment runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year.
  • Health insurance marketplace or individual state exchange open enrollment is Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

2. Take time to review your options
Every person or family has unique health and budget needs, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to selecting a health plan. Take the time to explore your options, and understand the benefits and costs of each plan so you can find the coverage that works best for you and your family members.

  • Check if your current coverage still meets your needs and if your benefits will change next year.
  • Determine if the plan is a good fit for your budget, and pay attention to more than just the monthly premium. You should also understand the other out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, copays and coinsurance.
  • Make sure your medications are covered. Even if you don’t expect to change plans, it’s important to ensure your prescriptions will still be covered next year.

3. Make sure your doctor is in your plan’s care provider network
Even if you don’t make any changes to your health insurance this year, it’s still a good idea to ensure that any doctor you see regularly – or plan to visit in the coming year – is in your benefit plan’s care provider network. If you plan to visit a doctor or hospital outside of the network, be sure to understand how your costs will differ from a network care provider because those costs will most likely be higher.

Also, check if your plan includes 24/7 telehealth services for consultations on minor health issues. Often, telehealth – defined as online or virtual visits with a doctor over a computer, tablet or mobile phone – is available to people enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans and group Medicare Advantage plans, as well as select individual Medicare Advantage plans. Virtual visits may provide convenient and affordable access to care for minor medical issues, including allergies, bronchitis and seasonal flu.

4. Don’t forget about additional benefits
Additional benefits such as dental, vision, accident or critical-illness insurance are often affordable options that can protect you and your family. For people enrolled in Medicare, many are surprised to find that Original Medicare doesn’t cover prescription drugs and most dental, vision and hearing services. However, many Medicare Advantage plans do.

5. Take advantage of wellness programs.
Some health plans offer discounts on gym memberships and provide financial incentives for completing health assessments, signing up for health coaching programs, lowering your cholesterol, losing weight, meeting walking goals or quitting smoking. These programs are designed to reward people for making healthy choices and being more engaged in improving their health.

For help navigating open enrollment, visit for articles and videos with easy-to-understand information about health benefits and health insurance terms.

UnitedHealthcare Study: More Americans are Turning to Technology First to Evaluate and Access Health Care

More Americans are turning to technology to evaluate health conditions and access medical care, while others are still struggling with understanding basic health insurance terms, according to a new UnitedHealthcare study.

These are some of the findings from the second annual UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey, which examines more than 1,000 Americans’ attitudes and opinions about multiple areas of health care, including technology trends, health literacy and customer service. The survey’s key findings include:

More Americans are turning to technology first to access health information and care. Nearly 30 percent of the survey’s respondents said the internet or mobile apps are the first source for information about health conditions, and 42 percent said they are more likely to use telemedicine to access medical care. Also, nearly half of millennials this year said they have used online or mobile resources to comparison-shop for health care treatments or services.

Most people underestimate the connection between lifestyle choices and disease. Many respondents underestimate the connection between modifiable lifestyle choice and chronic conditions. For example, only 23 percent of people correctly recognized that the majority of premature chronic conditions are linked to controllable decisions such as smoking or poor diet, as opposed to being caused by genetic factors.

Many people say they are prepared for open enrollment. Nearly 75 percent of people said they are prepared for open enrollment, while 22 percent said they are unprepared.

Understanding of basic insurance terms has slightly improved. 9 percent of respondents successfully defined all four basic health insurance concepts — plan premium, deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum, which is a slight improvement from 7 percent the previous year.

When it comes to customer service, people prefer live support. 84 percent of people surveyed preferred speaking with a customer service representative rather than connecting via email, online chat, text or speaking with an automated representative over the phone.

Most Americans believe Medicare will evolve in the coming years. In regards to potential program changes, nearly 80 percent of respondents said the federal government should shift the Medicare program away from the traditional fee-for-service system to a model that emphasizes preventive care and rewards physicians for health outcomes.

For complete survey results, click here.

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