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December 2018

Tips to Help Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions

Every year, Texans make New Year’s resolutions, many of which improve their health and wealth. In fact, more than one-third (35 percent) of Americans plan to make health-related New Year’s resolutions this year, while a nearly equal number (34 percent) have vowed to improve their financial well-being, according to a new UnitedHealthcare survey.

What are the most common resolutions for 2019? Among people making health resolutions, 34 percent are planning to exercise more, 17 percent intend to eat a healthier diet and 15 percent hope to lose weight. When it comes to financial health, the most common resolutions include saving more (36 percent), paying off debt (20 percent) and increasing income (18 percent).

With that in mind, here are four tips to help encourage a healthier lifestyle for 2019:

Leverage Technology
If you received a new gadget as a holiday gift, there are ways to use that technology to help achieve your resolutions. In fact, the UnitedHealthcare survey found that 53 percent of people making health resolutions plan to use technology to help achieve their goals, including a smartphone app (34 percent), activity tracker (27 percent) or virtual visit with a health care provider (10 percent). Technology can also help people more effectively navigate the health system: online resources now provide quality and cost information for health care providers and treatments in your local area, while some mobile apps can help people evaluate different care settings based on their symptoms, ranging from a virtual visit, primary care, urgent care or the ER.    

Walk to Help Improve Health
If walking is how you plan to improve your fitness, there are some strategies to help make your workout more effective. Think FIT, which stands for frequency (500 steps within seven minutes six times per day), intensity (3,000 steps within 30 minutes each day) and tenacity (at least 10,000 total steps per day). If those targets seem daunting, remember to start slowly and build up over time. For added motivation, some employer-sponsored programs provide financial incentives by meeting walking goals.

Check Available Resources
Many employers (86 percent) offer wellness programs, with the average financial incentive exceeding $780 per year per employee, according to a recent survey. To determine if that applies to you, check with your health plan or employer to see what resources and incentives may be available, including telephonic wellness coaching, gym membership reimbursements, and smoking cessation. You might also have access to various health screenings – such as blood pressure, cholesterol and depression – and timely vaccines, such as the flu shot. Doing so may help you get or stay healthy.

Help Improve Your Oral and Vision Health
With growing evidence of a link between oral and vision health to overall health, as well as to an array of chronic medical conditions, it is important to take care of your teeth and eyes. In fact, 45 percent of Americans say improving their oral health ranks among their resolutions, including visiting the dentist once per year (12 percent), eating less sugary foods/candy (12 percent), and flossing at least once a day (11 percent). For people with certain chronic conditions, maintaining or improving oral health is especially important, while comprehensive eye exams can detect many diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and some types of cancer.  

Make the Most of Your Health Plan Before Year’s End

With only days left in 2018, consider these five health tips to make the most of your health plan before the end of the year:  

Get Ahead of Health Issues: People with employer-sponsored, individual, Medicare and Medicaid plans have access to a slew of preventive services that can help detect diseases and encourage well-being. Take advantage of the various health screenings – such as blood pressure, cholesterol and depression – and timely vaccines, such as the flu shot, that are available through your health plan before year’s end. Doing so now may give you a head start on those healthy New Year’s resolutions. Check with your health plan as many eligible preventive services are available at no additional cost, as long they are delivered by care providers in your plan’s network.   

Delay Non-Emergency Services: A growing number of employers and consumers are choosing health plans with higher deductibles; in fact, nearly 45 percent of Americans are enrolled in such plans, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. If this applies to you, check if you have reached or exceeded your deductible, which is the amount you have to pay before insurance kicks in. If not, it may make sense to delay non-emergency services, such as a joint replacement, until 2019. The cost for those services would then apply to your 2019 deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, increasing the likelihood that your health plan would pay for more of your medical expenses for the remainder of the year.   

Schedule Recommended Health Services: The opposite is true if you have already reached your deductible. In this case, check with your health care professional to schedule recommended medical services, as those will likely be covered (all or in part) by your health plan. If possible, tell your health care professional that you’ve reached your deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, and see if there’s any needed follow-up care that can be arranged before the end of the year.

Understand Your Spending Accounts: Many people have spending accounts with funds earmarked for health care services. Health savings accounts (HSAs) offer tax-advantages, and the money can roll over from year to year. If you contribute money to your HSA before year’s end, you can help pay for qualified medical services in 2019 or even later while lowering your taxable income for 2018. On the other hand, flexible spending accounts (FSAs) require the money be spent before the year ends, and unused balances are not rolled over into the next calendar year. So if you have funds left in your FSA and you need to order contact lenses, schedule a dental cleaning or refill prescriptions, for example, now’s the time to do that.  

Prepare to Use Your 2019 Benefits: According to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey, more than 40 percent of Americans said they devoted less than one hour to the open enrollment process, meaning they may not have explored some of the many options available to them. Before the year is out, take time to review your health plan and check with your employer’s HR department to determine what well-being incentives or other resources might be available when 2019 starts. Nearly 75 percent of employers offer well-being programs, with an average incentive of $742 annually, according to a recent study by the National Business Group on Health. By finding out now what incentives are available to you, you can help prepare yourself to start earning all or some of those rewards starting New Year’s Day.

Image: Stock Photo

United Health Foundation Releases its 2018 America’s Health Rankings Annual Report

Texas ranks No. 37 among U.S. states, according to United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings® Annual Report, released today.

The state received high marks for its low drug death rate (No. 5), low amount of cancer deaths (No. 11) and a high percentage of high school graduates (No. 5). The prevalence of diabetes and physical inactivity are listed as challenges.

Hawaii ranks as the healthiest state in 2018, followed by Massachusetts (2), Connecticut (3), Vermont (4) and Utah (5).

To view the full report, visit AmericasHealthRankings.org.

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