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UnitedHealth Group

Oral Health and the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is affecting countless lives and communities across Texas and the country. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports that opiods are the cause of more than 130 overdose deaths in the United States each day. The economic cost exceeds $500 billion annually, according to a study from The Council of Economic Advisors.

Prescription painkillers are often necessary and useful for some medical conditions; however, these powerful drugs – such as oxycodone or codeine – come with a high risk of misuse and addiction. This is especially true for teens and young adults, in part because adolescent brains are not fully matured and are therefore more susceptible to the addictive effects of opioids.

One potentially overlooked aspect of the opioid epidemic is the connection to oral health. In fact, oral health professionals write 12 percent of all opioid prescriptions, including 45 percent of opioid prescriptions for adolescents, according to a UnitedHealthcare analysis of claims data.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, an opportunity to recognize the risks for young people – and provide a reminder for parents – about the connection between oral health and opioids.

With that in mind, here is information for people to consider:

Wisdom Teeth: More than 5 million people had their wisdom teeth removed last year, mostly teens and young adults. While the decision to remove wisdom teeth should involve professional advice from a dentist or oral surgeon, patients and parents should also be aware of the risks associated with potential exposure to opioids following this procedure. For many young people, wisdom teeth extraction often represents their first exposure to opioids, and a recent study from Stanford University found that teens can end up in a battle with opioid additional following this procedure.

Limit Supply: Other than in extreme cases, it is important to limit prescriptions for the minimum appropriate dosage and number of days, which the CDC recommends at three days and fewer than 50 morphine milligram equivalents per day. This is because the likelihood for chronic opioid use increases after the third day of use and rises rapidly thereafter, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and misuse or dependence on opioids can lead to addiction to more powerful illicit drugs.

Alternative Pain Medications: If you or a loved one is prescribed an opioid following a dental procedure or another medical event, it is good to ask your health care professional if there are alternatives, including over-the-counter pain relievers such as a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. In many cases, these medications can be equally effective in pain management, without the risk of addiction.   

Proper Disposal: Approximately 70 percent of misused opioid prescriptions were obtained, stolen or purchased from a friend or relative, according to the CDC. That’s why it is important to keep opioids in a safe place – like a locked cabinet – and always properly dispose of unused medications. That can include returning the drugs to your pharmacy, or mixing them with water and an unappealing substance, such as cat litter, and putting in the trash (if simply thrown in the trash, unused prescription drugs can be retrieved and misused).  

 

UnitedHealthcare Expands Navigate4Me to Bring Personalized, Holistic Care to More People

UnitedHealthcare is significantly expanding its Navigate4Me program to bring the benefits of personalized, holistic care to more people enrolled in its Medicare Advantage plans.

Navigate4Me offers concierge services from health navigators who support and guide people through the complexities of a fragmented health care system. UnitedHealthcare launched the program in fall 2017 for people enrolled in its Medicare Advantage plans who are facing complex health issues such as diabetes, congestive heart failure or multiple chronic conditions. People who have experienced a sudden health event, such as joint replacement surgery or a new cancer diagnosis, are often also eligible for the program.

Navigate4Me will be newly available to four groups of people: those who are under 65 and qualify for Medicare due to a disability; those who receive post-acute care following a hospitalization and meet other eligibility criteria; those who are newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease; and those who are at risk for social isolation.

UnitedHealthcare grew its team of navigators from a dozen at launch to more than 800 today, supporting approximately 215,000 people. The company plans to double enrollment in 2019 by expanding the population eligible for the program to more than 1 million.

By providing the support of dedicated health navigators, UnitedHealthcare aims to personalize the health experience for these individuals and improve their health and quality of life.

Image: Stock Photo

Tips to Help Prevent and Treat Hearing Loss

More than 90 percent of Americans know that exposure to loud sounds can cause hearing loss; however, just 50 percent correctly recognized that both one-time exposure to a loud sound and cumulative exposure to moderately loud sounds can harm hearing health, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey.

Hearing loss affects more than 48 million people nationwide, and it could become even more widespread in the coming years: more than 1.1 billion young adults worldwide are at risk of developing hearing loss, according to a study by the World Health Organization.

These statistics are a reminder for people to check their hearing health – and that of their loved ones – to help prevent the condition or, if necessary, obtain treatment. Hearing health is crucial to overall health, as research shows hearing loss is associated with social isolation, dementia, depression and increased risk of falls.

To help encourage better hearing health in 2019, consider these tips:

  • Limit exposure to loud noises: People should limit their exposure to loud sounds, such as music, lawn mowers or motorcycles, to no more than 20 minutes at a time. If attending a football game or music concert, consider wearing ear protection (i.e. ear plugs). This is especially true for young people, as children’s ears are more susceptible to harm caused by exposure to loud sounds. While hearing loss is more common among older Americans, younger people can also be affected: about 20 percent of people over age 12 experience some level of hearing loss. 
  • Opt for noise-cancelling headphones: One factor spurring the increased risk of noise-induced hearing loss is the growing popularity of earbuds. People should consider over-the-ear headphones – especially models with noise-cancelling properties – as those are generally considered a better option than earbuds. When using earbuds, follow the “60/60 rule,” which means listening for no more than 60 minutes at a time and at no more than 60 percent of the player’s maximum volume. If someone else can hear your music while you’re using earbuds, it’s an indication of excessive volume. 
  • Talk to a health professional and schedule a hearing test: Common signs of hearing loss include turning up the volume on the TV or radio to levels that others find too loud, having trouble hearing people on the phone, and difficulty following conversations in noisy environments. Some primary care physicians are starting to offer hearing testing, making it more convenient to follow recommended guidelines, which includes being screened at least every decade through age 50 and then at three-year intervals thereafter. 
  • Explore ways to save on hearing aids: Hearing aids can be expensive, but more affordable options are available. Direct-to-consumer hearing aids can enable people to save 60 percent or more compared to devices sold through traditional channels. And a growing number of health plans are offering coverage for hearing aids, including through some Medicare Advantage and employer-sponsored benefit plans. 
  • Use effective communication strategies: Hearing aids are more helpful when people use effective communication strategies, such as watching lip movements and facial expressions, and selecting settings that are “hearing friendly.” For example, people with hearing loss should opt for restaurants that are relatively quiet and go at times that aren’t as busy. Another strategy is to select a table along a wall or in a corner, which will reduce background noise.