Archive for November, 2009

Seeking the Best Medical Care Prices

The New York Times, November 27th, 2009

CAN you really shop for doctors and hospitals the way you would for airfares and flat-screen TVs?

Health care consumers are encouraged to comparison-shop on things
like doctor’s fees and heart surgery rates. But unfortunately, most of
us have little clear or useful information to go shopping with.

“When
you go to the doctor, how much you fork over when all is said and done
is often just a mystery,” said Dr. Anthony P. Geraci, a Manhattan
neurologist who is trying to buck that trend by posting his prices on
his Web site.

With the growing number of uninsured people, the increase in high-deductible insurance
plans and big jumps in co-payments, just about everybody is paying more
out of pocket for health care nowadays. An estimated 15 percent of
adults younger than 65 now pay with their own money medical costs
greater than 5 percent of their annual household income, according to
the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.

So the typical person is probably far more motivated to ask how much an M.R.I. or a hip replacement costs. And just as often, people are asking — or should be — “How can I get a better price?”

Take
Katie Kyser, 30, the mother of a year-old daughter, who lives north of
Seattle. She and her husband, Jason, who works in construction,
recently moved from California. They have no health insurance, so they pay all costs out of pocket.

When
Ms. Kyser needed a routine gynecological exam, she called a handful of
local doctors, all of whom were charging $200 or more. “There’s no way
we could pay that,” Ms. Kyser said. “I had to find another way.”

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Study Unable to Gauge Effect of Pilot Retirement-Age Rise

The New York Times, November 1st, 2009

A federal study of the increase in the mandatory retirement age for
commercial pilots to 65 has concluded there is too little information
to determine the safety impact of that decision.

Few issues
were as controversial among professional airline pilots as the
mandatory retirement age, which was raised in the United States in 2007
to 65 from 60 after decades of debate.

As far as the Federal
Aviation Administration was concerned, the question was one of safety
and the risk that a pilot might become incapacitated during flight.

The
law that extended the age limit also required that the policy be
reviewed in two years. But in a new report, the General Accountability
Office says it was stymied in its analysis of how the law is working
because it does not know how many pilots over the age of 60 are still
flying for commercial airlines and because of the brief time the law
has been in effect.

“You’d have to go to every airline to
determine how many,” said Gerald L. Dillingham, the G.A.O.’s director
of physical infrastructure, referring to the agency’s difficulty in
determining the number of pilots 60 and older still flying passenger
airliners.

A dramatic example of the situation aviation officials
had feared in raising the age limit occurred in June, when a captain,
Craig Lenell, died at the controls of a Boeing 777 during a Continental
flight from Belgium to the United States. Captain Lenell, 60, was still
flying for the airline under a provision that requires a co-pilot under
the age of 60 on international flights. The co-pilot brought the plane
down safely at Newark Liberty International Airport.

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Scientists Find Molecular Trigger That Helps Prevent Aging and Disease

Science Daily, November 23rd, 2009

Who would have thought it? The quest for eternal life, or at least
prolonged youthfulness, has now migrated from the outer fringes of
alternative medicine to the halls of Harvard Medical School.

At a conference on aging held here last week, the medical school’s
dean, Jeffrey Flier, was to be seen greeting participants who ranged
from members of the 120 club (they intend to live at least that long)
to devotees of very low calorie diets.

The heavyweight at the conference was Sirtris Pharmaceuticals.
The company is developing drugs that mimic resveratrol, a chemical
found in some red wines. Resveratrol has been found to activate
proteins called sirtuins, from which the company derives its name.
Activation of sirtuins is thought to help the body ride out famines.

Mice
and rats put on a diet with 30 percent fewer calories can live up to 40
percent longer. They seem to do so by avoiding the usual degenerative
diseases of aging and so gain not just longer life but more time in
good health.

Sirtris’s researchers think that drugs that activate
sirtuins mimic this process, strengthening the body’s resistance to the
diseases of aging. The company has developed thousands of small
chemical compounds that are far more potent than resveratrol and so can
be given in smaller doses.

In mice, sirtuin activators are
effective against lung and colon cancer, melanoma, lymphoma, Type 2
diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease, said David
Sinclair, a Harvard Medical School researcher and co-founder of
Sirtris. The drugs reduce inflammation, and if they have the same
effects in people, could help combat many diseases that have an
inflammatory component, like irritable bowel syndrome and glaucoma.

Any
sirtuin activator that averted all these diseases in people would be a
rather remarkable drug. So there is considerable interest in how well
Sirtris’s drug trials are going.

Sirtris’s senior director of
corporate development, Brian Gallagher, said at the conference that
four active clinical trials were under way.

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Taking Care of Parents Also Means Taking Care of Finances

The New York Times, November 19th, 2009

Denise Egebrecht needed a break.

It had been three years since her 86-year-old mother, Eleanor
Schwartz, moved in with her and her husband in their home in Johnsburg,
Ill. Mrs. Schwartz has Alzheimer’s disease
and has trouble moving around, so Mrs. Egebrecht helps her mother with
her shower each day, makes sure she’s fed and takes her on small
excursions to the mall in a portable wheelchair. The routine includes
occasionally reminding her mother of what day it is and where she’s
living.

Mrs. Egebrecht does all this while also raising her 8-year-old daughter Jaqueline and juggling a full-time job.

“My mom took care of me all of my life,” says Mrs. Egebrecht. “Of
course I’m going to take care of her now. She’ll live here as long as
she’s able.”

But money was an issue. For a time, Mrs.
Egebrecht was out of work, having lost her job last year. Although her
husband was still employed, without her salary she found it
increasingly difficult to pay $180 a week for the adult day care center
Mrs. Schwartz attends regularly.

Then, through the Family Alliance office in her town, Mrs. Egebrecht heard about a $1,000 “respite care” grant sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

Intended
to give primary caregivers the break they so often need, the grant
money must be used to pay for temporary substitute care, said Carol
Steinberg, executive vice president of the Alzheimer’s Foundation. Mrs.
Egebrecht applied for and received the grant, which meant her mother
could continue to go to the adult day care center and Mrs. Egebrecht
had time to find another job, which she has.

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The Continuing Car Key Debate

The New York Times, November 20th, 2009

We will probably have debates about older drivers for as long as we use cars.

We know, from reams of research findings but also from our own
conversations, how important a driver’s license is to older adults. It
represents dignity and independence; it encourages social connections.
Relinquishing it can bring on isolation, depression and perhaps even
premature institutionalization.

Yet we also know that with physical or cognitive decline, some older
drivers should simply no longer be on the road, endangering themselves
and others.

Only about half the states have adopted any age-related provisions for license renewals,
like shorter renewal periods, in-person renewal requirements or vision
tests. In fact, some advocacy groups argue against restrictions based
on age, promoting instead policies intended to weed out unsafe drivers
of all ages.

As the back-and-forth continues, it is useful to look at an analysis recently published in The Gerontologist
of years of crash data for drivers 66 and older in British Columbia.
There, drivers over 80 must submit medical reports showing that they
are fit to operate a vehicle, and drivers can have their licenses
re-evaluated at the request of the police, medical practitioners or
family members. After reviewing the evidence, the Canadian province can
impose license restrictions controlling where and when drivers can
operate vehicles and how fast they can go.

I can already hear American seniors muttering about how we would
have to pry their hands from the steering wheel, but researchers say
such policies have produced real benefits. Restricted drivers actually
keep their licenses longer. And their risk for causing crashes is 87
percent lower than unrestricted drivers’, after controlling for age and
gender.

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2010 Long Term Care Insurance Tax Deductibility

The American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance has just released a new guide that addresses the new 2010 tax deductible items and limits for individuals and business owners purchasing long-term care insurance.   The “Guide To Tax Deductible Long-Term Care Insurance can be found at their website:  http://www.aaltci.org/tax. This guide provides comprehensive information including state by state deductibility rule s and federal tax deductibility rules.  Have you ever thought of getting Long-Term Care Insurance, well then follow this link to connect with a prescreened long term care insurance agent.

For Older Walkers, Faster Is Better

Healthday News, November 18th, 2009

Highlighting the importance of
staying fit in old age, a French study has found that seniors who walk
slowly are three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than
are fast walkers.

The researchers measured the walking speed of the participants — 3,208
men and women, ages 65 to 85 — and collected medical and demographic
information
on them at the start of the study. Follow-up exams were
performed at regular intervals over the next five years.

After adjusting for a number of baseline characteristic, the
researchers found that seniors with the slowest walking speed were 44
percent more likely to die than the fastest walkers. The slowest walkers
also had a three-fold higher risk of cardiovascular death.

The increased risk of cardiovascular death was found in both women and
men, in younger as well as older seniors and in those with low or usual
physical activity levels.

There was no link between walking speed and risk of death from
cancer.

“These findings show that assessment of motor performances in older
people using simple measures such as walking speed can be performed easily
and that the role of fitness in preserving life and function in older age
is important,” the researchers wrote.

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Vaccines on horizon for AIDS, Alzheimer’s, herpes

Associated Press, November 18th, 2009

Malaria. Tuberculosis. Alzheimer’s disease. AIDS. Pandemic flu. Genital herpes. Urinary tract infections. Grass allergies. Traveler’s diarrhea. You name it, the pharmaceutical industry is working on a vaccine to prevent it.

Many could be on the market in five years or less.

Contrast that with five years ago, when so many companies had abandoned the vaccine business that half the U.S. supply of flu shots was lost because of factory contamination at one of the two manufacturers left.

Vaccines
are no longer a sleepy, low-profit niche in a booming drug industry.
Today, they’re starting to give ailing pharmaceutical makers a shot in
the arm.

The lure of big profits, advances in
technology and growing government support has been drawing in new
companies, from nascent biotechs to Johnson & Johnson. That means recent remarkable strides in overcoming dreaded diseases and annoying afflictions likely will continue.

“Even
if a small portion of everything that’s going on now is successful in
the next 10 years, you put that together with the last 10 years (and)
it’s going to be characterized as a golden era,” says Emilio Emini, Pfizer Inc.‘s head of vaccine research.

Vaccines now are viewed as a crucial path to growth, as drugmakers look for ways to bolster slowing prescription medicine sales amid intensifying generic competition and government pressure to cut down prices under the federal health overhaul.

Unlike
medicines that treat diseases, vaccines help prevent infections by
revving up the body’s natural immune defenses against invaders. They
are made from viruses, bacteria or parts of them that have been killed
or weakened so they generally can’t cause an infection.

Investment
in partnerships and other deals to develop and manufacture vaccines has
been on a tear — and accelerating since the swine flu pandemic began.
Billions in government grants are bringing better, faster ways to
develop and manufacture vaccines. Rising worldwide emphasis on preventive health care, plus the advent of the first multibillion-dollar vaccines, have further boosted their appeal.

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Diet, Cognitive Ability May Play Role in Heart Disease

Healthday, November 19th, 2009

Seniors who eat plenty of fruits
and vegetables
and who have good cognitive function are much less likely
to die from heart disease than those who have poorer cognitive function
and eat fewer fruits and vegetables, a new study has found.

Cognitive function refers to the ability to think, remember, plan and
organize information.

Researchers at the Drexel University School of Public Health in
Philadelphia analyzed diet and cognitive data on 4,879 people (3,101 women
and 1,778 men), age 70 and older, who took part in the U.S. Longitudinal
Study
of Aging. The participants were followed for an average of seven
years.

The analysis revealed that:

  • Those who ate three or more servings of vegetables daily had a 30
    percent lower risk for dying from heart disease and a 15 percent lower
    risk for dying from any cause during the follow-up period than those who
    ate fewer than three servings of vegetables a day.
  • There was a significant association between higher consumption of
    fruits and vegetables and decreased prevalence of cognitive
    impairment
    .
  • People who scored high on cognitive functions tests were less likely
    to die from heart disease or any other cause during the follow-up than
    were those with low scores.

The study was to be presented Wednesday at the American Heart
Association
‘s annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

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Choosing a Medigap Policy: A Guide to Health Insurance for People With Medicare

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Studies, November 23rd, 2009

Th is guide was written to help people with Medicare understand Medigap (also called “Medicare Supplement Insurance”) policies.

A Medigap policy is health insurance sold by private insurance companies to fill gaps in Original Medicare coverage. Medigap policies don’t work with any other type of health insurance, including Medicare Advantage Plans, employer/union group coverage, Veterans Administration (VA) benefits, or TRICARE. Medigap policies help pay your share (coinsurance, copayments, or deductibles) of the costs of Medicare-covered services. Some Medigap policies cover certain costs not covered by Original Medicare.

However, before you learn more about Medigap policies, the next few pages provide a brief look at Medicare. If you already know the basics about Medicare and want to learn about Medigap basics, then turn to page 9.

What is Medicare?

Medicare is health insurance for people age 65 or older, under age 65 with certain disabilities, and any age with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant). Original Medicare covers many health care services and supplies, but there are many costs (“gaps”) it doesn’t cover.

The Different Parts of Medicare

The different parts of Medicare help cover specific services if you meet certain conditions. Medicare has the following parts:

Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance)
• Helps cover inpatient care in hospitals
• Helps cover skilled nursing facility, hospice, and home health care

Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance)
• Helps cover doctors’ services and outpatient care
• Helps cover some preventive services to help maintain your health and to keep certain illnesses from getting worse

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