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Picking a Plan

Choosing a Plan that is right for you and your family can seem like a daunting task.

You should consider any medical needs you foresee for the upcoming year, your overall health, and any medications you currently take. The following scenarios may also help you make an informed decision.

If you are single or married with no children and in good health with no medical needs outside of preventive care…

A Consumer Driven Health Plan (CDHP) or similarly, and High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) may be a good fit. These plans offer lower premiums and most preventive care is covered at 100% if using an in-network provider. You may also be able to use a Health Savings Account (HSA) with these types of plans, a tax-advantaged account that provides a safety net for unexpected medical costs.

If you are single or married with children and/or have major medical concerns or anticipate a pregnancy or surgery…

A Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) may be the right answer for you. These plans come with higher premiums, but less costs at the time of service and a smaller deductible, meaning your out-of-pocket maximum may be reached earlier in the year. These plans allow you to choose from a network of providers, typically without the need for a referral or use of a Primary Care Physician (PCP).

What about an HMO?

A Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) may be your best option if lower costs are most important, and you don’t mind the restriction of seeing a PCP first for any referrals to specialists that you might need. HMOs will generally not cover any out-of-network expenses unless it is an emergency.

Promoting Gut Health with Probiotics

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the human body houses trillions of microorganisms to support our health and functionality.

Your gut flora consists of hundreds of types of these microorganisms, creating a complex ecosystem of 300-500 bacterial species.

These microorganisms are mostly found in your colon, large intestine, and the end of your digestive tract. Your gut flora performs numerous important bodily functions, including manufacturing vitamin K and various B vitamins and turning certain fibers into fats that stimulate your immune system and help strengthen your gut wall.

Various forms and strains of probiotics, but the most common or well-known probiotic is Acidophilus which helps restore microbiome balance and is naturally found in the digestive tract, mouth, urinary tract, vagina, and lungs.

Benefits of Probiotics

The benefits of probiotics can be experienced when you consume probiotics in adequate amounts, which can be obtained through certain foods or supplements. A healthy gut microbiome can have several benefits, including:

  • Reduced inflammation
  • Best breakdown and absorption of nutrients
  • Boosted immune function to better recognize and eliminate harmful bacteria
  • Preventing and healing bacterial infections that may cause UTIs, yeast infections, diarrhea, atopic dermatitis, and certain dental conditions
  • Improvement for general digestive issues related to IBS, constipation, gas, or breaking down and recycling bile

Foods Packed with Probiotics

Fermented foods and dairy items with live and active cultures are an option to get more probiotics to your gut:

  • Yogurts
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Cottage cheese
  • Pickles
  • Tempeh
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso soup
  • Sour cream
  • Soy milk

Probiotics Supplements

Diet and exercise play a big role in maintaining a healthy gut, but a probiotic supplement may support your gut health in certain instances. Many healthcare professionals might suggest taking a probiotic when prescribed a round of antibiotics. While antibiotics fight off the bad bacteria, they can also fight the good bacteria living in your gut, leading to antibiotic-associated diarrhea and IBS.

Probiotics can be purchased over the counter in grocery stores, drug stores, and health and wellness specialty stores. They also may come in various forms, including capsules, powders, and liquids. It’s extremely important to recognize that the FDA does not regulate probiotics, so it’s a good idea to consult a healthcare provider when starting. A trusted healthcare practitioner can advise you on reputable products (look for third-party testing), the right strain and dosage, and any side effects. Side effects may include gas and mild abdominal discomfort.

Nutritionist vs. Dietician: What You Need to Know

The wellness industry continues to boom thanks to social media, but it can be overwhelming with endless information and opinions and self-proclaimed experts.

Two terms you are likely familiar with are nutritionist and dietician. The two are often used interchangeably, but there are some major differences that you need to understand, especially if you are looking to enlist the help of someone to help you on your nutrition journey.

Nutritionists and dieticians work toward the same goal of supporting healthier food choices and lifestyles through sustainable changes, but the main differences are related to education and training and what they’re legally allowed to do in their areas of work.

All dieticians are nutritionists,
but not all nutritionists are dieticians.

Dieticians

Dieticians operate under strict regulations and must undergo rigorous training, often involving nutrition science, anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry. They can also specialize in certain areas, such as sports, pediatrics, gerontology, obesity and weight management, renal nutrition, and oncology nutrition.

Dieticians can work in hospitals, care facilities, private practices, and other areas. They are qualified to provide medical advice to treat eating disorders, diabetes, and cancer, prescribe supplements and facilitate feeding tubes or IV feeding. Registered Dieticians (RD) are also authorized to conduct nutritional research, administer medical nutrition therapy, and recommend relevant protocols.

You might consider seeing a dietitian if you:

  • Are diagnosed with a chronic condition (diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease) that requires a change in your eating habits
  • Suffer from food allergies or intolerances
  • Want to gain or lose weight
  • Play sports and are looking for a plan to optimize performance
  • Have a disordered relationship with food and eating
  • Have concerns about whether or not you are getting what you need from your current diet

As of January 1, 2024, dieticians need a master’s in nutrition
or a related field from an ACEND-accredited program
(Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics).

Oftentimes, seeing a registered dietician can be covered through preventive care benefits for diet counseling for adults at higher risk for chronic disease or obesity screening and counseling. (Once, however, someone has a diagnosis of a disease, these visits are likely subject to copay, coinsurance, and deductible.)

Nutritionists

Nutritionist education requirements vary by state, but certain states — including OK, OR, CA, and CO — don’t regulate the title of nutritionist. Other states may require basic certifications or certain areas of study during undergrad. Nutritionists may offer generalized advice, nutrition counseling, and meal planning.

Choosing Who’s Right for You

When selecting a nutritionist or dietician (or any health-related professional), you should seek out someone who is best equipped to address your needs. Some tips for finding a good fit for you include looking at their credentials, ensuring their specialty aligns with your goals, and looking at verified reviews from a trusted source.

It is also important to remember that many professionals have a social media presence, so you should see if someone you’re considering is making too-good-to-be-true claims or promoting products and partnerships.

Healing Hobbies

Hobbies can bring a lot of enjoyment into your everyday life, but did you know they can also aid healing and support good mental health?

Hobbies vary by person, but if you’re looking to quiet your mind and provide a distraction from everyday stress, look for something that makes you feel calm, peaceful, restorative, reflective, and quiet (not environmentally per se, but that can quiet intrusive thoughts) to support your relaxation efforts.

Get Outside in Nature

Going outdoors and exploring nature — whether walking, hiking, or running — is a great opportunity to see picturesque locations, challenge yourself physically, release stagnant energy that’s building up, and support your cardiovascular health.

You can customize your activity to meet your energy levels and fitness abilities. In addition to the physical health benefits, these activities can help you shift your focus away from your racing mind and onto your breathing and movement — leaving you with a sense of balance and release.

Mind-Body Exercises

Finding a form of exercise that requires a deliberate focus on your movements, coordination, and breathing can also be physically and mentally beneficial. Yoga and Pilates are excellent examples of exercise routines that can be gentle and healing on the body. They require you to listen to your body, and they can be modified for injury and energy levels.

Dancing is another exercise form that can boost your mood (who doesn’t like moving around to their favorite tunes?) while releasing pent-up stress. You can freestyle dance or focus on specific choreography.

Arts, Crafts & Music

Art and music therapy programs have been gaining popularity in professional medical settings, but you don’t need a prescribed program to benefit from the profound impact of these on your own. Listening to music has proven to reduce anxiety and stress, manage Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, reduce depression in the elderly, and improve self-expression and communication.

Art therapy has been shown to be effective and have healing properties in times of crisis, trauma, and grief. Creating art can help regulate emotions and impulses and strengthen identity and self-image.

Volunteering

Volunteering is a way to meet like-minded people in a rewarding setting. There are many volunteer opportunities — you just have to search your community for animal shelters, food banks, local libraries, retirement homes, or even community centers that may be looking for an extra set of hands to help.

Journaling

Journaling is a great way to clear your mind when it’s clouded with buried thoughts. Releasing them from your body and mine so they’re out of your headspace. Even if you spend only 10 minutes a day with a scrap of paper and a pen, journaling you to reflect on your thoughts and emotions so that you don’t carry them with you wherever you go.

Puzzle Games

If you’re looking for something that uses your brain a bit, crosswords, word searches, or sudoku can be a great option. Luckily, there are many of these available on your phone or online, so you can play them on the go!

Hand-related Crafts

Using your hands to knit, crochet, and assemble puzzles can help calm your nerves. A bonus is you can do these activities while conversing or watching TV. The repetitive nature of these can be as complex or simple as you’d like, and you can get lost in designs.

The Importance of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates often get a bad reputation.

Maybe it’s because carbohydrates are processed as sugar (the body turns carbs into glucose during digestion), and people immediately associate it with weight gain or unhealthy spikes in blood sugar and issues with insulin. But that isn’t always the case. Fiber, starch, and sugars all fall under the umbrella term of carbs. And when your body turns the carbs into glucose, it gives your body and organs the energy it needs to perform basic functions.

 

Not All Carbohydrates are Created Equal

Carbs can be complex or simple and can be digested at different speeds. The longer it takes, the less your blood sugar spikes. Complex carbs include fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods. These are less likely to cause a large blood sugar spike.

Simple carbs digest quicker and are more likely to contribute to weight gain or the risk of diabetes. Some examples of simple carbs are lactose, sucrose, fructose, and glucose. They can be found in items like candy or highly processed food items where the fiber has been stripped away.

 

Fiber

Fiber is found in plant-based foods and helps your body regulate blood sugar and healthy cholesterol levels. It also keeps you feeling fuller throughout the day. Good sources of fiber are:

  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole-wheat bread or pasta

Starches

Starchy foods — beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables, etc. — provide your body with micronutrients and stabilize blood sugar levels, similar to fiber.

 

Carbs Have a Place in Your Diet

Restricting your carb intake can be hard to sustain long term, and it can be detrimental if you deprive your body of all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that come with (specifically) complex carbohydrates.

Most importantly, carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source that fuels your body’s ability to breathe and move and your brain’s ability to think. The whole grains and dietary fiber found in complex carbs are known to lower the threat of heart disease and stroke, protect against obesity and colon and rectal cancers, and reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes.

When in doubt, follow the Mayo Clinic’s advice to “choose your carbohydrates wisely. Limit foods with added sugars and refined grains, such as sugary drinks, desserts, and candy. These are high in calories but low in nutrition. Instead, select fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on how your thoughts, emotions, and actions are connected.

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At its core, cognitive behavioral therapy treats psychological problems rooted partly in faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking and learned patterns of unhelpful behavior. It aims to teach better coping methods to relieve symptoms and improve one’s quality of life.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help treat certain emotional conditions, including:

  • Depression or anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Phobias
  • Sleep disorders
  • Managing stressful life situations
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

It can also help you work through everyday challenges regarding relationship issues, grief, divorce, professional work issues, etc.

Some steps taken during cognitive behavioral therapy appointments include:

  • Identifying the situations in your life (illness, divorce, grief, anger, etc.) causing obstacles in your life
  • Tune into the thoughts and interpretations you have about these situations
  • Developing confidence in one’s abilities
  • Recognizing any thinking or behavioral patterns that contribute to the problem(s) or distort your understanding of a situation
  • Working to reshape negative or inaccurate thinking through problem-solving and coping skills

It can be done in one-on-one settings, in a group setting, or with family members. Some of the strategies employed in cognitive behavioral therapy are facing your fears, role playing to prepare for anxiety-inducing or potentially problematic interactions, and learning tools to calm and relax your mind and body. It can be particularly effective when combined with other forms of treatment, including medication, when appropriate.

While cognitive behavioral therapy may not completely solve your problem, it can help you cope more effectively and feel better about your situation.

If your symptoms worsen, contact your healthcare provider right away. Call 988 to get help immediately if you have suicidal thoughts or are thinking about harming others.

In-Office Maternal Benefits

It’s no secret that being a working mom has challenges, and that’s especially true for women who are returning to work after giving birth.

On top of the emotional and logistical obstacles they face, many post-partum women have the added challenge of needing to express breastmilk throughout the day.

The PUMP Act— which stands for Providing Urgent Maternal Protections — is a law that requires employers across the nation to provide reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom space for an employee to pump breast milk.

The location must be shielded from the view of others and free of intrusion from the public or coworkers, and the employee must have access to these accommodations for one year after childbirth.

It was signed into law at the end of 2022 and helped close gaps in the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law that left 1 in 4 women without pumping protection during the workday and expanded the legal right to teachers, registered nurses, farmworkers, and more. The PUMP Act also clarifies that these breaks count as working time and allows an employee to take legal action against the employer if the law is violated. On April 28, 2023, The PUMP Act expanded its enforcement provision to allow employees to file a lawsuit for monetary remedies.

A lawsuit can be filed under the following circumstances:

  • Violations of the break time requirement
  • The employer indicates no intention of providing private space for pumping
  • If an employee is terminated for requesting break time or space

Complaints can be filed with the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) at the toll-free number 1-800-487-9243 or by visiting www.dol.gov/whd. Employees may also contact the free helplines from the Center for WorkLife Law and/or A Better Balance to understand their legal rights and options.

Acupuncture for Pain

The insertion of very small needles in specific points of the body — known as acupuncture — is known to relieve pain and treat health issues.

Most people don’t like being poked and prodded with needles. Still, the insertion of very small needles in specific points of the body — known as acupuncture — is growing in popularity throughout western parts of the world to help relieve pain and treat health issues.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, acupuncture is part of the
ancient practice of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)
that has evolved over thousands of years to
prevent, diagnose, and treat disease.

The belief is that your body’s vital energy (called qi) flows along specific meridian channels and lends itself to spiritual, emotional, and physical health when balanced. When unbalanced, it can lead to health issues, but one approach to restoring the balance and flow is acupuncture. Acupuncturists believe 2,000+ acupuncture points on the body are linked through the various meridians. The actual practice of acupuncture includes placing thin needles into the skin on certain points of a meridian. These are then activated by the provider’s hands or through electrical stimulation.

In Western practices, acupuncture points are seen as places to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue and stimulate pain management naturally in the body.

The needles used in acupuncture are extremely thin, causing little pain to the recipient. Instead, many feel relaxed or energized through the practice of acupuncture. Other forms of stimulation may also be used in the sites, including heat, pressure, friction, and suction.

Professionals use acupuncture to relieve discomfort and treat conditions like:

  • Chemotherapy-induced and postoperative nausea and vomiting
  • Dental pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches (tension and migraines)
  • Labor pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Tennis elbow
Acupuncture_Vector

Other studies show acupuncture can also support treatment for addiction, asthma, digestive issues, emotional conditions (including anxiety, depression, insomnia, nervousness), and sinusitis.

The risks of acupuncture are low. They include soreness or minor bruising and bleeding at the needle insertion sites. The widespread adoption of single-use needles helps mitigate the risk of infection.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, some insurance policies cover acupuncture while others do not, and coverage can be limited based on what is being treated.

COBRA Benefits

With COBRA, you can avoid a lapse in coverage for up to 18 months (coverage can be extended to 29 months if you are considered disabled by the Social Security Administration).

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of Americans have healthcare coverage through their employer. Should you leave your employer, one option for continuing healthcare coverage is COBRA, which stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.

While COBRA is a convenient continuation of your job-based coverage that would otherwise be terminated, it isn’t a permanent solution, and it comes with certain considerations around eligibility and costs.

 

Eligibility

Not everyone is eligible for COBRA. According to the Department of Labor, you are entitled to elect COBRA continuation coverage if the following apply:

  • You experience a qualifying event, such as:
    • Job loss (for anything other than gross misconduct)
    • Reduction in employment hours
    • Divorce or legal separation from a covered employee
    • Covered employee passes away
    • Covered employee becomes eligible for Medicare
    • You lose your status as a dependent child
  • Your health plan is covered by COBRA (organizations with fewer than 20 employees are not required to offer COBRA), and you were covered by the plan the day before the qualifying event.

 

The Cost of COBRA

Oftentimes when you have coverage through your employer, they share the monthly premium costs. However, a COBRA coverage premium will be more expensive than what it was under your group health plan because you pay both your portion of the premium and what the employer paid. For example, if you only paid 20% of the premium and your previous employer paid 80%, under COBRA you will be financially responsible for 100% of the premium.

It’s important to be aware of what you will be responsible for paying each month if you elect COBRA coverage because you risk losing your COBRA coverage immediately if you are late making a payment. If you have an HSA, you can use those funds to pay COBRA premiums.

 

Enrolling in COBRA

You have a 60-day window from when you are given notice whether you want to enroll in COBRA. Even if you initially waive your coverage, you can still enroll later if it’s still within the 60-day window (for example, on day 57), however, the coverage is retroactive, meaning you would have to backpay those first 57 days.

 

Alternatives to COBRA

  • Enroll in a spouse’s plan — If your spouse has health coverage offered through their job, you (and your dependents who were covered by your coverage) can enroll in their employer’s plan since your coverage loss is a qualifying life event.
  • Enroll in a parent’s plan — You can enroll in a parent’s employer’s coverage (due to your qualifying event) if you are under 26 years of age and lose your coverage.
  • Purchase a federal or state marketplace policy — After losing your coverage, you have 60 days to purchase new coverage through the federal government’s marketplace (healthcare.gov) or your state’s marketplace (if your state offers one).
  • Purchase private insurance — If you want to explore more plan options than what the public marketplace offers, you can work with insurance companies, a local health plan agent or broker, or health insurance seller to find plans from multiple carriers.

Health coverage is necessary for most Americans, and it’s important to weigh all your options and find the solution that fits your and your dependents’ needs.

 

Sources:

https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/health-plans/cobra
https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/EBSA/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/faqs/cobra-continuation-health-coverage-consumer.pdf
https://www.usa.gov/cobra-health-insurance
https://www.forbes.com/advisor/health-insurance/what-is-cobra-insurance/

LGBTQIA+ Mental Health

Stressors put on the LGBTQIA+ community put these individuals at a higher risk for mental health issues. Prioritizing mental health care is crucial, and the good news is there are several resources available that specialize in LGBTQIA+ issues and experiences.

Anyone can experience mental health challenges — and that is especially true for members of marginalized groups such as the LGBTQIA+ community. Mental health struggles can manifest itself differently in each person, such as:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Anger
  • Paranoia
  • Disordered eating
  • Insomnia
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal feelings or ideation

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s experimental Household Pulse Survey (HPS), “Regardless of age, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adults have consistently reported higher rates of symptoms of both anxiety and depression than non-LGBT adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
 

Minority Stress

Identifying as part of the LGBTQIA+ community doesn’t cause mental health struggles, but rather they form around the experiences of discrimination, stigma, isolation, exclusion, and rejection.

Dr. Jennifer Vencill, a psychologist, told the Mayo Clinic that anxiety, depression, stressors and family relationships are often heightened for “the LGBTQ community because of their marginalized sexual and gender identities.” This is termed minority stress.

Mental Health America, the nation’s leading national nonprofit dedicated to promoting mental health, cited a study1 that found “LGBTQ+ people used mental health services at 2.5 times higher rates than their heterosexual counterparts.”
 

June is Pride Month

The month of June is celebrated by the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies as Pride month. It’s a chance to celebrate and reaffirm individuals who are living authentically and support them and their mental health in a safe, joyful space.

 

Supporting Mental Health

  • Talk to a Trusted Source: Having someone listen can be extremely helpful. There are also several LGBTQIA+ helplines, including the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender National Hotline (888-843-4564).
  • Peer Support: Connecting with people with shared or similar experiences can be therapeutic. Seek out support groups that may be local to your community, online, available through your workplace, or elsewhere.
  • Self-care: Prioritize exercise, nutrition, sleep, and activities that bring you joy. Volunteering is also an excellent option.
  • Medical Support: A doctor can help you get a diagnosis and explore possible medications for treatment.
  • Start Therapy: Speaking to someone about traumatic experiences, difficult emotions, depression, anxiety, health issues, or relationship issues can help you develop coping skills. Some therapists specialize solely in LGBTQIA+ issues.

 

Mental Health Resources

If you’re looking for more LGBTQ+ mental health resources, the following are a great place to start:

 

Sources:

https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/LGBTQ
https://www.mhanational.org/lgbtq/pride
https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/the-importance-of-prioritizing-mental-health-for-the-lgbtq-community/
https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2022/12/lgbt-adults-report-anxiety-depression-at-all-ages.html
https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/lgbtqia-mental-health/about-lgbtqia-mental-health/
https://www.mhanational.org/issues/lgbtq-communities-and-mental-health
 

1Platt, L. F., Wolf, J. K., & Scheitle, C. P. (2018). Patterns of mental health care utilization among sexual orientation minority groups. Journal of Homosexuality, 65(2), 135-153