5 Ways to Help You Stay Healthy This Holiday Season

The holidays are going to look a lot different this year due to COVID-19.

Every year millions of Americans pile into each other’s homes to celebrate the season with food, family, and football. That urge has never been stronger than this year. With millions of people working from home and many states enacting safer-at-home measures, Americans are feeling the financial, physical, and mental health effects of living in a coronavirus-infected world.

But in addition to practicing social distancing, there are several things you can do to remain healthy while minimizing the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 (or any illness).

1) Consult local, state, and federal guidelines and restrictions before traveling.

According to the CDC, “travel increases the chance of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.” And as COVID-19 cases continue to spike throughout the country, many experts are urging Americans to avoid holiday travel.

Many states are imposing new limitations on gathering sizes, extending mask mandates, and even issuing mandatory quarantine periods (or negative COVID-19 test) for people traveling from other states. If you or your loved ones are considering traveling internationally during the holidays, please be sure to make sure the country you are traveling to is granting entry to travelers from your point of origin.

2) Embrace video chat.

Technology can help us feel connected to our loved ones when we can’t be there in person—something that has proven to be essential for so many people this year.

Video calls have skyrocketed in popularity this year professionally and personally. Zoom did its part to bring people together safely by lifting their 40-minute limit on free meetings for Thanksgiving Day this year.

Consider using video chat services or avoiding in-person contact altogether through the holidays if you or a family member are at a high risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.

3) Do your holiday shopping online.

You may want to consider skipping the check-out lines this year and put your health first by shopping for gifts online.

Traditional brick and mortar stores will still be dangerous areas despite heightened cleaning measures. The CDC has listed “Going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving” as a higher-risk activity.

Due to the anticipated surge of online shoppers this season, many big-name retailers have announced changes to their traditional holiday sales such as online-only sales, online pick-up options, and more.

4) Wear a mask around others.

Studies continue to affirm the effectiveness of wearing a mask in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And both local and federal government branches have cited the importance of wearing a mask when around other people who do not live in your home. So if you find yourself going out in public or spending time with friends and family, consider wearing a mask to protect yourself and others.

5) Find the right health insurance coverage.

Modern medicine has yet to fully discover the long-term effects of COVID-19 but there are many health conditions scientists can already link to the virus.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “COVID-19 symptoms can sometimes persist for months. The virus can damage the lungs, heart and brain, which increases the risk of long-term health problems.”

Having health insurance coverage for you and your family can help cover the cost of both major and preventative medical care – and now is the best time to get coverage. The annual individual health Open Enrollment period began on November 1 and runs through December 15.

This is the only time of year to enroll in ACA-compliant health coverage unless you experience a Qualifying Life Event.

For more information on health insurance or to start shopping available plans, visit the individual health insurance page today.

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How We Help Members Through the Individual Health Insurance Open Enrollment Process

Shopping for something as important as health coverage can feel overwhelming—especially if you’re looking for a plan to help protect your whole family.

With the health insurance landscape changing every year, we know that it can be difficult to stay on top of which carriers and plans are available, so we do all that for you.

Tap Into Our Knowledgebase

By scheduling a 15-minute appointment with one of our licensed benefit counselors you’ll gain access to experts with vast industry insight—who are have studied state regulatory changes and are familiar with the latest available coverage options. Our counselors take the time to get to know your needs, concerns, and budget, to help find you the right plan, not just any plan.

Preparing for Your Appointment

After scheduling your appointment, you’ll want to gather the following information:

  • The basics: your address, phone number, date of birth, SSN, household size, income level
  • Plan and premium details for any employer-based plan available to you or your household
  • List of current medications
  • Name and zip code of the current healthcare providers that you’d like to continue using
  • Payment information

Having this information ready when your counselor calls will help them efficiently guide you toward the best coverage for your needs.

Taking the Next Step

This year’s Open Enrollment period is November 1 – December 15. If you enroll in an ACA-compliant health insurance plan during this period, the effective date will be January 1, 2021. This is the only time of year to receive ACA-compliant health insurance coverage, unless you were to experience a qualifying life event.

If you’re ready to see what the 2021 individual health insurance marketplace has to offer, we recommend scheduling an appointment with a licensed benefit counselor now. (Appointment availability becomes more limited beginning in the second half of November.)

For more information or to start shopping plans, visit the individual health insurance page today.

How Chronic Stress Can Lead to a Long-Term Disability

According to Smithsonian, Gallup’s 2019 Global Emotions Report illustrated that “More than half of United States respondents—around 55 percent—reported feelings of high stress the day prior to being polled…while 45 percent said they felt worried ‘a lot of the day’”. With the global stress levels at approximately 35%, this left the United States in a four-way tie with Albania, Iran, and Sri Lanka for the fourth-most stressed country in the world.

And while a certain amount of stress is normal, chronic stress can cause more than just a few restless nights.

What stresses you out?

In November of 2017, the American Psychological Association released the findings of their annual Stress in America survey and found that roughly 61% of Americans feel stressed about their work lives. But some jobs can be more stressful than others.

It’s also worth noting that some of these types of jobs are known to attract specific personality traits. Occupations in the legal and medical field rank as some of the most stressful jobs in the country, which is something both the ABA and AMA are aware of.

In recent years, both associations have taken steps to improve access to mental health services for their members, and to destigmatize mental health conditions.

The Effects of Stress on Mental Health

According to Psychology Today, “Some researchers have suggested that exposure to a moderate level of stress that you can master, can actually make you stronger and better able to manage stress, just like a vaccine, which contains a tiny amount of the bug, can immunize you against getting the disease.”

While this approach may work for some, no two people are the same. Everyone has their own unique body chemistry and may respond to stress stimuli in different ways. In short, what stresses one person out could have little to no effect on someone else.

Knowing When to Get Help

Chronic stress can often lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

If you’re reluctant to seek professional treatment for these issues, there are several things you can try to help overcome the symptoms. One of those ways is by carefully examining your diet: cut down on sugar, limit highly processed foods, and add fruits, veggies, and whole grains to your daily intake. Exercise is another way to boost serotonin levels and keep stress levels down.

However, if you’ve been experiencing any lingering or worsening depression and anxiety symptoms for two weeks or more, it may be best to visit your doctor.

If left untreated, it’s possible for your symptoms to become so severe that you find yourself unable to live your life as normal. They can actually develop into a long-term disability — and prevent you from working.

Protecting Your Income

In many cases, mental health problems are not something that can be predicted. As is the case with most disabilities, there is only so much a person can do to protect themselves. One of the best ways to do this is to protect your income.

If you are experiencing mental health issues and are forced to take a leave of absence from work, the last thing you want to do is worry about money. Since most of your expenses will continue during a time of disability, it is vitally important that you have a plan that covers those commitments.

As a member of the AOA, you have access to unique member pricing on long-term disability insurance. To learn more, receive an instant quote or to apply, please visit us at https://osteopathic.memberbenefits.com/long-term-disability/ and receive peace of mind today.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Group Health Planning and Renewals

This time last year we never suspected that wearing a face mask in public and social distancing would become part of our new normal. Concerts, festivals, and sporting events have been rescheduled or canceled, countless businesses have been forced to permanently close, and even Disney World temporarily shut their doors to the public.

With health and safety becoming a major focus this year for everyone, how can employers prepare for changes to the group health and benefits planning process?

Planning Your Benefits

To accurately plan your health benefits for next year, you’ll want to begin by identifying any trends or changes from this year. Here are a few questions you should be considering:

  • Have your claims gone up?
  • Have you lost employees?
  • Does your plan offer a low or no copay telemedicine product?
  • Is this the year you should consider a level-funded plan (which can save 10%-15% in premium costs)?
  • Do you have capabilities for employees to enroll online without having to collect paper forms?
  • Do you need to get even more creative with plan options and your contribution strategy?

Do you normally host enrollment meetings between your employees and broker agent? You may want to plan for virtual meetings this year assuming your agent has the ability.

Our team can offer expert advice, creative solutions, telemedicine, and best-in-class digital capabilities so you never need to collect paper enrollment forms again.

The Newness of the Virus

While plenty of data exists for viruses that have been around for decades, there just isn’t a lot of solid information on COVID-19 costs yet – which can make planning for the next year difficult. How long will the virus last? How much will treatment cost? Will there be any long-term health complications from the virus? These are the kinds of questions that the medical, healthcare and business communities don’t yet have answers to.

We’re here for you.

Need help determining which group health options may work best for your organization? Our licensed benefits counselors are available to answer questions regarding your group health benefits, and may even be able to help you save some money. Visit https://osteopathic.memberbenefits.com/employer-group-solutions/ to learn more about what our team can do for you.

Knowing the Difference Between the ER and Urgent Care Could Save You Thousands

Not knowing where to go when you or your child gets sick can be terrifying. Your family doctor may not always be available when you need them, but your circumstances may not be severe enough to warrant a trip to the ER.

But how do you know if a visit to an urgent care center will work just as well and save you money?

Seeking Urgent Care

Thousands of urgent care centers and walk-in clinics have sprung up around the country to help families receive quick medical attention for a variety of issues. According to a December 2019 Forbes article, the number of urgent care centers in the U.S. (9,272) increased by 6% from the previous year. This is just the latest in a series of positive annual growth statistics specific to the urgent care industry.

Many of these locations can test, diagnose, and treat common viral infections, administer stitches to minor lacerations, and much more. But not all urgent care centers or walk-in clinics provide the same services. Before making an appointment or visiting a physical location, be sure to find out which services they offer first (most will have their range of services listed online).

Another increasingly popular service, telehealth, is helping to bring the doctor’s office to the convenience of your couch. Telehealth (also known as telemedicine) has provided relief for overwhelmed doctors offices and urgent care centers alike throughout the COVID-19 crisis and has allowed families to get the care they need while staying safe.

Regardless of how you seek treatment, you may be referred to an ER, specialist, or follow-up appointment if your condition warrants further medical attention.

When to Visit an Emergency Room

Going to an ER may seem scary (not to mention, expensive) but in some cases, it may be necessary.

According to Scripps, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms you should be evaluated in an emergency room, where medical professionals have access to a full range of resources to treat you:

  • Chest pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Slurred speech
  • Fainting
  • Changes in mental state
  • Serious burns
  • Head or eye injury
  • Broken bones or dislocated joints
  • Fever accompanied by a rash
  • Seizures
  • Severe cuts
  • Facial lacerations
  • Severe cold or flu symptoms
  • Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy

Covering the Cost of Care

Major medical health insurance can help cover the cost of these types of healthcare. The annual open enrollment period for ACA-compliant health plans runs from November 1 to December 15. If you’ve experienced a qualifying life event (QLE) outside of that period, you may be eligible for a special enrollment period. For more information on QLEs, as well as non-ACA “short-term” health insurance plans (which are available all year long), visit https://osteopathic.memberbenefits.com/health-insurance/.

family outside in sunshine on a park bench with smiling baby

Why Young People Need Disability Insurance

When we’re young, we don’t always think about what could happen in the future. The truth is, debilitating accidents, illnesses, and injuries can happen to anyone, at any time, and any age. So no matter how young you are, it’s important to have a long-term disability insurance plan in place that can help protect your savings if something should happen to you.

Plan for the unexpected.

According to a 2017 Disability and Health Journal report, a long-term disability diagnosis can increase cost-of-living expenses by almost $7,000 a year. If you were suddenly no longer able to work, how would you manage to support yourself? Would your family be able to maintain its current way of life? Could your savings survive the average disability length of 31 months?

If a paycheck is your main source of income, you’ll most likely need long-term disability coverage to meet these needs. Even if your employer already has long-term disability coverage in place for you, it may not be enough. Employer-based plans sometimes only cover a fraction of your salary and may not factor in any bonuses that you (or your family) rely on.

What is long-term disability insurance?

Long-term disability insurance coverage is designed to help you and your loved ones withstand the financial changes that a disability can bring. If you become disabled and are no longer able to continue working, your coverage will kick in and help pay everything from medical copays to everyday expenses such as your mortgage or credit card bills.

Hopefully, you will never have to reap the benefits of a long-term disability plan. But if you do, you’ll be glad you have coverage ready when you need it. Your life can change forever in the blink of an eye – and being prepared can make all the difference in the world.

As a valuable benefit of your membership, the AOA Insurance Marketplace offers affordable long-term disability insurance coverage to members of the AOA.

To learn more, visit https://osteopathic.memberbenefits.com/long-term-disability/ or contact us at 1-800-282-8626 with any questions you may have. Our benefits counselors are available to help guide you to a plan best suitable for your unique needs.

business man explain the basics of group health insurance in an office

Group Health Coverage Basics for Small Businesses

Offering health insurance to your employees may sound like an overwhelming process — but it doesn’t need to be. Once you’ve identified your business’s needs and know the basics of group health insurance, the rest is easy. So, what do you need to know first?

What’s the difference between group and individual health plans?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “A group health plan is an employee welfare benefit plan established or maintained by an employer or by an employee organization (such as a union), or both, that provides medical care for participants or their dependents directly or through insurance, reimbursement, or otherwise.”

In other words, a group health plan is designed to cover a group of employees, but each enrollee has their own plan with benefits – and the plan’s monthly premium is calculated differently than if it were purchased as an individual health plan.

The monthly premium for all health plans is determined by the perceived risk of the carrier in offering coverage. With a group health plan, the group seeking coverage has their risk pooled together as one, which in some cases, may lower the monthly cost.

Unlike individual plans, group health plans are also available in different types designed to help your business save the most money and make the best coverage decisions. To learn more about these different plan types and ways that your business can save money on group health coverage, feel free to check out our latest group health webinar.

As a business owner, do I have to offer group health insurance to my employees?

Depending on the size of your business, the answer could be no. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) stated that businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees are not legally obligated to provide health insurance to their employees — but many choose to regardless.

Looking for a better benefits package is one of the most common reasons people change jobs. And if your business doesn’t offer a health insurance benefit, it may give current and prospective employees reason to look somewhere else for employment.

If you are federally mandated to offer health insurance to your employees, you will need to ensure you are following the rest of the ACA’s rules and regulations for small businesses.

Making The Right Group Health Decisions For Your Business

Ready to take a look at your options? Our team of licensed benefits counselors is on hand to help you find the best group health solutions for your business. Visit osteopathic.memberbenefits.com/employer-group-solutions/ or schedule an appointment with us today.

man diagnosed with long term disability contemplating future

5 Most Common Attorney Long-Term Disability Claims

According to the Council for Disability Awareness, it is estimated that one out of every four Americans will find themselves diagnosed with a disability prior to retiring at the age of 65. Additional studies show that less than half of individuals and families have enough money saved to sustain their living expenses for even one month before feeling the financial strain— illustrating that a long-term disability diagnosis can not just be devastating for the individual but also financially devastating for their entire family.

In short, no one plans to become disabled. And yet, it can happen to anyone at any time and the chances of it happening only increase with age, lifestyle choices, and even the type of work we do on a daily basis.

Popular Long-Term Disability Claims

But while the majority of people may imagine someone who struggles with a long-term disability as wheelchair-bound, the fact of the matter is that long-term disabilities can manifest in a host of different ways— some visible, some not.

Below are the top five long-term disability diagnosis types by category according to our own research and the CDA’s 2013 Long-Term Disability Claims Review:

  1. Musculoskeletal/Connective Tissue Disorders and Conditions

According to the CDA’s 2013 Long-Term Disability Claims Review, nearly one-third of all long-term disability claims are due to musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders. These are best described as issues related to neck and joint pain as well as back and neck issues; muscle and tendon problems; foot, ankle and hand disorders as well.

More specifically, the following are among the most commonly diagnosed musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders and conditions:

  • back pain
  • degenerated disk
  • arthritis
  • osteoporosis
  • rheumatism
  1. Nervous System-Related Disorders and Conditions

Most nervous system disorders are common and can be helped or managed with treatments such as physical therapy and/or medication. Nevertheless, with some being generative, working full-time or even part-time can prove extremely difficult.

Below are a few common nervous system related disorders:

  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Epilepsy and Seizures
  • Shingles
  1. Cardiovascular/Circulatory Disorders and Conditions

According to the American College of Cardiology (ACC), it is estimated that an average of one person dies every 40 seconds in America due to cardiovascular disease. But for those individuals who experience cardiovascular issues and require surgeries and rehabilitation services, the time spent recovering can have a serious impact on their livelihood— limiting them from earning a paycheck as well as increased difficulties managing day-to-day activities.

  1. Cancer and Tumors

Studies estimate that 41% of men and 38% of women will develop some form of cancer within their lifetime. And while hereditary factors and lifestyle choices can play a part in determining one’s risk factor, there is no fool-proof way of determining if or when you will be diagnosed with cancer.

If a cancer diagnosis or tumor does occur treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries can leave your body sick, exhausted, and bedridden among other things. During this time, it may be difficult or impossible for you to keep up with your job duties.

  1. Mental Disorders

Depression and anxiety, are among the most common mental disorders that can affect one’s ability to work. Though the systems may not appear physical (though they can), mental disorders are nothing to be brushed off. If you experience lingering or worsening symptoms of depression or other mental disorders for a period of two weeks or more, talking to your doctor may prove helpful.

Most disorders can improve over time with the proper medical attention but leaving them untreated can lead to worsening symptoms that can have an effect on every facet of your life and limit you from living your best life.

Planning For The Future

Just because no one can predict the future, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still plan for it.

If you wish to receive more information about how you can safeguard your financial future in the event of being diagnosed with a long-term disability, please visit osteopathic.memberbenefits.com/long-term-disability/ to view the complete Long-Term Disability brochure or to download an application.

adult couple reviewing bills and open enrollment materials

4 Myths About the Individual Health Insurance Open Enrollment Period

We’ve heard a lot of Open Enrollment myths over the years and want to set the record straight.

Myth #1 “There are fewer insurers to choose from.”

Many carriers who initially fled the federal exchange have returned and now offer plans alongside others who have entered the marketplace. This increase in the number of plans being offered has allowed many individuals and families to re-examine their needs and adjust their coverage amounts accordingly.

In addition to having access to the same carriers and plans listed on the federal exchange, the AOA Insurance Marketplace can offer members even more options. To view the full range of available ACA-compliant health plans, please visit https://osteopathic.memberbenefits.com/.

Myth #2 “The premiums are too expensive.”

Now that the federal exchange marketplace has stabilized, there may be lower-cost options for ACA-compliant health plans than past Open Enrollment periods. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield has filed for a 2.03% decrease in premiums in Texas.

Even if your coverage needs remain the same, you may be able to find a lower premium being offered by a different insurer. We recommend always reviewing the health insurance options available to you during the annual Open Enrollment period.

Myth #3 “You’ll be penalized at tax time for not having insurance.”

In previous years, if an individual did not have health insurance for more than 2 months of the year and did not qualify for an exemption they would face a tax penalty of $695 or 2.5% of their taxable income (whichever amount was greater). As of January 1, 2019, the tax penalty known as the individual mandate has been repealed, though some states may still enforce penalties on individuals who don’t have health insurance.

Myth #4 “Applications are processed instantly.”

On average, our team will process an enrollment application within 24 business hours and submit it to the carrier. Once the application is with the carrier, their team will take over and require an additional 10-15 business days to process the application.

The carriers often get overwhelmed with applications during the Open Enrollment period, so we recommend enrollees submit their health insurance applications as early as possible.

Securing ACA-Complaint Coverage for 2020

This year, Open Enrollment runs from November 1 through December 15 with a coverage effective date of January 1, 2020. This is the one time of year where individuals and families can enroll in ACA-compliant health insurance plans.

Ready to start shopping? Visit https://osteopathic.memberbenefits.com/ to shop ACA-compliant health plans today.

Not sure where to start? Schedule an appointment with one of our licensed benefits counselors and let us walk you through finding the best health insurance fit for your needs.

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