Customer talking to pharmacist

Tips to help save money on prescription drug costs

(BPT) – Modern medications can work wonders, improving quality of life, curing illness and even saving lives. However, those miracles can come at a high cost, as anyone who’s had to pay for branded prescription medication knows. In fact, spending on prescription drugs has increased 73 percent in the past seven years, according to a new report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA).

What’s driving the increase

The Health of America Report found prescription drug spending by Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) members increased 10 percent annually since 2010. High costs of patent-protected drugs account for the lion’s share of the total increase.

Generic drugs account for 82 percent of total prescriptions filled, but account for just 37 percent of total drug spending. By contrast, patent-protected prescription drugs comprise less than 10 percent of all prescriptions filled but account for 63 percent of total drug spending, the report found.

“Experience and past price trends suggest drug costs will continue to rise in the future,” says Maureen Sullivan, chief strategy and innovation officer for BCBS. “The need for more affordable generic alternatives to costly patent-protected brand-name pharmaceuticals is urgent. As prices continue to rise, more consumers will be looking for ways to curb the cost of their medications.”

What you can do

It is possible to lower your drug costs while still taking the medications your doctor has prescribed to help your health. BCBSA offers some guidance:

* If your doctor prescribes a costly name-brand medication, ask your physician or pharmacist if a generic version is available. Generic drugs are identical to their brand-name equivalents in dosage form, safety, strength and quality, how you take them, performance and intended use, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Generics typically cost less than name-brand medications. The BCBSA report shows how costs for medicines like Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Avapro (irbesartan) plummet when generic alternatives become available.

* It may be possible for your doctor to prescribe a higher strength than you need of a particular medication and allow you to split the tablet or pill to get the lower dose you need at a lower cost. In fact, many pills that can be safely split come pre-scored with an indentation that makes it easier to cut them in half. However, not all prescription medications can be safely split, so be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether it’s safe to split your medications.

* Ordering prescription medications through the mail could lower drug costs, but it’s important to ensure you’re buying from your pharmacy benefit manager, typically listed on the back of an insurance card. The FDA recommends you only purchase drugs from organizations located in the U.S. and licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the company operates (find a list of state boards of pharmacy at www.nabp.info). The mail order pharmacy should have a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions, require a prescription from your doctor in order to sell you medication, and have someone you can talk to directly if you have questions or problems.

* Another way to reduce drug costs is to ask your doctor to write your prescription for a 90-day supply so that you will get a three-month supply of the medication for the price of one co-pay.

* Finally, review your prescriptions with your doctor at least every six months to ensure you’re not taking any more medicines than you absolutely need. However, never skip doses of medicine, avoid refilling a prescription or stop taking medicine altogether without first consulting your doctor.

For more information about prescription drug costs, and to read the full Health of America report, visit www.bcbs.com/healthofamerica.

All product names, logos, and brands are property of their respective owners and used for identification purposes only. Use of these names, logos, and brands does not imply endorsement.

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Mother teaches daughter yoga on beach

Tips for managing summer stress

(BPT) – Each summer we look forward to the sunny weather, schools closing and the vacations. However, managing your or your family’s play, travel and work schedules can be stressful.

According to United Health Foundation’s 2016 America’s Health Rankings, the average number of days per month adults unfavorably assess their mental health ranged from 2.4 days in South Dakota to as high as 4.7 days in Arkansas and West Virginia. The national average is 3.7 days.

Poor mental health days can affect every aspect of one’s day, from your drive to work to running errands before your child’s soccer practice. So what can be done about managing stress and preventing tough days ahead?

First, we must understand that stress is here to stay — a modest amount of stress, offset by periods of relative calm and security, is normal. But high levels of stress can be dangerous to your health, leading to headaches, back pain, fatigue, upset stomach, anxiety, depression and heart problems.

Recognizing stress

Stress is a physical and psychological response to a demand, threat or problem. It stimulates and increases your level of awareness, also known as the “fight or flight” response. The response occurs whether the stress is positive or negative. Positive stress provides the means to express talents and abilities. But continued exposure to negative stress may lower the body’s ability to cope, which may lead to prolonged health issues.

Your signs of stress may be different from someone else’s. Some people get angry. Others have trouble concentrating or making decisions, and still others will develop health problems. The good news is that stress can be managed, according to Ann Marie O’Brien, R.N., National Director of Health Strategies at UnitedHealthcare.

O’Brien offers these five tips to help manage stress:

Take care of yourself Eat healthier, engage in moderate exercise and get enough sleep — all of which can improve your health.

Figure out the source Monitor your mental state throughout the day. Keep a list of the things that create stress. Then develop a plan for dealing with these common stressors.

Do things you enjoy Go to a movie, meet a friend for dinner or participate in an activity that provides relief. Give yourself a break and take time to care about yourself.

Learn relaxation techniques Deep breathing is helpful. Meditation as well as “mindfulness techniques” are becoming increasingly popular at home and in the workplace. You can practice mindfulness while sitting in a quiet place or walking. The key is to focus on your breathing or your steps. The technique may be simple, but achieving the desired result takes practice.

Welcome support Let close friends or relatives know you’re dealing with stress. They may be able to offer help or support that may make a difference.

Remember, stress is your body’s natural defense mechanism, but being under stress for too long can have a serious negative effect on your health. If you notice stress is becoming an issue for you, talk with your doctor.

For more health and wellness tips, visit UHC.com.

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How One Company Used Virtual Reality to Educate Doctors about Adults with ADHD

(BPT) – Have you ever struggled to explain what you were feeling to your doctor or healthcare professional? If so, you may have wondered if there was a way to help your doctor see the world through your eyes. Virtual reality technology is one way companies are working to help bridge the gap between what patients feel and what they are able to express, offering healthcare professionals a fresh perspective on their patients experiences.

Shire recently brought an immersive virtual reality experience to put healthcare professionals into the shoes of a hypothetical adult with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While onsite at the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) 170th Annual Meeting in San Diego, California attendees had the opportunity to experience ”A Day in the Life” simulation of an adult with ADHD in three settings.

“Shire has been committed to helping patients with ADHD and the healthcare professionals who treat them for the last two decades,” said Mark Rus, Head, U.S. Neuroscience Franchise at Shire. “We saw this incredible opportunity to help better educate healthcare professionals about adults with ADHD through this immersive technology, and hope that those who participated walked away with a better perspective and greater understanding and empathy for patient needs.”

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5(R)), ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that manifests as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity.

Some of the settings and daily realities the immersive virtual reality experience brings to life include:

*In the home, adults may often experience symptoms such as not seeming to listen when spoken to directly, forgetfulness in daily activities and losing things necessary for tasks and activities.

*After work, adults may have social activities and obligations. Adults may often experience symptoms such as difficulty sustaining attention in conversations, fidgeting with or tapping hands or feet, squirming in seat and interrupting or intruding on others.

*At work, adults may often experience symptoms such as failing to follow through on instructions and finish tasks, being easily distracted (including by unrelated thoughts) and exhibiting poor time management and organization.

These are not a complete list of ADHD symptoms. Having some of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have ADHD. Only a healthcare professional can accurately diagnose ADHD.

Shire’s immersive virtual reality experience provided a first-hand look at how ADHD symptoms may impact adults with ADHD across different settings during their day. The experience reached more than 300 healthcare professionals at the meeting.

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Mother and daughter with dentist

Young adults seek opioid alternatives for pain relief after wisdom teeth extraction

(BPT) – Summer vacation is the time of year students of every age look forward to. Warm weather, no school or homework, and summer travels — there are plenty of reasons to enjoy the break from the classroom. However, it’s not all fun and games, especially for college students. Summer break is also the busiest time of year for wisdom teeth extractions, and if complications arise, the procedure could be problematic long past summer’s end.

A common prescription

Those who have had their wisdom teeth extracted can attest that the pain associated with the procedure can be excruciating and long-lasting. Because of this, many dentists and oral surgeons also prescribe opioids to patients to help them manage their pain. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that dentists are among the leading prescribers of opioids. The research also finds that these medicines are most commonly prescribed for surgical tooth extraction for patients between the ages of 14 and 24.

Finding a better alternative

While opioids remain the popular course of pain relief in instances of wisdom tooth extraction, more and more oral surgery patients — and/or their parents — are becoming interested in non-opioid alternatives. The addictive properties of opioids are part of this concern, but increasingly there is also consideration being paid to their other side effects.

New research from Nielsen’s Harris Poll Online, sponsored by Pacira Pharmaceuticals, Inc., finds that 90 percent of survey respondents said they experienced adverse side effects after taking opioids. These side effects included nausea, vomiting, confusion or feeling “spaced out,” all of which impaired their daily activities. Respondents also reported being unable to drive, go to school, work or participate in sports for several days.

These experiences associated with opioids, in addition to potential addiction concerns, are motivating many to seek alternatives for pain relief after wisdom tooth extraction. The same study found 70 percent of oral surgery patients would choose a non-opioid medication for pain if they were given the choice. Eighty percent said they would be interested in an alternative even if it resulted in a higher expense.

However, despite the clear demand from patients, the industry appears slow to move forward. Seventy percent of respondents reported that they were prescribed an opioid after having their wisdom teeth out.

Realigning on care options

“It’s evident that opioids continue to be the cornerstone of pain management following third molar extraction, despite their association with unwanted side effects and the risk for abuse or addiction,” says Dr. Pedro Franco, Immediate Past President of the American College of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. “This research shows us that an overwhelming majority of patients — many of whom are likely exposed to opioids for the first time following an oral surgery procedure — would prefer a non-opioid option. I am hopeful that these findings will encourage clinicians and patients alike to be more proactive in their pain management discussions, especially as it relates to the availability of opioid alternatives.”

While patients — or their parents — may not be used to discussing such things with their health care providers, it’s an opportunity they can’t pass up. Discussing pain management options — including non-opioid options and long-acting local anesthetics — with your oral surgeon remains the most effective way to feel comfortable about your wisdom teeth treatment, both at the moment of the procedure and all along the path to recovery.

For a list of questions you can ask your oral surgeon prior to surgery, visit www.oralsurgeryprep.com.

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Sore knees? 3 reasons to participate in a clinical trial

(BPT) – Designed to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new treatments, clinical trials are the only way medical advances can move knowledge and science forward. In regard to knee pain, clinical trials offer the newest and latest ideas on finding better ways to treat pain.

People participate in clinical trials for a variety of reasons. For Debra Tongue of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a clinical trial provided a chance for a life-changing opportunity. An active mother of three and grandmother of two, Tongue was devastated when she tore her meniscus — a tissue pad between the thigh and shin bones. As a personal fitness trainer and avid sports enthusiast, Tongue went from a very high activity level of biking, hiking and running to having immense knee pain during any kind of physical activity. She underwent a meniscectomy, the surgical removal of the torn meniscus, but constant pain and swelling in her knee persisted. She was told she was too young for a knee replacement.

At age 46, Tongue made the decision to participate in a clinical trial to receive the NUsurface Meniscus Implant — the first “artificial meniscus” designed to replace the damaged one in patients like Tongue with persistent knee pain due to injured or deteriorated meniscus cartilage. The implant, which is made of medical grade plastic and inserted into the knee through a small incision, can serve as an opportunity to treat knee pain and keep patients active until knee replacement surgery is a viable option. The clinical trial is part of regulatory process to gain permission to allow the device to be distributed in the U.S.

“After receiving the NUsurface Meniscus Implant and undergoing a 12-week rehabilitation program, I felt back to normal and ready to take on the world,” Tongue says. “In fact, I was even able to go on a trip to India with girlfriends for a two-week retreat at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. The NUsurface Implant gave me a second chance to enjoy life the way I did before.”

Are you suffering from knee pain and considering enrolling in a clinical trial? Here are three reasons it may be the right choice for you:

1. You’ll get access to treatment not yet available in the U.S.
If you enroll in a trial, you could have access to treatments that are not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but could potentially work better than existing options to reduce pain or manage a disease.

2. You’ll receive high-quality care.
There are strict rules for clinical studies that have been put into place by the National Institute of Health and the FDA. In addition, all U.S. clinical trials must be overseen by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) to make sure patient risks are as low as possible and that proper trial procedures are followed. Patients in clinical trials are monitored closely by their doctor using advanced diagnostic techniques, and information about you will be carefully recorded and reviewed.

3. You’ll help advance science.
Clinical trials offer hope for many people and an opportunity to help researchers find better treatments for others in the future who have their same condition. By participating, you can provide researchers with the information they need to continue developing new procedures, medical devices and treatments.

To be eligible for the NUsurface Meniscus Implant clinical studies, you must be between the ages of 30 and 75, have pain after medial (the inside of the knee) meniscus surgery at least six months ago. To find a study site near you, visit www.activeimplants.com/kneepaintrial.

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Hispanic mother playing with newborn baby in nursery

5 simple ways parents can make the world gentle for baby

(BPT) – The big day has finally arrived and your newborn is here. Your baby is as perfect as you imagined and you’re filled with a love you never knew existed. Even before she or he arrived, you started making more careful choices and looked for gentle alternatives with natural-based ingredients for your little bundle of joy.

One thing that needs to be considered when seeking out gentle options for babies is their skin — and that starts with the precious threads in babies’ clothing, according to pediatric dermatologist Dr. Jody Levine.

“As a pediatric dermatologist and mother of five, I know that babies’ skin can go through many changes throughout infancy, and the majority are perfectly normal,” Levine says. “There are simple ways parents can protect babies’ skin from irritants, such as pre-washing clothes before first wear and choosing gentle fabrics.”

Levine offers parents some tips on how to keep the world gentle for your little one:

1. Moisturize when needed.

Peeling skin around the wrists and ankles is a normal part of a baby’s development, and requires no treatment. However, if dry or sensitive skin persists after the first few weeks of life, special care may be needed. Keep baths short, use water that’s warm, but not hot, and a small amount of gentle cleanser. For babies with dry skin, moisturize twice daily using an ointment or a cream, preferably one with many ceramides.

2. Choose the gentle fabrics.

Infant skin is definitely more sensitive than adult skin, so the fabrics you put against your baby’s skin can affect her comfort and skin health. Choose light, comfortable clothes that are free of pleats or seams that can put unnecessary pressure on a baby’s skin. Fabrics should be soft and absorbent, such as cotton or cotton blends like cotton polyester or cotton spandex.

3. Wash clothing before using it for the first time.

“Nine out of 10 dermatologists recommend parents wash baby’s clothing before wearing it for the first time, according to a survey by Dreft laundry detergent and I agree,” Levine says. While 97 percent of parents surveyed by Dreft said they believe it’s important to pre-wash baby clothes, just 40 percent actually do so every time. New clothing can harbor dirt, excess dyes and processing chemicals, so it’s important to pre-wash clothes using a gentle, yet effective detergent like Dreft purtouch that is 65 percent plant-based and made from naturally derived ingredients. Wash your newborn’s clothing separate from the rest of the laundry.

4. Use products specifically made for babies.

When choosing a skin care product for your baby, such as sunscreen, look for one specifically designed for use on infants. These baby products have been tested and proven to be gentle and less irritating to a baby’s skin. For example, baby sunscreen, which parents should start using after a baby turns 6 months old, usually contains physical blocking elements like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, rather than the chemical blockers used in some adult sunscreens.

5. Do your best at diaper duty.

The diaper region requires extra attention since it’s prone to wetness and irritation. Change your baby’s diaper frequently, especially when it’s wet or soiled. A more absorbent diaper will help keep moisture away from baby’s skin longer. Always dry the diaper area well after cleaning or a bath. If your baby is prone to diaper rash, try a zinc-based diaper cream with every diaper change to help soothe and protect skin.

“All parents want to care for their baby in the best way,” Levine says. “Little things, like prewashing new baby clothing in a gentle baby detergent and moisturizing as needed, can help keep the world gentle for your little one and his or her skin.”

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When that nagging cough is actually something more

(BPT) – Working mom Betsy had a fulfilling career and a loving family. The only thing standing in the way of her ability to fully enjoy her life was a persistent cough that just wouldn’t stop. Eventually, instead of doing the things she enjoyed, like spending time with her twin boys or going to dinner with friends, her life became something else entirely. That nagging cough — over and over again — coupled with difficulty breathing and fatigue made her feel weaker and weaker.

Betsy had a history of spontaneous lung collapses and a cough that would come and go, but her symptoms gradually became worse and began to impact her life. After a visit to her doctor, Betsy was diagnosed with bronchitis and given remedies to soothe her coughing. When weeks passed and she saw no improvement to her health, she knew she had to find answers.

“I tried to read my boys books at night and it was a real struggle just to get through the book without coughing… Not knowing what was happening to me, nobody being able to give me any answers, it was really scary.”

As Betsy’s coughing and fatigue became progressively worse, her doctor ordered a CAT scan and a sputum culture. The results of these tests provided an answer for Betsy and her doctor — she had a chronic and progressive lung condition called nontuberculous mycobacteria, or NTM.

About NTM

NTM lung disease is an infection caused by bacteria that is inhaled through the nose and mouth. NTM bacteria can be found in a variety of environments, from tap water to soil in parks and gardens. In fact, one study across 25 states showed that NTM bacteria was found in nearly eight out of ten water samples. Everyone comes into contact with NTM bacteria during their daily lives, but not everyone is at risk of getting NTM. Most people do not become infected because their lungs are healthy enough to get rid of NTM bacteria.

However, people who have conditions such as bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma are at greater risk of NTM infection. That’s because damage caused by lung conditions makes them more vulnerable to infection. People with NTM infection tend to be middle-aged and have existing respiratory conditions.

With signs and symptoms similar to those of other respiratory conditions, like cough, fatigue and shortness of breath, NTM is sometimes misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. Diagnosis can be delayed because people assume their symptoms are associated with a lung condition they already know they have.

Prevalence of NTM

There are an estimated 86,000 cases of NTM lung infections in the United States — a number that continues to grow more than eight percent each year. In particular, NTM infections are growing among people over 65 years old, a population that’s expected to nearly double by 2030. Unfortunately, many people who have NTM infection may not even know they have it.

Talk to your Doctor about NTM

Because NTM is a chronic and progressive disease, it is important to make a definitive diagnosis as soon as possible. Delayed diagnosis can lead to delayed treatment, which may lead to a worsening of symptoms and existing respiratory conditions. As the condition gets worse over time, NTM can result in severe and permanent lung damage.

If you think you could have NTM, it is important to talk with your healthcare provider about your symptoms. Visit AboutNTM.com for information about NTM and talk to your doctor to see if getting tested for NTM might be right for you.

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Access to mental health care may be just a virtual visit away

(BPT) – Mental health disorders impact thousands of people every day, including many of our friends, neighbors and co-workers. Everyone reading this likely knows someone struggling with mental illness and is aware of the toll it can take on individuals, families and communities. Mental health challenges do not discriminate — they affect people from all walks of life regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic level.

While stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders impact an estimated 43 million adults nationwide each year, the World Health Organization reports that only about one in four people with a diagnosed disorder is likely to pursue treatment.

Unfortunately, barriers prevent people from getting the mental health care they may need. The reasons are many. Consider these statistics: 4,000 areas in the U.S. have only one psychiatrist for 30,000 or more people; the average waiting time for a first psychiatric visit is 25 days; and stigma is the fourth highest-ranked barrier to help-seeking.

The good news is that people who access care more quickly may be more likely to engage in their treatment and have a better outcome. With the right treatment and support, people can recover from mental health disorders to live healthy, self-directed lives as valuable members of their community. Sometimes all it takes is a gentle nudge from a friend or loved one to help someone take that first step on their path to recovery.

For some people, that best first step may be a virtual visit with a mental health provider via a mobile device or computer. For many, access to virtual care may already be available as part of their health care benefits.

Virtual care can shorten wait times for an appointment, fit work and personal schedules, and eliminate travel time and expense. An appointment conducted in the safe, comfortable environment of home may reduce stigma. And, research shows that outcomes of a virtual visit with a mental health provider are similar to in-person sessions for multiple disorders.

Raising awareness and reducing stigma around mental health issues are keys to supporting well-being within our communities. Today, people can access effective, proven treatment in a variety of formats, including using video-calling technology. It’s up to all of us to reach out and encourage our friends, neighbors and family members in need to access these available resources.

For more information and links to recovery support resources in your area, visit www.optum.com/recovery. To learn more about available health care benefits, call the number on the back of your health plan identification card.

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Access to mental health care may be just a virtual visit away

(BPT) – Mental health disorders impact thousands of people every day, including many of our friends, neighbors and co-workers. Everyone reading this likely knows someone struggling with mental illness and is aware of the toll it can take on individuals, families and communities. Mental health challenges do not discriminate — they affect people from all walks of life regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic level.

While stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders impact an estimated 43 million adults nationwide each year, the World Health Organization reports that only about one in four people with a diagnosed disorder is likely to pursue treatment.

Unfortunately, barriers prevent people from getting the mental health care they may need. The reasons are many. Consider these statistics: 4,000 areas in the U.S. have only one psychiatrist for 30,000 or more people; the average waiting time for a first psychiatric visit is 25 days; and stigma is the fourth highest-ranked barrier to help-seeking.

The good news is that people who access care more quickly may be more likely to engage in their treatment and have a better outcome. With the right treatment and support, people can recover from mental health disorders to live healthy, self-directed lives as valuable members of their community. Sometimes all it takes is a gentle nudge from a friend or loved one to help someone take that first step on their path to recovery.

For some people, that best first step may be a virtual visit with a mental health provider via a mobile device or computer. For many, access to virtual care may already be available as part of their health care benefits.

Virtual care can shorten wait times for an appointment, fit work and personal schedules, and eliminate travel time and expense. An appointment conducted in the safe, comfortable environment of home may reduce stigma. And, research shows that outcomes of a virtual visit with a mental health provider are similar to in-person sessions for multiple disorders.

Raising awareness and reducing stigma around mental health issues are keys to supporting well-being within our communities. Today, people can access effective, proven treatment in a variety of formats, including using video-calling technology. It’s up to all of us to reach out and encourage our friends, neighbors and family members in need to access these available resources.

For more information and links to recovery support resources in your area, visit www.optum.com/recovery. To learn more about available health care benefits, call the number on the back of your health plan identification card.

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