For CEOs Considering Consumer Driven Health Plans to Reduce Cost, A “Well Better” Permanent Solution

Consumer Driven Group Health Plans (CDHPs): How and Why They Miss the Target
by Michael Chapman

The rising expense of group health insurance is a big issue for most small businesses businesses (businesses with 500 or fewer employees. Companies of this size represent 95% of all businesses in the US.) The percent of small businesses offering group health insurance plans has fallen steadily. Today half of small businesses offer group health insurance plan for their employees, down from 70% a decade ago.

The only effective way that a company can reduce the cost of group medical insurance is if their employees have fewer medical insurance claims. This can lead to a reduction in the overall increase in the cost of group health insurance for the company the following year, when the company signs a contract at new rates for the next year. While there may not be a cost reduction, fewer claims should mean a lower than normal premium increase.

“Consumer driven group health plans” are plans that pass on more cost to the employees in the form of higher deductibles and higher or no prescription or doctor visit co-pays, and “incentives” to reward employees for reducing their medical insurance claims. These incentives include monetary and tax incentives approved by the IRS that reward the employee for controlling the cost of their medical claims.

The idea is that if more of the health care costs are shifted to the employee, and if the employee makes fewer medical claims, they are rewarded with tax-favored savings. The thinking is that if the employee is a “good consumer,” they will find ways to keep more of their tax-favored savings that they can use in future years rather than use it for health care.

Consumer driven group health plans couple a high deductible health plan with one or more of the following types of IRS approved programs: Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs), and Medical Expense Reimbursement Plans (MERPS).

Companies that select consumer driven group health plans (CDHPs) generally see a significant, but moderate and often short term, reduction in the inflationary increases in group medical insurance expenses. However, we now believe that CDHP advocates are making the wrong argument, and are missing the point.

While CDHP advocates might be winning a lower rate increase for a year, they are losing the war on affordable health care and health insurance, and are only motivating the proponents of universal health care and nationalized health insurance to work harder to get their candidates elected in 2008.

We feel that consumer driven group health plans do not do enough to control the cost of group health insurance. Even if company receives a premium group health insurance premium increase of 7% instead of 15%, that is still a doubling in rates by the year 2015. Clearly, that is too much.

We feel that the basic premise of CDHPs is wrong. The challenge is not to make the employees pay more for group health insurance, and then reward them for shopping for less expensive health care and avoiding medical claims. CDHPs represent short-sighted thinking and bandaid fix for group health insurance.

We feel that the only way to achieve a fundamental change in the cost of employee group health insurance is to make employees accountable for maintaining healthy lifestyles. Fully 75% of all diseases in the US are preventable. Group health insurance plans that reward employees for preventing diseases represents could truly reduce health care expenses for employers and employees alike.

Employers should be able to hold their employees accountable for their own lifestyles. A group health insurance plan that rewards tobacco-free, obesity-free living, and rewards employees and dependents for maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle is the goal.

With this type of plan, employees could avoid or minimize the chance of their family’s suffering and the cost of diseases such as diabetes, diseases of the heart and circulatory system, stroke, and cancer-related diseases. Plus, employers would benefit from a true systemic reduction in medical insurance expenses, and reduce lost time productivity and wages due to sickness.

Employees who choose a healthy lifestyle would receive tax-favored incentives for losing weight for stopping use of tobacco, etc. Those incentives would effectively lower the cost of the employee’s out of pocket medical expenses to below what they would otherwise spend.

Those employees who choose not to live healthy lifestyles would not reap the rewards and incentives that the employer’s plan offers, and would pay more for their health care. Or they could choose to seek employment elsewhere with a company or organization that offers a group health insurance plan that does not reward healthy employees with lower cost health insurance and incentives for a healthy lifestyle.

This simple concept, for employers to reward employees who choose to live healthy lives with lower health care expenses, represents a major departure from the current CDHP movement. Forward-thinking CEOs can now have a major impact on permanently reducing the cost of group health insurance, can improve their company’s bottom line, and can play a major positive role in improving the lives of their employees and their families.

We will elaborate on this concept in future articles and will show employers how step by step how they can implement employee wellness as a key driver in their company’s employee benefits and human resources plan. Individuals interested are encouraged to contact for more information.

Perspectives on Personal Health Record and Their Maintenance for Your Better Health

Most people do not carry medical records when they leave home. They do not realize that in an emergency, which no one can predict, these medical records can make a big difference. In fact, they could save a life. Previous medications, history of allergy to medications, and other significant medical or surgical history can help a physician to optimize treatment. The National Health Council recommends you to keep a personal health record and take it with you to your doctor. It’s one thing to document your medical information it’s another to know when and how to use it.

The main components of a Good personal health record are:

* Your name, birth date, blood type and emergency contact

* Date of last physical

* Dates and results of tests and screenings

* Major illnesses and surgeries, with dates

* A list of your medicines, dosages and how long you’ve taken them

* Any allergies

* Any chronic diseases

* Any history of illnesses in your family

Personal health records in paper based format have been used since the beginning of modern health care services. These have several disadvantages as they cannot be accessed rapidly during emergency, difficulties in sharing of these records, security and vulnerable to physical destruction as shown in recent Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans in 2005. These records are also difficult to carry around for the individual when migrating to another medical center or health care provider.

Although there are different methods to record one’s personal health, Portable Digital Personal Health Record Storage medias are popular since they offer the advantage to Individuals to enable them maintain their health information at their own computer hard drive or other storage devices. Moreover, these could be made easily accessible to any health care provider by the individual who controls the data.

Electronic management of personal health records were developed in the last 2 decades by several electronic health software vendors. Rapid growth in this sector was noticed during the dot-com bubble era.Today, with the growth of Web 2.0 in the internet, there is renewed interest in Personal health records in electronic format. Many still have confusion about Personal health records (PHR) and Electronic health records (EMR).PHRs are different. EMRs or electronic medical records are developed in Hospitals and medical centers, these legal health records are created and stored in health care settings and patients have no control over these records. They contain the longitudinal medical information of any patient over a period of time. A fully functioning EMR is described as one that includes a clinical data repository, controlled medical vocabulary, computerized provider order entry, clinical documentation or charting, pharmacy management, electronic medication administration record, major ancillary systems (for example, laboratory, diagnostic imaging, cardiology, and so on.) and picture archive and communication systems (PACS).

However, PHRs or Personal health records are created by the individuals and patients can have full control over these records. These can contain in addition to medical illness information, health related information. The models are shrink wrapped unlike the EMRs.They could also include complete demographics of the patient along with essential health insurance details. In addition they could also include record of illness over a period of time.

Personal health records have a useful role to play in health care management. Adopting technologies in health care will significantly reduce the cost and improve the effectiveness of health care delivery. Over prescription of medications, duplication of tests and lack of sharing of medical information among health care service providers has resulted in increased cost of health care in the current era.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purpose only and is in no way intended to be a substitute for medical consultation with a qualified professional. The author encourages Internet users to be careful when using medical information. If you are unsure about your medical condition, consult a physician.

Sales Principles & The Mental Health Profession – Strategies That Lead To Success In The Marketplace

CHALLENGES FOR THE PROFESSION

Mental Health issues make their way across the newswire at an alarming rate. We hear about teenage suicide, random acts of violence, an increase in depression and anxiety across all ages, substance abuse, complex trauma at home and abroad. Even more alarming are societal maladies that are rarely discussed. Children forever lost in chaotic homes where violence and sexual abuse is pervasive with national and local systems ill equipped to effectively address these tragedies. Such is the world a mental health professional finds herself/himself thrust into as part of a calling to serve and help those suffering psychological and emotional pain.

A mental health career is a noble and courageous endeavor, which can come at a significant price. We see state governments use mental health services as a scapegoat for poor financial management and planning, choosing to balance their Medicaid books at the expense of community based mental health programs. As a result, mental health practitioners are asked to serve effectively with few resources, little pay and even fewer options to grow professionally.

Mental health services in the private sector are equally challenging. Insurance companies devalue these services as evidenced by limited reimbursement rates, few behavioral healthcare plans for employees, and the implementation of complex and convoluted systems that test the most patient and saint-worthy of practitioners.

In spite of all these challenges in the mental health marketplace, there are specific business strategies and approaches practitioners can adopt in an effort to overcome these obstacles and ultimately triumph in the profession. In this article I discuss many of the key strategies and will expound on them in greater detail in future publications. The understanding and use of best-in-class sales and marketing principles will serve to complement an already rich skill set that will help mental health professionals succeed in ways they may not have imagined possible!

SECRETS OF SUCCESS & THE SALES STIGMA

The business world is changing at an incredibly fast pace and many of these changes have a profound impact on the way people do business. Most of us in the mental health field, however, remain blissfully ignorant and unaware of these subtle but powerful events. Those lucky few who become aware of some of these changes (e.g., technological advances that decentralize and empower people at all levels; new concepts in sales & marketing that enable you to grow your business at hyper-speed using a sophisticated multimedia approach) are presented with a window of opportunity that can lead to tremendous growth and independence. Opportunities abound for those who are open to some of these new ideas and willing to integrate new concepts into their mental health service model. The key lies in how highly skilled mental health professionals approach the marketplace and what tools they choose to use in order to succeed in a competitive environment. As a licensed clinician and mental health consultant for over 15 years I have seen many success stories that were the direct result of the effective use of the key principles I discuss in this article.

A key area most mental health professionals are sorely lacking and unaware is in understanding, utilizing and integrating sophisticated sales skills within their practice! Did you say sales skills?! Yes, indeed I did. Clinicians receive heavy doses of clinical training in graduate schools and continuing education programs. However, very little is offered in terms of how to succeed in the profession from both a financial and career development perspective. There are business seminars focusing on billing practices, business systems, and various administrative tasks but few if any discuss the power and importance of sales skills in our profession. This area is often so untapped that adopting even some of the more basic principles will immediately distinguish you in the profession and give you an extreme economic advantage in the mental health marketplace.

At first glance the idea of adopting sales principles conjures up images of self-serving, manipulative tactics and ploys. As a result, a sales approach is often the furthest from the mind of a mental health professional. However, this position is misguided and comes from a limited understanding of sales theory and practice in general. First and foremost, selling and the sales process is a critical element in all areas of commerce. No business takes place without a sales transaction of some sort or another. Mental Health services are not utilized unless a sale is made and someone chooses to use a specific service, you are not hired into a clinical position unless you effectively sell yourself to the hiring manager, a private practice does not last long without consistent sales for services, and funding for community programs is not awarded unless a government entity is sold on the need and importance of those services. As a result, our first step here is to acknowledge and accept that sales are a critical part of the process in the mental health business.

Once we come to recognize this fact we must also dispel the myth about sales being a sleazy and unethical profession that utilizes manipulative and self-serving tactics at the expense of others. Like any profession, there are theoretical frameworks and people within the business who would no doubt support these negative stereotypes. However, when we take a closer look at the sales profession we find that it can also be a highly sophisticated, philosophical and value driven profession that is perfectly suited for the helping professions.

UNRAVELING THE SALES SKILL MYSTERY: ESSENTIAL PRINCIPLES TO HELP YOU STAND OUT

Having taken a closer look at the importance and scope of sales our next logical step is to explore sales theory and application in greater detail. I have grouped various sales skills/approaches into 4 Core Principles in an effort to help clarify and organize these concepts in a way that makes sense. I must also emphasize that adopting these principles will quickly position you ahead of your competitors! They are extremely powerful principles in that they all contribute to a fundamental shift essential to success in business. What is this shift? The shift I am referring to is a movement away from participating in the selling process to becoming an important/critical part of the buying process. Lead sales experts such as Dale Carnegie, Frank Rumbauskas, and Jeffery Gitomer all emphasize the importance of this paradigm shift in order to achieve high levels of success.

So what does it mean when you talk about moving from the selling process to the buying process? Simply put, your current efforts to sell your services can be a difficult and unrewarding process. At its core it is a process whereby you are not in a position of strength, where you tend to focus on your own interests and where you must seek out others and convince others to use your services. Now what would life be like as a mental health practitioner if people recognized you as an authority in the field or as someone who adds tremendous value and can help them with their needs? When a change occurs where you are viewed as a valuable resource and partner people begin to seek you out without any soliciting on your part. Business comes to you and you find yourself in what sales professionals refer to as being a key part of the buying process. The best thing about this approach is that its foundation is based on integrity, honoring your unique attributes, bringing value and helping others – all hallmarks of the mental health profession.

Let me offer an example to clarify my point. Let’s say you are a mental health clinician who has been in the field many years, you have an expertise in family/child issues and you decide to offer a group on parenting skills. You attend networking events but find that everyone at those events is pitching their own service and not seeking services to buy. Attendees shower you with praise and tout your service as “much needed” and “long overdue”, however, you generate little to no business from those events. You advertise your group to doctors offices and through basic networking channels such as local counseling chapters and school systems. Still no one comes.

The issue here is not necessarily missing the mark in terms of community needs nor is it an issue of skill and competence. People are not coming to you because you have not tapped into the buying process. In the buying scenario, you have built a level of credibility in the community and positioned yourself in such a way that they must go through you in order to access these specific mental health services. Your sales approach and philosophy prompts those in the community to recognize you, talk about you and value you as an important resource. In addition, you create communication channels/systems and remove barriers/obstacles that encourage and allow others to take the next step toward utilizing your services. If you can create this shift your ability to grow as a practitioner multiplies exponentially and with half of the effort! The principles outlined here all contribute to making that change.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these principles.

Principle 1: Be Solution/Customer Focused

Many people in all areas of business mistakenly take an approach where they sell their services versus selling solutions. A distinguishing factor for most people who are successful in their industry is that they are customer focused, meaning they sell the way the customer wants to buy. They focus solely on the needs, problems, wants of the customer and work to find solutions that will help that customer. This concept sounds basic and simple, however, it takes dedication and a high level of skill to be customer focused in the way I am referring to here. Below are some key factors associated with this approach.

  • Sell the way customers want to buy. (Take time to understand customer needs, concerns, problems and wants. Show them you understand them and offer solutions even if it means referring them to someone else who can help.)
  • Give Value! (Use an altruistic approach. Deliver something to potential customers without any expectation of something in return.)
  • Recognize the only way you get others to do something is if you give them what they want. (Manipulative tactics and high-pressure sales tactics do not work. Be persuasive not manipulative and know the difference!)
  • Go above and beyond and be remembered! (Over-deliver on services, give of yourself to the community in unique ways, follow-through in ways that highly impress.)
  • Create a buying atmosphere. (Study customer needs, business systems and their unique market. Provide solutions and remove barriers/obstacles that gives them permission to buy.)
  • The Power of Presence: Listen First, Talk Last and Ask Excellent Questions! (It is the rare individual who truly focuses on the customer in the here and now. Use your clinical skills to understand the needs of the customer.)

Principle 2: Build Credibility & Legitimacy

Do you want to attract high quality referrals for your business? Develop a plan that will position you as an expert in targeted areas within your profession.

  • Become an expert in something. And share that knowledge for free!
  • Understand and study social dynamics and the psychology of power. (Know its role in the sales process and in your profession. Use this knowledge to be in a position of strength with regards to the buying process.)
  • Build credibility and attract what you view as “high-quality referrals” by giving yourself to the community. (e.g., free advice, free services, helpful hints/tips.)
  • Become Published. (Opportunities abound to become published – See Mark Joyner’s e-book “Rise of the Author.” There is tremendous power in being published.)
  • Study the art of presenting and find opportunities to present. (This is perhaps the best value proposition for you as a mental health professional! It builds credibility and creates powerful networks.)

Principle 3: Think Long-Term

Too often we focus on short-term immediate business needs and neglect longer lasting more powerful methods that lead to much greater growth. Focus on relationships and you will create solid sales processes and networks that will enable you to reach much higher levels of success.

  • Stop focusing on the short term and work to build lasting relationships that will lead to referrals and other opportunities.(Sales expert, Jeffrey Gitomer, in his great sales book, The Little Red Book of Selling, says it this way, “Think End of Time not end of Month.”)
  • Focus on others first.(Help colleagues, community members and prospective clients without expectation of something in return.)
  • Always be a resource! (Offer assistance and solutions even if it has nothing to do with your area of expertise. Leverage the expertise of others and share the wealth! Helping professional colleagues will also lead to your long-term success.)
  • Let go of the need/want to benefit yourself and act with the intent of helping others. (In today’s self-serving world it is the rare individual who functions in this manner. And yet, it is a distinguishing factor in a competitive marketplace.)
  • Long-term strategies are equally effective in one’s career development as they are in business development.(Strategies such as informational interviewing and volunteering often lead to significantly better career and advancement opportunities.)

Principle 4: Use Intelligent and Technically Advanced Marketing Systems

Top sales performers in all businesses create effective systems that free up their time for more value driven activities and help create communication and buying vehicles that produce a powerful buying environment for the customer.

  • Leverage technology to market yourself and to create a buying atmosphere.(e.g., website development, public relations & media opportunities such as e-articles, e-books, audio programs, video snapshots.)
  • Automate business activities that are non-essential to your core growth opportunities. (Use technology to automate key activities and identify personnel that can help you work more efficiently.)
  • Build communities that allow for sharing of ideas and networking opportunities. (e.g.,online forums, lunch & learns, supervision meetings.)
  • Understand marketing principles that will effectively brand you.(Social marketing and Viral Marketing are two powerful concepts that leverage the incredible growth in technology. Learn these and others to increase your growth as a successful mental health practitioner and businessperson!)
  • Know the sales cycle for your profession and be persistent with your value messages. (Market Research tells us it typically takes 6-10 exposures to your message before a buying decision is made. Create vehicles that give you a high level of visibility.)

IN CLOSING

The material presented here is merely an introduction to the powerful concepts of selling and how they can be effectively utilized and integrated within a mental health practice. Each of the areas outlined above contain a tremendous amount of depth and richness that require further discussion and clarification in order to gain the full benefits. In the coming months I will look at each principle in greater detail in an effort to clarify concepts, introduce new tools and offer excellent resources from some of the experts in the world of sales and marketing.

Health Center Staff In Lead Role Preparing Their Campuses for Pandemic Flu

It sounds like the plot of the next blockbuster movie. A third of the world’s population is struck down by a deadly virus that spreads across the globe so rapidly that there is no time to develop a vaccine. Up to half of those infected – even young, healthy adults – die. But as health professionals know, this scenario is not just a flight of fancy. It could be the very real effects of the next pandemic flu outbreak, particularly if H5N1 (also known as highly pathogenic avian flu) is the virus in question, and it is this knowledge that is pushing not just federal and state government but organizations and businesses throughout the world to develop a strategy to tackle it.

Within colleges and universities, the burden of pandemic flu planning is likely to fall upon many student health directors, even at institutions with environmental health and safety departments. John Covely, a consultant on pandemic flu planning and the co-author of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s pandemic plan, explains why this is so.

“Traditionally, emergency planning originates from public safety, or environment health and safety, but a communicable disease poses the biggest threat to students in group quarters. Thus, student health directors are often leading the emergency planning effort for the whole university, because the entire plan – not just the student health component – could be the difference in life or death for their students.”

The importance of having a campus-wide plan that is ready – not just in the preliminary stages – when the pandemic strikes is all the more clear when you consider that, unlike seasonal flu, H5N1 has an increased risk for the typical student demographic of young, healthy adults. The startlingly high mortality rate of up to 60 percent is partly due to a protein, also found in the strain of virus responsible for the 1918 pandemic flu outbreak, which causes a response in a healthy immune system known as a “cytokine storm”, often leading to respiratory failure and death.

Planning for such a massive and yet unpredictable event may seem a formidable task, but Dr. Anita Barkin, chair of the American College Health Association’s pandemic planning committee, counsels that those universities and colleges that have yet to formulate a pandemic plan shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the work that lies before them. “Pandemic planning is about good emergency preparedness. The things we do to prepare for any emergency are the things we would do to prepare for pandemic flu,” she explains.

Although the tragic Virginia Tech shootings this spring were a different kind of emergency, the issues are similar to the issues faced in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak. Coordinating resources, communicating with everyone on campus and deciding at what stage classes should be called off are questions that have to be answered in most emergency situations. Take your pandemic planning one step at a time, advises Barkin.

“The first step is to find out whether there is an existing emergency plan on campus,” she says. “If there is, who is in charge of it? Health providers on campus should then take charge and begin to formulate the plan.”

There are many unknown factors, but build the framework of the plan first with the elements you can be sure of. Form a committee with all key areas represented, including executive leadership. ACHA’s Guidelines for Pandemic Planning provides a list as an example that may help you collate this. Identify the functions that will be critical in the case of a pandemic and the personnel on campus responsible for each of these, making sure there are enough people representing each function that should some become sick, the plan is not compromised. Identify decision makers, a chain of command, and what channels of communication are to be used. Finally, decide on the role of student health services. Many campuses will have the student health director as the key decision maker in the event of a pandemic, but for some it will be more appropriate for the student health director to have an advisory role instead. In any case, college health professionals will be crucial to the success of every plan.

The biggest question that is central to every campus-wide pandemic plan: when is the right time to send students home? Covely warns that universities cannot necessarily wait for cues from state public health departments before they make their decisions. “The university has to have its own in-depth criteria in advance of a pandemic, and the student health director should be very involved in developing those criteria.”

Barkin suggests looking back to the 1918 influenza epidemic for context.

“In 1918, the virus spread across the country in three to four weeks. If you think about the fact that the virus traveled from coast to coast in that short a time when the primary means of long-distance transport was the train, and then you think about how much more quickly we can travel today by plane, that timeline is going to be compressed significantly.”

In other words, don’t wait too long to send your students home. Nor should your trigger for this decision rely on the geographical proximity of the virus to your campus alone. Covely explains:

“Geographical proximity is not definitive enough in this age when in a single day, there are 50,000 passenger flights throughout the world,” he says. “Because New York City and Hong Kong have major international airports, epidemiologically, New York City is actually closer to Hong Kong than it is to Buffalo, so waiting to suspend classes until a confirmed case gets to your region, or within 500 miles, may be too late.”

The factors that will determine how early you make the call to send students home will center on the composition of your student population. If your students are mostly from in-state, they will probably be traveling home by car and so you can wait slightly longer before canceling classes and closing the campus down. If many students live a long way away and are going to need to use mass transportation, you may have to act more quickly or risk being swamped with very ill students at a time when the local hospitals will not have the resources to help.

There are three main elements that will shape the logistics and the scale of your plan, and help you figure out the best trigger to send students home. Remember that, as Barkin comments, “The longer you wait, the higher the rate of infection, the less chance of being able to get students home and the less likely you can manage the burden of disease.”

These factors are as follows:

Student demographics, particularly the number of students who live on campus and the number of non-local students who are likely to be dependent on care.

The size of your staff (taking into account that up to 50 percent may be sick at one time).
Your ability to stockpile enough basic supplies, including medications, as well as personal protective equipment such as respirators.

This is where things start to get more complicated, however. Most student health services can’t afford to stockpile many medical supplies. “ACHA is running a survey on pandemic planning,” reveals Barkin. “Of the schools that have responded, most have not stockpiled, or if they have, it’s not a lot.” This could clearly prove disastrous, and for many colleges is a manifestation of what Covely cites as one of the biggest challenges of pandemic planning for some universities: “getting buy-in from the executive leadership.” Pandemic planning is by no means a cost-free exercise.

One tip if you are facing resistance from campus decision-makers over spending money on pandemic planning is to emphasize the fact that once you’ve formulated a response to a possible pandemic, you will have a robust emergency response strategy that can be adapted to fit virtually any emergency, whether it’s evacuation in the event of wildfires, such as Pepperdine University faced recently, a terrorist threat, or an “active shooter”. Investment in, say, developing a Web site with emergency information and updates can be a public relations bonus and a reliable resource. Villanova University’s plan includes broadcasting SMS text messages and e-mails and using an emergency Web page for mass communication.

When you do know the scope of your resources, both human and financial, you can continue to flesh out your plan. Excellent resources can be found on ACHA’s . A tip from the experts: be wary of developing your plan in a vacuum. “I know of a school that didn’t know their gymnasium was being considered as a point of vaccination until they happened to find out in the course of an outreach program,” Barkin relates. “The local health department hadn’t informed them.” This is very obviously a benefit of starting a dialogue with your local health services: you find out what they have planned and you can also coordinate your plans to add value and decrease the number of unknown factors.

Dr. Mary McGonigle, director of the student health center at Villanova University, says that their dialogue with their local health department led to Villanova being assessed and labeled a “push” site, a location that is self-sufficient in this type of emergency. She explains:

“In the event of a pandemic, we’d go and pick up supplies from the county and then administer medicine to our Villanova community. That includes students, faculty and their families.”

Help from the county is a financial boon but being self-sufficient and staying local also lowers the risk of spreading the virus so rapidly. The dialogue helps your local health services too. If your local hospitals are likely to have a shortage of beds, they may want to use college dorms for surge capacity at the peak of a pandemic. In return, they may be able to offer you some resources, although research suggests that most hospitals have not had the budget to be able to stockpile effectively either.

Once you have your plan together, it’s important not just to file it away and forget about it. “Planning for a pandemic is very much a work in progress, but it is often hard to keep up the interest in reviewing and updating plans, especially when H5N1 activity drops out of the news,” explains Covely. Tabletop exercises are one way to test the effectiveness of a plan and a good way to maintain interest. Covely specializes in facilitating these tabletops and finds that they can significantly increase staff’s buy-in as well as providing useful discussion points.

“Used before the planning begins, tabletops provide a way of educating employees and getting them interested in developing continuity of operations plans,” he says. “They are excellent for post planning too, in order to test the plans. I am always amazed at the creative analysis and insight that comes from a tabletop.”

The ongoing and fluid nature of pandemic planning is very much evident in some of the complex and thorny issues that have no definitive answer. These may need to be revisited and rethought as scientific discoveries are made, as you approach a pandemic, and if your college’s resources change. One such issue is the availability of expensive antivirals. The federal government has announced that it is stockpiling them and coming up with a strategy for distribution, which might seem to take some of the financial pressure off student health services. Barkin however has a caveat. “I’m concerned that stockpiles would not be distributed in enough of a timely fashion to make an impact on the community. Katrina is a situation that has to come to mind.”

Even if you did manage to persuade campus decision-makers to invest budget in stockpiling antivirals, a potentially challenging feat, there’s a chance that they would be ineffective by the time a pandemic occurs, as overuse can cause the emergence of a resistant strain. Barkin explains that infectious disease experts are talking about using a treatment cocktail – Tamiflu plus one or two other agents – to protect against the emergence of resistant strains, but this would be prohibitively expensive for the average college health center.

Another ethical dilemma surrounding pandemic planning concerns who should get prepandemic vaccines. Scientists are developing vaccines based on the strain of avian flu that has been circulating in Asia, hoping that the vaccine would be enough of a match to combat the illness until a proper vaccine could be developed six months after the pandemic’s emergence. But supplies of this prepandemic vaccine will be limited.

“Some of the conversations around who should get these prepandemic vaccines are very complex,” says Barkin. “Should it be health care workers that get it, or public safety workers such as firemen? Should it be government officials, or the very young and elderly?” Recently, the federal government has announced a three-tiered approach to vaccination that it has developed in consultation with public focus groups and ethicists that places health care workers in the second tier. Whether your health center staff will receive the vaccine, whether it will be in a timely fashion, and how effective it will actually be, are all factors that will affect your pandemic plan greatly – and demonstrate how much of your planning has to leave room for the unknown.

One thing that is beyond question is the importance of student health services acting now. Formulating a pandemic plan may be a slow and ponderous task, but there’s one vital aspect that will slow the spread of a pandemic and can be tackled by your department immediately without getting tangled in red tape and endless meetings. Barkin elaborates:

“Every single student health service needs to be involved in educational outreach efforts to distribute information on the role of flu vaccinations, cough etiquette, when to come to work and when to stay at home if you are ill and the importance of creating a personal preparedness plan in the event of a pandemic.”

This public health education can be a collaborative effort with human resources and residence life staff. Covely agrees and even suggests extending the scope beyond campus boundaries. “It’s part of being a good and responsible neighbor to the community, and it has tremendous public relations benefits to the university,” he says.

The collaboration required in pandemic planning can build bridges, but be prepared for it also to be particularly challenging. McGonigle relates:

“At Villanova, we’re still in the stages of planning. We’ve done a lot. But I would say the most difficult part is trying to connect and communicate with all the different departments on campus and plan for all the different scenarios.”

Indeed, planning for all contingencies – not just the obvious problems of effectively treating the sick and minimizing the mortality rate, but also coping with disruptions to services and shortages of supplies caused by huge absenteeism and the ensuing breakdown in the transportation system, and questions such as whether to pay staff if the campus is shut down – has caused planning at many colleges and universities to take much longer than anticipated.

Pandemic planning is also dogged by a sense of unreality: could something this vast really happen? (The answer, as every health professional knows, is “yes”, and is a question of when and not if.) Media coverage of pandemic flu is patchy and focuses on sensational stories rather than the need for personal emergency preparedness. Because it’s not an issue in the forefront of the public’s mind, it’s sometimes hard to conjure up the necessary sense of urgency, particularly because there is always some issue on campus demanding more immediate attention. Barkin sympathizes, but has some sobering last words on the subject.

“Recently, the issue of pandemic flu has fallen off the radar,” she says. “We’ve been talking about it for two years and now there are other pressing issues that have pushed it to the back burner. But the issue of pandemics is not going to go away. We’ve had them throughout history and if you look at the patterns, we’re due for a pandemic soon. It may or may not be H5N1, and it may or may not be on the 1918 scale. What we cannot ignore, however, is the planning that’s needed, because in a pandemic, health centers and heath care providers will be looked to and expected to know how to respond.”

A Health Savings Account Or HSA Medical Plan Offers Significant Tax, Premium, & Retirement Savings

Opening a Health Savings Account today in partnership with an HSA qualified health insurance policy is what anyone should wisely consider as a smart alternative to continue paying for a traditional health insurance plan. Medical Insurance is the newest form of an investment vehicle that offers any person or business tremendous financial & tax benefits. Once you see the picture, understanding HSA health savings plans is very easy. Please read on and take an opportunity to become informed right now.

Since first being signed into law in December 2003 by the Federal Government, Health Savings Account (s) (HSA medical insurance plans) are already a proven success & the number of people switching to HSAs from traditional health plans is growing greatly each year. HSAs are here to stay & a few million people have already come on board. Health Savings Account Plans are literally available today to any person over 18 in the United States. HSAs offer significant financial benefits including tax, premium, & retirement savings for you, your family, and/or your business. Knowledge is power when it comes to your finances!

A Health Savings Account enables you to:

1) Have access to a wide PPO network and in most cases provides the coverage to allow you to continue seeing your current doctors & specialists.

2) Lower your health insurance premium by 25% – 50%. to accomplish this, be sure to fully compare health insurance plans. One can typically save between 80 to 250 dollars per month when they change their plan over from a traditional health insurance plan to an HSA qualified high deductible health savings plan. Now make sure to forget any preconceived notions you may have about having a high deductible. Do not pay attention to what you may have heard. Don’t be deceived! Although you’ll now have high deductible insurance, there are safety nets that will be there to catch you if & when the need arises.

After your HSA is setup, the first step to take is to place money you save from having a lower monthly premium and place it into your new Health Savings Account each month. Realize that doing this really doesn’t cost you anything; you are simply transferring the money you have just saved into a new location.

3) Next, enjoy IRS created triple tax advantages (see the “a-b-c” listed below) that HSAs uniquely offer. Reduce your annual out-of-pocket income taxes up to $1800 or more. You’ll save EVERY year on taxes from here on out. Below are your three main tax-saving pillars.

a) HSA Contributions (deposits into your HSA account) are 100% tax free

b) The interest on all of your account investment gains are also 100% tax free. The choice of investments is yours and range anywhere from low-interest, virtually zero risk bank rates to the widest range of stocks, bonds, & mutual funds. The level of risk is entirely up to you and you can modify it anytime.

c) Make 100% tax-free withdrawals for any HSA Eligible Expenses.

While your funds grow tax free, you are now building a significant retirement account of up to several hundred thousand dollars. If you must use the money to cover any part of your deductible, you can make a tax free withdrawal and use the funds. These benefits & factors discussed above diminish the impact of having a high deductible plan. Furthermore, realistically there will often be periods of time where your money is solely growing because you have no medical expenses.

Here is another benefit. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rule says that at age 65 the money from your Health Savings Account can be withdrawn penalty-free for any reason, not only for qualified medical expenses. At that time you will pay only regular income taxes if you do not use the funds for medical expenses. The good thing however is that your income during retirement generally goes way down. Your tax rate will follow & you’ll be paying lower income taxes. Of course the funds may continue to be used entirely tax free for HSA eligible expenses.

Finally, take comfort as that the funds in your HSA-account are always yours without exception, and they rollover 100% from year to year. You are permitted to even do a one time rollover from an IRA into a Health Savings Account without any penalty, if you choose.

And yes … you may continue fully contributing to your IRA every year while still making the maximum allowed HSA contributions. Having both types of retirement accounts is the ultimate scenario, but if you can only contribute to one type… I would certainly recommend the Health Savings Account. This is because HSAs unlike IRAs are more than solely a retirement savings vehicle.

The straight truth is that many people are still rather unclear about HSA Health Savings Plans and what they truly accomplish. Too often, an individual or business’s insurance broker has not kept them properly up-to-date on all the benefits available to them. Remember that although every agent & broker is obligated by a legal fiduciary duty to serve his or her client’s best interest at all times, this duty is typically not policed or enforced by the Department of Insurance. It is not that the agents/brokers lack competency. But truly, what incentives do they really have to educate their clients on HSAs if doing so will lower their commissions? Not much of one. But who loses….YOU!

Last but not least, although the health insurance companies are legally obligated to offer HSA health savings plans in their product lines, they are not going out of their way to promote & publicize the full advantages of HSA plans. Doing so would also lower THEIR profits.

You are probably now realizing that as an insurance consumer, you really must take matters into your own hands and become accurately informed. Despite what you may have heard, HSAs are actually beneficial to anyone, not just the wealthy, or only people nearing retirement age. Regardless of income level, if you pay for health insurance, you owe it to yourself to consider and compare the benefits of an HSA health savings plan versus the more traditional health plan you are probably accustomed to. The expert advisers at HSA Health Savings are on a mission as millions of folks and their families are missing out on the tremendous financial benefits that are so readily attainable RIGHT NOW. We are thrilled because the benefits of health savings plans can literally transform the financial portfolio of people just like YOU.

An Online Health Food Store Supplies More Info For Consumers on Natural Products Like Health Drinks

Online Health Food Stores have become a one-stop shop for health drinks and all natural foods that you can’t find in typical supermarkets or even retail health food stores. While it’s difficult these days to determine what items are really healthy and “natural” by looking at labels, online health food stores often have far more in-depth information available to consumers. Many times, products like health drinks may have only one natural ingredient, but still be labeled, “natural”, which does not always mean they’re healthy. This can be confusing for health conscious shoppers who want the highest quality nutrition.

Online health food stores are often much more thorough in describing the true nature of their health drinks and other products. They go to great lengths assuring customers that things like preservatives, isolated vitamins, artificial dyes or sweeteners are not included in their all natural foods and health drinks. They investigate the manufacturing facilities and processes to be certain that products are processed at low temperatures to maintain the whole food structures and live enzymes inherent in truly natural ingredients. Unfortunately, some of the so-called health drinks and all natural foods at typical stores are devoid of nutrients because of the processing and pasteurization in the packaging processes.

There has never been a better time to discover a new way of shopping for healthy products. Here are a few examples of things you will find at an online health food store that may appear the same as typical store bought items on the surface, but are vastly different in the way they are processed:

* Vitamins – At the online health food store it is more likely these are whole food vitamins, not isolated vitamins, which will give you more effective absorption of nutrients directly into your cells.

* Natural low carb and high fiber foods – These are not fake-food substitutes, but real, all natural food formulas prepared with long-term results in mind.

* Health drinks and teas – Not enhanced bottled waters or candy colored sport drinks, but herbal beverages with whole food ingredients and live enzymes.

* Alkaline Foods and Drinks – Unlike overly processed foods and drinks that create an acid ash in the bloodstream, alkaline foods and drinks support a healthy pH balance, so you can avoid health problems such as bone weakness and arthritis.

* Nutrition for athletes and pregnant women – Concentrated with many pounds of natural ingredients to produce one pound of finished product, these online health food store products provide more power in fewer calories.

Many of the all natural foods and health drinks from an online health food store are likely to contain ingredients that have been grown on small farms or even in the wilderness, without the use of harmful pesticides and chemical fertilizers that are robbing our foods of real nutrients. This is far different from mass-produced products made with so-called “natural” ingredients that have been manufactured on giant factory farms with artificial fertilizers and dangerous pesticides.

If you wouldn’t use it in your own garden, then you probably won’t find it in products grown for all natural foods and health drinks at an online health food store. You would be surprised to know how many non-organic foods, and even some labeled as “natural”, have been grown that way. The United States Department of Agriculture defines organic food as produced by a farmer practicing soil and water conservation. In addition, they must make use of renewable resources in order to protect the environment for future generations. These are the types of all natural foods and health drinks that you will find at a reliable online health food store.

Today, some people avoid healthy lifestyle choices because they think the cost is too high or that alternative choices will rob them of modern day conveniences. However, it is important to realize that modern technology can bring those conveniences to anyone with Internet access. If you can Google, you can find an “online health food store with all natural health drinks”. Don’t fall into the unfortunate trap of not making the switch because you believe that you can’t afford all natural foods and health drinks without making major sacrifices. It won’t matter if the weather is bad or if you don’t have time to get to the market. It’s easy to order health drinks and other items from an online health food store with more detailed information on what you are buying than you could ever get from a typical store.

As consumers, we know that it is time to restore ourselves with nature. The quick fix and shortcuts that have rooted us in our everyday lives no longer serve us well, if they ever really did. This is not a passing fad. It is a wake up call that you see more and more as online health food store owners are leading the way for a green generation to discover a better way of shopping for truly all natural foods and health drinks.