Top 5 End of Year Health Tips
The end of the year and the holiday season tends to be a busy time: filled with friends, family, parties – and the requisite cleaning, cooking, decorating and shopping that accompanies the festivities. This time of year, be sure to take care of yourself before getting overwhelmed with entertaining and the holidays. Don’t wait until it is time to make a New Year’s Resolution to focus on your health. The National Kidney Foundation offers 5 year end health tips so that you don’t miss any deadlines. Why put off until tomorrow what you can take care of today?
- Use up your flex spend dollars. Flexible spending accounts (FSAs) allow people to allocate money, tax-free, to use towards health and dependent care expenses. The dollars you set aside through FSAs are “use them or lose them,” so be sure to spend all that you’ve set aside before the end of the calendar year. Some plans also require that you submit your reimbursement receipts prior to the end of the year, so be sure to compile all of your receipts and send in the necessary paperwork so that you will be compensated for your expenses. Not sure how to use up your extra flex spend cash? Prescription medications and other out-of-pocket medical expenses such as eyeglasses or contact lenses are typically covered by these accounts.
- Pencil in a year-end checkup. If you haven’t already received an annual physical, schedule it before the end of the year. Most health insurance plans cover one full physical per year, but be sure to check your specific coverage. Major risk factors for kidney disease include high blood pressure, diabetes, and a family history of kidney failure, so while you’re at your appointment, remember to speak up on behalf of your kidney health. Print out this go–to kidney health checklist to help guide you through what to tell your primary care provider and what to ask for in terms of testing. It also highlights healthy test ranges so you’ll be able to better decipher what your lab results mean when you receive them.
- Enroll or re-enroll in health insurance. The Health Insurance Marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) opened for enrollment on October 1st. If you enroll by December 15th and make your first premium payment by that date, your coverage will begin on January 1, 2014. Open enrollment in the Marketplace ends March 31, 2014. People without insurance coverage by March 31, 2014 are subject to fines of $95 per adult, $47.50 per child, or 1% of your income (whichever is higher). Many private health insurers have their own designated periods of open-enrollment, so be sure to check with your employer about your enrollment and re-enrollment deadlines if you have insurance coverage through work. If you qualify for Medicare Advantage plans or Medicare Part D plans, open enrollment begins October 15th and ends December 7th. If you are eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), you will continue to be able to apply for coverage year-round.
- Get a flu shot. As flu season approaches, it’s important for kidney patients to prevent getting the flu and obtaining a flu shot early in the season is a critical first step. All patients with kidney disease, including those who have received a kidney transplant, should get a flu shot. Nervous of needles? There’s a nasal mist flu vaccine called FluMist® that is also available, but it's always important to check with your doctor to determine which type of flu vaccine is best for you. Transplant patients should not receive the nasal form of the vaccine because it contains live, weakened vaccine components that the transplant patients' immune systems may not be able to handle. Instead, transplant patients should receive the regular injection for the flu shot. Don’t forget to also make sure your other vaccinations are up-to-date. Check with your healthcare provider to determine whether your pneumonia and whooping cough vaccines are current.
- Create an advance directive. An advance directive is a legal document that tells doctors and health care providers how you want them to carry out medical decisions if you cannot communicate these decisions for yourself. There are two basic kinds of advance directives and they involve creating a living will and designating a health care proxy to make health care decisions on your behalf. A living will spells out what type of medical care you do or do not want if you become unable to make these decisions for yourself. A health care proxy or durable power of attorney for health care decisions allows you to name someone, such as a husband, wife, daughter, son or close friend, to act on your behalf if you are unable to make medical decisions. It is important to ask this person if he or she is willing to act as your "agent" and to discuss what treatments you do and don’t want. Many decisions can be made by patients and their families before a medical crisis occurs. For more information about advance directives, visit the A-Z Guide.