Health

Most people with health … … employer paid health … really don’t know what their health care costs are. … in many cases, they are limited in which health …

Most people with health insurance, especially employer paid health insurance, really don’t know what their health care costs are. Furthermore, in many cases, they are limited in which health providers (doctors, hospitals, pharmacies etc) they can use.

Most people are locked into a network of doctors. They know what the co-pay is, but have no idea what the doctor actually charges.

When insured consumers are hospitalized, they rarely see the bill. They don’t know if the insurance company was overcharged or not. There are firms that audit hospital bills for insurers and self insured companies. They get paid a percentage of what they save on the bill payer by finding overcharges, duplicate charges and the like. The last I heard these firms were still making lots of money.

Overcharging, whether deliberate or not, by doctors and hospitals drive up health care costs for all. (So do malpractice suits, but that’s another story.)

In order to give consumers more direct control not only over their health costs, but in the choice of which doctor they can see or which hospital they can enter, Congress enacted the Health Savings Account Availability Act. As of the beginning of 2004, individuals who are not otherwise insured can have Health Savings Accounts (HSA) , which carry with them some very attractive tax benefits.

An individual can set up an HSA for himself or his family. An employer can add an HSA option to the so-called cafeteria benefit plan it may already offer.

The money put into the plan is before taxes, including Social Security, if part of an employer plan. Otherwise it is a above-the-line deduction, meaning you don’t have to itemize your deductions to get the tax break and that the deduction is not subject to the phase-out rules that make many itemized deductions unavailable to high wage earners.

The plan is set up like an IRA. A trustee approved by the IRS must be used. Money put in the plan grows tax free and funds withdrawn for qualified medical expenses are also tax free. Unlike the older Flexible Savings Accounts offered in employer cafeteria plans, you don’t have to spend the money put into the account by year end or otherwise lose whatever’s left. Money can be rolled over from year to year. This can allow for a nice chunk of money to accumulate that can be withdraw tax free at age 65.

In order to qualify, the individual or family must purchase a high deducible health insurance policy. These are special policies that have a minimum deductible of $1000 to a maximum of $5000 for an individual and $2000 to $10,000 for a family. The higher the deductible, the lower the premium.

Individuals can deduct the lesser of $2250 or the deductible on the policy: for married couples or families it is double that. If over 55, the deduction is $600 higher for individual and $1200 higher for couples and will continue to rise at $100 a year until 2009, where it will be capped at $1000 for individuals and $2000 for families.

The money in the HSA cannot be used to pay the premiums for this policy except in certain circumstances (basically when you’re unemployed). It is meant to meet the deductible, co-pays, drug costs, eyeglasses or any other medical expense that could be itemized on an individual tax return as a medical expense.

Money withdrawn in excess of qualified medical expenses is taxed as income and subject to a 10% penalty, unless the owner is disabled or over 65. Any money in the account at death is added to the taxable estate.

There are no income limits on this plan. If started early, when you are still young and healthy a substantial amount of money could accumulate to either meet higher medical costs as you get older or to use to supplement your income.

It pays to compare the costs of this plan with whatever your insurance you have now. It might turn out that your employer’s plan is still cheaper and you might want to keep it. Or you might want to consider HSA’s for their portability (you carry it from job to job without cost or loss of any contributions) and the tax benefit of having another vehicle to shelter income and capital growthBusiness Management Articles, while giving you more control over the cost and quality of your health care.

Health

The best thing you can do for your country today is to improve your health. Declining general health and and aging population our stressing our health care system beyond what it can handle. Find an accountability partner and move towards health, for your country’s sake.

Copyright (c) 2007 The Brain Code LLC

The plight of the baby boomers begins. Americans are getting older and this means greater demands on the health care system. A new study by the U.S. Center for Disease Control showed that doctor and hospital visits are up 20% in the last five years, a trend likely to continue.

The study revealed that Americans paid 2.5 billion visits to health care providers in 2005. That’s about 10 visits per person if you assume everyone in the country is making visits – which you know ain’t true. That means somebody’s going to the doctor a lot. And what are they walking away with? Antidepressants mostly – 118 million records of them, followed by heart meds and painkillers.

There’s always a side-effect

Couple this data with another new study that suggests antidepressants are associated with loss of bone density in older adults and we are asking for problems. Evidence is emerging that the most common class of antidepressants may contribute to fragile bones in the elderly.

This class of drugs works by altering how your brain uses serotonin, a major mood-regulating hormone. But serotonin is used in many other parts of the body as well, including the digestive system, the cardiovascular system and bone metabolism – therefore, side effects. One of these side effects now appears to be decreasing bone density and increasing risk for osteoporosis or bone fracture.

It’s never too late to start

However, amidst all of this doom and gloom there is light – if we decide to use it. Another study found that middle aged adults who adopt a healthy lifestyle can ‘catch up’ to already healthy folks in an average of four years. Researchers found that adults who started eating five servings of fruits and veggies, getting 2.5 hours per week of exercise, maintaining their weight in a healthyish range and refrained from smoking, decreased their chance of heart disease and death to that of healthy people.

The downside is that most people decide not to take advantage of their ability to recover and choose to remain on the slippery slope. Out of the 16,000 Americans followed in the study, only 8.5% were already doing what’s needed to maintain their health and another 8.4% picked up the habits with six years of the study’s beginning. Those that did reaped the rewards of reduced heart attacks and morbidity. Those that didn’t, well . . .

Find an accountability partner

It’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s just that we don’t do it. I encourage everyone to find an accountability partner and set a realistic health goal. Find someone that you can be honest with and that will help keep you on course when you falter. We are all much more likely to stay on track when we know someone will be asking us about our efforts. Make a contract with someone else to get your daily doses of fruits and veggies, get your 30 minutes of daily exercise and move closer to healthy weight.

The problem is that it’s no longer just about choosing to live healthy or not. The entire health care system is strained and on the verge of collapse. As the baby boomers move into their elder years it will be stressed even more. We must educate and motivate people into action, literally.

When John F. Kennedy said “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” he probably wasn’t thinking about taking a walk around the block. But now, more than 45 years after that famous speechArticle Submission, getting healthy is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself and your country.

Do you want to be a patriot? Eat an apple and go for a walk.