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What Everyone Should Know About Seasonal Flu and the Seasonal Flu Vaccine


Seasonal flu is not just a really bad cold. The flu is a contagious illness that affects the nose, throat, lungs and other parts of the body. It can spread quickly from one person to another. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something - such as a surface or object - with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

Every year in the U.S., on average:

•5% to 20% of the population gets the flu,
•More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu complications and;
•About 23,500 (and as high as about 48,000) people die from seasonal flu.

The best way to prevent seasonal flu is by getting a flu shot or flu spray vaccination every year.

You can't get flu from getting a flu vaccine!
The flu vaccine does not give you the flu. It stimulates your body to produce antibodies. These antibodies provide protection against infection by flu viruses.

The flu vaccine takes about two weeks after vaccination for the antibodies to provide protection against influenza virus infection. Until then, you are still at risk for getting the flu.

Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious complications from seasonal flu. Those who live or work with people who are at high risk should get vaccinated against seasonal influenza.

The flu vaccine is not approved for use in children younger than 6 months old but their risk of flu complications is higher than for any other child age group.  The best way to protect children younger than 6 months is to make sure members of their household and their caregivers are vaccinated.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month

December 27, 2011  

Belleville, IL (PRWEB) 

Nearly 13,000 American women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2011, and more than 4,000 died from an advanced form of the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Allsup, a nationwide provider of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) representation, works with hundreds of cancer patients each year, and is raising awareness of the need for screening and preventive care during Cervical Health Awareness Month in January.

Regular Pap tests, which detect significant abnormal cell changes that may arise before cancer develops, reduce deaths from cervical cancer. Women who have never been screened or who have not been screened in the past five years face a greater risk of developing invasive cervical cancer. Most medical experts agree women age 21 (or younger, if they are sexually active) to about 70 should be screened every two to three years. Women should seek expert medical advice about when they should begin screening, how often they should be screened, and when they can discontinue cervical screenings, especially if they are at higher than average risk due to factors such as HIV infection.

Despite the effectiveness of Pap tests in preventing deaths, the most recent NCI statistics (2005) indicate that more than 20 percent of women aged 18 and older had not had a Pap test within the past three years.

According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, while routine administration of Pap tests is the best method to detect cervical cancer at an early stage, vaccines have the potential to protect women from the disease by targeting cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV, a virus transmitted through sexual contact, is the single known cause of cervical cancer.

Click here for the full article.

Midland woman avoids Medicare scam, warns others

By Cheryl Wade for the Midland Daily News 

Posted: Saturday, December 24, 2011 7:00 am

A Midland woman offered a “new Medicare card” over the phone on Wednesday avoided a scam, reported it to a government office and wants to warn others.  Carol Struthers, 83, said she received a phone call from a male caller with a heavy accent, and the man told her she was to receive a new Medicare card.

“He had my name, address, telephone number; he assumed I was on Medicare,” Struthers said. The man passed her to a supervisor, and she heard noise in the background, “People talking and stuff like that,” she said.  The supervisor reviewed her information, including the name of her bank, which she unwittingly had divulged. The man then told her there was so much noise that he would have to call her back in a few minutes.

“I got to thinking about that,” she said of the experience. “Anytime, I have a connection with Medicare, it comes in the mail, explaining what it is and what they need.”

Her suspicions caused her to call Medicare, and someone connected her with the fraud hotline of the Office of the U.S. Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services. When she called the number and explained what had happened, she quickly was connected to a live person - no dangling on the line, she said. The person on the other end told her the call she had received was fraudulent. The suspicious person probably would call her back and ask for her bank account number.

“There’s no way I’m going to give that away,” she said.  She ended up talking to someone else on the phone and, if the suspicious caller had tried to contact her again, she was unaware of it because she was using the phone.

“It all happened very quickly,” Struthers said.

Struthers surely did the right thing by reporting the suspicious call to the office of the Inspector General said Don White, spokesperson for that Washington, D.C. office. Although he had no numbers for scams reported to the hotline, he said scams are “way too common...and they are difficult to track and they’re difficult to stop.”

Struthers had wondered if the call had come from some disreputable insurance outfit, but White said that’s not likely.

Insurance companies are fairly heavily regulated at the state level,” he said. “If you were a legitimate insurance company doing something like this, you would lose your license. You couldn’t operate in the state at all.”

White talked about what has become an all too familiar scenario: A caller might congratulate a person on receiving a $5,000 grant, and all the recipient has to do is wire a $300 processing fee. He also has heard cases in which someone was to receive a wheelchair, but never received it. Instead the cost of a wheelchair was billed fraudulently to the person’s Medicare number. Should the person later need a wheelchair, Medicare wouldn’t pay for what the government agency would surmise was a second chair.

Click here for full article.

Half a Million Vulnerable Seniors in Jeopardy of Losing Key Medicare Benefit if Congress Fails to Act

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2011 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/

by the National Council on Aging

While the payroll tax, physician payment fix ("doc fix"), and unemployment insurance extensions have received great attention in the media and on the Hill this week, few have focused on the fact that seniors with incomes below $15,000 per year are at risk of losing access to critical medical services if Congress does not approve the so-called "extenders package" this week.

The Qualified Individual (QI) program is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2011. QI is critical to many seniors whose incomes are between 120-135% of the federal poverty level (about $13,068 to $14,702 annually for 2011). Without an extension, states would have the right to terminate benefits on Jan. 1, 2012.

The QI program pays for Medicare Part B premiums that cover physician and other outpatient services. Without QI assistance, these Medicare beneficiaries, who are struggling under the economic downturn, would be forced to spend about 10% of their limited incomes each year just on Part B premiums ($99.90 per month in 2012), or lose their Part B benefit altogether, leaving them with significant, unaffordable out-of-pocket costs every time they need to see a doctor.

Those who lose coverage will be more likely to need more expensive care at some point, such as in an emergency room, and other outpatient services. If they later decide to re-enroll, they would face the full premium plus a harsh add-on penalty.

Although about 1.5 million beneficiaries are eligible for QI protection, only about one-third actually receive it, largely due to lack of resources devoted to education, outreach, and enrollment efforts.

"Failure by Congress to extend the QI program before the New Year would be a devastating blow to 500,000 low-income older Americans," said James Firman, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

Click here for the full article.

It's Not Too Late to Vaccinate!


Don't fall for the myth that it's too late to vaccinate against the flu once the Thanksgiving holidays are over. As long as flu viruses are spreading and causing illness, vaccination can provide protection against the flu. According to the latest CDC Flu activity report, influenza levels are currently low across the country. However, flu activity doesn't usually peak until January or February in the United States and can last as late as May, so it's important to vaccinate now if you haven't already.

An Annual Flu Vaccine for Everyone 6 Months of Age and Older

CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. A flu vaccine offers the best protection we have against this serious disease. Once vaccinated, it takes about 2 weeks for the body's immune response to fully kick in.

High-Risk Groups

There are certain people who are at high-risk of developing serious flu-related complications:

•Pregnant women
•Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
•People 65 years of age and older
•People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
•A full list of people at high risk of serious complications from flu because of age or other medical conditions is available at

In addition, there are other people for whom vaccination is especially important:

•People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
•People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
◦Health care workers
◦Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
◦Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)

Click here for the full article.


Social Security and You: Applying for Medicare

Updated 12:06 p.m., Friday, December 16, 2011


Question: I am going to wait until my full retirement age of 66 to apply for retirement benefits. However, I will be 65 in 2012. I am no longer working. Do I apply for Medicare at age 65, or do I wait until I apply for Social Security retirement at age 66?

Answer: Even if you have decided to wait until after you are age 65 to apply for retirement benefits, most people should start getting Medicare coverage at age 65. If you would like to begin your Medicare coverage when you first become eligible, it's important that you apply within three months of reaching age 65.

But don't worry about the time and effort it will take to apply for Medicare — it's fast and easy! You can do it online at in as little as 10 minutes. Why apply online for Medicare? It is fast, easy and secure. You do not need an appointment, and you can avoid waiting in traffic or in line. As long as you have 10 minutes to spare, you have time to complete and submit your online Medicare application.

People who started receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits before age 65 do not need to apply; they will be enrolled automatically in Medicare.

To learn more about Medicare benefits, visit To learn more about Medicare and the online application, visit


Safety 101 For Seniors at Home

by Touchstone Health

Senior citizens and those with disabilities are more prone to accidents in the home.  Let’s avoid them by following some simple tips to keep safe in the home.

• Ensure throw rugs and loose carpeting are secured to the floor.  Also do not place near stairs.
• Place cords and wires where no one can trip over them.
• Obtain a step stool that is stable and in good condition.  Choose one with a handrail and avoid standing on chairs and boxes.
• Install non-skid mats in the bathtubs and showers.
• Test water temperature before getting into the shower or bathtub.
• Have grab bars in the shower or bathtub.  One grab bar is a good start but two grab bars are even better.
• If you have stairs in the home, install handrails on both sides of the stairs.
• Keep stairs well lit.  Be sure to upgrade the wattage level in lights to keep them bright.
• Install nightlights in every bedroom, bathroom, hallway and the kitchen.
• Avoid wet floors.
• Try to purchase appliances that automatically shut off.
• Buy a gripper tool to help pick things up off the floor and to grab items from high shelves.
• Keep a telephone close to your bed. 
• Have a cell phone or a call alert system on you at all times.
• Keep an emergency contact list next to all phones and in the kitchen.  Give a copy to a close neighbor, friend and relative. 
• Schedule a daily call or a daily visit from a relative, neighbor or friend.

Misconceptions about the flu shots

Getting a seasonal flu shot is important for seniors!  Questions and answers from

Can a flu shot give you the flu?

No, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. The influenza viruses contained in a flu shot are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection. Flu vaccine manufacturers kill the viruses used in the vaccine during the process of making vaccine, and batches of flu vaccine are tested to make sure they are safe. In randomized, blinded studies, where some people get flu shots and others get salt-water shots, the only differences in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot. There were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat.

More information about these studies is available at:

•Carolyn Bridges et al. (2000). Effectiveness and cost-benefit of influenza vaccination of healthy working adults: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 284(13):1655—1663.
•Kristin Nichol et al. (1995). The effectiveness of vaccination against influenza in healthy working adults. New England Journal of Medicine. 333(14): 889-893.

Why do some people not feel well after getting the seasonal flu shot?

The most common side effect of seasonal flu shots in adults has been soreness at the spot where the shot was given, which usually lasts less than two days. The soreness is often caused by a person's immune system making protective antibodies to the killed viruses in the vaccine. These antibodies are what allow the body to fight against flu. The needle stick may also cause some soreness at the injection site. According to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), rare symptoms include fever, muscle pain, and feelings of discomfort or weakness. If these problems occur, they are very uncommon and usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days.

Click here for the full article.

Medicare increases consumer access to provider data News
Sunday December 11, 2011

Consumers and employers will have the healthcare information they need to make more informed choices about their care under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced in a final rule Monday.

The rule gives qualified organizations, such as employers and consumer groups, access to data that can help them identify high quality healthcare providers or create online tools to help consumers make educated healthcare choices. Information that could identify specific patients, however, will not be publicly released and strong penalties will be in place for any misuse of data.

"This is a giant step forward in making our healthcare system more transparent and promoting increased competition, accountability, quality and lower costs," Marilyn Tavenner, RN, BSN, MHA, acting CMS administrator, said in a news release. "This provision of the healthcare law will ensure consumers have the access they deserve to information that will help them receive the highest quality care at the best value for their dollar."

For years, according to CMS, employers, consumers and healthcare quality advocates have expressed frustration about the limited and piecemeal availability of Medicare data that could be used to help evaluate healthcare provider or supplier performance. Although many health plans have created provider and supplier performance reports, these reports are based solely on the health plans' own claims, and do not reflect information from other health plans, including Medicare.

Providers, too, have expressed frustration at receiving performance reports that are piecemeal and produced without an opportunity for review and correction. This final rule creates a framework for providers to receive a single, actionable performance report covering all or most of their practice.

The final rule makes a number of important changes from the original proposed rule. The final rule makes this data less costly for qualified entities, gives qualified organizations more flexibility in their use of Medicare data to create performance reports for consumers, and extends the time period for healthcare providers to confidentially review and appeal performance reports before they become public.

The rule also includes strict privacy and security requirements to protect patients and healthcare providers and suppliers, as well as stringent penalties for any misuse of Medicare data.

For more information on the final rule, visit and to download a PDF of the rule, visit

What Every Baby Boomer Should Know About Medicare

By Caroline E. Mayer, Kaiser Health News

Dec 05, 2011

Throughout Robert Joseph's career, the Alvin, Texas, electrician always understood his health insurance policies. "I've never had a problem," Joseph says, "until I tried to sign up for Medicare."

The chief reason: Joseph didn't sign up when he turned 65. He was still working, receiving health insurance from his employer. And when his company went bankrupt at the end of 2009 -- Joseph was then 67 -- he received 18 months of severance pay.

"On my last day of work, I went to the Social Security office, asking for some guidance," recalls Joseph. He never spoke to an expert; instead, he says, he was handed a couple of forms to complete. He researched his Medicare handbook, which noted that "current" employees didn't need to apply for Medicare. Since he continued to get monthly severance checks that deducted Medicare taxes and he was allowed to continue buying health insurance through the same carrier for the 18 months, he thought he could wait to join Medicare. He was wrong.

Medicare no longer considered him a "current" employee and said he should have enrolled within eight months of his layoff, not 18 months later. As a result, for the rest of his life, Joseph may have to pay extra on his monthly Medicare premium (10 percent for each year he delayed enrollment after his job ended). Even worse, Joseph will be without any insurance for a year. Under Medicare rules, he has to wait until the next open enrollment period, beginning in January, to sign up, and coverage won't begin until July.

Joseph is not alone. "We're seeing various people who delayed enrollment into Medicare for various reasons," says Frederic Riccardi, director of programs and outreach at the Medicare Rights Center, a nonprofit group that helps people with Medicare disputes.

Click here for the full article.

Y0064_H3327_THPSMK_2060 Approved
Touchstone Health HMO, Inc. is a Medicare-approved Health Maintenance Organization with a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug contract with the federal government and a contract with the New York State Medicaid program. The plan is available to anyone enrolled in Part A and Part B through age or disability and who continues to pay their Medicare Part B premium. Copayment, service area, and benefit limitations apply. Members must use contracted providers to receive plan benefits, except in an emergency, urgent care, and for out-of-area dialysis. The Touchstone Health Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug plans are Total, Prestige, Power, Clear and Freedom. Enrollment in Touchstone Health depends on contract renewal.