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GOP Fix To Insurance Markets Could Spike Premiums For Older Customers

Dale Marsh has not been enamored with his health insurance since the Affordable Care Act took effect. Premiums for Marsh, 53, and his wife, Tammy, rose, their deductibles grew, and they gave up access to their regular doctors to keep costs down. This year, facing monthly premiums of $1,131 — a 47 percent increase from four years before — they decided to go without coverage.

“It’s useless insurance,” said Marsh, who owns a software company with Tammy, 52, in Graford, Texas. “We’re praying for the best, that neither one of us need insurance, that we don’t have to go the hospital.”

Yet, a new premium spike may be in store for those in their 50s and 60s. As Republicans consider how to bring down costs for younger people, lawmakers are considering relaxing or eliminating the restrictions on how much more insurers can charge older consumers.

Middle-aged Americans already face the highest premiums in the health care markets for individuals who don’t get coverage from their workplace or the government. Plans are permitted to charge three times as much for a 64-year-old as for a 21-year-old. Last year 3.3 million consumers ages 55 through 64 bought insurance on the marketplaces. That was a quarter of all those covered, more than any other age group tracked by the federal government, data show.

The GOP has not unified behind a single plan, but one proposal last year by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would let insurers make older people pay five times more than young adults. Another plan offered by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price when he was a Georgia congressman would do away entirely with age restrictions and instead give tax credits that increase by age. House Republican leaders embraced a similar concept of tax credits this month.

The politics for Republicans are precarious as older voters are such an important part of their support. More than half of consumers who bought insurance on the federal exchanges last year in Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — all important states in the presidential election — were 45 or older, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis. Insurance purchasers in Florida and Michigan also trend older than in most states.

Many older customers think current prices are not fair. “I’m in excellent health, I don’t live at the pharmacy,” said Susan Finney, a 59-year-old commercial real estate broker in Chesterfield, Mo. “I’m a walker, four miles a day.”

Finney said her monthly premiums have risen from $490 to $793 since 2015. “The health insurance companies are out of control,” she said.

Before the health law, insurers selling policies to individuals could base their premiums on several factors, including age, gender and health history. That meant many states allowed ratios of 5 to 1 or even higher.

The insurance industry favors relaxing the age rules, arguing it will allow them to reduce rates for younger consumers, who are coveted because they tend to be healthier and thus use fewer medical services. Last year 2.2 million people ages 26 to 34 obtained coverage on the markets — a third fewer than purchasers ages 55 and over. The imbalance between young and older consumers is one reason premiums jumped in many markets this year.

Two studies predict changing the age rules to 5 to 1 would lead to double-digit spikes in premiums for older people and significant but smaller reductions for the young. A major reason for the dramatic swings is that age is one of the few elements that insurers are allowed to consider when setting rates. The 2010 health law barred insurers from considering most other factors, including the health and medical histories of people when setting rates and their genders.

The actuarial firm Milliman estimated that if insurers were allowed to charge older people five times more than young ones, adults in their 20s would see their annual premiums drop by $696 — 15 percent — to $4,008 next year.

But those savings would pale next to the added burdens on older people, Milliman said. Those in their 60s would see average annual premiums rise by 22 percent, growing by $3,192 to $17,916, according to Milliman’s projections, which were commissioned by AARP. That lobbying group for older Americans opposes loosening the age rules. A study last year by the Rand Corp. for the Commonwealth Fund, a New York foundation, projected up to 29 percent premium increases.

“We do need to make it more affordable for young people,” said Susan Murray, the Marshes’ health insurance broker in Dallas. But, she said, plans are already too expensive for many older people who earn too much to qualify for financial assistance from the government. “There are the lost people like Dale who just can’t afford it,” she said.

James Capretta, a former budget adviser to President George W. Bush now at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, said older people can afford to pay higher premiums than young people, especially if Republicans add other provisions to cushion them from the highest costs.

“People 50 to 65 are probably in their higher earning years, they’ve had the capacity to work and save more,” Capretta said. “People at 25 are just starting out, and we’re adding this additional burden on them.”

Others worry the changes might backfire by discouraging healthy older people from signing up. “Those are the very people you want to keep,” said Sabrina Corlette, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. “They’re healthy, and because they’re older, they pay a higher premium.”

It’s not clear how many people would be swayed to buy — or drop — insurance if age changes were made. Milliman estimates that if the age ratio was increased to 5 to 1, enrollment for people ages 50 and older would drop by 18,000, while enrollment for those under 50 would increase by 386,000. That would mean a net increase in enrollment of 2 percent. Rand had more seismic estimates, predicting 3 million people under 35 would gain coverage but 700,000 people over 47 would drop coverage.

“Reduced coverage among older adults, who are at greater risk for health problems, under the 5:1 approach could likewise raise costs for hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers, who will see more uncompensated care,” the Rand economists wrote.

As Republicans mull various ideas to lower premiums, health economists say each has drawbacks. Some want to give the most expensive patients separate insurance underwritten by the government, which would add billions to the budget deficit.

Others want to trim all the types of services insurers must cover, but savings would be limited by the fact that the costliest kinds of care, including hospitals, doctors and prescription drugs, are the ones that most people can’t do without. Lawmakers are considering several methods to make sure healthy people buy insurance, including automatically enrolling them and letting insurers charge higher rates to those who let their coverage lapse.

Price suggested replacing income-based tax credits with age-based tax credits up to $3,000, but those wouldn’t even cover the premium increases anticipated by Rand and Milliman. It would be unlikely to be enough for someone like Robert Baker, a 59-year-old hairdresser in St. Louis, who says insurance costs are too high even though he qualifies for an income-related subsidy.

Baker said he did not buy insurance this year. The 2008 financial crisis wiped him out, he said, and he needs to sock away earnings for retirement. “If I spend most of that on insurance, I won’t have any money when I’m old,” he said.

KHN’s coverage related to aging & improving care of older adults is supported by The John A. Hartford Foundation.

Some Immigrants, Fearful Of Political Climate, Shy Away From Medi-Cal

Some foreign-born Californians are canceling their Medi-Cal coverage or declining to enroll in the first place, citing fears of a Trump administration crackdown on immigrants.

Among those dropping coverage are people in the country legally but concerned about jeopardizing family members who lack permanent legal status, according to government officials, immigration attorneys and health care advocates.

Others worry they will be penalized in the future for using public benefits such as Medi-Cal, the state’s version of the federal Medicaid program that provides health coverage to low-income residents.

“We’re hearing from a lot of counties that they’re getting calls from immigrant families who are receiving benefits, or whose children are citizens and may be receiving benefits, asking to be disenrolled,” said Cathy Senderling-McDonald, deputy executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California in Sacramento, which represents human services directors from the state’s 58 counties.

Senderling-McDonald stressed that the reports are anecdotal but are coming from across the state. “It’s not just one or two counties,” she said.

Many immigrants are dropping out even though they are legally entitled to and eligible for the benefits they’re receiving, she said.

In reality, experts say, terminating benefits might not help since the immigrants’ names are already in the system.

The Community Health Initiative of Orange County, a nonprofit group that helps local residents apply for health coverage, has worked in the past month with two immigrant families that have withdrawn applications for Medi-Cal coverage.

In one case, a Santa Ana mother had applied in January for full Medi-Cal benefits for her daughter, an unauthorized immigrant, said Aaron Reyes, the group’s director of programs and policy.

But the mother called back about a week later and told them to scrap the application, even though California provides full Medi-Cal coverage to all low-income children, regardless of immigration status.

“She said she heard that Trump was going to deport people, and that they’re going to use the names of people who are getting services,” he said. “We told her there was currently nothing like that going on, but she didn’t want to take any chances.”

In the other case, a Buena Park mom submitted an application last month for Medi-Cal and food stamps for her daughter, a green-card holder. A few weeks later, she called back to cancel the application.

“The parent said she was afraid of Donald Trump and didn’t want any problems,” Reyes said.

President Trump has made cracking down on unlawful immigration a focal point of his presidency. In addition to fraying relations with Mexico over his plans to build a wall along the southern border, he has vowed to get tough on unauthorized immigrants already here. Two weeks ago, immigration authorities rounded up hundreds of people in deportation raids across the country, including in California.

Trump’s administration also has drafted an executive order that would, if implemented, exclude potential immigrants likely to need certain types of aid and deport those already in the United States who have used social services, according to a Washington Post analysis of the order. It also would require social service agencies to report immigrants receiving benefits to federal authorities.

“The overall climate has been terrifying for immigrant families,” said Tanya Broder, senior attorney at the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center. “We have literally heard from people who don’t know whether to continue cancer treatment. I encourage them to continue getting the care they need while they can get it.”

Broder wants immigrants to know that “at this point, the rules have not changed. The executive order has not been filed.”

Melissa Rodgers, director of programs for the San Francisco-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center, emphasized that immigrants who are currently receiving health care and nutrition benefits for which they’re eligible “are not breaking the law in any way.”

The most recent statistically credible statewide enrollment data from California’s Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) are about four months old, so they don’t yet show any possible Trump effect on enrollment.

Department spokesman Adam Weintraub said the federal government hasn’t imposed any significant changes on Medi-Cal since Trump’s inauguration.

But, he said, “DHCS cannot speculate as to any potential changes to the Medicaid program that may occur under a new administration.”

Weintraub added that the department “takes its responsibility to safeguard personal health information seriously” and shares only details about an applicant’s immigration status with the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and only “for the purposes of administering the Medicaid program.”

Two weeks ago, Ale Ricardez, program manager for San Diegans for Healthcare Coverage, spoke with a woman who had taken the first steps to rescind her family’s Medi-Cal application.

Everyone in the family is a citizen except the woman’s husband, who has work authorization and is in the process of getting his green card, Ricardez said.

“She was concerned that they would risk the immigration process for her husband if they continued with the application,” she said.

Ricardez told the woman that her family is legally entitled to the benefits as long as they qualify, but that didn’t change her mind, Ricardez said.

While some immigrants are canceling their coverage, others aren’t even signing up.

Alice Ting, an enrollment worker at Asian Pacific Health Care Venture, a group of clinics in Los Angeles and El Monte, received two calls in the past two weeks from nervous immigrants asking if they should cancel their Medi-Cal. Ultimately, they decided to remain enrolled after she explained they qualified, she said.

Another trend has grabbed her attention even more: She used to get daily phone calls from Chinese immigrants inquiring about how to apply for Medi-Cal. “I’ve noticed recently it’s decreased,” she said.

Jan Spencley, executive director of San Diegans for Healthcare Coverage, has witnessed a similar trend.

“We are seeing people who are not enrolling who are eligible, and people ending coverage who have it,” Spencley said. “People are not enrolling unless they have to.”

Advocates and immigration experts warn that dropping health coverage — or not signing up — might compromise public health, let alone an individual or family’s health.

“Letting fear lead to actual serious bodily harm, that’s really not the way to go,” Rodgers said. “If people need health care, they should get it.”

At the same time, Rodgers and others aren’t making promises about the future, because they don’t know what it holds.

“We don’t want to say, ‘This isn’t going to happen, don’t worry,’ and then have something bad happen,” Reyes said. “For us, it’s important to be as accurate as possible, which is really challenging right now.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Single-Payer Health Care Bill Introduced In California Senate

Legislation introduced in the California Senate last week would set the state on a path toward the possible creation of a single-payer health care system ― a proposal that has failed to gain traction here in the past.

The bill, which is a preliminary step, says that it is the “intent of the Legislature” to enact a law that would establish a comprehensive, single-payer health care program for the benefit of everyone in the state. The legislation, introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), does not offer specifics of what the plan would look like, nor does it mention a timetable.

A single-payer system would replace private insurance with a government plan that pays for coverage for everyone. Proponents argue that single-payer systems make health care more affordable and efficient, but opponents say they raise taxpayer costs and give government too much power.

Medicare, the federally-funded health coverage for the elderly, is often held up as a model of what a single-payer system might look like.

Lara said in an interview late last week that the state needs to be prepared in case the Affordable Care Act is repealed, as President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans have promised.

“The health of Californians is really at stake here and is at risk with what is being threatened in Congress,” Lara said, as the debate continued in Washington about the future of President Barack Obama’s signature health law. “We don’t have the luxury to wait and see what they are going to do and what the plan is,”

Lara noted that while the Affordable Care Act expanded health coverage for many Californians, it left others uninsured or underinsured. He said the single-payer bill builds upon his “health for all kids” legislation, which resulted in coverage beginning last May for 170,000 immigrant children here illegally.

“I’ve met many children who have asked me point blank, ‘What about my mom? What about my dad?’” Lara said.

He recently withdrew a request to the federal government, based on a bill he had introduced, that would have allowed adult immigrants here illegally to purchase unsubsidized health plans through Covered California, the state’s insurance exchange.

[caption id="attachment_188745" align="alignright" width="270"] Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens (Courtesy Sen. Lara’s office)[/caption]

According to the text of the Lara’s bill, a single-payer system would help address rising out-of-pocket costs and shrinking networks of doctors.

No state has a single-payer health system. Perhaps the best-known effort to create one was in Vermont, but it failed in 2014 after the state couldn’t figure out how to finance it. Last year, Colorado residents rejected a ballot measure that would have used payroll taxes to fund a near universal coverage system.

In California, voters rejected a ballot initiative in 1994 that would have established a government-run universal health program. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger later vetoed two bills that would have accomplished the same goal.

It’s difficult to create consensus on single-payer plans because they dramatically shift how health care is delivered and paid for, said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation (California Healthline is produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially-independent program of the foundation.)

“Single-payer plans have lots of appeal in their simplicity and ability to control costs,” Levitt said. “But what I think has always held back a move to single-payer is the disruption they create in financing and delivery of care.”

The problem, Levitt said, is that even if they end up costing less overall, single-payer plans look to the public like a “very big tax increase.”

The California Nurses Association, the primary sponsor of the new bill, is planning a rally in Sacramento this week in support of a single-payer system. Bonnie Castillo, the group’s associate executive director, said the goal is to create a system that doesn’t exclude anyone and helps relieve patients’ financial burdens.

“Patients and their families are suffering as a result of having very high co-pay and premium costs,” she said. “They are having to make gut-wrenching decisions whether they go to the doctor or they stick it out and see if they get better on their own.”

Castillo said that with so much uncertainty at the national level, California has the ability to create a better system. “We think we can get this right,” she said.

Charles Bacchi, president and CEO of the California Association of Health Plans, said he hadn’t yet seen the bill, but the trade group has opposed single-payer proposals in the past.

“It’s hard to tell until you know the details,” Bacchi said. “But past studies have shown [single-payer systems] are incredibly expensive and would be disruptive.”

He said health plans, doctors, hospitals and others are “laser-focused on protecting and enhancing the gains we have made in coverage” under the Affordable Care Act and ensuring that California continues to receive critical funding. “We think that’s where the focus should be,” he said.

One possible concept of a single-payer system in California would be to bring together funding from several sources under one state umbrella: Medi-Cal, which covers the poor; Medicare, the federal program that covers older adults, and private insurance.

Lara said he has not yet figured out the financing, saying that it is still early in the legislative process. But he said that even as California continues to defend the Affordable Care Act, it is time to put forward an alternative.

“I think we’ve reached a tipping point now that we haven’t had before,” he said.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

5 Mind-Body Exercises for a Healthier Heart

There are a myriad of factors that affect heart health. From regular exercise to smoking cessation to eating a nutritious diet, there are a number of things you can do to strengthen your heart. But did you know that the mind-body connection can also be a strong ally in reducing your risk of heart disease? While many of us think of physical health when it comes to heart health, research shows that your mood, outlook, and stress levels strongly affect the body—and the heart. This means that heart disease prevention isn't just a matter of eating better or exercising; engaging in stress-reducing exercises and mind-body practices can significantly improve the health of your heart, too. As a bonus, these activities have other body and mind benefits, too, like boosting your mood, helping you focus, improving your fitness, and increasing your overall life satisfaction. Talk about a win-win! Here are five mind-body activities you can incorporate into your healthy lifestyle to help your mind, body—and heart! Yoga Yoga is probably best known for its flexibility benefits, along with its ability to help you sleep better, feel better about yourself and promote mindfulness. But, yoga has also been shown to be a powerful contributor of heart health. In fact, according to November 2009 research published in the International Journal of Medical Engineering and Informatics, those who practice yoga have higher heart rate variability (a sign of a healthy heart) than those who do not regularly practice yoga. In addition, the study found that regular yogis had stronger parasympathetic control, which indicates better autonomic control over heart rate—a sign of a healthier heart. Another recent study by Ohio State University researchers, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, found that women who routinely practiced yoga had lower levels of the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) in their blood. IL-6 is part of the body's inflammatory response and has been correlated with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and a host of other age-related chronic diseases, making it a key marker in heart-health research. The women doing yoga also showed smaller increases in IL-6 in their blood after stressful experiences than women who were the same age and weight but who were not practicing yoga. Scientists believe that this indicates that yoga may also help people respond more calmly to stress in their everyday lives, which is a boon to heart health. Although researchers can't exactly pinpoint which part of yoga—the breathing, stretching, relaxation or meditation—is responsible for the positive results, it's encouraging to say the least! How to incorporate yoga in your life: Reap the heart-healthy benefits of yoga with just 20 minutes of yoga three times a week. Be sure to read our beginner's guide to yoga to get you started! Meditation There is ample research on how meditation can help reduce stress, which helps the heart stay healthy. But the most impressive study came from researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in collaboration with the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. After following about 200 patients for an average of five years, researchers found that high-risk patients who practiced Transcendental Meditation (where you sit quietly and silently repeat a mantra) cut their risk of heart attack, stroke and death from all causes almost in half compared to a group of similar patients who did not meditate. In addition, the group that meditated tended to remain disease-free longer, reduced their blood pressure and had lower stress levels. Researchers hypothesize that some of the benefits of meditation come from stress reduction, which causes a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol and dampens the inflammatory processes associated with atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries. How to incorporate meditation in your life: While the research focuses on Transcendental Meditation, there are a variety of ways to meditate including walking meditation, guided meditation via a CD or simply sitting and listening to the sounds around you. Starting out with just five minutes a day of quiet time with your thoughts can yield big results. For seven ways to get your zen on, click here. Pilates Pilates is a great form of exercise. Its mat-based moves have been shown to increase flexibility, build core strength, improve posture and alleviate lower-back pain. But did you also know that it can help prevent heart disease by improving the fitness of your heart? According to a 2005 report from the American College of Sports Medicine, a beginner Pilates workout counts as low- to moderate-intensity exercise, which is comparable to active stretching. Intermediate Pilates workouts are the cardio equivalent of working at a moderate-intensity level, such as speed walking at a rate of 4 to 4.5 mph on the treadmill. Advanced Pilates workouts provide the most cardiovascular benefit with a moderately high intensity, similar to basic stepping on a six-inch platform, according to the report. All Pilates workouts have also shown to improve circulation. In addition to improving the cardiovascular system, similar to yoga, Pilates also links movement to breath, enhancing your mind-body connection, and thereby reducing stress and lowering the heart rate. How to incorporate Pilates in your life: If you're ready to try Pilates, try this short lower body Pilates workout. You can add this on to the end of your usual cardio workout or do it first thing in the morning before heading to work. For best results, try to get in a short 10- to 20-minute Pilates workout three times a week. Tai Chi Also known as moving meditation, Tai Chi combines mental concentration with slow, controlled movements to focus the mind, challenge the body, and improve the flow of what the Chinese call "chi," or life energy. If you've ever seen someone doing Tai Chi, it looks like a slow and graceful low-impact dance. But Tai Chi isn't just slow dancing; it has serious health benefits, including improving heart function and decreasing blood pressure and stress reduction. In fact, a May 2010 systematic review in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that Tai Chi was effective in reducing stress, anxiety, depression and mood disturbance, and increasing self-esteem. How to incorporate Tai Chi in your life: Sign up at your local health club or community center for a series of Tai Chi classes with an experienced instructor. Practicing formally in class each week will give you the skills to practice Tai Chi on your own! Deep Breathing What do most of the above mind-body practices listed above have in common? That's right: deep, slow and controlled breathing! While not really an "exercise," the simple act of sitting and focusing on your breathing can do wonders for your heart. While there isn't much research on how deep breathing affects the heart, you can feel the results for yourself when you simply sit and take five big deep breaths, focusing on a deep inhale and exhale. You can almost instantaneously feel your body release stress and your mind calm down. Because it helps fuel your body and its cells with nutrient-rich oxygen, deep breathing has been shown to slow down the heart rate and lower blood pressure, making it the perfect heart-healthy activity when you're short on time and need a quick way to relieve some stress. How to incorporate deep breathing in your life: Try to take a few deep breaths at multiple times throughout the day. Making a habit to take three deep breaths upon waking, at lunch and when sitting in traffic can greatly benefit your heart health without disrupting your busy schedule. And, of course, when you're really feeling stressed, excuse yourself to the restroom for some deep breathing. They don't call it a "restroom" for nothing! Mind-body exercises are a powerful way to boost your heart health and keep your ticker ticking stronger and longer, so be sure to incorporate one or more of these mind-body exercises in your heart-healthy lifestyle. This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople fitness experts and certified personal trainers, Jen Mueller and Nicole Nichols. Sources: American College of Sports Medicine. "Pilates Research Offers New Information on Popular Technique," accessed March 2011. www.acsm.org. Associated Press. Breath Deep to Lower Blood Pressure, Doc Says," accessed March 2011. www.msnbc.msn.com. Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. "Effects of Stress Reduction on Clinical Events in African Americans With Coronary Heart Disease," accessed March 2011. www.circ.ahajournals.org. Cleveland Clinic. "Heart and Vascular Health Prevention: Pilates," accessed March 2011. www.my.clevelandclinic.org. Framson et al. Development and Validation of the Mindful Eating Questionnaire. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2009; 109 (8): 1439 DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.05.006 Sarnataro, Barbara Russi. "Tai Chi Exercises Both Mind and Body," accessed March 2011. www.webmd.com. Science Daily. "Tai Chi Gets Cautious Thumbs Up for Psychological Health," accessed March 2011. www.sciencedaily.com. ScienceDaily. "Yoga Boosts Heart Health, New Research Finds," accessed March 2011. www.sciencedaily.com. ScienceDaily. "Yoga Reduces Cytokine Levels Known to Promote Inflammation, Study Shows," accessed March 2011. www.sciencedaily.com. text Smith, Rebecca. "Meditation 'cuts risk of heart attack by half'," accessed March 2011. www.telegraph.co.uk.Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1613

Healthy Smile, Healthy Body

You probably don't think about your teeth that much unless you drink something icy cold or that little postcard reminding you to schedule your next dental appointment shows up in the mail. However, you should really give your pearly whites more attention. After all, your teeth are one of the first things people see when you smile and greet them, and your oral health can have a major impact on the health of not just your mouth, but your entire body. Cavities and gum disease may contribute to many serious conditions, including diabetes and respiratory diseases, and untreated cavities are not only be painful, but they can also lead to serious infections. While you may have been notoriously hard on their teeth as a kid and teenager (forgetting to brush and floss sometimes), most adults have it in their routine to brush at least twice a day. But what about flossing? Only 28% report doing it daily, even though most of us know better. And while you may also know better, Americans are also overconsuming junk food and sugar, which, when combined with a lack of flossing, is a recipe for oral health problems.  The Academy of General Dentistry estimates that 75 percent of Americans have some form of gum disease or gingivitis. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay affects one out of three adults. So how do your teeth have such an impact on your well-being, and how do you stay healthy by focusing on your mouth? Here's a guide to what you need to know about your oral health, and how to keep your mouth and teeth clean and beautiful! Gum Disease So just what is gum disease? Also called periodontal disease, it's an inflammation of the gums. Gum disease occurs when plaque, a sticky colorless film of bacteria, builds up on your teeth and hardens into a tartar that can cause infections in the gums. If it's not treated, gum disease can increase your risk of respiratory disease, as the bacteria in plaque can travel from the mouth to the lungs, causing infection or aggravating existing lung problems. Gum disease can also spread and affect the bones underneath the teeth, which eventually dissolve and no longer support the teeth in its place. (That's basically just a complicated way of saying that your teeth can fall out!) Research also shows a link between diabetes and gum disease. People with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease than non-diabetics are, so if you have diabetes or it runs in your family, you definitely want to take care of your teeth. (More on prevention later!) The moral of the story? Gum disease is bad news. The symptoms of gum disease can vary from one person to the next, but one telltale sign is usually swollen, tender and red gums. If your gums bleed when brushing or flossing, that can be a warning sign, as can receding gums, bad breath that won't go away, loose teeth or a change in your jaw alignment. If you're having any of these symptoms, be sure to tell your dentist. A dentist or a periodontist can tell you if you have gum disease or gingivitis (a type of gum disease) with an exam and usually an x-ray. Treatment usually involves plaque removal, medication and, in the worst cases, surgery. Cavities You probably already know a little about cavities, and chances are, you may have even had one or two. Cavities are a sign of tooth decay, which is a breakdown of a tooth's structure. The decay can affect the enamel of the tooth and the inside of the tooth, and is caused when sugary and starchy foods like soda, breads, baked goods and candy are left on the teeth. Your dentist will be able to tell if you have a cavity during your regular exam, but in the advanced stages of a cavity, you may get a toothache, especially after having sweet, hot, or cold food or drinks. You may also be able to see pits or holes in your teeth. A cavity is treated by a dentist. He or she can remove the decayed portion and replacing it with a filling. If the tooth decay is advanced and the tooth structure is affected, your dentist may have to put in a crown. Another good reason to avoid sugary foods, right? Teeth Spacing You may think that the spacing of your teeth is just a cosmetic issue, but it affects the health of your mouth, too. Teeth that are spaced too tightly together can create gum problems, just as teeth that are spaced improperly can allow food to get stuck between the teeth, therefore increasing the risk of gum disease. An orthodontist can help straighten out your teeth (yep, even as an adult) with braces, invisible retainers, or other treatments for optimal oral health. Other Issues If that wasn't enough, poor oral health has also been shown to cause sleeping issues, hurt your self-esteem, and diminish your ability to chew and digest food properly. And if you smoke (hopefully you don't!), it can be horrible on your teeth. Tobacco smoke and chewing tobacco are both very harmful to your gums, and toxins within these drugs can cause oral cancer, damage the bones around your teeth and result in tooth loss. Tips to Keep Mouths Happy Now that you know how important your mouth is to your overall health, how do you keep it healthy? Here are some tips for a clean mouth!

  • Mom was right! Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily. This keeps plaque at bay, improves breath and prevents stains. Plus, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that people who brushed twice a day were 30% less likely to develop heart disease compared to people who only brushed once. That's because, according to health experts, gum disease can lead to inflammation and can damage your arteries.
  • Don't eat junk food, and stay away from sweets. Eat those vegetables!
  • Make sure your toothpaste and mouth rinse include fluoride, which helps prevent tooth decay.
  • If you wear braces, be sure to keep the space between your teeth and archwires clean by using floss threaders and orthodontic toothbrushes.
  • If you play contact sports, consider having a custom-made mouth guard fitted to protect those pearly whites.
  • Visit your dentist twice a year to make sure everything is in tip-top shape!
Having healthy teeth isn't just about looking great (although that's a nice perk!). Good oral health is really about your body's overall wellness. So brush right, brush often and take care of those teeth!Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1528

60-Second Health and Fitness Boosters

When it comes to losing weight or making healthy choices, you probably think that it takes hours at a gym plus long nights preparing and planning nutritious meals. What you may not realize is that quick and easy changes can really improve your immediate health and wellness. So just how quick is quick? One minute—that’s it! Try any one of these 60-second activities to easily reap the healthy benefits. 1. Drink a tall glass of water. We all know the many health benefits of drinking water, but did you also know that even mild dehydration can cause fatigue? So, the next time you feel your energy waning, grab a glass of cold water and guzzle it down! 2. Twist it out. So many of us spend every weekday seated in front of a computer. Not only can sitting all day wreak havoc on your posture, but it can also compress your spine and exaggerate its curvature. Not fun. A simple twist can help undo this. As you sit in your desk chair, simply twist your upper-body to one side, hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side. If you have the space to sit on the floor, try this torso twist stretch. It’s guaranteed to make you feel better! 3. Take a deep breath. How often do you think about breathing? If you are like most people, you probably don’t think about it often enough. For a quick pick-me-up, simply take five deep breaths. Slowly inhale for at least five seconds and exhale for 10 seconds each time. Your body will thank you for the extra oxygen. 4. Do 20 jumping jacks. Research has shown that long periods of sitting can be detrimental to the body and our overall health. So get up out of that chair and jack it out! Just one minute of jumping jacks is an easy way to get your heart pumping and blood flowing. 5. Smile. Smiling can actually make you happier. So go ahead—smile! 6. Go outside. You’ve probably heard the health buzz about vitamin D lately. Preliminary research suggests that vitamin D helps regulate the immune system, supports heart health, can help normalize blood pressure and promotes healthy aging. Vitamin D has also been linked to improved mood. If you have a minute to spare, step out into the sunshine! 7. Put on a favorite song. There’s nothing quite like your favorite music to perk you up and get you feeling good. Listening to music has been shown to improve immunity and release endorphins. Bonus points if you dance along! 8. Sit up straighter. Did you know that bad posture can put unnecessary stress on your low back? Take a minute to focus on sitting up straight with your shoulders down and back. Don’t you feel better already? 9. Be grateful. Write down five things you’re grateful for, no matter how large or small (your hair, your family, your morning cup of Joe—whatever). Do you feel more thankful, generous and overall happier after? Funny how a little reminder of what we have can turn a frown into a smile. 10. Tell a joke. Awake your inner child and tell a silly joke—whether it’s a knock-knock joke or even a funny line from a movie. Anything that gets you laughing is enough to get your happy endorphins flowing! 11. Do 10 pushups. Being strong is important, but having functional strength is even more important because it makes everyday activities easier to accomplish. A push-up is a great, quick exercise for building functional strength. Drop down and give me 10—or as many as you can do in 1 minute. 12. Encourage someone. Isn’t it interesting how you always seem to feel better after helping someone else feel better? Whether you post a supportive comment on a SparkFriend’s page or write a few kind words in a card or an email, taking a minute out to help someone can quickly boost your mood. 13. Set a goal for the day. Fact: People who set goals have more success than people who don’t. So why not take a few seconds and write down what you want to do today? Then, just commit to making it happen! 14. Focus on one thing you love about yourself. At times, we put so much effort in focusing on what we don’t like about ourselves that we fail to see the good. Take 60 seconds to think about what you like about you. Is it your eyes? Your strong legs? Your giving nature? Thinking about how great you are will instantly increase self-confidence. 15. Wash your hands. It seems like cold and flu season is always in full force (or just around the corner).  One of the simplest and easiest ways to stay well year round is to wash your hands. All you need is warm water, soap and 20 seconds of rubbing to rid your hands of unwanted germs. 16. Compliment a stranger. What better way to make yourself feel good than to unexpectedly brighten someone else’s day? The next time you admire someone’s clothes, positive attitude or eyes—say so! 17. Try aromatherapy. A number of different smells can have a positive effect on your mind and body. For example, peppermint is known to calm the stomach while its smell can energize you through a workout. And the scent of jasmine has been shown to reduce anxiety. To benefit, grab some scented lotion and either take a whiff from the bottle or rub some on your hands. 18. Salute the sun. Sun salutations are a well-known set of yoga poses that are said to warm up the body and increase blood flow and flexibility. So grab your mat and do one or two sets—rain or shine! 19. Give yourself a mini-massage. Massage has a number of health benefits, including reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and speeding muscle repair. While you may not be able to spend the time or money getting one at a spa, pampering yourself with just 1 minute of self-massage by rubbing your own hands, feet or shoulders can do wonders. 20. Be absolutely present. When we are wrapped up with work, to-do lists, and just getting by, sometimes we can forget to focus on what we are doing in the here and now. Try spending a minute just being. Focus on sounds, smells and whatever else is going on around you; instead of thinking ahead to what you'll do next, think about what you're doing right now. You’ll be amazed at how peaceful you feel. Just be! See? In the quest to be healthier, you don't have to spend a lot of time. Even if all you have is a few spare seconds here and there, you can make a positive difference in your overall health! Sources: Clean Hands Save Lives, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Fight Fatigue with Your Fork, from Psychology Today Here Comes the Sun, from Yoga Journal Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness, from University of California, Davis Peppermint, from University of Maryland Medical Center Research Briefs: Did You Know? from NammFoundation.org Vitamin D Research, from National Fluid Milk Processor Education Board, GetYourD.comArticle Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1557

How to Tame Wedding Planning Stress

It's a gross understatement to say that planning a wedding is stressful. With all of the coordination, timing and numerous things to prepare for (not to mention family politics!), it's no wonder that nice, normal people turn into grumpy grooms and bridezillas. However, you don't have to become a stressed-out stereotype on your big day. In fact, it is possible to plan a wedding and keep your healthy cool—no matter the situation. 6 Common Wedding-Planning Stressors—and How To Remedy Them You and Your Fiancé Want Different Types of Weddings One of the biggest wedding stressors occurs when you and your fiancé have very different ideas of what your special day should be like. Traditional and in a church? Small and in your parent's backyard? A tropical destination wedding? The options are limitless, and couples are less bound by tradition now than ever before. But if the soon-to-be-wed couple can't agree on what kind of ceremony to have, or worse—one person wants a wedding and the other just wants to go to the courthouse—stress can be high from the get-go. How to de-stress: Before you plan any wedding details, sit down with your fiancé and make a list of the top three things that are important to each of you as far as the ceremony and reception are concerned. Then, calmly and patiently compare lists to see where you can compromise. If he wants a small wedding but you want a big one, you can always hold a small ceremony and then a big after-party. Or, if he wants a destination wedding and you want to be home, simply have the ceremony out of town and the reception in your hometown. Remember that this is the person you are agreeing to spend the rest of your life with, so take a few deep breaths and find a solution that you can both be happy with. Marriage is all about give and take! Overbearing Family Members or Friends Almost every bride and groom deals with at least one or two overbearing (yet well-meaning) family members or friends while planning a wedding. Whether it's a future in-law, your own parents or even a bossy friend, all seem to have an opinion on what you should and shouldn't do. How to de-stress: Remember that this is your wedding—not everyone else’s. It may be hard to tell your loved ones "no" or disagree with Aunt Millie about your bridesmaids wearing tangerine, but if you want your wedding day to be truly special and unique you must stand your ground. Politely, yet firmly state your decisions with the support of your partner. Think of it as if others are trying to derail or sabotage your diet—it's really none of their business! Fear that Your Dress Won't Fit Of course you want to feel confident and healthy on your wedding day, but don't spend the months before your wedding stressing about your size or what you look like—especially if you're trying to drop a few pounds before the big day. Remember that stress only hurts your weight-loss efforts. How to de-stress: First, make sure that you aren't being unrealistic about your body image on the big day. Make sure that any wedding weight-loss goals you have are realistic. After all, planning takes a lot of time and can be stressful, so you may not have as much time as you think you do to exercise and cook healthy foods. Second, be sure to drink enough water, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and get that beauty rest. These three things will really give you that wedding-day glow. Lastly, visualize yourself walking down the aisle with confidence on the big day. Picturing yourself in a positive light helps squash stress and can give you the energy to plan, plan, plan! Your Wedding Budget More money, more problems, right? Well, in the case of wedding budgets, less money and big expectations can equal more problems, too. On average, U.S. couples spend almost $20,000 on a wedding. And that number doesn't include a honeymoon or engagement ring. Unless you have a large budget already in place, or family members with deep pockets, keeping costs down can be challenging at best. How to de-stress: Remember to prioritize any and all expenses, and balance costs as you go if necessary. If you go over on catering, don't spring for those chair covers or pricey linens. If your bouquets cost more than you expected, trade out half of your centerpieces for less costly decorations. Ask yourself what you'll remember when you look back on this day. Will it be your beautiful dress or suit? Will it be the music and DJ? How about those expensive invitations? Determine your needs versus your wants and be realistic about them. You know what's more stressful than wedding planning? Coming back to wedding debt after your honeymoon. The Guest List I have yet to meet a couple who didn't have at least a few stressed-out moments due to their wedding guest list. From being afraid of offending others to your in-laws insisting that your fiancé's fourth and fifth cousins just have to be there, compiling a guest list can get tricky. How to de-stress: Sit down with your partner and agree on a guest policy together. Decide if children are or aren’t welcome and the maximum number of guests you want (and can afford). Consider dividing guest counts evenly between your two families and have the first and final say on who attends. If you have room and one family wants more guests to come, many couples have that side of the family fund the extra seats. No matter how you do it, agree on a policy and don't waiver from it. Sticking to rules helps you and your family members explain to others why Wally, your third-removed cousin, wasn't invited. You Want the "Perfect" Wedding—No Exceptions Of course you want your wedding day to be perfect. Who doesn't? But how realistic are your expectations, and what will happen if everything doesn't go perfectly? Will you consider the day to be ruined, after all of that planning and thought? How to de-stress: Vow to be easy going on your wedding day and take it all in stride. There is no such thing as a perfect wedding. You know the saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff"? Well, during the wedding planning process and the day itself, remember the big picture and take a deep breath. After all, no one will remember the lopsided cake or miss the parting gift that the reception staff forgot to put out. No one will know if you fudged your vows or forgot your earrings. They'll be too busy remembering what a great time they had sharing the start of your marriage with you! In any stressful wedding-planning event, remember to always take time to eat healthy foods, exercise, sleep well and practice stress busters like yoga, meditation or these other techniques. Making time for just a few minutes of stress reduction each day can go a long way now—and during your marriage, too! Sources: http://www.costofwedding.com/ Dealing With Wedding Stress, from Wednet.comArticle Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1582

Chinae Alexander Gets Real About the Struggle of Following Your Dreams

Welcome to Behind the Confidence, a video series about the real, unfiltered journey to self-belief. We talked to four health and wellness pros who prove true confidence doesn't stem from a "like," nor does it magically happen overnight. It's about finding what makes you feel good physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Confidence is different for everyone. To lifestyle blogger and social media maven Chinae Alexander, it's a learned thing—one she's been working on ever since she was young.

From moving around a lot as a child to following her dreams straight to New York City, Alexander's path to confidence has been totally unpredictable. But with every twist and turn, she's stayed true to herself and pursued what makes her happy. She let us in on the exact moment that she found her confidence and how she finally made her dreams happen.

This Miracle Gadget Makes Homemade Almond Milk in 30 Seconds

We love adding almond milk to our coffee or tea, but the kind you buy at the store tends to be full of additives and other junk we don't really need. You could make your own almond milk, but it leaves you with a huge mess—unless you have the Almond Cow. This gadget grinds almonds and strains the pulp in 30 seconds, meaning you can have almond milk pretty much whenever you want. Healthy, tasty, and convenient? Yeah, we love it.

Meet the 105-Year-Old Who Still Teaches Yoga

When we think of a yogi, we imagine someone who's beach-y and chill and, well, young. Lil Hansen is far from that stereotype. She may be 105, but she still glides right into warrior II like it's NBD while teaching a weekly yoga class at her local senior center. Hansen credits her regular yoga practice as one of the reasons she's lived so long. Talk about inspirational, right?

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