As the calendar turns to New Year 2015, what resolutions should you make to get healthier and happier in the next 12 months? Here is what I recommend to my patients, family and friends.
• Get health insurance. This is sometimes easier than before implementation of the Accountable Care Act since pre-existing condition requirements have ended, more children are covered by insurance, many states have expanded Medicaid eligibility, and federal subsidies have made insurance affordable for economically challenged lower income individuals. However, deductibles are higher, costs of insurance for middle and higher income individuals have risen, and the number of participating physicians within insurer networks has decreased. But remember, having any health insurance, even the most basic plan, gives you discounts which reduce how much you will have to pay hospitals, laboratories, imaging centers and physicians. My tip: Contact a health insurance agent (or your employer's human resources department) to be sure you choose a plan that is right for you.
• Check if your doctor is the right doctor for you. Take a hard look at your doctors and make sure that for this coming year, your doctor will be covered by your health insurance, your physician is paying careful attention to you and your health (including prevention), and that you can get to see your physician whenever you need advice or care. My tip: Make sure you get a visit early in 2015 to check your risk for serious illnesses and get advice on preventing disease. If you can't get an appointment or if you don't get sensible advice and answers to your question, get a second opinion.
• Start your own home medical record. Since so many individuals are annually having to changing their health insurance and their doctors (which is part of health care reform and hopefully is helping reduce the costs of healthcare), it is more important than ever to keep your home medical record of doctors, illnesses, medicines, tests and diagnoses. Fortunately, another part of health care reform is the more widespread use of electronic medical records, which makes it very easy to get your records. Keep up your records, and take them with you to new doctor visits or consultations or hospital admissions. My tip: Use the electronic online patient portal of your physician, hospital or health plan to get your medical records, check them for accuracy about your health history, and keep all the records organized. For guidance on how to set up your record, see my book Surviving American Medicine.
• Decide now about making your advance medical directives and complete a your durable power of attorney for health care. If you have a medical condition, or are elderly, or even if you are young and healthy, you never know when an accident or sudden illness will occur and make it impossible for you yourself to give your wishes for life support or extent of medical care. To prepare for such unpredictable life crises, it is necessary to complete your advance directives now, so no mistakes will be made in keeping you alive and healthy. My tip: Read about advance directives, living wills, and durable power of attorney for health care, and then discuss them with your doctor (and/or your lawyer if necessary) to be sure all the forms are filled out correctly. Then keep copies of the documents with your family, in your medical record at home, and with each of your physicians and hospitals.
• Recognize your unhealthy habits and take a first step today to correct them. Whether it's smoking, drinking excessively, abusing drugs, lack of exercise, getting too little sleep, or being overweight, admitting them and starting to reverse them is important to living a full and active life. Overcoming bad habits is very difficult. Getting better health habits is more successful when you enlist the help of your family and friends as well as your physicians. Having a good social support network is critical to having a healthier life. My tip: Today, write down the habits you suspect might be unhealthy and make a resolution to begin correcting the habits. Make an appointment with your primary care physician to get her/his help in eliminating the bad health behavior. Share your resolution with your family or friends, invite their support, and accept their reminders when they find you slipping in your resolve. In 2015, continue to get more information online about unhealthy habits and tips to overcome them.
2015 can be a year of optimism and accomplishment for you and your health. Taking baby steps now by making your resolutions can result in big gains by this same time next year. My blogs in 2015 will continue to remind you of the importance of these personal commitments you can make today. I wish a happy and healthy New Year to each of you.
For a description of different plans and names of health insurance agents, to set up your medical record, and for info on evaluating your physician and getting second opinions, see my book Surviving American Medicine.