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State, teachers’ union quarrel over steep increase in health insurance premiums

Source: Union News Daily

The state teachers’ union and officials in Trenton are making accusations at one another after the revelation that insurance premiums for public education employees will jump 13 percent next year, making for a 21-percent increase in two years.

“Teachers, most of whom are also New Jersey taxpayers, can avoid these unnecessary premium increases through the adoption of reasonable reforms,” state Treasurer Ford Scudder wrote in an open letter to teachers.

Scudder accused the New Jersey Education Association union, through its influence on the School Employees’ Health Benefits Program, or SEHBP, of making choices that increased the premiums far in excess for other public sector unions.

“Last year the State Health Benefits Program Plan Design Committee elected to move forward with a reform package including minor changes to the prescription drug plan and reduced reimbursement for certain out-of-network services,” Scudder wrote in the letter. “As a result of those reforms, there was a zero percent increase for active local government employees and a only three percent growth for active state employees.”

Scudder argued that the SEHBP, at the direction of the NJEA, refused any changes to its health plan, while changes were agreed to by all other unions.

“This is an increase of over $1,400 for the average school teacher in the most popular plan with family coverage, while the premiums for their colleagues in municipal government will not have increased by one penny for the same plan,” Scudder said.

NJEA spokesman Steve Baker called Scudder’s letter a political use of propaganda ushering false and misleading statements. “This is an egregious use of tax money and political power,” Baker told LocalSource. According to the NJEA, the state’s recommendations included replacing the current in-network system with a tiered network structure, which threatened to reduce members’ access to their doctors or make visiting those doctors much more expensive.

“The state under Christie refused to reveal the impacts of said proposed plan, and withheld information to allow us to measure the full impact of recommendations,” Baker said.

The state also proposed increasing the emergency room copayment, mandating generic prescriptions, eliminating certain brand name prescriptions and limiting out-of-network benefits for chiropractic/acupuncture treatment and physical therapy, according to an NJEA statement.

“The changes that the state suggested would have lowered premiums slightly by requiring members pay more for their health care in the form of higher copayments, higher co-insurances, and increased deductibles. This is referred to as cost-shifting and has long been opposed by NJEA because it hurts members and does nothing to deal with the underlying problem of skyrocketing health care costs.”

The Cherry Valley Cooperative Farm is approximately a year old. Its creators were fortunate to find a potential owner who was interested in supporting their plan to create a community-based food hub supplying both local restaurants and residents with fresh, local food – but also offering other services and activities.

This novel approach, conceived by the farm’s lead creator Alec Gioseffi, was to instead of approaching the seven township departments separately, invite them all to visit and tour the farm together. This accelerated the permitting process considerably.

Alec grew up in Plainsboro, went to high school there and then to Rutgers, where he studied visual arts, photography and agriculture/ecology. While going to school, he worked at various local restaurants and doing catering at Rutgers, often moving up to chef. Following college, he was able to visit Europe, sample its cuisines, and to work on a Kibbutz in Israel and on a Shtetl in Ukraine, where he saw that the agrarian lifestyle was possible.

Working in Eno Terra’s kitchen, he learned of its nearby farm providing the restaurant’s fresh produce. He moved over to work at that farm, and in 2013 became a co-manager. Needing more acreage, the operation moved to a 10-acre farm in Franklin Township.

The new cooperative participants found they had much to do — not only renovating and adapting the existing buildings, but building new ones and communicating with Montgomery Townships jurisdictional offices. Once that was accomplished, Alec, his wife Lauren, and other participants saw that they would need a number of partners utilizing the acreage and buildings in order to make the coop financially viable.

Lauren and Alec concentrate on vegetables; another partner, Chris, focuses on Forest mushrooms propagation; Lauren and Samuel do yoga and meditation. Local artist, Peter Abrams, tends to the sheep, pigs, and 600 chickens. Aside from dividing up the areas of work, this also spreads the risk, as participants become partners, sharing in costs, risks, and profits.

The co-op supplies fresh food to the Terra Momo Restaurant Group, to the Brick Farm Market and Tavern, and to the Whole Earth Center. Approximately 150 local families buy portions of the farm’s produce, and 7,000 people are on the co-op’s mailing list, keeping them abreast of food offerings and activities.

To further connect the communities and nature, and to generate income, the co-op offers nature classes for children and farming experience for young adults. Currently it is building housing for those working on the farm.

Education is yet another guiding principle and goal. Practical courses are offered at the co-op, including: chainsaw maintenance, foraging, outdoor movement, fermentation and preservation workshops, greenhouse propagation, and simply the opportunity to learn about local agriculture.

In short, the over-arching idea is to integrate nature and community farming into an ecological-sensitive entity. The co-op members see this as a means to help bring people back in touch with the nature around them and with the food they eat, in its most healthy forms.

For its concepts and efforts, it has won local support and interest, as people see that it is to the benefit of all that we preserve and improve the interface between man and nature.

Source: The Hudson Reporter

At a performance at the Veterans Memorial Elementary School in Union City, magician Micky Magic excited his young charges with the usual magician’s trick: the handkerchief he suddenly made appear from a participant’s sleeve; his trademark of pouring water into a newspaper atop a teacher’s head, and making the liquid disappear.

But there was a new trick he debuted before the kids that day. “I don’t smoke, but if I go like this, I can make a cigarette appear,” he told the students in the school’s gymnasium, before suddenly producing one, lighting it, and throwing it into the air. It disintegrated in a fiery flash.

The trick was meant to mark the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout Event, taking place on the third Thursday of November each year. Events around the day are meant to inspire people to encourage a loved one to plan to quit smoking for good. Not only is Micky Magic, who lives in Union City, a former smoker, he’s also an ACA-certified smoking cessation counselor

“Cigarettes are horrible,” he told the kids. “They smell nasty, they cost a lot of money, they do so much damage to you. Eventually your teeth get yellow. When you get old, your teeth fall off.”

Asking the kids to pledge to never smoke, Magic—who grew up in the Bronx—also helped them craft a plan to get their loved ones to stop smoking.

“I want you guys to go to the internet,” he told the kids. Specifically mentioning the Centers for Disease Control website, Magic told the young ones to print out fact sheets, “Go to that family member and say, ‘I love you. I don’t want you to die. I don’t mean to disrespect you. But please review this.’ ”

After the show, Magic, who regularly performs at Union City public schools, said he often focuses his shows on healthy lifestyle themes, such as encouraging recycling and eating well.

“If you instruct the kids on the importance of preventing things at an early age, they learn good habits, and not do things that are not beneficial to their health,” said Jerlena Joza, the parent liaison for Veterans’ Memorial, who helped organize the show and called Magic to perform after he did so last year.

“We enjoyed it a lot,” she added. “I like to bring the parents to see the show every year and become part of the events. I like to promote involvement; it creates a good environment for the school.”

#FightFlu 2017: Awareness · NJ Vaccine Provider Finder · Treatment Tips: (NJ Dept. Health)

Source: Huffington Post

Influenza vaccine, though not perfect, is the best way to prevent flu. But if you have always avoided vaccination and have never had the flu, you may wonder, “Why do I need a flu shot?”

Your luck may run out. People who have never had the flu are very fortunate. But flu viruses mutate every year, so even if you did not get last season’s virus, you may still succumb to this season’s.

The symptoms feel awful. After you are exposed to an influenza virus, it takes about two days to develop symptoms, which, unlike those of a cold, come on suddenly. Flu symptoms include high fever, cough, and severe muscle aches and pains, which usually last three to five days. After these symptoms resolve, you may still feel extremely weak, and it usually takes another week or two to build up your strength.

Even healthy, young people can die from complications of flu. Complications can be mild, like a painful ear infection, or severe, like bacterial pneumonia or encephalitis. Having severe influenza increases your risk of hospitalization and death. I once took care of a healthy 18-year-old high school senior who had not had a flu shot. Sadly, he came down with influenza, and died of flu-related pneumonia. The risk of complications drastically increases for older people, even those in their 50s and 60s.

You can have the flu and not know it. Only half of people infected will actually have symptoms. You can be completely asymptomatic and unaware you are infected, but still have the virus in your body and still be capable of transmitting it to others.

You’ll help your loved ones. In addition to protecting you, getting a flu shot also protects your family—especially vulnerable children and grandparents—as well as your friends, coworkers, and everyone else with whom you come into contact.

Anyone who is 6 months of age or older should be vaccinated, especially those at high risk of complications from flu, such as young children, older people, pregnant women, people with a chronic illness like diabetes or heart disease, and those with weakened immune systems due to disease or medication like chemotherapy. A study published recently in the journal Pediatrics showed that vaccination significantly reduces children’s risk of dying from influenza.

It is impossible to catch the flu from a flu shot because vaccines are made either from dead influenza virus or are cell-based, meaning they just contain some genetic material, not the whole virus. A flu shot does not offer protection immediately; it takes up to three weeks for your body to make the antibodies that protect you against influenza. So when people say they got the flu right after having the shot, it means they were exposed to the virus before they developed immunity.

People 65 or older should get a high-dose flu vaccine. As we age, our bodies need more stimulation to make antibodies, so with a stronger dose, you have a better chance of responding to the vaccine. The down side is that you may be more likely to have a sore arm after getting the shot.

Source: BlackDoctor.Org

Grits are made of hominy — small, ground chips of dried corn and considered a classic southern food. The texture resembles a loose polenta; both regular and instant-type grits are available, and common preparation includes water or milk. You can eat them plain, which is the healthiest way to consume them, but many of us add butter, salt, sugar and/or cheese to flavor our grits.

Oatmeal is made from harvested oat grain. Nutritionists often praise oatmeal for being high in fiber, low in calories and rich in vitamins, minerals and protein, but you can also get nutritional benefits from eating enriched grits for breakfast. Once again, eating it plain is the healthiest way, but there’s a great number of people that add milk, spices, butter and/or sugar.

Calories and Fat: A cup of cooked grits contains 182 calories and 1 gram of fat, giving you 9 calories from fat. Although the same amount of cooked oatmeal has 166 calories, it contains 3 grams of fat per serving, increasing the amount of fat calories to 27. If you are trying to lose weight, eating grits is a better way to get a full feeling without consuming excessive fat calories. These figures refer to plain grits and oatmeal. Adding butter, milk, sugar or salt can increase the amount of fat and calories significantly, so keep these additives to a minimum. Sprinkling a calorie-free sugar substitute or a pinch of cinnamon onto your cereal can flavor your cereal while keeping it nutritious.

Vitamin B-6: According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, getting an ample amount of vitamin B-6 may help prevent carpal tunnel, rheumatoid arthritis or vision problems, such as macular degeneration. B-6 aids your body’s production of serotonin, a chemical that may enhance your mood or even prevent depression. The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board recommends that adults get 1.1 to 1.4 milligrams of vitamin B-6 per day. A cup of enriched cooked grits gives you .46 milligrams of vitamin B-6, while the same amount of oatmeal contains .68 milligrams, so both cereals are rich sources of this nutrient.

Sodium: Eating plain grits adds 127.5 mg of sodium to your diet; however, the common practice of salting grits means this dish is likely to include more. In an effort to keep your sodium intake to recommended levels — 1,500 mg for those with a heart problem or 2,300 mg for healthy people — consider using salt substitutes, herbs or spices to flavor your grits.

Folate: Enriched grits are a good source of folate, a B vitamin that helps your body produce DNA, keeps new cells healthy and may prevent cancer and anemia. The average adult needs 400 micrograms of folate per day, according to the Institute of Medicine, but to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly, a pregnant woman needs 600. A cup of grits gives you 98 micrograms of folate, more than five times the amount that oatmeal provides.

Grits may be more beneficial than oatmeal to athletes: A cup of grits contains 38 grams of carbohydrates, which can keep you energized throughout strenuous activities, while a cup of oatmeal provides 27 grams. Grits are a richer source of leusine, an amino acid that, according to the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, may enhance muscle endurance and help your body store glycogen, a polysaccharide that gives your muscles energy.

Source: Central Jersey.com

Your cable bill, entertainment expenses, grocery extras — these often top the list when people sit down to discuss where they can save money. One expense you should consider in 2018 is your healthcare costs. Since the annual open enrollment period for employees, now is the ideal time to sign up for a new health benefit plan or make adjustments to your current plan.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) are two options for people looking to save money pre-tax in the New Year. An FSA, which is provided by your employer, allows you to save funds for eligible healthcare expenses. An HSA — which you can obtain on your own or through your employer — is a tax-advantaged savings account that allows you to set aside money to cover medical expenses throughout your lifetime.

Both accounts have the major advantage that the full amount of your pre-tax dollars may be used toward care that you or your family may need. Employees who enroll in an FSA can contribute a portion of their salary pre-tax to pay for qualified medical care expenses within the plan year, while an HSA provides people with qualifying high-deductible health plans the ability to rollover balances and pay for current and future medical expenses.

Awareness and interest in HSAs has increased this year, with the highest levels of interest stemming from Millennials and Gen Xers, according to the 2017 Flexible Spending Account and Health Savings Account Consumer Research study commissioned by Visa and conducted by C+R Research. This nationwide online research was conducted in March 2017, with the FSA survey conducted among 1,306 consumers and the HSA survey conducted among 1,090 consumers.

One of the most convenient ways to access funds in an HSA or FSA is with a healthcare debit card, which allows people to use funds in their HSA or FSA to pay for qualified medical expenses wherever Visa debit cards are accepted, making it easy to pay for Co-pays and deductibles, plus everything from prescriptions to exams to help with quitting smoking. For added convenience, many retailers that sell healthcare products have the capability to distinguish between covered items and non-covered items, so you don’t have to wonder whether something is covered.

By using a healthcare debit card at these locations, you no longer have to pay out-of-pocket and then submit receipts to be reimbursed for your medical expenses, saving you time and money!