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Winter made an early appearance this Thanksgiving, bringing snow and cold to a large swath of the country. Cooler temperatures – a reminder to bundle up and add layers – should also be a reminder to get vaccinated against seasonal flu. Coming down with the flu is more than an inconvenience. It can result in lost work days and wages, unnecessary medical bills and, at its most extreme, life threatening complications. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pockets of the U.S. are already seeing an uptick in influenza activity.
Getting a flu shot is still the best way to protect against the flu virus, and during National Flu Vaccination Week, December 7-13, we encourage everyone to get their flu shot ahead of peak flu season, which typically begins in January.
While flu vaccination rates among U.S. adults have been on the rise in recent years, many minority adults are still not getting a yearly flu vaccine. According to the CDC, only 36 percent of African American adults and 34 percent of Latino adults were vaccinated during the 2012-2013 flu season, compared to 45 percent of white adults. While the reasons for these disparities are varied, research shows that cost, having access to a primary care source and lack of awareness about the benefits of a simple flu shot often serve as barriers to getting vaccinated.
Today, the Affordable Care Act is helping to remove many of those barriers and is emphasizing the critical role of preventive care in improving health outcomes among racial and ethnic minority populations. Thanks to the many free preventive services required by the health care law, most adults and children with insurance will not pay anything out of pocket for a flu shot – whether they’ve purchased a health plan on the Health Insurance Marketplace or elsewhere. For those who don’t have insurance, now is the perfect time for you to get covered. If you enroll in a health plan through the Marketplace by December 15, you could have coverage as soon as January 1!
The Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health is committed to raising awareness about disparities in flu vaccination rates and what can be done to close the gap. Over the past five years, OMH has demonstrated this commitment through a partnership with Walgreens, to provide flu shots to more than half a million vulnerable people across the country.
According to the CDC, everyone six months and older should get vaccinated for the flu, including pregnant women. It’s important to know that the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. The most common side effects are a sore arm and maybe a low fever or achiness; but these symptoms go away in a few days.
If you are not sure where you can get a flu shot, check out HHS’s free vaccine finder. Senior citizens, children and people with chronic health conditions face a higher risk of experiencing complications from flu, so do your loved ones and friends a favor and talk with them about getting their flu shot. It will help more people stay healthy this winter.
Ed. note: This was originally published on the HHS Blog. See the original post at http://www.hhs.gov/blog/2014/12/04/coverage-care-aids-free-generation.html.
If you live with HIV or AIDS or you know someone who does, you know how important it is to stay healthy. As we work together toward a healthy, AIDS-free generation, World AIDS Day is a great time to highlight some recent changes to health insurance and new opportunities for persons living with HIV/AIDS to get covered, get care, and stay healthy. Coverage is more affordable and complete because of benefits such as:
Open Enrollment for coverage through the Marketplace is NOW until February 15th, 2015 so now is the time to enroll in coverage. Work with someone you trust, or explore HealthCare.gov’s plan-finder tool on your own to find coverage that’s right for you. You can use the resources including Step 2 of the From Coverage to Care Roadmap at the end of this post to help you learn about your options and pick the plan that’s right for you.
Here are five things to think about when shopping for coverage that are specific to consumers with HIV and AIDS. We’ve also linked to resources below to help you and others living with HIV/AIDS understand and use your coverage to live longer, healthier lives.
5 Things to Know About the Marketplace for People Living with HIV/AIDS
This World AIDS Day, get covered and know how to use your coverage. Check out the resources below and partner with the CMS Office of Minority Health in our commitment to an AIDS-free generation ahead.
Resources for PLWHA – Enrolling and Using Your Coverage
Find Local Help (https://localhelp.healthcare.gov/) lets you enter your ZIP Code to find in-person help in your area for applying for and enrolling in coverage through the Marketplace.
Compare Marketplace Plans (https://www.healthcare.gov/see-plans/) lets you enter your ZIP Code and answer a few simple questions to browse your coverage options for Marketplace plans.
From Coverage to Care Resources (http://marketplace.cms.gov/c2c). Print, order, download and share resources including videos to help you understand and use your coverage to get the care you need.
Target Center Consumer Tools (https://careacttarget.org/category/audience/consumers-and-community ). The Target Center also hosts enrollment assister tools, provider tools, community tools, and more, for different audiences working with Ryan White Programs and ADAPs.
Earnest, 59, and Sharon, 57, have been married 22 years. This is their story about what getting coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace meant to them.
Earnest: In July 2013, my wife Sharon was diagnosed with both lung and breast cancer. My immediate thought was that I would need to resign from my job as a vice president for sales of an education company in order to become a full-time caregiver.
Sharon: You have to understand: Both my parents and my only sister had cancer. My diagnosis was frightening news.
Earnest: The complication with my plan was that I would lose our health insurance from my employer. While we were in a position to afford insurance on the private market, no private insurance company would write us a policy due to Sharon's pre-existing condition.
We both had professional careers. We saved well. But if we didn’t have health insurance, these medical bills would have put a huge dent in our retirement savings.
But then I heard about the Affordable Care Act and the Marketplace. I was able to secure coverage for my wife and me through HealthCare.gov, that started January 1, 2014. The pre-existing condition issue was no longer an issue, and we had a choice of providers to choose from.
I retired from my job on December 31, 2013, knowing that our Marketplace insurance would kick in on January 1, 2014. The ACA allowed me to be by Sharon's side during her treatment, and I'm grateful for that.
Sharon: My lung surgery in May alone cost $71,000. It was covered by our insurance because of the ACA. Our insurance also covered my breast surgery in January and my radiation and chemo.
I’m doing great now.
We’ve also both had regular exams for preventive care, covered by our insurance.
Earnest: We chose the platinum plan for our 2014 coverage, which was an affordable option for our budget. On November 15, when Open Enrollment began again, I went back to HealthCare.gov, looked over various health plans and chose a new, even more affordable plan for 2015. The whole process of re-enrolling took all of 20 minutes. I would encourage people to re-enroll. There may be a better plan out there. You’ve got to take a look.
Sharon: Health insurance means I’m still here. I’m grateful beyond measure for the blessing of an accessible insurance program that literally changed our lives and quite possibly saved mine.
You, too, can check out your options for affordable, quality insurance through the Marketplace –find out if you qualify for assistance to lower the cost of your premium at HealthCare.gov. Or if you prefer talking to a person, you can call 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325), any time, any day. Enroll by December 15 for coverage that begins January 1, 2015. Open enrollment lasts until February 15, 2015.
Did you sign up for coverage through the Marketplace during the previous open enrollment like Earnest and Sharon? Make sure to return to HealthCare.gov to update your application and review your options. You can choose to renew your coverage or change it for a different plan that might cost less and better meet your needs. You can review the 5 Steps to Staying Covered HERE.
Ed. note: This was originally published on the HHS.gov Blog. See the original post at http://www.hhs.gov/blog/2014/11/13/getting-ready-open-enrollment.html.
With just two days to go until the start of Open Enrollment, I want to share with you what we've been doing at the Department of Health and Human Services to expand access to quality, affordable coverage to more people and to lay the groundwork for a successful Open Enrollment.
First, we're committed to improving the consumer experience. We've listened to feedback and have put that learning into practice. Most consumers who come back to HealthCare.gov to renew their coverage will find about 90% of their application is pre-populated, based on answers from last year. Consumers who are renewing coverage, as well as consumers shopping for coverage for the first time, will have 25% more options to choose from on average. That means consumers can shop and find a more affordable plan that better meets their needs. And we've added 1,000 representatives to our 24-hour call center to answer questions and help consumers get and stay covered.
We also understand that it's our job to protect consumers' security and we take that responsibility seriously. We've tested and retested our systems, putting ourselves through some of the industry's most stringent protocols to ensure we're taking the steps necessary to safeguard consumers' personal information. We've enhanced our cybersecurity team with experts from the public and private sector to raise the bar on security. And we'll be focused every day on what more we can do to improve our ability to respond to cybersecurity events quickly and effectively if needed.
If you signed up for Marketplace coverage during last Open Enrollment: we encourage you to come back to HealthCare.gov, reach out to the call center, or meet with an in-person assister to make sure you choose the plan that's right for you and get the best financial help available.
Starting November 15, if you're renewing your coverage, you should log into your account to make sure your household income and other information is up-to-date, compare your current plan with other plans available in your area, select the plan that best meets your needs and budget, and choose a plan by December 15 for coverage starting January 1.
If you're shopping for coverage for the first time, Open Enrollment runs from November 15, to February 15. Your coverage can start as soon as January 1 if you sign up by December 15.
All consumers should visit HealthCare.gov or reach out to our 24/7 call center with any questions: 1-800-318-2596 (TTY 1-855-889-4325). Information about in-person assistance is available at localhelp.healthcare.gov.
Join the millions of Americans who now have access to quality, affordable coverage: sign up between November 15 and February 15.
Ed. note: This was originally published on the White House Blog. See the original post at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/11/13/expanding-opportunity-and-addressing-unique-challenges-facing-women-and-girls-color.
When President Obama founded the White House Council on Women and Girls (CWG) within the first two months of taking office, he charged us with working to address inequalities and barriers facing women and girls in our schools, workplaces, and throughout American life. And as women’s role in society and our economy continues to evolve and grow, so too has the importance of ensuring that all women and girls succeed, including women and girls of color who often face compounded disparities.
A CWG report released yesterday delves into the inequities and distinct challenges facing women of color, while examining some of the efforts underway to close unfair gaps in educational outcomes, pay, career opportunity, health disparities, and more.
Since its inception, the CWG has focused on issues which disproportionately affect women of color. As part of this ongoing effort, the CWG is convening a Working Group to bring together policy staff from the White House and across the federal agencies, with advocates and experts from around the country. Together, this group will focus on issues including education, economic security, health, criminal and juvenile justice, violence, and research and data collection. By detailing both the progress we have made and the challenges that still remain, this report should serve both as a reminder of what is possible and as a call to action to do so much more.
Today, girls of color still perform lower on standardized tests than their white peers. They are more likely to be suspended from school or drop out. Women and girls of color face higher rates of poverty, receive lower wages for their work than their white peers, and are more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system.
Women of color also face some of the highest rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other serious conditions, while experiencing disproportionately high rates of domestic violence. And when women are the primary or sole breadwinners for nearly half of all households of color, these disparities do not just affect them, but their entire families and communities.
At the same time, this CWG report does highlight some significant bright spots. Between 1997 and 2013, we’ve seen a 258% increase for businesses owned by Black women, 180% for Hispanic women, 156% for Asian American women, and 108% for American Indian/Alaska Native women. Women of color have ascended to the upper ranks of our workplaces and board rooms across industries; teen pregnancy rates for girls of color have plummeted; and high school and college graduation rates have risen. These are important gains, not only for women of color, but for everyone. As these women flourish, their families are strengthened, jobs are created in their communities, local economies grow, and our entire country benefits.
Still, gains such as these should not obscure the challenge ahead. Since taking office, President Obama has made it clear that ensuring equity and opportunity for the nation’s daughters would remain a paramount focus for his Administration. As the President has put it: "When women succeed, America succeeds."
Leaders across all levels of government, the private sector, and academia are in agreement that empowering all women, while understanding and addressing the unique challenges facing women of color, is a social, moral, and economic imperative. In a country that increasingly depends on the strength, creativity, and wisdom of our women -- it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure no one is left behind, and all women are in position to lead and succeed.