Trying to Break Unhealthy Habits? There’s a Coach for That

via Wall Street Journal

Changing unhealthy habits is hard, doctors say. But with Americans suffering from chronic disease in epidemic proportions, a big push is under way to get more individuals to do just that.

Large employers, insurers, health-care systems and other organizations are increasingly turning to “wellness coaches” to motivate people to adopt healthier lifestyles.

These programs typically include counseling to get patients to understand how behavior affects health, along with techniques such as meditation and goal-setting to help individuals make needed changes and stay on course.

It’s all part of a broader shift within the health-care industry toward keeping people well instead of simply treating them when they’re sick. The stakes are high: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls lifestyle-related chronic disease such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease the greatest health challenge of the 21st century. The CDC estimates that half of all adults in the U.S., or 117 million people, had one or more chronic health condition in 2012, accounting for 86% of all health-care spending.

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New Gadgets That Could Give Telemedicine a Boost

via Wall Street Journal

The Tyto lets doctors peer inside a patient’s ear—over the internet.
 

Telemedicine offers patients the chance to meet with a doctor, 24/7, without leaving home. But many physicians are wary of participating because they can’t peer into patients’ ears, look down their throats or listen to their lungs remotely.

A new genre of home diagnostic devices aims to address those concerns by giving patients some of the same tools that doctors use during in-office exams. Think part Star Trek Tricorder, part Harry Potter Extendable Ear.

The closest to market is Tyto, a hand-held gizmo about the size of a softball. One attachment works like a stethoscope to capture and record a patient’s heartbeat and breath sounds. Other attachments allow a built-in camera to get a good look at patient’s tonsils and into the ear canal. The camera can also take high-resolution photos of skin lesions, rashes and moles. All the images, sounds and readouts can be shared with a doctor over the internet in real time or stored in a software program for later use.

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Average Cost of Employer Health Coverage Tops $18,000 for Family in 2016

via Wall Street Journal

The average cost of health coverage offered by employers pushed above $18,000 for a family plan this year, though the growth was slowed by the accelerating shift into high-deductible plans, according to a major survey.

Annual premium cost rose 3% to $18,142 for an employer family plan in 2016, from $17,545 last year, according to the annual poll of employers performed by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation along with the Health Research & Educational Trust, a nonprofit affiliated with the American Hospital Association.

Employees paid 30% of the premiums for a family plan in 2016, compared with 29% last year, according to Kaiser. For an individual worker, the average annual cost of employer coverage was $6,435 in this year’s survey, with employees paying 18% of that total. The change in annual premium for individual coverage from 2015 wasn’t statistically significant.

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A Flu Shot Is the Best Defense This Year

via Wall Street Journal

Health officials are warning that a popular nasal-spray vaccine isn’t sufficiently effective to prevent the flu, and pediatricians worry many parents won’t get their children vaccinated this year.

The result could be that more people fall sick this flu season, which can begin as early as October. A flu shot is the only recommended option to get vaccinated, but some parents may skip the painful procedure for their children.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently adopted a committee’s recommendation that people shouldn’t get the nasal-spray vaccine, called FluMist, for the 2016-2017 influenza season. A CDC review found the spray vaccine provided insufficient protection against the flu in recent years.

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The Office Walk-and-Talk Really Works

via Wall Street Journal

They don’t require yoga pants or a shower, but the research is clear: Walking meetings count as exercise.

“If corporations were to adopt this ubiquitously, you just start to think of those health benefits adding up,” says James Levine, co-director of obesity solutions at the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University. “It’s an amazingly simple thing and it costs nothing.”

Walking meetings are typically held with two or three people over a set route and period—often 30 minutes. They can take place at a nearby park or even in office hallways. Some people are using walking meetings to boost their daily step counts. Others are spurred by mounting research on the physical and mental benefits of being more mobile at work.

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When Target-Fund Fees Are Off-Target

via Wall Street Journal

Target-date funds keep growing in popularity for retirement accounts. But many investors may be paying higher fees on these funds than they need to.

The funds are pitched as automated retirement-planning assets. They are mutual funds made up of other funds—stock, bond and money-market funds—and adjust the balance, getting more conservative as they approach the target date, near the person’s expected retirement.

But fees often take a sizable bite out of a fund’s returns—particularly a fund designed to be left alone for decades. What’s more, fees are perhaps the only determinant of a fund’s performance that an investor can actually be sure of ahead of time, which makes them particularly important to monitor.

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Life Insurance Customers Push Back Over Surprise Cost Increases

via Wall Street Journal

Several big insurers have notified thousands of customers of higher costs to keep their policies in force, with increases ranging from midsingle-digit percentages to more than 200%. Shown, the Transamerica Tower in Baltimore.

Americans are starting to fight back against a wave of insurance-price increases on decades-old life policies. Over the past year, several major insurers have notified tens of thousands of people of higher costs to keep their policies in force, with increases ranging from midsingle-digit percentages to more than 200%, according to financial advisers. To justify the increases, they blamed the impact on their investments from the Federal Reserve’s decision to keep interest rates lower for longer.

At least a half-dozen lawsuits have been filed in federal courts against insurers including Aegon NV’s Transamerica unit and Legal & General Group PLC’s Banner Life.

In many of the suits, which seek class-action status and damages, the plaintiffs contend insurance firms are hiding behind little-used contract provisions to rummage up cash for shareholder dividends. They also argue that increased lifespans have offset the negative impact on profits of lower bond yields.

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