APWU Health Plan Provides Support to Members Impacted by Hawaii Wildfires

The APWU Health Plan is committed to supporting our members who have been impacted by the recent wildfires in Hawaii. We have taken a number of steps to make sure that our members have access to the care they need.

The APWU Health Plan will relax requirements for care received from August 08- August 31, 2023.

For supplies and medications: The Health Plan will waive refill too soon limitations for members who are unable to use the mail order service for refills, lost or destroyed medications.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the APWU Health Plan Customer Service line. Here are the contact numbers for the different APWU Health Plans:

  • APWU Health Plan High Option: 1-800-222-2798
  • Medicare Advantage High Option Plan enhancement: 1-855-383-8793
  • Consumer Driven Option: 1-800-718-1299

We hope that these measures will help our members who have been impacted by the wildfires. We are committed to providing our members with the care they need, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Here are some additional resources that may be helpful to individuals impacted by the wildfires:

  • A toll-free emotional-support help line is being offered to affected individuals: 1-866-447-3573. This line will be open Monday – Friday, 8 am – 8 pm CT, for two weeks from the date of the event.
  • The service is free of charge and open to anyone. Callers may also receive referrals to community resources.
  • Along with the toll-free help line, emotional-support resources and information are available online at liveandworkwell.com.
  • The Red Cross: The Red Cross is providing assistance to individuals you can call the Red Cross at 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or visit www.redcross.org/hawaii for more information.
  • Hawaii Department of Health: You can find the latest updates on the Hawaii Department of health website at  https://health.hawaii.gov/

We hope that these resources will be helpful to our members. Our thoughts go out to all those affected. We will continue to monitor this situation closely.

Vitamin K May Kickstart Healthy Lungs

Consumer news  
Spinach on  white
THURSDAY, Aug. 10, 2023 (HealthDay News) — It may not get the publicity of some better-known vitamins like D, but vitamin K — found in leafy green vegetables — may boost lung health.

A new, large study — published Aug. 10 in ERJ Open Research — suggests that people who have low levels of this vitamin also have less healthy lungs. They are more likely to report having asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and wheezing.

“Our results suggest that vitamin K could play a part in keeping our lungs healthy,” said researcher Dr. Torkil Jespersen of Copenhagen University Hospital and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. “

On their own, our findings do not alter current recommendations for vitamin K intake, but they do suggest that we need more research on whether some people, such as those with lung disease, could benefit from vitamin K supplementation,” Jespersen said in a journal news release. In addition to leafy greens, vitamin K is found in vegetable oils and cereal grains. It has a role in blood clotting, helping the body heal wounds, but researchers know very little about its role in lung health.

To study this, the Danish researchers recruited more than 4,000 Copenhagen residents, ages 24 to 77.

Study participants underwent lung function testing, called spirometry, which measures the amount of air a person can breathe out in one second (forced expiratory volume or FEV1) and the total volume of air they can breathe in one forced breath (forced vital capacity or FVC).

Participants also gave blood samples and answered questionnaires on their health and lifestyle. The blood tests included a marker of low levels of vitamin K in the body. People with markers of low vitamin K levels had lower FEV1 and lower FVC on average. Those with lower levels of vitamin K were also more likely to say they had COPD, asthma or wheezing. The study only found an association between vitamin levels and lung function; it couldn’t prove cause and effect.

“This study suggests that people with low levels of vitamin K in their blood may have poorer lung function. Further research will help us understand more about this link and see whether increasing vitamin K can improve lung function or not,” said Dr. Apostolos Bossios, from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and secretary of the European Respiratory Society assembly on airway diseases, asthma, COPD, and chronic cough. He was not involved in this research.

“In the meantime, we can all try to eat a healthy, balanced diet to support our overall health, and we can protect our lungs by not smoking, taking part in exercise and doing all we can to cut air pollution,” Bossios said in the release.  

More information   The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on vitamin K.   SOURCE: EJR Open Research, news release, Aug. 10, 2023


How to Stay In-Network for Your Care

It is important to understand the ins and outs of health insurance provider networks so that you can make informed decisions about your care. By understanding your coverage, you can help to keep your health care costs down.

What Is a Health Insurance Provider Network?

In-Network: Health insurance companies contract with doctor’s offices and hospitals to pay lower prices for their services, in return for more patient traffic. The provider agrees to accept the lower rate, which includes your copay or coinsurance, as payment in full. These providers – doctors, specialists and hospitals – are considered in-network. 

Out-of-Network: If a doctor or hospital is not contracted with your health insurance plan then they are out-of-network. This means there is no discount applied to the service you receive from that provider and you may be charged a much higher rate than if the provider had been in-network. The APWU Health Plan covers out-of-network services but you will be responsible for higher coinsurance and deductibles.

Why Does It Matter?

When you see a network provider, you can feel confident that s/he or the facility has met certain qualifications, such as educational background, safety measures and board certifications, required by your insurance company. This assurance of quality is in addition to the in-network cost savings you will receive by going to your insurance company’s approved providers.

How your plan pays for out-of-network services depends on the type of coverage you have. You can learn about the APWU Health Plans cover services on our website https://www.apwuhp.com/our-plans/compare-plan-options/ or in our plan brochures.

The type of health insurance plan you have will determine how much you pay for in-network and out-of-network care. For example, HMO plans typically require you to use in-network providers for all care, while PPO plans like the APWU Health Plan allow you to see out-of-network providers for a higher cost.

Even if a provider is in-network, you may still have to pay a copay or coinsurance for their services. The amount of your copay or coinsurance will vary depending on the type of service you receive and your health insurance plan.

Here are some tips for staying in-network:

  • Do your research before you make an appointment. Use your health insurance plan’s website or call the customer service number on the back of your card to find out if a specific provider is in-network.
  • Ask your doctor if they are in-network. If you are already seeing a doctor, be sure to ask them if they are in your insurance network.
  •  Just because a provider accepts your insurance it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re in the insurance network. Going out-of-network is expensive.
  • Be clear about your coverage when you make an appointment. When you make an appointment, be sure to tell the provider that you want to see an in-network provider.
  • If you are ever in doubt, ask. If you are not sure whether a provider is in-network, don’t be afraid to ask. It is better to be safe than sorry.

For more information about how the APWU Health Plan covers in and out-of-network care please review our plan brochure. If you don’t have a brochure you can download one online, request one on our website https://www.apwuhp.com/request-a-brochure/ or call our Customer Service and we will mail you a  brochure.    

Sleep a Key Defense for Black Americans at Genetic Risk for Alzheimer’s  

Consumer news
sleep black senior
THURSDAY, July 6, 2023 (HealthDay News) — A lot of experts advise getting a good night’s sleep. For Black Americans who have a gene variant linked to Alzheimer’s disease, that rest could be protective, a new study says. 

“This new finding suggests that someone with a high-risk variant might be able to overcome their genetic inheritance by improving their sleep habits,” said lead author Bernadette Fausto, a member of the research faculty at Rutgers University-Newark in New Jersey.

“The findings were striking,” she said in a Rutgers news release.

Black Americans are both at greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease and get less sleep on average, Fausto said. 

Some of the contributors are city dwelling with population density and more night-time noise and light pollution, which can impact the body’s ability to release the hormone melatonin, Fausto said.

Black individuals are also more likely to have severe cases of the disorder sleep apnea, according to a previous study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

“There’s a growing awareness that sleep is crucial for brain health and this may be a significant contributor to the high rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias among African Americans,” said co-author Mark Gluck, director of the Aging & Brain Health Alliance at Rutgers-Newark. “Sleep disruption of any sort can accelerate the progression of Alzheimer’s.” 

Established research has found a connection between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. Also previously discovered is an association with the high-risk ABCA7 gene variant and the disease, the researchers said in background notes.

For this study, researchers explored the interplay between those factors, enrolling 114 cognitively healthy Black people from the Newark area. 

The researchers divided the participants into two groups: Those with the high-risk version of the ABCA7 gene and those with a lower-risk variant. All underwent tests related to thinking and memory (cognition).

Participants also assessed their own sleep quality. 

Researchers found that people with the risky genotype who reported getting enough quality sleep were protected from developing an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. This is the inability to apply, or generalize, previous learning to a new problem. 

Those who also had the high-risk gene variant but who reported poor quality sleep showed impairments in generalization of previous learning.

Sleep is a time for the brain to undertake basic maintenance tasks, according to the study.

“Every cell is like a home — it generates garbage. This only becomes a problem if that garbage doesn’t get picked up,” Gluck said in the release. 

That “garbage” gets collected during the specific type of sleep that occurs in the pre-dawn hours. When it doesn’t get collected, toxins can accumulate in the brain.

“We spend about a third of our life sleeping or trying to sleep, so that’s a pretty significant amount of our lives that’s easy to overlook,” Fausto said.

“In many areas of medicine we are seeing the growth of what is known as ‘personalized medicine’ in which the treatments for a disorder are determined, in part, by a patient’s genetic profile,” Gluck said. 

In the future, Gluck added, it may be that a prescription for someone who has the ABCA7 risk factor is not a drug, but the advice, “You really, really need to improve the quality of your sleep.”

Study results were published recently in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.  

More information   The Alzheimer’s Association has more on Alzheimer’s disease and genetics.  

SOURCE: Rutgers University-Newark, news release, June 29, 2023  

How to Care for Your Heart During a Pregnancy

Jerome Federspiel, MD, PhD Asst. Prof. of Obstetrics/Gynecology, Duke University School Of Medicine   pregnancy pregnant obstetrician
WEDNESDAY, July 5, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Pregnancy triggers many changes to the body, but there’s one that may surprise many women.

A hidden change is that the heart has to pump, on average, nearly 50% more blood by the end of pregnancy than it did before pregnancy, and then it has to quickly go back to “normal operations” after delivery. While most pregnant women’s hearts tolerate these changes well, pregnancy can serve as a “stress test” on the heart that can cause new heart disease in patients who have not had heart problems previously, and can make existing heart issues more difficult to manage.

What types of heart conditions may arise?

The most common heart conditions seen in pregnancy are related to high blood pressure conditions in pregnancy (preeclampsia and gestational hypertension), irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), and the heart muscle not squeezing strongly enough (heart failure). At the Duke Birthing Center, doctors care for patients who enter pregnancy with high blood pressure, heart defects that were present since birth and acquired heart disease (people who have developed heart disease such as an irregular rhythm or heart attacks).

What do these conditions may mean in the long-term?

While heart conditions can make pregnancy more complex to manage, high-quality care from experts in caring for pregnant people with heart disease can make all the difference in ensuring a safe, happy ending for mother and baby. After pregnancy, people who have experienced heart-related pregnancy complications are oftentimes at higher risk of heart issues later in life. Knowing this risk can help a patient receive preventive care after pregnancy, to reduce the risk of heart problems for decades to come. 

Tip #1: If you have had heart problems and are thinking about pregnancy, speak to your health care provider and consider meeting with a cardiologist and a maternal-fetal medicine specialist before becoming pregnant. 

Many patients who become pregnant with an existing heart condition can have safe, successful pregnancies, but meeting prior to pregnancy with experts will allow them to review any potential complications with pregnancy, ensure that the medications you take would be recommended in pregnancy, and preview how your pregnancy care might proceed.

Tip #2: Ask your health care provider if low-dose aspirin therapy is right for you. For many patients with risk factors for high blood pressure-related complications of pregnancy such as preeclampsia, taking a baby aspirin every day has been shown to prevent complications. Your health care provider can review your health history with you and recommend whether low-dose aspirin should be part of your pregnancy care plan.

Tip #3: If you are pregnant and concerned about your heart, let your health care provider know! Symptoms of pregnancy and symptoms of heart disease sometimes overlap — for example, many pregnant people experience shortness of breath and swollen legs at the end of pregnancy. While most patients who have symptoms during pregnancy do not have heart disease, it is important to let your health care provider know about new symptoms and concerns, so that they can help you decide together whether further treatment is needed. Some symptoms to look out for include suddenly worse fatigue, fainting, chest pain, shortness of breath, trouble breathing when lying down, palpitations and sudden swelling in the legs.     

Back Pain and Repetitive Motion Injuries

Anyone can get a repetitive strain injury. Workers with physically demanding jobs and people who sit at a desk or use a computer often are at an increased risk of developing back pain and repetitive strain injuries (RSIs). These injuries can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Carrying heavy loads
  • Bending and twisting repeatedly
  • Poor posture when sitting or standing
  • Working in awkward positions

Causes of Back Pain and Repetitive Motion Injuries

The causes of back pain and RSIs in postal workers can be divided into two categories:

  • Physical factors: These include the tasks that workers perform on a daily basis, such as lifting heavy objects, carrying heavy loads, bending and twisting repeatedly, and using vibrating tools.
  • Ergonomic factors: These include the way that work spaces are set up, such as the height of their workstations, the type of chairs they use, and the amount of space you have to move around.

How to Prevent Back Pain and Repetitive Motion Injuries

There are a number of things that you can do to prevent back pain and RSIs, including:

  • Lifting safely: Lift heavy objects with the help of a coworker or a mechanical device. Bend your knees when lifting, keep your back straight, and use your legs to do the lifting.
  • Carrying safely: Try not to carry heavy loads by yourself. Use a cart or a dolly to transport heavy loads.
  • Bending and twisting safely:  If you can avoid bending and twisting at the waist. Instead bend your knees and keep your back straight when performing these tasks.
  • Arranging their work space ergonomically: If possible arrange your work space so that you can work in a comfortable and efficient manner. This includes adjusting the height of their workstations, using the right type of chair, and having enough space to move around.

How are back pain and repetitive strain injuries diagnosed?

See your medical provider if symptoms make it difficult for you to do your day-to-day activities, like your job.

Your healthcare provider will conduct a physical exam. They may ask your symptoms and if any of your daily activities increase your symptoms. Your provider may need a few imagining tests to diagnose a repetitive strain injury.

You can prevent back pain and repetitive stress injuries by following safe lifting and carrying techniques and arranging your work space ergonomically.

Hey, Dads: You Play a Big and Important Role in Your Kid’s Health

AHA News: Hey, Dads: You Play a Big and Important Role in Your Kids' Health
THURSDAY, June 15, 2023 (American Heart Association News)

Dads get plenty of attention on Father’s Day, but they’ve sometimes been overlooked in research about how they affect their children’s health.

But from the start, fathers shape their children’s health in significant ways, said James Muchira, an assistant professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Fathers, especially on Father’s Day, need to know that they have a big part to play in modeling healthy behaviors,” said Muchira, who studies how heart disease risks are transmitted across generations. “Their involvement is key.”

A father’s influence is unique, complementing but not being redundant with a mother’s role, said pediatrician Dr. Michael Yogman, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Yogman was lead author of a 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics report on fathers’ roles that said although mothers still handle most child care, fathers are more involved than ever before and are big influences on how their children eat, exercise and play.

Here’s what Yogman and Muchira said about how fathers shape the health of their offspring.

It goes beyond biology

When discussing fathers, “we’re talking about a pretty diverse set of male caregivers, not all of whom are biological fathers,” Yogman said.

Adoptive fathers, foster fathers and nonresident fathers all count. “We also shouldn’t neglect grandfathers,” said Yogman, who has two daughters and two granddaughters.

Muchira said the way children pick up behaviors from their parents is complex. But overall, most of the risk of chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, is not genetic. The bulk of the risk comes from factors such as where a child is growing and what they are eating, along with education and other socioeconomic factors.

“All these combined would have a higher impact to cardiovascular disease than just inheritance,” Muchira said.

It starts early

Mothers-to-be have a dominant influence before birth, when her body is sustaining the developing child. But the earlier that fathers get involved, the better the pregnancy outcome, Yogman said.

A report he co-wrote in 2021 cited research that has correlated a father’s involvement during pregnancy with a greater likelihood of prenatal care and less smoking by the mother.

A father’s style of play with infants may differ from a mother’s, he said. Dads may do more tapping games and more bicycling of the legs, and they’re likely to toss their babies in the air more. When children are 18 to 24 months old, fathers engage in more rough-and-tumble play, which might help children become more independent, develop better emotional control and reduce behavioral problems, studies say.

Being a role model matters

Yogman said that when a father engages in healthy behaviors related to fitness, or even staying off the phone at the dinner table, the model can permeate through the family. “A lot of these lifestyle issues are really critical for good health,” he said.

Muchira’s research has looked at how parents’ lifestyles can affect cardiovascular health risk factors – such as cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose, smoking and body mass index – over a lifetime. Because of mothers’ influence during pregnancy, they have a stronger effect than fathers over the years, he said. But his research also suggests that the better a father’s cardiovascular health is, the lower the risk of heart disease and stroke for his children.

Muchira said the connections between what a parent is doing and their child’s health aren’t immediately obvious. But problems such as stiffening of the arteries can begin even before birth, and in his work, he’s shown that a parent’s lifestyle is associated with their offspring’s health more than 50 years later.

Parents have that long-lasting influence because of how they model behavior, healthy and unhealthy, Muchira said. If a father takes a child for a walk, that child may learn to enjoy walks. If a father encourages healthy eating, a child may learn from that as well. Studies have shown that children of fathers who are active are more likely to be active themselves.

As the father of a 4-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son, Muchira is aware that his own modeling and guidance affect his children in ways he can’t always see, and he knows there will be times as they grow up when they might ignore his advice. But he thinks of an older friend who vividly remembers when their parents taught them to avoid sugary foods and still thinks about that lesson when making choices today.

A child or teenager might not always eat the way a well-informed adult would, Muchira said. “But the point is, they know. And once they know, it is very different from someone who doesn’t know.”

Muchira emphasized, however, that some things are out of a father’s control. A father can’t model healthy eating if the family can’t afford food, and he can’t take kids on a walk if there is no safe place to do so.

Fathers can buffer against toxic stress

Childhood adversity and prolonged stress can lead to multiple health and psychological problems. But even one supportive, trusting relationship can go a long way toward buffering against it, Yogman said. Researchers have shown, for example, that a healthy father’s engagement “can be enormously adaptive and protective for the child” when a mother has postpartum depression, he said.

Other research done among low-income Hispanic immigrant families showed that when a father was involved in caring for an infant, the child later had lower levels of a stress-related hormone and performed better on memory tests as 8- or 9-year-olds.

Muchira said fathers can help kids manage their stress through exercise or just spending time together. “These kinds of habits release the healthful chemicals in the body that will reduce some of these mechanisms of transmission of disease risk to their kids,” he said.

What a father has to understand

It’s not enough to just tell a child what to do, Muchira said. “They also need to know why they are doing what they’re doing. If the parents are just doing things without the kids knowing, then the kids will not see the point of doing it.”

Which means a father has to understand his own heart-related numbers – BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol – and other risk factors. “The father will have to know those things so that he can communicate them to the kids,” Muchira said.

Fathers also should be aware that they, too, can suffer from postpartum depression that can affect the whole family, Yogman said. And they should be active participants in their child’s pediatric visits. (The AAP report says that pediatricians, who traditionally have emphasized communication with moms, need to be more welcoming to dads.)

Dads, it’s OK if you don’t always know best

There’s no such thing as perfect parenting,” Yogman said. “All of us are guilty of all kinds of weaknesses and infractions.”

Guilt and impossible standards don’t help anybody, he said. But a father’s goal, he said, is simply to do what he can. “You want your kids to do better than you did.”

It may not be possible to prevent a child from ever having heart disease, Muchira said. But instilling healthy values can lengthen the time they live without it. “We want them to be able to enjoy life longer.”
American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Not all views expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved.

By Michael Merschel, American Heart Association News  

Virtual Food Drive Success

Every year the APWU Health Plan collects donations to benefit the Maryland Food Bank. The Health Plan organized a virtual drive to help our donations go further. With each donation of $10 the local food bank can provide up to 10 meals to Marylanders facing hunger. Our 2023 goal was to raise an additional $2,500. The food drive was held from May 05, 2023 through June 07, 2023. The food drive was a success and we exceeded our fundraising goal! I am sincerely grateful for the generosity of the Health Plan staff and proud to be part of the APWU Health Plan Team.

food and drinks inside the carton box
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com