Safe Sleep Awareness

10 tips to keep infants safe

October is Safe Sleep Awareness Month and the U.S. continues to have a higher infant mortality rate than any of the other 27 wealthy countries. The World Health Organization reports that a U.S.-born baby is almost three times more likely to die before the age of 1 versus babies born in Finland or Japan.

Of the many causes of infant mortality, one that is preventable is suffocation in an unsafe sleep environment. A majority of infant deaths related to sleep could be prevented if parents are empowered with the latest information and tools, such as those from The Baby Box Co., which aims to help new families by offering similar resources to those that have helped Finland reduce its infant mortality statistics over the past 80 years.

Ideal as a parent starter kit, Baby Boxes also serve as a safe sleep space for babies. While parents can use the products inside and the portable safe sleep space, it’s the parenting education they receive through the company’s online program, Baby Box University, that is key to keeping babies safe.

“Whether you are a first time parent or have many children, it’s important to continually update yourself on medical recommendations for safe sleep,” said Dr. Dyann Daley, a pediatric anethesiologist and founder of the nonprofit organization Predict, Align, Prevent Inc. “Sometimes, well-meaning medical professionals may not be aware of current best practices. These tips, based on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, can help give babies a safe start in life.”

  1. Babies should sleep alone. It’s understandable that parents like to be close to their little ones while they sleep, however, there is a significant risk of suffocation from bedding or parents rolling onto the baby if they co-sleep. The safest place for baby is in his or her own bed.
  2. Baby’s mattress should be firm and safety approved.
  3. Baby should sleep in the same room as his or her caregivers. Studies have shown a significant reduction in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) when baby sleeps in his or her own bed in the same room as caregivers.
  4. Keep soft items out of baby’s bed. This includes crib bumpers, loose bedding, pillows and plush toys.
  5. Put baby to sleep on his or her back. Face-up is the safest position for a newborn.
  6. Breastfeed safely at night. According to a study released by Temple University Hospital, 59 percent of mothers who exclusively breastfed their babies and used a Baby Box said it made breastfeeding easier, due to the proximity of baby’s bed at night.
  7. Give baby a pacifier. Use a dry pacifier that is not attached to a string, cord or stuffed animal, but don’t force your baby to use it if he or she resists. If the pacifier falls out during sleep, there’s no need to put it back in baby’s mouth.
  8. Give baby plenty of tummy time when awake. This will help strengthen the muscles in baby’s back and neck, and can help them grow strong.
  9. Don’t let baby get too hot during sleep. Dress your baby in no more than one layer and maintain a room temperature comfortable for adults.
  10. Don’t smoke or let others smoke around your baby. Infants exposed to smoke are three times more likely to suffer SIDS-related death.

There’s no greater start in life than with empowering information for parents. Find more information at (Family Features)


Gamified Dieting for a Healthier, Wealthier Holiday & New Year

Written By Merilee Kern, ‘The Luxe List’ Executive Editor

Photography Courtesy of HealthyWage SM.

Photography Courtesy of HealthyWage SM.

Even during the gluttonous holidays and into the New Year “diet resolution” season, weight loss doesn’t have to be a difficult or costly endeavor. It can actually be quite profitable. One organization founded on much obesity and incentivization research,, has found a way to help dieters overcome their short-term financial woes and spur weight loss from the start by applying “double-incentivization” methodology.

The company’s diet-for-dollars program allows participants to make a wager upfront ranging anywhere from $20 a month to as much as $500. Participants then commit to a specific amount of weight loss in a specific time frame, for which they’ll receive a cash prize payout if they achieve their goal in the allotted time. Company reps cite that the average participant wagers $60 per month for 9 months and roughly triples their investment if they are successful at achieving their goal. The financial upside potential is impressive.

Through its website, shares an array of inspirational success stories of both women and men who gained financially for their pound-shedding achievements using the company’s unique gamification approach. Jessica C. in Clearwater, Florida won $1,938.70 for losing 67 pounds in 6 months; Mat E. in High Point, North Carolina won $2,952.00 for losing 73.8 pounds in 9 months; Mykerah Z. in Stevens Point, Wisconsin won $2,935.06 for losing 77 pounds in 18 months; Jessica W. in Bellmawr, New Jersey won $1,308.29 for losing 40.2 pounds in 6 months; and Kerry B. in Lindenhurtst, New York won $1,399.09 for losing 51 pounds in 6 months.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

The 100-plus club is even more impressive with Kristin W. having lost 114 pounds and winning $4,000 in a 12-month HealthyWager contest. She subsequently lost another 14 pounds for a total loss of 128 pounds, nearing half her starting weight of 279. Nancy W. lost 101 pounds in a 12-month “HealthyWager” contest and won $4,000 as well, and then went on to lose 14 more pounds in HealthyWage’s Summer Jackpot contest, winning another $105 resulting in total winnings of $4,105. Her starting weight was 312, and she got down to 152 with HealthyWage for a whopping 160 pound total weight loss—more than half of her starting weight. Then there’s Danielle S. who lost 127.5 pounds and won $1,323 in a 9-month HealthyWager contest, and Ben C. who lost a solid 100 pounds and won $1,509 in a 9-month HealthyWager contest of his own.

Reportedly overall, more than 200,000 participants across America have collectively lost over 10 million pounds and gained over $2.5 million in cash prizes for their success. To me, the fact that so many participants have actually lost over 100 pounds with this money-driven program exemplifies the power and efficacy of this weight wagering methodology. This coupled with more and more studies substantiating the financially-induced diet model both at home and in business among employee groups.

In fact, results from one study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicated that “’Loss Incentive’ Motivates Employees to Take More Steps,” finding that financial incentives framed as a loss were most effective for achieving physical activity goals.

“This study, and throngs of others, reiterates the importance of the ‘stick’ in the design of a wellness incentive program,” notes co-founder. “Many studies have demonstrated that the threat of losing something of value is much more effective than the opportunity to win something of equal value. That’s precisely why we advocate that program participants ‘pay to play’ and make an investment out of their own pocket in order to win rewards—in our case large cash prizes—for losing weight and getting more active in the program.”

So if you’re looking for a fun and competitive diet program that proffers cash incentives, social and expert-based support, online tools and resources, goal-setting and tracking technologies and other helpful support mechanisms to better assure your pound shedding success (and monetary earnings related thereto), just may be for you. After all, the company was founded in response to academic research proving that even small cash rewards triple the effectiveness of weight-loss programs; that people are more effective at losing weight when their own money is at risk; and that social dynamics play a large role in the spread of obesity, and will likely play a large role in reversing obesity. You can take that to the bank.


As a branding pundit, wellness industry veteran, consumer health advocate and influential media voice, Merilee Kern spotlights noteworthy marketplace innovations, change makers, movers and shakers.  Also a two-time fitness champion, her ground-breaking, award-winning “Kids Making Healthy Choices” Smartphone APP for children, parents/caregivers and educators is based on her award-winning, illustrated fictional children’s book, “Making Healthy Choices – A Story to Inspire Fit, Weight-Wise Kids.” Merilee may be reached online at Follow her on Twitter at and Facebook at

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above may have been provided or arranged at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

Stopping at Nothing: A 69-Year-Old BMX Racer Overcomes Her Joint Pain

Ever since her 20s, Kittie Weston-Knauer had experienced osteoarthritis (OA) pain in her hips and knees, but it never stopped her from staying active. In her 40s, she even picked up a new, exciting hobby: BMX, or bicycle motocross racing. Gradually though, despite her active lifestyle, the joint pain increased to the point where, in her 60s, even every day activities, like getting out of bed became nearly impossible.

As Kittie’s physical pain grew, it was compounded by emotional pain as she hit a breaking point: realizing she was living her life “on pause” and that joint pain was keeping her from doing the things she loved.

“Pain messes with the mind,” says the now 69-year-old Kittie. “I’ve always been an extreme athlete, and I didn’t want the pain to slow me down. I had been racing BMX for the last 27 years so I wasn’t about to allow the pain to keep me from having fun. I knew I could no longer continue living my life that way.”

As people age, the body changes in ways that many don’t anticipate. These changes, including the “aging” of joints, can cause individuals to feel “young at heart but old of joint.” This feeling may be a result of OA, the most common form of arthritis that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affects nearly 27 million U.S. adults. The CDC estimates that 1 in 2 people will be affected by some form of OA in their lifetime.

Despite OA being one of the most common reasons for severe hip or knee pain that can lead to joint replacement surgery, many experience joint pain that is so debilitating it negatively impacts their quality of life, making hobbies or everyday activities more time consuming, strenuous and overwhelming.

A recent online survey, commissioned by DePuy Synthes, of 500 U.S. women aged 45-65 who had hip or knee replacement surgery or plan to have surgery soon, found that most women live with significant hip or knee pain almost every day often for five years or more before opting for surgery. And nearly all women surveyed who received a hip or knee replacement within the last five years felt their life was “on pause” prior to surgery.

For Kittie, she knew what she had to do next. She spoke with a team of healthcare professionals about her options, and together they decided to replace both of her hips and knees within the year. Now that Kittie has undergone joint replacement surgery, she has “hit play” on the activities she loves.

“It’s a whole new world out there,” Kittie says. “There isn’t anything that I can’t do in terms of movement: squatting, exercising and BMX racing. The surgery made a difference. I can now do what I like to do.”

Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. William Barrett, Medical Director for the Joint Center at Valley Medical Center in Renton, WA, notes that if you are a woman who’s suffering from joint pain, be sure to take steps to manage your discomfort. “Speak to a doctor who can help you identify the best treatment for your hip or knee pain. Treatment for osteoarthritis will vary based on one’s level of pain and immobility but may include physical therapy, pain medications, or joint replacement surgery,” says Dr. Barrett.

These tips may help:

* Simple at-home exercises may potentially help in relieving the pain. For example, stand upright with your back against a wall and feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly bend your knees, sliding your back down the wall. Hold the position for five seconds, then slowly slide back up the wall. Repeat 10 times. Make it a habit to incorporate simple exercises like these into your daily routine.

* It’s easy for joints to get stiff when you’re sedentary, so make it a point to stay active when possible. You can incorporate extra activity into your day by getting up for a lap around the office every hour or parking your car farther away from your final destination.

It’s important to remember that the performance of hip or knee replacements depends on age, weight, activity level and other factors. There are potential risks and recovery takes time. People with conditions limiting rehabilitation should not have these surgeries. Only an orthopaedic surgeon can determine if hip or knee replacement is necessary based on an individual patient’s condition.

To learn more about potential treatment options for hip and knee pain as well as helpful resources, visit (BPT)

The DEN Debuts New Meditation Space in Studio City

DEN Meditation Studio City

DEN Meditation Studio City

On October 16, The DEN Meditation will open another Los Angeles location in Studio City on Ventura Boulevard. The DEN, which also has a La Brea flagship and Silverlake pop-up, specializes in drop-in meditation classes in a soothing and approachable environment, offering Angelenos a peaceful space to meditate or find peace of mind in the city bustle. The secular offerings include traditional classes, retreats, private sessions, workshops, sound baths and even kid’s classes. To introduce itself and classes to the Studio City neighborhood, The DEN will debut with 5 days of $5 classes for it’s opening week of Oct. 16-20.

The 2,000 square foot studio, located at 12323 Ventura Boulevard, is a chic, urban space in the heart of Studio City. The brick walls, reclaimed wood, cozy sitting area and big lanterns mirror the homey feel of the company’s other location, creating a relaxed and happy environment. Wifi, complimentary tea and coffee and an inspiring library invoke a community environment that goes beyond the classes themselves.

“When we opened up the La Brea location, the biggest request we were hearing was from clients traveling from over the hill wanting something closer.  We are so happy we can now provide that for them.” shares owner Tal Rabinowitz. “We are planning on continuing to open more locations, as we really want to get meditation to everybody!”

Rabinowitz, a former Executive Vice President at NBC Entertainment, came up with the concept for The DEN when she started meditating to cope with the stress of work. She had difficulty maintaining her practice and sought a place where she could take a class and find a quiet space. She realized, that among LA’s copious workout classes and wellness offerings, there was nothing specifically for meditation. Rabinowitz set out to create a welcoming hub for meditation and mindfulness, and has accomplished her goal and then some.  The DEN has become a neighborhood mainstay for meditation, as well as being touted as “Where Hollywood goes to meditate” given its long list of celebrity clientele.

“Come as you are, leave feeling better” is the company’s philosophy and mantra. Classes are unpretentious, all-levels and offer a variety of focuses to meet the needs of urban life. Classes range from 20-45 minutes, accommodating busy schedules, with longer workshops and programming available as well. Lunchtime Detox, Candlelight Relax, Medigaytion, Mindfulness and Reiki are just a few of the offerings, demonstrating the diverse “something for everyone” vibe that The DEN set out to achieve in the meditation space.

For more information please contact Rebecca Reinbold at 310.383.1051 or You can also visit The DEN online at

Reserve the Rind

Watermelon rinds make for more than just attractive containers for serving cold dishes and beverages. The rind can also be used in creative, edible ways and is good for your heart.

Watermelon, both the flesh and the rind, is a good source of a compound called citrulline, an amino acid that raises levels of arginine in the blood, which in turn helps maintain blood flow, healthy blood vessels and heart health.

Whether you’re eating for good health or good taste (or both), you can use the rind to make pickles and relishes, grate into salads and slaws, toss into stir-fry and add to smoothies and juice. The key to chowing down on watermelon rind is knowing how to prepare it. These three preparation methods can help you put that rind to good use:

Pickled: Watermelon rind is similar to a cucumber, which is why it’s no surprise that pickled watermelon rind is a popular option.

Juiced: Most people know you can enjoy juice from red flesh of the melon, but you can juice the rind, too. Just like the watermelon flesh, the rind is loaded with water and nutrients.

Stir-Fried: When it’s cut up, watermelon rind is just like a vegetable, which means it can be tossed in a pan and stir-fried right alongside broccoli and carrots.

Look for more creative ways to use your watermelon rind at

Watermelon Rind Pickles

  • 4          cups water
  • 1          tablespoon coarse salt
  • 2          cups peeled watermelon rind, cut into 1-1/2-by-2-inch pieces (leave thin layer of pink)
  • 3/4       cup granulated sugar
  • 1          allspice berry
  • 1/2       cup cider vinegar
  • 4          peppercorns
  • 4          whole cloves
  • 1/2       teaspoon pickling spice
  • 1          long slice of fresh gingerroot
  • 1/4       teaspoon celery seeds
  1. In large pot over medium-high heat, bring water and salt to boil. Add rind pieces and boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Strain. Transfer rinds to large metal bowl.
  2. In saucepan, combine watermelon rind, sugar, berries, vinegar, peppercorns, cloves, pickling spice, gingerroot and celery seeds. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Simmer 15 minutes until slightly reduced. Pour over watermelon rinds in bowl. Place plate over top to keep rinds submerged in liquid.
  3. Cover and refrigerate 1 day. Transfer to glass jar and keep sealed in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Watermelon Rind Stir-Fry

  • 2          teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2          cups watermelon rind, julienned (white part only, from about 1/2 of seedless watermelon)
  • 1          cup julienned carrots
  • 1/2       cup chives, cut into 3-inch pieces
  • 1          tablespoon honey
  • 1          tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1          tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1          clove garlic, minced
  • 1          piece (about 1 inch) ginger, minced
  • 1/2       cup fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1/4       cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/4       cup mint leaves
  • crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  1. In wok over high heat, heat sesame oil. Add watermelon rind and carrots and fry, stirring constantly, 1-2 minutes. Let sit over high heat 1 additional minute without stirring. Add chives and stir to combine.
  2. In small bowl, whisk together honey, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic and ginger. Pour sauce over watermelon rind and cook, stirring, 30 seconds-1 minute, until fragrant.
  3. Transfer to serving dish. Add basil, cilantro and mint, tossing to combine. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, if desired, and serve. (Family Features)

National Watermelon Promotion Board

Shapeshift Your Life With Three Simple Steps

Ilona Selke

Ilona Selke

In Dream Big, Ilona Selke offers readers profound yet simple advice that empowers them to take charge of their own healing and life outcomes: stop, look, and choose. Through engaging real-life stories of transformative experiences combined with inspirational guidance inviting all to consider the nature of the universe from a new perspective, Dream Big provides concrete practices to support people in setting and achieving goals while transmuting whatever is blocking us from those goals into healthier, more joyful energies.

Stop – This step is about stopping the whirlwind and data overload from news media, social media, digital devices and more. Make time and space to focus on what really matters to you and to discover your personal truth and heart’s desires.

Look – Look within to see (if you’re a more visual learner) or feel (if you’re a more kinesthetic learner) what your life will be like when you achieve your personal goals. Allow yourself to step outside of 3-D reality and into a higher dimension of experience to become conscious of being consciousness itself. Commit to this practice every day until you achieve what you’re aiming for.

Choose – You have the power to choose a different life. All you need is a goal, a powerful vision and/or sensation of what it would be like to achieve that goal and the discipline to put yourself in that mental/emotional state for a minimum of 3 – 5 minutes each day.

“Any moment of life, you can step out of the film that you are currently living in and become aware that you are the director,” says Ilona. “You can refocus on what you really want. You sit in the director’s chair of your life. Increased bliss and happiness will be your rewards.”

For more information, visit Ilona Selke’s online press kit at or her public websites: and

Dr. OZ Unveils You by Sharecare ~ VR Meets Health at Microsoft Store In Austin

Written by James Nelson, Technology Editor for InFluential Magazine and Teen InFluential

On Thursday, September 28, Vive, Microsoft and Sharecare unveiled a VR experience that puts health in the power of patients using VR education.  We were thrilled to be in attendance at its national debut in Austin.

Dr. Mehmet Oz

Dr. Mehmet Oz

Available on September 28 on the HTC Vive, YOU by Sharecare facilitates the personalization of medicine and health by empowering users to freely navigate an anatomically and functionally accurate 3D model of a virtual human body and its individual organs, in real-time.

Dr. Mehmet Oz

Dr. Mehmet Oz

This means patients now have the ability to go inside the body to understand medical diagnosis and physiological functions (such as heart rate) and truly understand what a treatment impact can be – all using VR.

Dr. Mehmet Oz

Dr. Mehmet Oz

The experience was unveiled  at the Microsoft Store in Austin with Sharecare investor, Dr. Oz.

Learn more about Sharecare here.

An Overlooked Benefit to Consider This Open Enrollment Season

Being a parent is a balancing act. You are constantly being pulled in different directions and it can be challenging managing all of the things you need to get done. Your company’s open enrollment period is a chance to take stock of what benefits your workplace offers that may be able to help you manage some of the issues you face.
One often overlooked benefit is a group legal plan, which provides access to a nationwide network of attorneys for help with personal legal issues for around $20 a month. Here are just a few reasons why a legal plan can be a valuable benefit for a parent:
It helps with the things keeping you up at night. Have you considered who would take care of your children if something happened to you or your spouse? Or what if someone in the family became disabled? Do you have financial and health care directives in place to protect your family? If you have kids, you need to have estate planning documents. A group legal plan covers the cost of drafting documents like wills and powers of attorney for you, your spouse and dependents.
It can help protect or restore your identity. Identity theft is on the rise, with child identity theft quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing identity theft crimes. Contacting creditors and other agencies to resolve an identity theft issue can be very time-consuming and costly. In fact, the average cost to resolve an identity theft issue, including legal fees, is around $1,300, according to a U.S. Department of Justice study cited by CSID. Access to identity theft assistance through a group legal plan connects you to experts who can do the work for you, saving you time and money.
It helps with buying or selling a home. Having children can mean having to move to a bigger house. There are numerous legal issues involved in buying or selling a home. Attorneys can review contracts, draft documents related to the purchase or sale, as well as attend the closing for you. A legal plan provides you with access to an attorney to guide you through the homebuying or selling process, taking away the stress of dealing with complicated paperwork and legal issues.
It can help with school-related issues. As your child enters school, there are many complicated issues he or she may face. Dealing with special needs requests, administrative hearings at school or even juvenile court for traffic infractions are all legal issues that can be difficult for most parents to maneuver without legal help. When you are enrolled in a legal plan, it’s similar to having an attorney on retainer. You can contact an attorney for any questions you have related to issues your children face throughout their school years.
Having access to affordable legal help through a group legal plan can help you navigate many of the issues you face as a parent. If your company offers this as a benefit at your work, it’s one to consider this open enrollment season. (BPT)

Smart, Kid-friendly Options for After-school Snacking

Whether they’re in a club or after-school program, play on a sports team or go straight home, when the school day is done, all children have something in common — they could use a good snack!

Children need healthy fuel after school, but often can be picky about what they’ll reach for. Parents can struggle to find snacks that are portable and provide the protein and nutrition kids need, plus deliver on the flavor and fun factor that will ensure their kids eat the snack instead of tossing it in the trash.

Hungry for snack ideas? Here are some tips for choosing snacks that parents can feel good about to help keep your kids going when the school day ends:

* Pack in protein — Protein is a vital component of a balanced diet, especially for the developing bodies of young children. Choosing a high-protein snack can also help children avoid the energy crash that occurs after consuming sugary snacks. Look for protein-rich snacks like Nature Valley Protein Chewy Bars, which offer 10 grams of protein and are available in kid-friendly flavors like Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Nut.

* Whole grains are great — Whole grains offer a host of healthful nutrients, including B vitamins, minerals, protein and antioxidants, according to HealthLine. Children can get whole grains from many sources, including whole-grain breads, but cereal can be a very kid-friendly option for whole-grain goodness. Create your own small treat bags of cereal for on-the-go snacks. Options like Cheerios are made from whole grain oats, so they pack 24 grams of whole grain per serving — about half of the recommended daily allowance.

* Drink up, drink wisely — At the end of the day, kids thirst for something to go with their snack. Before letting kids reach for a juice or sports drink, remind them that water is the best beverage for everyone, regardless of what they do after school. Nothing hydrates like H2O, but if your child doesn’t like the taste of plain water, you can find many sugar-free, lightly and naturally flavored waters to tempt their taste buds.

* Calcium is key — Young bones do a lot of growing, and calcium is essential for bone growth. Children can benefit from snacks rich in calcium — which are, coincidentally, often also rich in protein — such as cheese and yogurt. String cheese or yogurt variations like E-Z open Go-Gurt are calcium- and protein-rich snacks that are also kid friendly, and easy to enjoy on the go during the busy school year. Put a frozen Go-Gurt in your kid’s backpack in the morning and it will stay cold until after-school soccer practice.

Numerous studies show after-school activities benefit kids physically, mentally and socially. Choosing the right after-school snacks can help ensure kids get the most enjoyment and nutritional benefits after the school bell rings. (BPT)

5 Tips to Help Prepare for Open Enrollment and Save on Health Care Costs

Millions of Americans will soon select or switch their health benefits plan during open enrollment, so now is the time to prepare for that important decision that usually happens once a year.

More than 70 percent of Americans say they are prepared for open enrollment, yet most people struggle to understand basic health insurance terms, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey. Only 9 percent of survey respondents could successfully define all four basic health insurance concepts: plan premium, deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum.

To help people make the most out of their health benefits, and better understand how to use their health care dollars, Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare, offers the following five tips.

1. Know your open enrollment dates

Open enrollment isn’t the same or at the same time for everyone, so there are key dates to keep in mind depending on your situation:

* For the more than 177 million Americans with employer-provided coverage, many companies set aside a two-week period between September and December when employees can select health benefits for the following year.

* For the more than 59 million seniors and other people enrolled in Medicare, their Open Enrollment runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year.

* Health insurance marketplace or individual state exchange open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

For most people, changes made to coverage during open enrollment take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

2. Take time to review your options

Every person or family has unique health and budget needs, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to selecting a health plan. Take the time to explore your options, and understand the benefits and costs of each plan so you can find the coverage that works best for you and your family members.

* Check if your current coverage still meets your needs and if your benefits will change next year.

* Determine if the plan is a good fit for your budget, and pay attention to more than just the monthly premium. You should also understand the other out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, copays and coinsurance.

* Make sure your medications are covered. Even if you don’t expect to change plans, it’s important to ensure your drugs will still be covered next year.

3. Make sure your doctor is in your plan’s care provider network

Even if you don’t make any changes to your health insurance this year, it’s still a good idea to ensure that any doctor you see regularly — or plan to visit in the coming year — is in your benefit plan’s care provider network. If you plan to visit a doctor or hospital outside of the network, be sure to understand how your costs will differ from a network care provider because those costs will most likely be higher.

Also, check if your plan includes 24/7 telehealth services for consultations on minor health issues. Often, telehealth — defined as online, or virtual, visits with a doctor over a computer, tablet or mobile phone — is available to people enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans and group Medicare Advantage plans, as well as select individual Medicare Advantage plans. Virtual visits may provide convenient and affordable access to care for minor medical issues, including allergies, bronchitis and seasonal flu.

4. Don’t forget about additional benefits

Additional benefits such as dental, vision, accident or critical-illness insurance are often affordable options that can protect you and your family from head to toe. For people enrolled in Medicare, many are surprised to find that Original Medicare doesn’t cover prescription drugs and most dental, vision and hearing services. But many Medicare Advantage plans do, often at a $0 monthly premium beyond the premium for Original Medicare.

5. Take advantage of wellness programs.

Some health plans offer discounts on gym memberships and provide financial incentives for completing health assessments, signing up for health coaching programs, lowering your cholesterol, losing weight, meeting walking goals or stopping smoking. Programs are designed to reward people for making healthy choices and being more engaged in improving their health.

For help navigating open enrollment, visit for articles and videos with easy-to-understand information about health benefits and health insurance terms. (BPT)