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Life and Health


By Life and Health

As you prepare for your next overseas trip, whether it’s a vacation in France, China, or Bermuda, you’re probably dreaming of delicious local cuisine, incredible sight-seeing adventures, or plenty of relaxing days on the beach. But one thing you might have neglected to plan for is your health.

Many international travelers who fall ill while overseas aren’t sure where to turn. If you don’t plan ahead for such an unfortunate event, you could find yourself in quite a bind. Here are a few healthy travel tips you should keep in mind as you plan your next overseas journey:

Pay your doctor a visit. Before you board an international flight or set foot on a cruise ship, set up an appointment with your physician — especially if you have a medical condition. Your doctor can give you a thorough checkup to make sure you’re healthy enough to travel overseas.

Research the health care system of your final destination. Although quite a few international destinations, such as China, Costa Rica, and Thailand, offer top-notch medical care, many countries do not. Do your homework and find out if and how you’ll be able to get medical care if necessary. If the country you’re planning to visit has a notoriously substandard health care system, you might want to choose a different destination.

Get familiar with local diseases. If you are traveling to a particularly exotic country, you should familiarize yourself with common diseases and medical conditions in that area. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find out what diseases are common in certain countries. Visit for a list of countries that require vaccinations. Visit the World Health Organization’s Web site at

Take a close look at your Health insurance policy. Many Health insurance polices do not cover you if you’re traveling overseas. For example, Medicare does not cover international travel health expenses. However, certain Medigap policies do. This is why it’s extremely important to read the fine print on your Health insurance before you embark on that next trip.

If your Health insurance doesn’t cover you for trips abroad, you should purchase Comprehensive Travel insurance. Before signing on the dotted line, make sure this Travel insurance policy covers medical evacuations — these emergency evacs could cost you up to $50,000 out of pocket. You should also check the policy for any exclusions. Some Travel insurance won’t cover injuries that result from “risky” activities, such as mountain climbing or scuba diving.

Pack your meds. Don’t forget to pack any prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs you might need during your trip. If you have crucial prescriptions, be sure to pack some extra in your carry-on bag in case your luggage gets lost. Bring these meds in their original bottles including the labels. That way, you’ll have the necessary info if you need to refill a prescription during your trip. You should also know the generic names of your medication in case the pharmacy doesn’t carry the brand name.

Don’t push it. Many international travelers try to cram too much into one trip, which can be incredibly stressful on the body. Try to plan your trip so that you’re not rushing to a different city every day. Additionally, if you tire or get winded easily, you might want to avoid trips that require excessive walking or vacations in high altitudes.

Know where to turn if you fall ill. If you do get sick during your trip, you can obtain a list of local English-speaking doctors from the U.S. embassy or consulate. Before you leave for your trip, you may want to request a list of English-speaking doctors worldwide. You can obtain this free guide from the nonprofit organization, International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers. Visit their website at or call 716-754-4883.


By Life and Health

According to the Institute of Medicine, medication errors are among the most common type of preventable medical mistakes to occur in hospitals. Adverse drug events cause more than 770,000 injuries and deaths each year and cost up to $5.6 million per hospital, based on a study by the Agency for Health Research and Quality.

Although these statistics are disturbing, there are some measures you can take to avoid medication errors. If you want to play it safe with prescriptions, follow these five simple medication safety steps:

1. Keep a list of all your meds

If you’re paying a visit to your doctor’s office, the pharmacy, or the hospital, bring a complete list of all your medications with you. If you don’t have time to write down your medications, simply throw all them into a bag and take them with you.

You should include both prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as any vitamins and herbal supplements that you use. You should also tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have any known drug allergies. If you receive a new prescription, be sure to ask both your doctor and pharmacist if it’s safe to use with the other medications you’re taking currently.

2. Double check your prescription

When you pick up your medication at the pharmacy, make sure it’s the correct prescription. Double check that the name of the medication matches what your doctor wrote on the prescription.

If you’re picking up a refill, take note if the bottle or pills look different from the medication you’ve received in the past. Are the pills a different color, shape, or size? Has the bottle design changed? Don’t hesitate to tell your pharmacist if you notice such a disparity. Most of the time, patients are the first to notice medication errors. So if something seems wrong, go with your gut and speak up.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

When your doctor prescribes a new medication, feel free to ask both the doctor and pharmacist plenty of questions and make sure that you understand their answers.

If you’re worried that you won’t remember what the doctor tells you about your medications, take thorough notes during your appointment. You might also want to bring a family member or friend along with you who can keep track of your doctor or pharmacist’s advice.

4. Understand possible side effects

You’ve probably seen the long list of potential side effects that comes with a new prescription. Unfortunately, most patients pay this list no more than a fleeting glance before they throw it in the trash. However, it’s extremely important that you understand all possible side effects of a medication.

Although some prescription drug side effects can be a minor bother, others can be a sign of a serious problem or drug allergy. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what side effects you can expect with a prescription and familiarize yourself with the list of side effects that’s enclosed in the medication. If you develop a serious side effect or signs of drug allergy, stop taking the medicine and contact your doctor immediately. You might need to switch prescriptions or take a different dosage.

5. Make sure you know how to use the medication properly

When you pick up a new prescription, read all the directions on the drug label thoroughly. You might need to take the drug with a meal, on an empty stomach, or with a glass of milk. You might also need to avoid alcohol, driving, or sun exposure while you’re on the medication. Not following these instructions or taking the wrong dose could lead to serious problems.

Sometimes these labels can be confusing, especially when it’s a drug that needs be taken multiple times a day. If you do not understand any of the instructions, ask your pharmacist or doctor to clarify.

It’s important to follow all of these prescription safety rules. After all, these five easy steps could be the difference between life and death.


By Life and Health

As prescription co-payments for health plans continue to increase, and plan formularies continue to limit what medicines are covered, more and more people are finding themselves with tough decisions about how to pay for prescriptions. Even though Medicare Part D has offered some help, many seniors constantly struggle to pay for medications, especially those that are necessary to treat a chronic illness.

If you are one of these people who are dealing with the high cost of prescription drugs, there are steps you can take to keep costs in check:

  • Look at your policy provisions: Your coverage might have lower co-pays for generic drugs. Your insurer might also offer a mail order option that lets you get a three-month supply of prescriptions used to treat chronic conditions either at a discount, or with a lower co-pay. Also check the terms of your policy to see if your insurer caps how much it will pay out annually for prescriptions, or if it only pays for drugs on its formulary, which is its approved list of medications.
  • Ask your doctor if there is another alternative: Your doctor might be able to prescribe an over-the-counter medication that will cost less and be just as effective as the high priced prescription in treating your symptoms.

If a prescription is necessary, find out first if there is a generic version. Many older drugs have generic equivalents. However, if your physician is prescribing a new brand name drug, there might not be a generic available.

In that case, ask your doctor if “pill splitting” is an option to keep costs down. Your physician might be able to prescribe a larger dosage pill that you can slice using an inexpensive splitter. This isn’t always possible; however, and only your doctor can determine if your medication will still work effectively if you pill split.

  • Ask for samples: Pharmaceutical companies provide doctors with free drug samples to encourage them to prescribe a particular drug. Your doctor might be able to give you enough of these samples to supplement your prescription, helping to reduce costs.
  • Check the price of your prescription at several pharmacies: Use the Internet and your phone to comparison shop how much your prescription will cost before you have it filled. Even the price of generic drugs can differ dramatically from pharmacy to pharmacy.
  • Visit drug manufacturers’ Web sites: Many of the large pharmaceutical companies post downloadable coupons for their most popular drugs.
  • Take advantage of your company’s flexible spending plan (FSA): These are employer-sponsored plans that allow you to save pretax money to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses. In addition to prescription medications, FSAs also permit you to use the funds for some over-the-counter drugs.
  • Sign up for discount prescription cards: If you don’t have coverage, try applying for a drug discount card to get reduced prices on medicines. Some cards are free; others have small monthly or annual fees.
  • Sign up for prescription assistance programs sponsored by drug companies: Many pharmaceutical companies have started sponsoring assistance programs for people who can’t afford to buy the drugs that they need for chronic illnesses. Details can be found on their Web sites.


By Life and Health

Everyone has their reasons for not buying Disability Income (DI) insurance. Below are five of the most common. But do you know the facts?

Reason 1: I can always get coverage in the future.

Fact: True, but people usually develop health problems as they grow older, and premiums increase with age.

Reason 2: My family and friends will support me. Or I will pay my bills with savings.

Fact: Although your family and friends would love to help you, are they in a financial position to do so? And do you really want to be a burden on someone else? And, unless you’re independently wealthy your savings probably will not last long. Just one year of disability could easily wipe out several years of hard-earned savings.

Reason 3: I have Group Disability coverage through my job.

Fact: Even if your employer is among the few that’s not cutting back on benefits, Group Disability insurance typically covers just 60% of gross income, and benefits are usually fully taxable. Can you afford more than a 40% pay cut? Also, what happens if you change jobs?

Reason 4: I cannot afford it. I’ll purchase a policy later when I have the money.

Fact: The average premium is typically only 1% to 3% of your gross earnings. Plus, the longer you wait, the higher your premiums will be. If you cannot afford 1% to 3% of earnings, how will you afford to pay your bills in the event of a disability?

Reason 5: It’ll never happen to me.

Fact: If you’re under age 35, chances are one in three that you will be disabled for at least six months during the course of your career.1 Also, consider that more and more people are living with disabilities today that would’ve killed them in years past.

Your ability to work and earn an income is by far your largest asset. Consider the benefits of a disability income policy to help protect your earned income should a sickness or injury force you out of work.

1 1985 Commissioners’ Individual Disability A Table, Society of Actuaries


By Life and Health

If you’re shopping around for Life insurance, you might find the process to be confusing and frustrating. You’re not alone — Life insurance can be an extremely complex product, one that confounds consumers across the nation. However, many families discover that Term Life insurance is a relatively simple policy that fulfills all of their insurance needs.

Term Life provides protection for a specified number of years, ranging anywhere from one to 30 years. If the policy holder dies sometime within the term, their family receives a death benefit. These policies are less expensive because they are designed solely for protection. Many people choose Term insurance because they figure the need for Life insurance will decrease as they get older. Term insurance is also good option for those who want to protect their children until a certain age.

Although this might seem fairly simple, there’s a lot more to Term Life insurance. Here are five things you should keep in mind as you shop around for a Term Life policy:

    1. Figure out your objective
      Before you start shopping around for a Term Life policy, or any Life insurance for that matter, it’s important to ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. Depending on your goals, Term insurance might or might not be right for you. Most people who buy Term insurance outlive the policy’s term — which means they never receive the payout. However, if you’re just looking to protect your family and ensure your debts are paid off should you die within the next few years, a Term insurance might be the perfect solution.
    2. Understand Group vs. Individual
      There are two different types of Term Life insurance policies: Group and Individual. Group Term Life is offered by most companies as an employee benefit. Typically, all you have to do to apply is complete a short health history questionnaire. Unlike individual plans, most group plans don’t require a physical exam. If you qualify, the premiums are automatically deducted from your paycheck each month. With Individual Life policies, you apply for coverage on your own, and you are the owner of the policy. Typically, you have to undergo a medical exam and provide a detailed medical history to apply for an individual policy. You might also have to sign an agreement that gives the insurer permission to examine your medical records and perform a background check on you.

      Although the process of obtaining an Individual Life policy might seem more complicated and somewhat invasive, these policies offer a lot of advantages over group policies. For one, an individual policy is yours to keep. If you lose your job or decide to switch employers, you don’t have to worry about losing your Life insurance protection. Additionally, Individual policies usually offer what’s called “level premiums.” This means your premiums will not increase throughout the duration of your policy (which is usually 10, 20 or 30 years). Whereas, rates on Group policies usually increase every five years. Individual policies are also much more flexible than Group policies. For example, if you decide to upgrade your policy or switch to permanent policy, you’ll have more options available to you if you own an Individual policy.

    3. Devise an end-of-term plan
      As your policy nears the end of the term, you have a few different options, including the following:

      • Let the coverage expire: If you feel that Life insurance is no longer necessary — because your children are grown and/or your debts are paid off — then you might just want to let your policy expire.
      • Keep the policy: If you still want coverage, you might consider keeping your policy — but it’s important to realize that your premiums might jump significantly if you extend the term. However, this might be your only choice if you still want coverage but know you can’t qualify for a new policy due to health problems.
      • Get a new policy: If you are still healthy, you might decide to apply for a new policy to avoid an increase in premiums on your existing policy.
      • Upgrade: If your Term policy includes a “conversion privilege,” you can upgrade it to a permanent policy.


  1. Know how to upgrade
    If you choose to upgrade your Term Life policy to a permanent policy, you’ll have to read the fine print on your term contract. If your policy includes a conversion privilege, it might contain a time limitation. For example, once you reach age 70, some policies might not allow you to convert to a permanent policy. However, other plans allow you convert any time during the term of the policy.You should also find out what kind of policy to which you can convert. Although some Term policies allow you to convert to any kind of permanent policy (including Whole Life, Universal Life or Variable Universal Life) others might force you to convert to one specific type of policy. Finding the ideal Life insurance policy can be a daunting task. However, as long as you keep these tips in mind, and consult with one of our Life insurance specialists, you should be able to locate the best policy that will give you and your family peace of mind.


By Life and Health

There is a serious misconception about not buying Life insurance for a stay-at-home spouse that is all too common. Many people feel that because a spouse doesn’t work outside the home, Life insurance is not necessary because there’s no salary to replace.

The problem with this thinking is that it fails to account for all the jobs a stay-at-home spouse performs during a typical day, one of the most important being childcare. All of those tasks would still need to be completed if the stay-at-home spouse passed away. Either the surviving spouse would have to quit his or her job, go part-time, or hire someone else to help out. If the stay-at-home spouse had Life insurance, the policy proceeds could be used to pay someone to tackle the household tasks and care for the children so that the remaining spouse could continue to work and support the family.

When you buy coverage for a stay-at-home spouse, you need to consider how long you would need help. If your children are infants or toddlers, then you’ve got many years of childcare before they can be left on their own. If they are teenagers you will need less help because the children are gone most of the day and they can also help out with household chores.

Until you do a needs analysis, you can’t really know for sure how much coverage the stay-at-home spouse should own. The best way to ensure you have accounted for all the ways your family depends on the stay-at-home spouse, is to talk with your insurance agent. They can help you determine how much coverage to purchase.

There are two basic types of Life policies. Permanent Life insurance provides life long protection as long as premiums are paid when due. This coverage also accumulates tax-deferred cash value. Such cash value can be borrowed against for education, to buy a home, and supplement your retirement income. Keep in mind that any unpaid loans made against the policy’s cash value accrue interest and reduce the policy’s death benefit if the insured should die before the loan is fully repaid.

Most permanent policies offer a fixed premium for the life of the policy. Other plans offer flexible premiums and benefits to suit your needs.

The other option is Term Life insurance. This coverage provides affordable protection for a specified number of years. Term policies are available ranging from 5 years to 30 years, many of which are annually renewable after the initial term period. Look for a term policy with a conversion privilege. This permits you to convert your term policy to a permanent policy without providing evidence of insurability.

Consumers often choose term policies because of large coverage needs and affordability is always a factor. However, a term policy is only in force for a specific time and once it expires, you lose the death benefit unless you renew. Renewal costs can be sky high on these policies.

Since there are many issues to consider with your family’s Life insurance needs, it is important to discuss your options with your insurance agent. That way, your family will be financially prepared if they lose the person upon whom they are so dependent.


By Life and Health

There’s so much to plan when getting married that it’s easy to get bogged down in the details. It’s crucial not to lose sight of what really matters, and one of the most important matters to consider is your financial future as a couple.

According to an August 2007 survey, conducted by Allstate Insurance, the typical newlywed couple has combined assets of approximately $107,000. In spite of this, few newlyweds make provisions to protect their financial future through purchases such as Life insurance. In fact, 61% of those polled said they hadn’t purchased Life insurance before marriage, and 64% of that group still hadn’t purchased coverage within the first three years of marriage. A mere 23% of the respondents said they bought Life insurance during their first year of marriage. Another 9% did so before the end of the third year.

The study revealed some other interesting findings.

  • Of the men who responded, 42% had Life insurance beyond their employers’ coverage prior to marriage. Only 35% of the women respondents had coverage in addition to what their employer provided.
  • Of those surveyed, 53% said purchasing Life insurance showed a commitment to their future together as a couple.
  • Of those questioned, 42% said that Life insurance would be a thoughtful and meaningful gift for their spouse, but only 3% said they received or would likely receive a card or note to meet with a life insurance agent as an anniversary gift.

Even though Life insurance isn’t traditionally thought of as a romantic token of affection, it is an important gift that shouldn’t be overlooked. To help you find the coverage that’s right for the two of you, consider the following tips:

  • Talk to an expert. Meet with an insurance professional to evaluate your financial needs and goals and to determine how much life insurance you and your spouse need. Your insurance agent can also explain possible coverage amounts and options.
  • Plan for the future. Will you have debts that would need to be paid? Will you have enough to cover your children’s education costs? Will you have aging parents that may need care? Having Life insurance in the event of untimely death can help provide the funds to meet these situations.
  • Don’t rely on savings alone. Most people do not have nearly enough in their personal savings to allow their family to pay off final expenses or hold onto assets, such as the family home, without the added protection of Life insurance.

Employer-based coverage is not enough. Furthermore, Group Life insurance through an employer isn’t typically portable. This means that if an employee leaves the job, they are also leaving their Life insurance behind. That’s why it’s necessary to have an Individual Life insurance policy that is yours no matter where you are working. Call one of our Life specialists today!


By Life and Health

You buy Life insurance for the financial protection it offers. The proceeds from a Life insurance policy can replace the income your family loses after you’re gone. When deciding on which policy to buy, it’s imperative that you choose an insurance company that will still be around after you’re gone.

The key to an insurance company’s longevity is its financial rating, which is represented by a letter grade. Insurers are graded by credit rating companies that have been designated as Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations (NRSRO) by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). A credit rating company receives this designation if the SEC feels it has a reputation in the United States as an issuer of credible and reliable ratings by the majority of financial institutions that use its information.

After a credit rating company receives its NRSRO designation, it can then rate financial firms like insurance companies. There are specific criteria that an NRSRO uses when rating an insurer. These criteria include:

  • Potential for growth
  • Diversification of the types of businesses it is involved in
  • Earnings
  • Profitability
  • Management of operating expenses

After all of these factors are considered, the NRSRO assigns the insurance company a letter rating. Keep in mind that each NRSRO’s rating system is a little different; however, all of them use some form of an “A” rating for indicating a top rated company. Generally speaking, you want to purchase a policy from an A-rated company.

There are five main NRSROs that rate insurers:

After you have researched an insurer’s ratings, you should:

  • Call their customer service line and ask for the company’s ratings from each of the ratings services. If the service representative refuses to tell you or lies about the ratings, don’t buy any products from that company.
  • Ask the insurance company for copies of its ratings reports. If it complies with your request, it is a sign that the company is consumer-friendly.
  • Ask your agent to explain each rating service report to you in simple terms. If the agent can’t explain the various ratios and terms, it is a sign that they have not been properly trained. That same lack of training may also manifest itself when you need your agent to handle a claim, evaluate future insurance needs, or recommend additional products.


By Life and Health

You wake up in the middle of the night overcome with excruciating chest pain. You call 911, and an ambulance rushes you to the emergency room. Now what? Although your physical well-being is now in the hands of capable medical professionals, who is going to take care of your household, your bills, and your pets? This is exactly why you need a medical emergency plan.

By creating a medical emergency plan, you can make decisions in advance about how you want your personal matters to be handled if you are hospitalized. Not only can you specify what needs to be done, but you can also choose which people you want to carry out these duties.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind as you create your medical emergency plan:

Choose trustworthy money managers.

This is the first step to building an effective medical emergency plan. If you were too sick to pay your bills and oversee your other financial affairs, who would take care of it for you? Make that decision right now, while you are healthy and alert. Make a list of family members, friends, or professionals that you would trust to manage your financial matters if you couldn’t do it yourself. Be sure to provide a copy of this list to your attorney. Unfortunately, there are plenty of malicious “caregivers” out there who take advantage of sick people by offering to handle their finances — and then drain their bank accounts. If you make a list of reliable money managers in advance, you’ll be less likely to fall victim to this type of fraud.

Put it in writing.

As with any other type of protection plan, it’s important to put your medical emergency plan in writing. Be sure to give detailed instructions about who you want to handle your personal matters and how they should go about doing it. Be specific: Make it clear that your sister Jane should handle your household chores, your brother Bob should pay your bills, and your best friend Sherry should feed your pets. Give step by step instructions to each of these friends or family members on how to complete these tasks. Once you’ve typed up these instructions, be sure to tell your family members and friends where they can find the document. You might want to provide a copy to a trusted family member or your attorney.

Update your emergency contact info.

When you go to a new doctor for the first time, they generally ask you for a list of emergency contacts. How long has it been since you last updated this information? Phone numbers could have changed, family members might have moved, or you might no longer be on speaking terms with some of the contacts. Make sure that your doctors have the most up-to-date emergency contact information on file. This will ensure that they can get in touch with the right person quickly should there be a sudden emergency. You should also include an emergency phone number in your cell phone address book. For example, if your husband is your preferred emergency contact, program his cell phone number as “ICE” in your cell phone. “ICE” stands for “In Case of Emergency.” If you are in an accident, paramedics are trained to call the ICE number on your phone.

List doctors and medications.

You should also include a list of your current doctors and medications as part of your medical emergency plan. This information might be crucial if you were to suffer from a medical emergency. Make sure that your spouse, sibling, or another designated person can provide this list quickly to emergency workers if and when necessary. That way, ER doctors could obtain your medical history from your doctor’s office and they’ll also know which medications you are currently taking.

Take care of the legal documents.

If you want to develop a truly effective medical emergency plan, you’ll also need to put together these basic legal documents:

  • A Living Will or Advanced Health Care Directives
  • Health Care Power of Attorney
  • A Financial Power of Attorney

Talk to an attorney about putting together these important documents.

Talk to your family and friends.

So, you’ve already taken the time to put an emergency medical plan in place. Good for you. However, your plan is worth nothing if your family and friends don’t know about it.

Take the time to sit down with your loved ones and discuss your plan. Although this is never an easy topic to broach, it’s important that your family and friends understand what you would want to happen in the case of a medical emergency.


By Life and Health

How long has it been since you last reviewed your Life insurance coverage? If you are like most, chances are you long ago filed your policy away and haven’t thought about it since.

But life is not static, and circumstances do change. Major life changes such as marriage, the birth of a child, the purchase of a new home, or even an increase in salary can shape how much financial protection you and your family needs.

Even if a year goes by without any major life events, it’s still a good idea to review your coverage. The amount of your Life insurance coverage should be sufficient to meet the current obligations and future needs of your loved ones. If you have taken advantage of historically low interest rates and recently refinanced, make sure you have enough coverage to satisfy your new loan obligations. If you’re single, consider the cost of a funeral, outstanding medical bills, credit card balances and ongoing financial assistance for elderly parents who might be dependent on you.

And while you’re reviewing your coverage, it’s also a good idea to confirm that your current beneficiary elections are still accurate.

If you’re uncertain whether your current coverage is meeting your family’s needs, contact us for a needs analysis to provide you the peace of mind that your family will be taken care of should the worst happen.