Have a Medicare Plan? Take Steps to Protect Yourself Against Fraud

My mom laughed out loud when she got a call from her bank asking if she had purchased hand-crafted men’s cowboy boots from a store in Texas. She was grateful the bank checked to see if the charge was legitimate. The account was frozen and she cut up her card and waited for the bank to send a new one.

New Medicare Cards

Similar to this instance, the Federal government is notifying people with Medicare about the new red, white and blue Medicare card they’ll be receiving. They’re giving advance notice so that you can take precautions to protect yourself against fraud.

Medicare is a Federal program for those over 65 years old, certain people with disabilities, and those with permanent kidney failure (end-stage renal disease). I work with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Medicare members and I’m sharing this story to help inform you.

To help protect against identity theft, the card will have a new unique identifier. On the other hand, current cards use the Social Security number.

Protect Yourself From Scams

Unfortunately, scam artists may use this opportunity to try to steal personal information. Medicare will never call beneficiaries and ask for information like a Medicare number. Therefore, if someone asks for this personal information over-the-phone, hang up and call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227).

Also avoid sharing personal information by email or in person, unless you have given your permission in advance. Visit Medicare.gov/fraud for tips on protecting your identity.

And remember to destroy or shred the old card after the new card arrives. This will better protect your social security number.

If you are eligible for Medicare, or know someone who is, consider these tips:

  • Keep your address up-to-date. The card will be mailed to the name and address on file with Social Security. To update an address call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, or visit SSA.gov.
  • Be patient. It may take some time to mail the new cards. You may not receive the card at the same time as your friends and neighbors. If you do not receive a card by April 2019, call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227).
  • Keep your card safe. Many Medicare beneficiaries have additional coverage through private insurance companies. Not all plans require the Medicare card be shown at the doctor, hospital or pharmacy. So, if you don’t need to carry your card, store it at home in a safe place.

To learn more visit:



This Tasty Recipe Won the “Chompionship!”

Congrats to the big winner of our Munch Madness “Chompionship.”

The Winter Squash Bake recipe “squashed” the competition to earn the coveted crown.  The chef behind the winning dish was Lauren “All Day” Daley, a chef with a knack for super simple comfort food.

Lauren “All Day” Daley, the chef behind the winning dish.

The Winning Recipe in Action

Here is my (video) attempt at making the dish. I skipped the red pepper flakes (a no-no with our kiddos) and may have accidentally used regular ground sausage instead of poultry sausage. (Don’t ask – It’s been a long week.) Enjoy!

Check out her recipe: Winter Squash Bake 

Interested in tasting the other recipes in our Final Fork Chompionship? Read: Munch Madness.

Or, click on the following recipes:

Southwestern Two-Bean Chicken Soup

Freezer Meal Chicken Parmesan

Honey Sriracha Wings




5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor

It started with a slight pain in my heel about a week before my wedding. My heel hurt when I walked barefoot around my apartment, or when I’d slide my foot in or out of my shoes. I figured it would go away on its own. I waited.

The pain didn’t go away. It got worse. I was in pain whenever I walked.  Finally, I went to the doctor. I learned I had plantar fasciitis, a common cause of heel pain that involves inflammation in your foot.

I didn’t know much about the treatment of plantar fasciitis. So, when I went in for my appointment, I armed myself with “5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor.”

Start the Conversation With Your Doctor

These “5 questions” are part of a national initiative by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation. The questions help patients have more informed conversations with their health care providers to make sure they get the right care. Some medical tests, treatments, and procedures provide little benefit, and in some cases can even cause harm.

Here are the five questions to ask before having any test, treatment or procedure.

1.  Do I really need this test, treatment, or procedure?

There’s often more than one way to treat or test for a health condition. For the treatment of plantar fasciitis, I learned that options included over-the-counter pain relievers, steroids, or a cortisone shot. Others may recommend stretching, massage or extracorporeal pulse activation treatment. The best treatment for you will depend, among other things, on the seriousness of your condition and your preferences.

2. What are the risks?

It’s important to learn about the risks, side effects, and possibilities of additional testing or procedures. One doctor, for example, suggested I get a cortisone shot. But then I learned that getting a cortisone shot could reduce the pain, but it also had risks like the possible tearing of the tissue in my foot.

3. Are there simpler, safer options?

Sometimes lifestyle changes, like resting, eating healthier or exercising, may be good first steps to treatment. For me, adding a daily stretching routine helped reduce the pain that I was feeling.

4. What happens if I don’t do anything?

Ask if your condition is likely to get better or worse if you don’t have a treatment or test right away. I learned that I couldn’t expect to get better without taking some action. When I finally found sneakers with the proper arch support for my foot, I started to feel less pain right away.

5. How much does it cost?

Different treatment options usually come with different costs. Ask about the cost of all your options, what your insurance may cover and about opportunities for generic prescriptions or prescription home delivery.

Partners on the same team

I ended up talking to two different doctors to assess my options. After having the conversations with the doctors, I felt that I better understood my condition and was more empowered to make treatment decisions that worked for me.

I also felt like my doctor and I were partners on the same team because of our conversation. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation with your doctor. The doctor may “always know best”, but no one knows your body better than you. Take charge of your health and your healthcare.

Instead of the cortisone shots for my health issue, I went with the stretches and the proper sneakers. I’m happy to report that thanks to my doctor and my own advocacy, I’m now pain-free from plantar fasciitis!

Spotlight on Kelly Springer, a Skaneateles business owner with a national reach

Kelly Springer is the founder and owner of Kelly’s Choice nutritional company, which focuses on sports nutrition, weight loss, workplace wellness, heart health, diabetes and more. Kelly also is a spokesperson for many national healthy food companies. Her clients have included Quaker Oats and KIND. Recently, Kelly’s Choice kicked off a virtual wellness program for large companies and businesses throughout the U.S. Kelly lives her healthiest life by always staying organized and being active with her family!

Kelly Springer

Favorite Healthy Eating Tips:

  • Start the day off with a well-balanced, nourishing breakfast. I start my day off with a glass of kefir (a creamy drink of fermented cow’s milk) and a scrambled egg with veggies mixed in.
  • Hydrate throughout the day. Water is critical to all of the body’s systems, including the brain, heart, lung, kidneys and muscles. You can’t digest and absorb vitamins and nutrients without water. It also detoxifies the liver and kidneys and carries away waste from the body. Your brain is mostly water—drinking it helps you think, focus and concentrate better.
  • Make sure that half of your lunch and dinner plates are veggies. They provide your body with additional water and also provide fiber, vitamins and minerals. There are many ways to make vegetables delicious!

How do you juggle a career, family and healthy lifestyle?

I’m going to be honest here—it is not easy! I’m busy with work, and my two daughters are busy with school, swimming and other activities. All of those activities go on a calendar, but guess what else? A couple of years ago, I started putting “me” time on the calendar. This is when I work out. I also make sure to never skip meals and get a full night’s sleep. This is true for me and my girls! We all need at least seven hours of sleep a night!

How do you stay active in the winter?

On Sunday, we like to ski in the winter! We spend four to five hours on the slope. I also stay active by doing all of my errands by foot: going to the bank, going to the post office or picking up a few groceries. I live in Skaneateles. It’s great to live in a walkable community.

How does a healthy lifestyle help you at home and at work?

A healthy lifestyle helps my whole family. It helps protect us from colds, flus, and other illnesses. My schedule is packed, and I don’t have time to get sick or for my children to get sick.

Best advice for people trying to live a healthy life?

Understand that you don’t have to be perfect. You can start by making simple healthy swaps:

  • Swap your morning cereal for eggs.
  • Replace white bread with whole wheat bread and white rice for brown rice.
  • Switch your candy bars for healthier granola bars.
  • Eat your fruit instead of drinking it (example: an apple instead of apple juice).
  • Switch from potato chips to air-popped popcorn.
  • Try Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream.

What are your favorite, local “healthy” spots?

I love the Charlie Major Nature Trail along Skaneateles Creek. It’s beautiful alongside the flowing water. We use it year-round for walking and biking in the spring, summer and fall, and snow-shoeing in the winter.

Click here to learn more about Kelly.

What I learned about getting shingles at 40

I had a rash that would not go away. It didn’t cover a large area, but it was irritating. Waiting it out was not helping, so I started looking for information on the internet. All signs pointed to shingles! I ran off to urgent care, and the doctor confirmed I was correct.

I had thought shingles was something that happened to older adults. Indeed, half of all shingles cases happen to those 60 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  I had turned 40 just a week prior to this happening (so this did not stop me from grumbling about getting older!). But anyone who has ever had chickenpox can get the virus, no matter when they had it or how old they are now.

The shingles infection is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella zoster). I had chickenpox when I was 6 years old. My whole first-grade class passed it around that year. The virus stayed in my system and resurfaced as shingles all these years later.

What are the symptoms?

My rash was on the side of my body, which is the most common area for a shingles outbreak. In some cases, it can break out on your face or in your eye, which can be very painful. (Quick tip, nothing good comes from looking at images of other people’s medical conditions!)

I was lucky that my symptoms were not severe. I just experienced some itching and general discomfort for about two weeks. As long as the area was covered with a large bandage I could manage. But, it took nearly all my will-power not to scratch!

In more intense cases, you could experience nerve pain—called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN)—that can last well after the other symptoms disappear.

Is it contagious?

That was my first question to the doctor. I certainly did not want this to spread in my family. Answer: You cannot spread shingles, but someone could catch chickenpox if they come in direct contact with open blisters.

I made sure to keep the rash covered as much as possible and washed my hands frequently. I felt good that both my kids have already had the chickenpox vaccine. This was before the holidays, so it was not a struggle to keep away from those at risk including older adults, folks who are ill or have a weak immune system, and babies too young to be vaccinated.

Why me?

In my case, the likely trigger for shingles was stress. Stress weakens your immune system and makes you more likely to catch a virus like shingles. It was easier said than done to avoid stress during the busiest time of year, from my full-time job to my children’s school and activities. I tried my best to find a way to calm my mind and body. I started taking a yoga class again and tried to stick to a regular sleep schedule.

You have shingles. Now What?

See your doctor as soon as you can. He or she may prescribe an antiviral medication, which can shorten the length and/or severity of the infection. Antiviral medications are most helpful when taken as soon as possible after the rash appears, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By the time I saw a doctor, his only advice was to give it time to heal.

Some ideas to help you feel better if you have shingles from the National Institutes of Health include:

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing. Some find it uncomfortable when clothing rub the affected area.
  • Eat balanced meals.
  • Rest! Give your body time to recuperate.

Get protected!

As of October 2017, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends Shingrix®, a new vaccine to prevent shingles and the symptoms it may cause.

What should you know? The vaccine is:

  • For healthy adults ages 50 and older.
  • Administered in two doses, with the second dose given between 8 weeks and 6 months after the first.
  • Effective! If you are in your 50s or 60s, it has been shown to be more than 90 percent effective.  
  • Long-lasting. The vaccine kept its effectiveness during a 4-year study.
  • Does not contain a live virus.
  • Recommended over the other shingles vaccine, called Zostavax.® (If you have already gotten Zostavax®, you are also encouraged to get Shingrix®.)
  • Another layer of protection. If you’ve already had shingles, the shot may prevent it from coming back.

If interested, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the vaccine.

Are there side effects of the vaccine?

Temporary irritations like soreness in the arm, redness, and swelling are typical.

Form the New York Times: “It’s no contest: The hazards of shingles and its complications dwarf any problems yet reported with Shingrix”.

If you’re considering the shingles vaccine, you may want to call your insurer and ask about coverage for your specific plan.

I Stand – A Lot. But why does it make others uneasy?

I have an odd habit that’s good for my health, but seems to make others uneasy.

I have a tendency to stand, even when asked to sit.

You might not think this is odd. Especially since sitting too much could put us at risk for serious health issues, including heart disease and diabetes.  This is true for people who even exercise regularly.

But my tendency to stand seems to create a lot of confusion.

Stand Whenever You Can

Whenever I walk into my hairdresser’s, for example, she always says, “Take a seat.”

But I don’t. I stay standing.

I stand when I read the paper, wait at the doctor’s office or nail salon, fill out papers or read something on my phone.

The other day a friend and I were waiting for another friend to go for a walk. While we were waiting, my friend asked if we should sit. I said, “No! We’re about to go for a walk! We’re not sitting!”

My new approach to standing

But I may need to take a slightly different approach to my standing habit.

My hairdresser, for example, said my standing while waiting makes her nervous. I’m making it seem as if I’m impatient, that I need to be helped right away.

That makes complete sense. It’s probably why I get all these odd looks whenever I’m asked to sit, and I don’t!

From now on, when I’m asked to sit, I may say, “Thank you, but I’m just better off standing.”

Maybe that’ll lessen everyone’s uneasiness? But we do need a culture shift. If people stood more, fewer people would ask why I’m standing!

Other ways to stand more

If you need more tips on how to stop sitting so much, read “Is being healthy as simple as standing up?”

I’d also love to learn more about any ideas you may have on ways to stop sitting so much! Please add your thoughts to the comments section below.

7 Small Ways to Help Stop the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic touches our lives in many ways. Every day, 115 Americans die from opioid overdoses. But there are small things you can do to help.

Talk to your family about avoiding opioids for pain

Try not to start. Opioids, including hydrocodone and codeine, are very addictive. If your doctor prescribes opioids for you or a family member, push back. Ask about options.

You may need an opioid for post-operative pain. But you may also be able to get pain relief for most outpatient surgeries by trying alternate medicines, including over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

My daughter, for example, turned down a hydrocodone prescription by her doctor when she had pain after a wisdom teeth removal. My daughter told me, “I told the doctor that I didn’t want that stuff. We don’t use opioids in our family.”

The doctor ignored the request. My daughter brought home the hydrocodone, which she never used.

Never use someone else’s pain medication

An acquaintance of mine spotted the bottle of hydrocodone that my daughter brought home after she had her wisdom teeth removed.

“That’s the only medicine I’ve ever had that helps my knee pain,” she said. “My doctor won’t give it to me anymore. I don’t know why. Can I have this? I’ll buy it from you?”

“No,” I told her firmly. “Your doctor has a reason for not prescribing this. I don’t know that reason. This medicine was prescribed for my daughter, not you. You should not use other people’s medicines.”

Learn to spot the signs

Learn to spot the signs of an opioid overdose, especially if someone in your home is using an opioid, such as heroin. You can pick up the drug Naloxone (also called Narcan), which reverses overdoses from opioids, at more than 2,000 pharmacies throughout New York state. To learn how to use the drug, click HERE for a YouTube video, or click HERE to look for a class.

Become familiar with treatment options

Become familiar with the outpatient, inpatient, detox, sober living and other types of treatment beds that are available near you. Go to the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) website and click on “Find available treatment beds in New York State.”

Learn about other community resources that are available in your area

Talk with others about how you manage pain

We all deal with pain in different ways.   You may want to consider whether the following options are suitable for you when managing your pain: over-the-counter pain relievers, acupuncture, meditation, massage therapy, physical therapy or yoga. If you suspect stress is causing your pain, consider talking to a health care professional. It might help.

Dispose of unused or unwanted prescription drugs

  • Visit the website of the Drug Enforcement Administration on how to dispose drugs and to locate an authorized collection site near you. Or, call the DEA at (800) 882-9539.
  • Take part in National Prescription Drug Take-Back events by the DEA or by local law enforcement agencies.

Most importantly, don’t shy away from talking about the crisis as a family. Don’t blame anyone. Acknowledge the illness and the loss and suffering. Try your best to get informed.

Think you have the flu? Here’s what to do

This year’s severe flu season has dominated headlines. Every time someone near me sniffles, coughs or sneezes, I find myself in a slight panic – oh no, have I just been exposed to the flu?! After all, you can catch the flu just by being in the room with someone with the virus.

I’ve never been particularly fearful of the flu. My family gets the annual flu vaccine, we cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands often, and try to avoid those who may be sick. But as the number of local flu cases increases, so has the concern.

You have the flu. Now what?

So what do you do if you find yourself with flu-like symptoms? The flu shares similar symptoms with the common cold: a cough, sore throat, runny nose, and congestion. How do you know if you have the flu? Unlike a cold, flu symptoms come on suddenly and can include fever, headache, fatigue, and aches in your muscles and joints.

If you suspect you have the flu, medical experts offer these five recommendations:

  1. STAY HOME and avoid contact with other people. This limits your risk of exposing others to the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
  2. CALL YOUR DOCTOR as soon as you think you may have the flu. It’s best to call and not go to the office.  Your provider can usually diagnose you over the phone and if needed, can prescribe an antiviral medication. Antiviral drugs tend to shorten the duration of the illness and reduce complications when taken within two days of getting sick.
  3. TELEMEDICINE visit if it’s after office hours, or your doctor is not available. Telemedicine providers, such as MDLIVE, can address your condition and prescribe needed medications either by phone or video conferencing. The visit might even cost you less than a trip to urgent care or the emergency room.
  4. EMERGENCY CARE. There are certain times when emergency care is needed. Your doctor may recommend the emergency room if your condition worsens or you are in a high-risk group. This includes young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with respiratory, cardiac or chronic conditions.
  5. GET A FLU SHOT – it’s not too late.

Should I get a flu shot?

I’m glad my family was vaccinated, even though reports show the flu vaccine may not be as effective as in other years. Medical experts still recommend the flu shot because it helps reduce the overall number of cases and reduces the severity of symptoms for those who do get sick.

Fortunately, so far our flu shots and increased awareness have helped keep the flu at bay!

For more tips on staying healthy this flu season, check out:

Curious to see how this flu season is different from last year? Check out our flu season graphic for the latest on flu activity.

From Addict To Leader: One Woman’s Path To Sobriety

Sarah Lee reflects on her sobriety whenever she walks by a corner room on the second floor of the Jennifer House in Rochester.

She took her first step toward sobriety while staying in the yellow room at the house run by Spiritus Christi Prison Outreach. The house is a short-term residence for women who are often battling addiction and re-entering society after a stint in jail.

“When I first came to the Jennifer House, I was given a choice,” she said. “I made the choice to be sober. For the first time in a while, I had made the right choice.”

Sarah kept making the “right choices.” Today, she’s still at the house, but in a completely different role. Today Sarah is the director of the Jennifer House. It’s a role that she said is both humbling and surreal given how far she’s come since her 52-day stay there in 2008.

Sarah Lee

From Addict to Leader

Sarah stayed sober, graduated from the Jennifer House and moved into supportive housing. She went back to school, earning her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.

“I never envisioned that I’d be a leader,” said Sarah, who is also in the process of earning her Master of Social Work degree. “It’s a very humbling experience and an honor.”

Sarah said it helps that she can relate to what many of the residents are going through.

“When I say I understand, I understand,” she said.

Straight-A Student Turns to Drugs

For Sarah, the life of an addict started at the age of 14. That’s when the straight-A student took her first drink of alcohol.

“When I had my first drink, I loved it,” Sarah said.

Her drinking led to 11 years of drug use, including marijuana, ecstasy and crack cocaine. She committed crimes, landed in jail a few times and a drug treatment court sent her to the Jennifer House.

Sarah now urges her residents not to forget the person they were while using. Sarah, for example, said she doesn’t hate the version of herself who used to be known on the streets as “snowflake.”

“Snowflake kept me alive, despite all the drugs,” Sarah said. “She was resilient, persevered and somehow survived.”

“But I had to let that person go to become Sarah again,” she added.

You can Have Fun and Be Sober

Sarah’s understanding of how hard it is to break the cycle of addiction helps guide her programming.

The goal of the house’s wellness initiative, for example, is to show the former addicts that they can have fun and be sober.

A grant from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield has helped Sarah fund this program, which is run by a volunteer, part-time recreation therapist. The wellness initiative includes exercise programs at local fitness centers and outings to try white water rafting, horseback riding, bowling and yoga.

Residents of the Jennifer House on a white water rafting trip.

The activities, Sarah said, help residents fight their cravings, decrease stress and increase self-discipline and confidence – all skills essential to recovery. About 80 percent of residents use what they learn from the program to develop new, healthy habits, she added.

Exercise, after all, has been hailed as one piece of the puzzle when it comes to helping people overcome addiction.

Sarah also links each outing to the residents’ own struggles to be sober.

The residents’ battles with the rapids while white water rafting, for example, is like their fight for recovery. The rapids are tough, but you still have to fight through them.

“Life feels like that when you’re in recovery, but you can get through it,” Sarah said.

If You Struggle With New Year’s Resolutions …Try This Instead!

I pride myself on being an eternal optimist. I believe I can turn any situation sunny if I smile enough and I can accomplish anything if I work hard. However, New Year’s resolutions always stump me.

We’re so ambitious and positive on Jan. 1. We’re inspired to hit the gym and get off the couch. Unfortunately, 80 percent of people give up their new goals around February, returning to their sweatpants and Netflix marathons.

But what if we stopped looking at the New Year as a time to leave our guilty pleasures behind, but instead decided to “take on” something new?

Wise wisdom from grandma

I got this idea from my grandma. We’ve always lived right down the road from my grandparents,  so it’s no surprise that she and my grandpa continue to be some of my biggest influences.

We spent almost every holiday together, including New Year’s. I remember asking her at a very young age what she was going to give up in the New Year, to which she bluntly said “nothing.”

She wanted to “take something on” instead by being nicer to people in the New Year.

It’s easier than you think!

She’s going to be nicer to people? What kind of resolution is that?

Doesn’t the start of a new year mean that we have to completely turn ourselves around?

Or are we making resolutions so difficult that we can’t stick to them? We hear phrases like, “I’m going to stop smoking,” “I’m not going to spend unnecessary money,” “I’m going to quit eating fatty foods and carbs.” All are good resolutions, but sound a little overwhelming and hard to accomplish once the excitement of the New Year wears off.

What if we replaced all of those challenging goals by “taking something on” instead?  A once negative phrase that sounded too monumental has turned into a doable challenge.

“I’m going to start finding healthy substitutes instead of cigarettes.”

“I will create a budget, so I can see where I’m spending my money.”

“I’m trying one new healthy food each week.”

Simple changes are often all we need to make a big difference.

4 things to take on

  1. In my household, we would try a new food on New Year’s Eve. One year it was caviar, another year it was anchovies (for good luck!). Although that sounds like nothing, for a 10-year-old, eating fish eggs was traumatic!
  2. Try spending quality time with your friends and family by putting the electronics away.
  3. Vow to try a new form of exercise like biking, instead of throwing away money on a gym membership you know you won’t use!
  4. Try to make your bed every day- or if that’s a little too challenging, try at least during the work week. For more, read Overwhelmed with Life? Try Making Your Bed.

My favorite resolution

If you’d like to try the  “take it on” method of New Year’s resolutions, you may want to start with my grandma’s resolution of being nicer to people.

It’s a great way to practice “taking something on,” while helping others in need. The world can always use people who care about the well-being of others, and sometimes that can be difficult. Picture what a different world it would be if we took the time to project our positivity and good spirit onto someone else!

Be Nice- It’s that simple!

So how can you be nicer to people? Hold the door for someone at the office, give up your seat on the bus ride home, volunteer in your community, and the list goes on! There are hundreds of opportunities throughout our day that we might miss if we don’t pay attention.