You don’t always have too many options when it comes to health insurance costs, but pretty soon you may be able to lower your rates just by being healthy. Last week, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury issued final rules on employment-based wellness programs, which allow companies to lower health insurance premiums for employees who participate in them. This final rule (which provides guidance on an existing section of the Affordable Care Act) will go into effect for insurance plans beginning on or after January 1, 2014.
The Affordable Care Act created these incentives to promote healthier workplaces, and these final rules give companies more flexibility to offer their employees rewards for staying fit. In the past, companies could reduce premiums up to 20 percent when employees took part in “participatory wellness programs,” which were available to anyone regardless of their health (like completing a health risk assessment or attending a health education seminar).
But these new guidelines bumped up the maximum discount to 30 percent and gave new standards for “health-contingent wellness programs,” which are programs designed to reward employees for meeting certain health standards (like quitting smoking, lowering cholesterol or BMI, or taking actions toward certain health goals). As an added bonus, the maximum reward is raised to 50 percent for participating in programs that prevent or decrease tobacco use.
One important thing to note: Employers will be able to give either rewards or penalties to employees based on their participation. So essentially, if you’re a smoker who chooses not to use a smoking cessation program, your company could charge you more for your healthcare premiums than your tobacco-less coworkers.
So does this mean everyone can expect lower costs if they’re healthy? Not necessarily. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the rule only applies to companies that offer participatory or health-contingent wellness programs, so check with your human resources department to find out what’s available to you. And unfortunately, just because the ACA has raised the maximum allowed discount, that doesn’t mean your employer will automatically reduce your rates by 30 percent. Regardless, it’s a great way to save a little cash while staying fit if your company does offer the option. A healthier you and some extra money in your wallet? That’s a win-win!
Check out the list of links that should be on your radar today:
More dads are “leaning out” and prioritizing the life half of the work-life equation. [Bloomgberg Businessweek]
A crop of food and beverage companies have increased the number of calories in the marketplace by 1.5 trillion since 2010. [MedicalDaily]
The American Heart Association is predicting that stroke costs will double by the year 2030. [TIME.com]
Slaves in Thailand may have caught the fish you’re eating. [USA Today]
Soup kitchen meals aren’t very healthy. [MedicalDaily]
Naked pregnant art is now a thing. Weird. [The Cut]
Five babies born in the U.S. last year were named Ikea … and that’s not even the worst of the awful baby names. Poor kids. [TODAY.com]
Jockey has created a new bra sizing system that involves shoving your girls into measuring cups to see what size they are. It probably helps you get a better fit…but we still can’t picture many people actually doing it. [Consumerist]
H&M and Zara have both agreed to step up the safety standards at their factories in Bangladesh. [NYT]
At a recent hacking competition in Boston, the only female coder there took home Best in Show (she created a program that prevents TV spoilers from showing up on your Twitter feed). Did we mention she’s only 17? [Mother Jones]
Speaking of anxiety, “Pinterest stress” is now a thing: Almost half of moms say they suffer from it—and we’re guessing the condition isn’t limited to women with children. [TODAY.com]
In the 31 years between 1979 and 2010, deaths from neurological diseases jumped 92 percent among women, according to a new study. [Medical Daily]
If there were ever a time to adopt more Earth-friendly habits, it’s now: Carbon dioxide levels are now at their highest point ever in human history. See if your green IQ is up to snuff. [The Atlantic Wire]
Rumor has it that 7-year-old Suri Cruise is getting her own fashion line. No word on whether it will include heels for small children. [The Sun]
Chris Brown is scaring local children, thanks to the monsters he had painted on the outside of his Hollywood Hills home. [LA Times]
Whether or not you’re ovulating can influence which candidate you vote for on election day, according to a face palm-worthy new study. [Medical Daily]
It’s a no-brainer that you want to eat well when you’ve got a bun in the oven, but you may not realize how important certain nutrients are: A mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy could have a long-term effect on your child’s brain development, according to a new study published in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Researchers at the Menzies Research Institute at the University of Tasmania in Australia looked at the iodine content in the systems of women who attended prenatal clinics. Then, nine years later, the researchers compared this information against the participants’ children’s standardized test scores. Seventy-one percent of mothers were found to have insufficient iodine levels—less than 150 micrograms per liter. On standardized tests, their children scored 10 percent lower in spelling, 7.6 percent lower in grammar, and 5.7 percent lower in English literacy.
Iodine, which the thyroid uses to make thyroid hormone, is important for a baby’s neurodevelopment, says Elizabeth Pearce, MD, associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine, who is unrelated to the study. A severe deficiency in iodine (anything less than 20 micrograms per day) can lead to a number of different neurologic abnormalities, including—in severe cases—intellectual disability, she says. On the other hand, overdosing on iodine might result in hypothyroidism—for both you and your baby. That’s why it’s mission critical for pregnant women to get the recommended amount: 220 micrograms per day if you’re pregnant, and 290 micrograms per day if you’re breastfeeding.
Hitting this sweet spot while you’re pregnant can be tricky. Since iodine isn’t labeled on food packaging, it can be difficult to know exactly how much you’re getting in your diet.
The easiest, most foolproof way to boost your iodine intake? Taking a prenatal multivitamin. Look for one that contains 150 micrograms of iodine, suggests Pearce. You may also want to consider checking the salt you use while cooking to make sure you’re grabbing the iodized version (although you don’t need to actively up your salt intake, says Pearce). Another food source that contains the nutrient: cow’s milk. Some of the iodine that the cows consume in their feeds transfers to the milk, and the dairy industry also uses iodine-containing cleansers to wash off milk equipment, which increases milk’s iodine content.
Vitamin E content probably isn’t first thing you check out on a nutrition label, but make sure to give it a once-over. Vitamin E can help prevent obesity-related illnesses and boost your heart health, according to two studies presented at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting between April 20-24.
The first study, conducted by researchers at Case Western Reserve University of Medicine, suggests that vitamin E may help relieve symptoms of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), an obesity-linked condition that can lead to liver failure or even cancer.
In another study conducted by Ohio State University, researchers tested the effects of vitamin E on the blood vessels of ex-smokers. They found that participants who took a vitamin E supplement saw a 4.3 percent improvement in vascular function, compared to the placebo group’s 2.8 percent. Overall, the study showed that adding vitamin E to ex-smokers’ diets led to a 19 percent drop in cardiovascular disease.
The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that adults consume up to 15 milligrams of vitamin E per day. In addition to these recent findings, vitamin E has been shown to offer some protection against heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Want to up your intake? Don’t reach for a pill—if you get the wrong kind of supplement, it’ll be half as effective as eating vitamin E in its natural form. Instead, make one (or more) of these vitamin E-rich meals:
Almond Horchata (14.4 mg per serving)
Grilled Almond Butter and Berry Sandwiches (8.7 mg per serving)
Almond Egg Custard (6.8 mg per serving)
Roasted Sweet-Potato Salad (5.2 mg per serving)
Pork Braised in Kiwi-Coconut Sauce with White Beans (5.2 mg per serving)
Light Spinach Roll-Ups (5 mg per serving)
Southwestern Chicken Salad with Crispy Tortilla Chips (4.3 mg per serving)