Vote For A Healthier, Tastier Thanksgiving Sweet Potato Dish

In last week’s New York Times, Kim Severson wrote about a recipe originally created by Regina Charboneau called Sweet Potatoes With Cranberry-Jalapeño Chutney.  I decided I had to try this for two reasons: a) I recently learned my mother-in-law adores baked sweet potatoes, which are incredibly easy to prepare (and it’s always a good plan to get on the in-laws good side, no?) and 2) the description of this dish promised it was both easy and that it can be made a week ahead, key for Thanksgiving:

“This is an easy and surprisingly delicious way to get a dramatic-looking sweet-potato dish on the Thanksgiving table with little fuss…  Make the chutney up to two weeks ahead and keep it in the refrigerator. It also freezes well. Assembly on Thanksgiving is an easy last-minute task.”

So I made this last week and other than finding black currants (regular supermarkets seem to have only something called Zante currants – and they are not what you want, apparently, for this recipe), it was both easy and delicious.

Not only is this elegant, delicious recipe easy to prepare (and prepare ahead, key for Thanksgiving), it is a far healthier alternative to the traditional Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows.

I entered both recipes into the My Fitness Pal Recipe Importer, and here is the not-at-all surprising result.

  • A half potato serving of Kim Severson’s Sweet Potatoes With Cranberry-Jalapeño Chutney – even WITH sour cream (which is not even needed, IMHO), is just 214 calories with 7 grams of fat, and it’s loaded with Vitamin A and C because it’s, um, a real food.
  • A serving of “Traditional Sweet Potato Casserole” (from MyRecipes.com) packs 731 calories and 23 grams of fat!

Even if you ate an entire huge sweet potato with a huge amount of chutney (a double serving if you will), you’d still be at about HALF the calories and fat than the marshmallow casserole.  HALF.

Sweet Potato Nutritional Comparison

Luckily, I am not a fan of the Sweet Potato with Marshmallow dish so am not tempted (don’t talk to me about gravy though!)  But here’s an idea — this Thanksgiving, serve both. See if you can convert to a new healthier (and frankly tastier) sweet potato dish for Thanksgiving.

Three preparation tips:

  • Buy the red onion and peppers already diced.  I was thrilled to find in Stop & Shop one package that had red onion and 3 colors of bell peppers freshly,beautifully diced – it saved a ton of time, and I just ditched the yellow pepper portion.
  • This recipe makes a virtual VAT of chutney.  Halve the chutney recipe and you’ll have more than enough for 12 servings.  (Note: I adjusted the serving size in the nutritional value calculations.)
  • This chutney gels in the refrigerator – make sure to take it out hours ahead to get back to the proper chutney consistency.

HOST A FAMILY CONTEST!
For my Thanksgiving this year, since the marshmallow casserole is a ‘must’ I decided to have a contest – I’m going to ask everyone to vote for which sweet potato recipe is best, with the hope of a healthier new dish for our annual feast.

First, I assigned the task of bringing the traditional (fat-laden) Marshmallow Sweet Potato casserole to one of the people who insists it’s necessary. My plan is to serve that, and right next to it, feature the Kim Severson dish — and include the nutritional info for both right at the buffet table. Then we’ll have a taste-off. (We have a wildly competitive family – if they can vote, they’ll participate!)

Sound like fun? If you also want to have a contest, just click on the chart above and it’ll open a PDF that you can print – then you can just lay that out next to these two dishes at your Thanksgiving table this year, in the hopes of a new, healthier Thanksgiving tradition.

Share
Posted in daily | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Chart Helps Identify Heart Disease Risk

The National Lipid Association (NLA) recently released an ‘infographic’ that, according to the person who contacted me on behalf of the NLA, is intended “to help people better understand their cholesterol to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.”

And indeed, I think it’s a very useful chart.  Essentially, it helps you visualize your heart disease risk by turning the major risk factors into a series of easy questions; these questions help determine your heart disease risk and serve as a basis for discussion with your doctor:

NLA Infographic FINAL

You can also find this chart on the National Lipid Association’s “Learn Your Lipid” site.

As I wrote about in both The NEW Guidelines For Cholesterol-Lowering Statin Meds and also, New Cholesterol Guidelines – An App For That, when the American Heart Association published the new cholesterol guidelines in November 2013, there was a new focus on determining a person’s 10-year risk of heart disease rather than treating LDL (bad) cholesterol to a specific level.  In broad strokes the new guidelines state that if you are in one of the following four groups you have elevated heart disease risk and should take statins:

  1. those who already have cardiovascular disease
  2. anyone with LDL (bad) cholesterol of 190 mg/dL or higher
  3. anyone between 40 and 75 years of age who has Type 2 diabetes
  4. people between 40 and 75 who have an estimated 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease of 7.5 percent or higher.

What’s great about this NLA chart is that it works in tandem with the new guidelines – and helps people easily see if they are at risk. Net, this infographic quickly flags those who may fall into risk groups #2 or #4 above.

For example, for risk group #2, using the NLA infographic will ensure you know your total cholesterol – so you can see if LDL cholesterol is 190 mg/dL or higher and thus at risk.

And for risk group #4, the questions asked by the NLA infographic help you determine (without using a calculator!) if you might be at an elevated risk of heart disease.  That’s because the questions asked in the chart (if you smoke, are overweight, have diabetes and/or high blood pressure, etc) are the very factors that feed into the AHA’s 10-year risk calculator.

So have a look at this chart and if you answer ‘yes’ to the items in step 1, make sure you have your total cholesterol checked and talk to your doctor about your heart disease risk.

Share
Posted in daily | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Why High Cholesterol Increases Heart Disease Risk

In my role as cholesterol “Category Expert” for www.answers.com, I recently answered a question sent in by an Answers reader that I was surprised to find I’d never expressly addressed here on my blog:  “Why does high cholesterol lead to heart disease?”

Here’s the answer I posted: you can read it on this page of wiki.answers.com, or I’ve pasted it here as well:

Once you look at the definition of cholesterol, it’s easy to see why high cholesterol can cause heart disease.

The National Institute of Health defines cholesterol as, “a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body.” Cholesterol in and of itself is not bad – in fact, your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones and vitamin D, and your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. But sometimes genetics and/or eating high fat foods and not getting enough exercise results in overly high cholesterol levels. 

When you have more cholesterol than your body needs, the waxy, excess cholesterol can build up and stick to the artery walls – that’s called plaque. When plaque forms, there is a significant increase in risk of two heart disease problems — stroke and heart attack — because plaque can break open and cause a blood clot. A stroke happens when a blood clot blocks an artery that feeds the brain. A heart attack is the result when plaque or a blood clot blocks an artery that feeds the heart.

So while having high cholesterol alone used to be cause for treatment to stave off heart disease, as of the new November 2013 guidelines, now high cholesterol by itself is not THE big risk factor. Rather, the latest treatment standard is to factor high cholesterol in with other heart disease risk factors to determine overall risk of stroke and heart attack.

 

Share
Posted in Answers Q&A, daily | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cholesterol Treatment – Guidelines Pocket Cards for Doctors

Did you know that any old person (and by ‘any old’ I mean a regular, non-doctor person, not any OLD person!) can purchase the American Heart Association’s “guidelines pocket cards” meant to keep doctors up to date on latest treatment protocols/recommendations?

On the American Heart Association website, these pocket cards are described as:

“These quick reference tools provide instant access to current AHA/ASA and ACCF/AHA guidelines in a clear, concise format – available in print and in the Guideline Central Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android.”

AHAlogo_lifeiswhy-logoFor months, I have been wondering whether there have been any updates or changes to the November 2013 Cholesterol Guidelines – and how doctors are following – or not – the new guidelines. (More info about the 2013 guidelines here: The NEW guidelines for cholesterol-lowering statin meds).

To me, there’s been a startling dearth of information about how treatment of high cholesterol has changed – or not – since these guidelines were issued. So I was pleased to stumble upon these pocket guidelines for doctors – updated with the latest recommendations.  For just $8.99 I downloaded the cholesterol pocket guidelines and found them largely unchanged since the new guidelines were issued in November 2013.

Which is good, I guess.

That said, one new thing I learned from this pocket guide is that there are established goals for the more in-depth cholesterol tests like C-Reactive Protein and Coronary Artery Calcium – both tests I think I might benefit from.

While my $8.99 purchase would NOT let me print (grr), I was able to grab some text via the handy iPhone app. Love that.

So if you would like a peak at the ‘pocket guidelines’ your doctor may well use when considering how to treat your high cholesterol, read on. Fair warning: it’s, um, quite detailed and uses acronyms (it is, after all, for doctors) so I’ve included a simple glossary for some of the medical terms.

Here goes – what follows is the ‘key points’ section of the doctor ‘pocket guide’ for treating high cholesterol:

TITLE: Cholesterol Adult Management

KEY POINTS

  • Encourage adherence to a heart-healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet, regular aerobic physical activity, smoking cessation and maintenance of a healthy weight are critical components of ASCVD risk reduction. Control hypertension and diabetes, when present.
  • Statin therapy is recommended for adults in groups demonstrated to benefit. ASCVD risk reduction clearly outweighs the risk of adverse events based on a strong body of evidence in 4 groups:
    • Secondary prevention in individuals with clinical ASCVD
    • Primary prevention in individuals age ≥ 21 years with primary elevations of LDL-C ≥ 190 mg/dL
    • Primary prevention in individuals with diabetes 40 to 75 years of age who have LDL-C 70 to 189 mg/dL
    • Primary prevention in individual without diabetes and with estimated 10-year ASCVD risk ≥ 7.5%, 40 to 75 years of age who have LDL-C 70 to 189 mg/dL
  • Statins have an acceptable margin of safety when used in properly selected individuals and appropriately monitored. If no baseline abnormality, monitoring of hepatic transaminases is not routinely needed. CK should not be routinely measured unless there is a personal or family history of muscle problems. You may need to discontinue and then restart the statin to determine the cause of muscle symptoms.
  • Engage in a clinician-patient discussion before initiating statin therapy, especially for primary prevention. Discuss the potential for ASCVD event reduction, adverse effects, drug–drug interactions, and patient preferences. Additional factors may be considered when a risk-based decision is uncertain.
    • These include LDL-C ≥ 160 mg/dL, family history of premature ASCVD, hs-CRP ≥ 2.0 mg/L, CAC ≥ 300 Agatson units, ABI < 0.9; lifetime risk of ASCVD.
  • Use the newly developed Pooled Cohort Equations for estimating 10-year ASCVD risk. Calculating the estimated 10-year ASCVD risk should be the start of the clinician-patient discussion and should not automatically lead to statin initiation.
    • For other ethnic groups, use the equations for non-Hispanic whites, although these estimates may underestimate the risk for persons from some race/ethnic groups, especially American Indians, some Asian Americans (e.g., of south Asian ancestry), and some Hispanics (e.g., Puerto Ricans), and may overestimate the risk for others, including some Asian Americans (e.g., of east Asian ancestry) and some Hispanics (e.g., Mexican Americans).
  • Initiate the appropriate intensity of statin therapy to reduce ASCVD risk.
  • Evidence is inadequate to support treatment to specific LDL-C or non–HDL-C treatment goals. “Treating to goal” may result in treatment with less-than-optimum statin intensity or adding unproven nonstatin therapy.
  • Regularly monitor patients for adherence to lifestyle and appropriate intensity of statin therapy. Obtain a fasting lipid panel before and after initiating statin or other drug therapy.
  • Nonstatin drug therapy may be considered in selected individuals.”

Going Lo-Co GLOSSARY:

  • ASCVD -atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension – high blood pressure
  • Statin Therapy – treatment with statin drugs, like Lipitor
  • Individuals with clinical ASCVD  – people with cardiovascular disease or who have had a ‘cardiac event’ like a heart attack
  • LDL-C – level of LDL cholesterol in the blood
  • 10 year ASCVD risk – risk of a cardiac event in 10 years, as measured by the calculator issued with the November 2013 guidelines.  More here: Going LoCo Calculator Post
  • hs-CRP – measure of “C-Reactive Protein” which is a marker for inflammation
  • CAC – coronary artery calcium which measures the thickness of fatty accumulation in the arteries and is used to predict heart disease risk

While managing cholesterol down to a specific goal is no longer the treatment standard, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be tracking your cholesterol and managing non-dangerous/risky high cholesterol with lifestyle choices. And remember, if your LDL cholesterol is at/over 190 mg/dL or you have other risks, discuss a statin with your doctor.

Share
Posted in daily | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Answers Q&A

As you may know, as “cholesterol expert” I’ve written many articles for Answers.com, which you can find in two places. First, on the cholesterol page of the Answers.com site. Also I have all the articles listed by title on the “Answers.com Published Articles” page on this Going Lo-Co site.

And now, new news…

This week, Answers.com added a new page to their site: a Q&A with me.  Of course, if you have cholesterol questions, you can always email me/comment right here on the Going Lo-Co site. But now you can also ask me a question (but not, of course, for medical advice!) on the all new www.answers.com/karenswanson site.

Just mentioning…

Share
Posted in daily | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Do You Have FH?

The cholesterol-watching world is filled to the brim with acronyms and easily confused verbiage.  Who can remember what LDL and HDL stand for – much less which is the good and which is the bad cholesterol?  And then there’s Apo-B and LDL particle size to boot. But today I learned one that was total news to me: FH.

Turns out, FH stands for Familial Hypercholesterolemia which, in a nutshell, is very high LDL (bad) cholesterol that is caused by genetics. A more complete definition is given on The FH Foundation website:

FHlogo“FH is short for Familial Hypercholesterolemia. It is an inherited disorder that leads to aggressive and premature cardiovascular disease. This includes problems like heart attacks, strokes, and even narrowing of our heart valves. For individuals with FH, although diet and lifestyle are important, they are not the cause of high LDL. In FH patients, genetic mutations make the liver incapable of metabolizing (or removing) excess LDL. The result is very high LDL levels which can lead to premature cardiovascular disease (CVD).”

I was amazed to find there’s a site – indeed, an entire foundation – dedicated to high cholesterol caused by genetics.  And a bit miffed – because I know my high cholesterol is genetic… so I can’t believe I didn’t know about this very useful source of information.

And it’s important – because FH is a serious condition and essentially requires choleterol-lowering medication or other intervention:

“Nearly 100% of people with FH will require cholesterol-lowering medications. For some people with FH, more aggressive measures are needed, including LDL-apheresis (a very simple procedure in which LDL-C cholesterol is removed from the blood on a weekly or biweekly basis.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that if a family has a pattern of early heart attacks or heart disease defined as before age 55 for men and 65 for women, children in that family should have cholesterol testing after the age of 2 years and before age 10.”

All this very sobering information compelled me to track down the excel spreadsheet I use to track my cholesterol results over time.  I was quite pleased to discover that although my high cholesterol is largely caused by genetics, it does not look like I have FH. In my most recent test, I’d brought my LDL (bad) cholesterol down through diet and exercise to 132 (under 130 was the goal before new guidelines were established).  And according to The FH Foundation website, FH is suspected when untreated LDL is above 190 (or 160 in children).

Whew.  Good news for me on the FH front.

Not so good news for me to ‘discover’ that my last cholesterol test was in March 2013.  Um, more than a year and a half ago.  It seems I have “forgotten” to keep track of my cholesterol levels.  Probably because I spent a lot of time this past year at Shake Shack.

So next week, at my annual ob/gyn appointment, I’ll take the blood test order my doctor always gives me and use it to have my cholesterol tested.

And if you have high LDL cholesterol that has not declined with diet and exercise and/or a family history of early heart disease / heart attacks, consider learning more about FH at The FH Foundation site and discuss with your doctor.

Share
Posted in Cholesterol Test Results, daily | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes To Get Back On Lo-Co Track

I don’t know about you, but when life throws me curveballs, my lo-co lifestyle gets flattened.

From blog technical issues to family-member health crises to having a college kid home for the summer (and the requisite, very stressful conversations that include: “why do I need to tell you what time I’ll be home,” and “I can’t get home by 2am” among other gems) let’s just say I’ve not been cooking.

OK, let’s tell the truth: several times a week this summer, my routine was a 3 mile fast-paced walk for exercise followed immediately by dinner at Shake Shack. Because, um, they serve beer. And you can sit outside. For me, nothing is better than sitting outside in workout clothes enjoying delicious, cold beer from a tap along with dinner? Oh, and the dinner – Shake Shack fixed their fries and those burgers continue to be outrageously good. This from someone who does not care for most burgers – and who eats almost no other red meat – except for Shake Shack.

Yes, I could order Shake Shack’s bird dog.  Yes, my virtuous husband does.  Yes, that’s incredibly annoying because NO, I do not make smart dining choices when I’m stressing. What I do is not eat very much at all – or eat very badly.  Or, more to the point, first I stop eating/eat very little. Then when I realize I’m not eating, I eat very very badly.

That was pretty much my summer in a nutshell. On the plus side, my weight is largely unchanged (the only good part of the not-eating-due-to-stress segment of this summer). But I’d be scared to get a cholesterol reading right now.

With my son finally — finally — back at college,  I actually cooked a meal this week. (Word of advice – do not consider schools on a trimester/quarter system as they start in LATE September. LATE. Like WEEKS after all other college kids have gone back to school.)

Not only did I cook – I cooked a meal I have never made before – and I didn’t even follow a recipe. I usually rely on recipes – don’t always follow them all the way through, but I do usually require them as a starting point (aka crutch).  So this was unusual behavior for me.

What happened was, my friend Chris and I had a meeting for a consulting project we’re working on and she had a veritable raft of gorgeous cherry tomatoes from her garden, which she insisted I take, telling me to roast them in the oven and they’d be prefect for bruschetta.

So I planned to do that, but forgot to buy bread.

Sigh.

But then I remembered she’d also said that roasted cherry tomatoes burst open when poked with a fork so they kind of make their own sauce.

Perfect. No forgotten ingredients necessary.

RoastedCherryTomatoesI just cranked the oven to 425 degrees, drizzled the cherry tomatoes with olive oil and salt (and since there was room in the Pyrex pan AND we had one red pepper in the fridge, I sliced it and oiled/salted that too). Then last second, I decided to throw in a handful of garlic I’d slivered.  Once it was all slicked up, I just roasted it all for 20 minutes.

I had forgotten how amazing it smells in your house when you, um, cook.  Especially garlic.

Meanwhile, I cooked up some high fiber penne (!) and warmed a can of LeSeur baby peas (hey, it was the only green thing I had on hand other than lettuce).

RoastedCherryTomatos PastaVoila.  A healthy, lo-co dinner in 30 minutes.  All I had to do was dish out the pasta, spoon in the peas, roasted tomatoes and roasted pepper slices, then pour the fabulous olive oil with roasted garlic left in the Pyrex over it.  And it was fun to then burst the tomatoes and create a kind of tomato sauce. My husband tossed some fresh pepper flakes in for a kick but I left my garlicky olive oil with burst tomato ‘gravy’ unsullied.

It’d have been nice if I had a little bread (ha ha) – and some fresh mozarella (also funny as my fridge was quite barren) for some protein, but even without, it was quite tasty.

I popped the top off a Corona and toasted buh-bye to my so-not-lo-co Shake Shack summer.

Share
Posted in daily, recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How To Calculate Nutritional Value For Any Recipe

Wondering about the nutritional value and/or calories of a favorite recipe? It’s one of my pet peeves about cookbooks and interesting recipes found online or in a newspaper or magazine – the recipes rarely list the calories and key nutritional info (like fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar, etc) included per serving.

Well, wonder no more.

I’ve written multiple posts about the fabulous app, My Fitness Pal (I Heart My Fitness PalI Love Me Some Nutrition Graphs; and Better Than Salad at Wendy’s to name a few) but I just discovered an update to their site that enables you to quickly and easily – using copy/paste – import recipes and see their nutritional value.

The basic ability to input recipe ingredients and calculate the nutritional value – and save the recipe into My Fitness Pal so you can use it to track your calories/nutritional intake – is not new. But they’ve now made it far faster and easier by adding the ability to copy/paste recipe ingredients rather than enter each one manually. But wait, there’s more!  Their recipe importer stops the guesswork – for example, it automatically translated ‘1 medium onion’ into 1/2 cup onion – an equivalency I always just guessed at before (um, even when cooking).

To me, this is miraculous. (OK, OK, I know, I need to ‘get a life.’)  But I heart technology, what can I say.

Now calculating the full nutritional value of any recipe is so, so simple.  Just login to your My Fitness Pal account on your PC or Mac, and under the ‘Food’ tab, click ‘Recipes.’  That brings up the Recipe Importer – importing from a URL didn’t work for me, but right underneath that, just click on ‘Add Recipe Manually.’  Then copy/paste your ingredients into the box, name the recipe, adjust the # of servings, and click the green ‘match ingredients’ button under the input box.  Either all your ingredients will either magically match – or if there are any issues, it’ll point them out for you to adjust manually.

Then save it and it appears in your ‘recipe box.’  To see the nutritional value, just click the recipe title in your recipe box and this is what appears (this is the nutritional value of my favorite homemade salad dressing: Mustard Vinaigrette):

Mustard Vinaigrette

 

I tried  out My Fitness Pal’s new copy/paste recipe importer for this 5 ingredient mustard vinaigrette and ALSO for a more complicated recipe.  I’ll write about that recipe, Risi E Bisi, separately – but the recipe importer worked beautifully for both a very simple recipe like this vinaigrette and a more typically complex dinner recipe.

So if you are ever in need of nutritional value of a meal at a fast food place OR a side dish you’re making or even a full recipe, check out My Fitness Pal.  My husband and I (and several friends) have found it a tremendously easy-to-use and very helpful way to pay attention to what you’re eating – for both calorie counting/losing weight and also for tracking cholesterol and fat (or any other nutritional value) of a recipe or meal out.

Note: I am in NO WAY associated with My Fitness Pal. Though LOL,  I think I need to contact them about putting an ad on my blog…

Share
Posted in daily, recipes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Women Unaware of Heart Disease Risk

A recent study in Canada found that 75% of women did not understand that high cholesterol (and high blood pressure) are major symptoms of heart disease.  And about half didn’t know that smoking increases risk of heart disease.

How is this possible?

How?

And if it’s true in Canada, I’ll bet it is true in the U.S. as well.

The study, by the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology (CJC), reports results from “the first ever Canadian national survey of women that focuses on knowledge, perceptions, and lifestyle related to heart health.”  Surveyed were 1,654 women aged 25 and over across Canada in the spring of 2013.  

According to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, the study, Perceived vs Actual Knowledge and Risk of Heart Disease in Women: Findings From a Canadian Survey on Heart Health Awareness, Attitudes, and Lifestyle, found “that a majority of Canadian women lack knowledge of heart disease symptoms and risk factors, and that a significant proportion is even unaware of their own risk status.”  

Specifically, the study shows women are woefully under-informed/mis-informed about cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk:

  • Smoking: only about 1/2 of women understood smoking to be a major a risk factor of heart disease.

  • High cholesterol and high blood pressure (hypertension): less than one-quarter of women surveyed understood these as symptoms of heart disease risk.

  • Doctors do NOT discuss heart disease risk with women, and need to: As reported on Medical News Today, most women in the survey said they preferred receiving information from their doctor, but just half reported that their doctor had discussed heart disease prevention and lifestyle with them.

  • Women feel they are less at risk than they truly are:  Medical News Today reported, “The survey also shows that women who are at the highest risk perceived themselves to be at a much lower risk. In a comparison of actual and perceived heart disease knowledge, 80% of women with a low knowledge score perceived that they were moderately or well informed.”
  • Women incorrectly – and dangerously – believe a cardiac event is a one-time event when it’s really CVD (cardiovascular disease) and needs ongoing treatment. Medical News Today goes on to say, “Additionally, 35% of women with CVD viewed their event as only an episode that has now been treated, after which they resumed their pre-diagnosis lifestyle “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” phenomenon.”

Admirably, “the University of Ottawa Heart Institute will be launching the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre this fall (of 2014) to address the disparities in diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care for women with heart disease.”

I wish we’d do the same in the U.S.

Just so we are all quite clear, the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute explains key heart disease risk factors on their What Are Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors? webpage.  There are two types of risk factors: risks you cannot control and risks that are controllable with lifestyle, diet and, if necessary, medication.

Heart disease risk factors you can’t control (but should be discussed with your doctor) include age, gender, and family history of heart disease.

Risk factors that are controllable with lifestyle, diet and, if necessary, medication include:

  • High blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes and prediabetes
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Stress

Please know the heart disease risk factors in general.  And more specifically, you can actually see your predicted heart disease risk!  As many know (and I’ve reported about), in late 2013 the US guidelines for treating cholesterol were changed – and they now include an assessment of heart disease risk.  There is a FREE online calculator which assesses your heart disease risk. Read more about it on my blog posts:

Knowledge is power.  Use it to lower your heart disease risk.

Share
Posted in daily | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Aetna is killing my cholesterol

If stress increases cholesterol (and it does) then Aetna is killing me. And others, too. Seriously.

Back in December 2013 we switched our healthcare plan to Aetna: we are self-insured, health insurance is a huge ticket item for us, and Obamacare changed a lot about insurance so we needed to make a change. We did a lot of research and after much deliberation and analysis, we chose a non-Obamacare Aetna program. One that had been up and running for years. One that should work just fine no matter what.

This program came highly recommended from my insurance broker.  Aetna is a huge company. Most of my doctors accept the plan. All should have been fine.

So what’s the problem?

Aetna’s billing system is so incredibly screwed up that they have cancelled my plan TWICE (!!) for non-payment even though I’m fully paid up.  And I know that I am not alone in this: my insurance broker is mortified and told me I’m not the only one with this problem.

Aetna has a billing systems issue that is seriously flawed. And it’s causing me huge stress, which, in turn, is very likely increasing my already-too-high LDL (bad) cholesterol. According to Dr. Lisa Matzer, in an Everyday Health article entitled, How Does Stress Contribute To Cholesterol:

“The more anger and hostility that stress produces in you, the higher (and worse) your LDL and triglyceride levels tend to be.”

Let me tell you:  it’s wildly stressful to find out your insurance has been erroneously cancelled – and then have it take HOURS over several DAYS to get it reinstated. And then have them cancel it AGAIN 2 months later.  Let’s just say, anger and hostility abound, which Dr. Matzer says raises bad cholesterol.

I have tried to get Aetna to fix my bill for seven — SEVEN — consecutive months. I have had to call each and every month. I’m assured it’s fixed.  Then it’s not. Then they cancel me even though I’m fully paid up.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so stressful.

The first time Aetna cancelled me was in May.  May 14, 2014 to be exact. There was NO warning.  No phone call. No letter. No email. Nothing. I found out at CVS. I was trying to fill a prescription and the pharmacy tech told me my insurance was cancelled. For non-payment (BTW, my account was on AUTO-BILL to my credit card which was totally valid, LOL.)  Though it was seriously not funny.  We were days away from our bike trip to Croatia. Imagine if I’d had to spend the several hours over several days while in Croatia unraveling Aetna’s mistake (theirs, not mine) that led to them erroneously canceling my policy? Or worse, imagine if we’d gotten sick in Croatia and tried to explain that our health insurance really wasn’t cancelled?

But I was lucky. I found out about Aetna’s mistake before we left the country. So fix it we did, after many, many, many hours on the phone.

Turns out my credit card wasn’t being charged even though it was set up to be auto-billed to a valid credit card. The reason: Aetna’s flawed system didn’t hit my credit card with a charge – no invoice was being generated on their end because of a problem with how my husband’s part of the bill was created way back in December.

They promised it would be fixed.  But just to be sure, since auto-bill to credit card didn’t work, we switched to paper invoices.

Which I have NEVER ONCE received. Not one invoice in the mail, ever. And it’s not a U.S. Mail problem: post facto, I receive via U.S. mail both a cancellation notice AND a reinstatement notice (amusingly, I get them the same day).  And my address is correct.

It’s not a mailing problem. It’s an Aetna billing system problem.  The Aetna system shows they are creating/mailing a bill – but they do not.  So now, since both auto-pay AND U.S. Mail do not work to deliver an invoice, now I am forced to call at the beginning of each month to pay my monthly premium.

Because at least I am reliable. I enter it in my calendar and call. In fact, on June 3 at roughly 9:00 am I called Aetna to pay my June invoice (as usual, no mailed statement and the online invoice was wrong).  The customer service rep agreed with what I know I owed and I paid that amount on the phone. She then confirmed my payments were all current through June.

Then incredibly, at 2:33 that same afternoon, I got a phone message stating that my May payment (May!) was past-due and I was at risk of being cancelled.

THE SAME DAY I paid June and was confirmed that I was current through June, Aetna calls to tell me I am going to be cancelled.

At least this time they called.

Naturally, I called Aetna. A-freaking-gain I had to call Aetna to work things out. The rep said not to worry about that call about cancellation. She said she could see I was paid up – that both May and June were paid.  She confirmed I was current through JUNE and assured me they would not cancel me.

Then they cancelled me.

This is nearly fraud. I’m paying close to $1000/month and I am fully paid up and Aetna keeps canceling my policy.

It’s incredibly stressful.  I have spent HOURS, literally, on the phone.  I’ve been nice.  I’ve yelled.  I’ve asked to talk to a billing supervisor – to talk to any supervisor.  The supervisors can never come to the phone.  Two times the rep said they’d have a billing supervisor call me. We reviewed my phone number.  They promised the supervisor would call.  They do not. Ever. Call.

I have names and ID numbers galore of the customer service reps who promise they’ve escalated this issue. That it should have been fixed months ago.  That it will be fixed for the next invoice.

IT NEVER IS.

MY BILL IS STILL WRONG. AND I’VE NEVER RECEIVED AN INVOICE.

I know what the problem is.  An Aetna rep explained it to me back in January and I’ve explained to the Aetna reps I talk to every month.  It all traces back to the very beginning and that their system is not generating an invoice.  They agree that’s the problem.

They just can’t freaking fix it.

Aetna Incorrect Bill Screencap_0001Today, I confirmed once again with Aetna that I’m paid through July.  I asked, nicely, then why is my billing statement online STILL wrong. Why does it show that I owe $194o … and why does it show that I’ve been cancelled (circled on screen cap here.) And why can’t this be fixed? That I’d like to wait on the phone while it’s fixed.  Or get a call back that it is fixed.

This latest person – actually, I spoke with her  back in May also – tried to get a supervisor on the line and talked to billing and also to member benefits. She tried to help solve this vexing issue that has plagued me for 7 months now.  To no avail. Even after a 1 hour and 16 minute phone call (I timed it) to ensure I won’t be cancelled again, my bill is still wrong and I fear Aetna will cancel me. Though she assures me I won’t be cancelled again.

She was nice. She tried hard. But I don’t believe her. I just know that Aetna is going to cancel me for a third time because the problem clearly still exists.  The proof is right there, in that screen cap that shows I owe $1940 even though Aetna billing people and customer service people confirm I owe $0.

This has been seriously stressful – which is not good for my cholesterol.  Sure, there are many many more serious things that could happen to a person. But I have to say, this ranks up there.

Not only that, it’s reprehensible on the part of Aetna. I’m highly educated and have the time to spend hours with Aetna.  What about others who don’t have that luxury?

And what about the fact that this is likely raising my already high LDL (bad) cholesterol.

I’m tired of calling every month. I’ve tried to work within the system to get this fixed, and it hasn’t worked.  So now I’m ranting about how this is raising my cholesterol (sorry to my readers if this has been dull; but the message is that stress is bad for cholesterol, and you should try to reduce stress any way you can – for me, it’s been venting. Sorry, I’ll be back to more typical cholesterol topics next week!)

Mark Bertolini (@mtbert) according to your twitter profile, you “tweet about my work and my life experiences in health care.”  So I’m posting and tweeting and facebooking you about mine, sir.  Your organization has a serious billing issue. Please get someone at Aetna to stop canceling me when I’m fully paid up — and also fix my bill.  Please.

 

Share
Posted in daily | Tagged , , | Leave a comment