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News & Articles Archive 2016

Voicing our gratitude: Manitoba Blue Cross celebrates four customer service awards

December 6, 2016

Every weekday, as many as 2,000 phone calls are triaged by Customer Service Representatives at Manitoba Blue Cross (MBC). And though we all often depend on call centres, it's easy to forget about the person on the other end of the phone and the work that goes into sourcing the information we need.

Celebrating great call centre service is what the Manitoba Excellence in Customer Contact Achievement gala is about. Over the past eight years, MBC's Customer Service Centre has always tucked a few awards under its belt for its unique environment, devotion to the community and excellent customer care. This year is no exception with four awards from the Manitoba Customer Contact Association-run event.

"We're not a typical call center," says MBC Customer Service Manager Shannon Granovsky. "What we base our success on is making sure we give quality customer service and thorough information. We trust our staff's judgment."

According to Granovsky, when it comes to people's health care, there isn't a quick hit formula.

"You can't script to answer every call in five minutes," says Granovsky. "We don't quantify like that. We have calls that can take 45 minutes. We'd rather the person have all the information they need."

One repeat win claimed again this year is an award for best workplace environment. Employee wellness is at the heart of MBC's design.

The call centre features an open concept floor plan that allows natural light to pour through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Workstation locations, seating and lighting were planned in consultation with an ergonomic and musculoskeletal expert. The building's sound masking creates a peaceful work environment for staff as they sit at their workstations, which can be adjusted to sit or stand.

"Everyone has their own desk so they can personalize them which is huge compared to other centers," says Granovsky.

Workplace wellness is an intrinsic part of MBC. Employees can attend the gym, yoga classes and boot camp onsite and access healthy snacks at Blue Café, a cafeteria located in our staff lounge. The beautifully designed building is illuminated by 488 pieces of artwork that are mostly made by Manitoba artists and populated by over 160 live plants and many more artificial plants.

And if local art, free yoga and ergonomic workstations aren't enough of a draw, MBC also offers its employees compressed work-week options, which allow staff to stay an extra half-hour each day, working toward extra days off.

"We have a strong knit team," says Granovsky. "You're tied to your desk, which is a little difficult, so we try and make the best of it. We try and do things that bring people together and make them more of a team and I think that shows."

Another award won this year was based on MBC's commitment to the community. Each year MBC supports numerous community events and charities, especially those that emphasize health and wellness. From neighborhood cleanups, to blood drives, to fundraisers, to campaigns, MBC is committed to giving back. Our Customer Service Representatives play a huge role in organizing, facilitating and supporting these initiatives.

"We are very strong at community giving – but we also use that as a motivator within our team," says Granovsky, who describes a department led initiative to raise funds for the Children's Hospital Research Foundation's Christmas drive. To incentivize employees to donate, a contact centre supervisor volunteered to shave his beard if donations reached a total of $1,500. Each time a donation was made, a decoration was hung on the tree. The initiative saw company-wide participation and raised $3,818.80.

Two of the four awards this year were won by individuals. Kayla Park, MBC Customer Service Centre's Trainer won Leader of the Year; and MBC Customer Service Representative Chantale Rivet won Representative of the Year. Granovsky says the employees decide who to nominate.

"It should be the employees nominating their peers. So we open it up to the employees and say 'who was outstanding this year?'" says Granovsky.

She says that Kayla Park makes the staff feel comfortable, which helps them learn the ropes easily.

"She's a good leader. She's a good mentor. She's a trainer in our department so the employees trust her. They go to her for questions. They don't feel intimidated if they ask something. If they don't know something, she'll be willing to help them. She's very approachable."

Granvosky talks about what Chantale Rivet brings to the team.

"People see her as a very smart individual. She does really well, so she takes a high volume of calls," says Granovsky. "But she's a team player so if someone asks her a question, she's there to answer."

And with such a high volume of important information passing through the call centre on a daily basis – it's no surprise that the spirit of working together, supporting each other, and collaboration is key.

"Communication is very important in our department and we all want to make sure we are on the same page," says Granovsky. "I think it's built a stronger team because of that."

Big congratulations to the Customer Service department for setting an example of workplace wellness, collaboration and spirit while taking care of our customers and liaising essential information.

MBC appreciates all that you do!

Safe travels: Navigating your travel policy's pre-existing condition clause

November 24, 2016

As rumours of an extra chilly Manitoba winter float through the air, some may be starting to think about planning a winter escape. And though trading in our jackets and toques for Hawaiian shirts and flip flops seems like the definition of taking a load off, travel comes with a different set of stressors. Before we can explore the wilderness, dive into the deep blue sea or traverse down unknown roads, we must navigate the mysterious world of our travel health policies.

Although there are multiple facets to examine when purchasing or reading up on our existing coverage, one of the most important and less understood clauses is that of the pre-existing condition.

According to Manitoba Blue Cross Individual Benefits Consultant Nikki Makar, not taking our medical history into account when planning to cross the border can be both medically and financially devastating.

"If your policy includes a pre-existing condition clause and something were to happen when you were on your trip related to that condition, it is possible your claim would not be covered."

Though the definition of a pre-existing condition varies between carriers, a few things that can constitute a pre-existing condition include receiving a consultation by a physician for an illness or medical condition, being hospitalized, receiving treatment, being prescribed treatment or new medication or being given a change in prescribed medication.

She explains that the purpose of a travel policy is to provide coverage for expenses arising from sudden, unexpected events. "It has to be an unexpected event for it to be considered covered. Travel policies are not designed for chronic care."

Members should be attentive to the details in their individual travel policies because the terms and conditions, limitations, restrictions and exclusions of the policy can vary between plans and carriers.

Diligence is of utmost importance. This is true for those answering a medical questionnaire. "If you answer your medical questions incorrectly, the policy can be voided. If you do not know the answers, take them to the doctor," says Makar who adds that even if you aren't required to answer a medical questionnaire, you may still have a pre-existing condition clause.

Another important aspect of the clause has to do with how long the illness has to be stable and controlled before you can be covered, which is information that will be detailed in your provisions.

"Travel policies can have various durations for stability periods," she says adding that sometimes people don't know their condition needs to be stable for a period of time before they depart.

"And it's important to note that just because your doctor tells you that you are fit to travel, it doesn't mean that your policy will cover your condition." She says quite often people decide to wait until their condition is stable before travelling for that exact reason.

To find out more about how to stay safe, healthy and financially secure while abroad, visit travel.gc.ca.

Let's get digital: How technology can transform your health care

November 8, 2016

Imagine doing something as simple as meeting up with a friend without the use of technology to look up directions, text when you arrive (or think you've arrived) at the right place, or even to browse your social media feeds when said friend arrives late.

From the way we share information to the way we access entertainment to the way we maintain relationships: advances in technology have changed our lives. So why not use technology to keep track of our most vital appointments, information and questions? More than 80 per cent of Canadians agree – they would take advantage of digital health if it was available.

It's hard to argue that our lives wouldn't be significantly enhanced if we could use our phones and laptops to book doctor appointments, view lab test results and request prescription renewals. Digital health is about empowering people to improve their quality of life by tracking and managing their own health information online.

November 14 to 20 is digital health week, a week to spark conversations about the role of digital health in the lives of Canadians. Clinicians, patients, caregivers, governments and associations are invited to join the conversation and participate in various events. Participants are asked to use social media platforms to engage their own communities in conversation, utilizing the hashtag #ThinkDigitalHealth.

In many ways, our health care is already moving into the digital sphere. Approximately 72 per cent of physicians refer patients to websites to find information on health care and lifestyle choices. Using digital apps and websites to manage our health and wellness is an important component of digital health we can take advantage of today.

My Good Health is our free online health resource providing Manitoba Blue Cross members with comprehensive health information, a risk assessment tool and individually tailored programs. When you register for ®mybluecross, our online member account, you gain access to My Good Health. Through the site you can manage your health with the following resources:

Health profile:

Your unique medical profile is just a few clicks away. Through My Good Health, you can create a health profile to help you understand your specific risks and help you make action plans to address them. Through our sophisticated health assessment process you can understand and keep track of everything you need to know to support you on your road to better health.

Health library:

Search for easy-to-understand information to support your health care journey. Our comprehensive health library is divided into four sections: medical conditions, medications, natural products and tests and procedures. You can search our library alphabetically to find necessary information about an upcoming procedure, a new medication or medical condition.

Health tools:

Take advantage of our health toolkit to support you in your wellness efforts. Calculate your risks, test your knowledge, track your symptoms and make choices for healthy change. Our health calculators, interactive tools and guides and assessments will increase your knowledge and help you manage your own wellness.

Healthy living:

This section of My Good Health is all about connecting you with the right resources for your specific considerations. We each face unique challenges in our lives from medical conditions to lifestyle considerations to more specific concerns related to our stage in life. Here you can find the expert advice and support you need when you need it.

Community support:

From addiction to a new diagnosis to the loss of a loved one – life sometimes presents a certain set of obstacles, many of which can interrupt our ability to cope with the day-to-day tasks. In the community support section of My Good Health, you can find a list of the support services or groups in your area.

To access My Good Health, log into your ®mybluecross account at mb.bluecross.ca. If you are not yet registered, click register. Once you've logged in, click the "Learn More" button under the My Good Health box.

No stupid questions: Increase your safety with better doctor patient dialogue

October 24, 2016

Doctors' appointments can be overwhelming. With a flurry of Internet diagnoses, rivaling symptoms, bustling waiting rooms, busy schedules and limited time slots – it can be hard to make the most of medical visits.

It's no secret that health care providers only have limited time to spend with their patients. And given that time constraint, it can be hard for patients to make the most of their own medical care, which is a hard-hitting reality when the consequences could be decreased patient safety.

Canadian Patient Safety Week, happening October 24-31, is a national campaign put on by the Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI). The initiative seeks to engage providers, patients and citizens in dialogue with the goal of improving patient safety and a focus on four priority areas: medication, surgical care, infection prevention and control and home care safety.

The theme of this year's celebrations? Questions save lives. According to the CPSI, maintaining open communication between patients and providers is one of the most essential components of patient safety.

Although the "no such thing as a stupid question" adage applies in this case, with time constraints and other factors limiting our access to medical professionals, more isn't always better – or even possible. So how do we make sure we are getting the most out of our time spent with health care providers?

Manitoba Blue Cross Disability Case Manager Lesley Milne believes that people can improve the quality of the medical care they receive. Milne, whose background is in physiotherapy, has a Bachelor of Medical Rehabilitation (Physical Therapy) and a Bachelor of Physical Education. Before joining the Disability Case Management team with Manitoba Blue Cross, she worked in various medical areas like cardiovascular rehabilitation, general medicine, orthopedics, rheumatology and acute cardiac care.

Milne shares her insights into how patients can make the most of their medical appointments.

Focus on one medical issue at a time

Visiting the doctor takes time from your day and you might feel the urge to kill two or three birds with one stone, but it's in your best interest to focus on one medical problem at a time.

"If you go into the physician and you bring in three or four different issues, the doctor only has limited time to focus on each problem – and technically they are only scheduled enough time to assess one problem," says Milne.

She suggests booking separate appointments to address each issue. "That way you get to focus and spend a good amount of time making sure the doctor has an understanding of what you are asking or what the problem is and [your doctor] has enough time to assess you properly and make a treatment plan."

Keep track of your symptoms

Milne recommends keeping a journal of symptoms to improve your doctor's understanding of your condition. "Sometimes when you go, you remember a couple of things but you can't remember everything. And sometimes if your doctor doesn't ask the right questions, you might not relay the information and they might miss something," says Milne.

She recommends going into appointments with a list of things you want to target and report to make sure that you are satisfied with your treatment.

Do research, but don't self-diagnose

While Milne believes it's important to be informed and well prepared for appointments, she warns against relying too heavily on the online research.

"The Internet is a good resource, but the caveat is that you can't believe everything you read and you shouldn't let it lead you down a path where you are worrying too much or assuming the worst," she says. "You may read something and think 'my symptoms kind of sound like that,'" she says, adding that it's okay to tell your doctor what you've been reading about, keeping in mind that they're the expert.

Don't be afraid to ask a second or third time

Medical appointments can be intimidating and you might not always feel like you got all of the information you need. Milne says it's okay to make another appointment to ask more questions.

"I think people are afraid that the doctor will be annoyed or bothered by [patients] going back but I think [the doctor would] rather you do that than you be sitting and wondering," she says. "Sometimes you get a lot of information and it's hard to process it. Sometimes you just need to sit with things a little bit and process and go for follow up later, and that's okay too," she says.

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Canadian Patient Safety Week happens Oct. 24-31. Find out how you can improve your safety at patientsafetyinstitute.ca.

Don't get the fall fever: Get the vaccine this October

October 7, 2016

Every year as scarves and sweaters are brought out from storage bins and the cold starts to hang in the air, the fall flu begins to loom. Unlike colds, which also surface during fall and winter, Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a bit more disconcerting.

While the common cold can bring on similar symptoms, the main difference with the flu is along with causing infections in the nose and throat, the lungs are also affected. The flu can also cause pneumonia or lead to other serious complications that require hospitalization. Each year there are an estimated 1 billion cases of the flu – and about 250,000 to 500,000 of those cases are fatal.

Certain people have a higher risk of developing flu-related complications, such as people with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, obesity, as well as people who are over 65, people who live in nursing homes, children under five years of age, pregnant women and Indigenous people.

The first flu symptoms usually include a high fever, cough and muscle aches, but the virus can also cause headaches, chills, loss of appetite, fatigue, sore throat and a runny nose.

The virus spreads easily from contact and since symptoms don't appear until up to four days after a person is infected, it's possible to spread the virus without even knowing you have it. The most common ways of spreading the virus are by sneezing, coughing or talking as well as by touching common contaminated objects like doorknobs or phones.

To minimize your risk of getting the flu this season wash your hands frequently, clean and disinfect objects that people commonly touch, and eat healthily and keep up with exercise to ensure your immune system is strong. But the number one way to ensure you won't get the flu this season is getting the flu shot.

October is Influenza Immunization Awareness Month. Getting the shot is free, safe, and the most effective way to protect yourself and those around you from being infected with the virus. The biggest incentive is simple: people who get the shot cannot get the flu.

Anyone six months or older should get the vaccine. And everyone needs to get a new shot each year, as vaccinations wear off. Getting vaccinated is especially important for those at high risk of developing complications, or those who are capable of spreading the virus to high risk populations, like care givers.

To get your flu vaccine, visit your local public health office, nursing station, doctor's office or pharmacy. You can also contact Health Links at 204.788.8200 inside of Winnipeg and 1.888.315.9257 outside of Winnipeg to find out more about the vaccine.

To find out more about protecting yourself against Influenza this flu season, click here

Bank on a win: Congratulations to our direct deposit contest winner

September 15, 2016

Congratulations to James Hallock on winning our direct deposit contest for the prize of an iPad Air. This summer before August 31, all Manitoba Blue Cross members who signed up for direct deposit were entered into a draw for a chance at the prize.

But signing up for direct deposit is a win in itself. It's the easiest and fastest way to get paid for your claims and signing up is simple. All you need is a void cheque or any document that lists your transit, account and branch numbers. If you don't have these numbers, you can request them from your banking institution.

To sign up for direct deposit with Manitoba Blue Cross, log into mybluecross at mb.bluecross.ca, click My Account and follow the steps to sign up for direct deposit. You can also drop off a ">Direct Deposit Application with a void cheque at our Customer Service Centre at 599 Empress Street.

Once you've signed up, you can sit back and enjoy the benefits of having claim payments deposited directly into your bank account.

Take your health to heart: September 29 is World Heart Day

September 14, 2016

How many horrific heart attacks made news headlines last year? Probably not many. And as the saying "if it's in the news, don't worry about it" indicates – you might want to worry about it. Every year over 17.5 million people die from cardiovascular disease (CVD) worldwide, which is more than twice the deaths caused by all forms of cancer combined. The leading cause of death and disability worldwide is CVD.

Heart attack and stroke are the most prevalent forms of CVD, but the disease encompasses a broad range of conditions, including any disease of the heart, vascular disease of the brain, or disease of the blood vessels. September 29 the World Heart Federation (WFO) hosts World Heart Day, the organization's largest push to encourage people to mitigate their risk factors for developing the deadly disease.

While some people are genetically predisposed, CVD is known as a "lifestyle disease," meaning that people can decrease their risk by making healthy lifestyle choices, like quitting smoking, eating healthy, sticking within the recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption and getting enough exercise.

Many lifestyle-related risk factors cause atherosclerosis, which is the narrowing and thickening of the arteries caused by deposits of fatty material, cholesterol and other substances. If you've ever heard people saying they can feel their "arteries clogging" after they've eaten an extra greasy burger, they are actually referring to atherosclerosis.

According to the WFO, 80 per cent of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could have been avoided by eliminating risk factors. The organization suggests paying attention to the following guidelines for the best chance at heart healthy living:

Fuel your heart:

We are all familiar with being told to eat our fruits and veggies – and there may be good reason for that. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, by eating five or more servings of vegetables and fruit a day, we can reduce the risk of heart disease by about 20 per cent. Other things to avoid include the obvious culprits sugary drinks and processed foods. And as for alcoholic beverages, it's best to keep consumption within the recommended guidelines.

Move your heart:

According to Mayo Clinic cardiologist Martha Grogan, people who sit for most of the day have the same risk of heart attack as people who smoke. Lack of physical activity can lead to heart disease and cause unhealthy weight gain, diabetes and high blood pressure. People should aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise like brisk walking, running, swimming or cycling five times a week. We can also strive to be more active throughout the day. Walk to work, take the stairs, clean out that old back room filled with dust bunnies and old papers or do your annual fall yard clean-up, feeling good that you're simultaneously improving your heart health.

Love your heart:

Quitting smoking is one of the most effective ways to improve heart health. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, within a year of "kicking the butt," the risk of coronary heart disease is reduced by half of that of a smoker; and within five years, risk of having a stroke is the same as that of a non-smoker. If you'd like support, ask your employer about smoking cessation services; tell close friends and family members and ask for support; or go and see your health care provider directly.

Power your life:

Empower yourself with knowledge. The more you know, the easier it will be to make the right choices. Your heart healthy journey starts with understanding your risk factors. Talk to your health care provider and figure out your blood sugar levels, your blood pressure, and your cholesterol. It is also important to know the signs of a heart attack and stroke so that you can act and seek help immediately.

Manitoba Blue Cross members can also access My Good Health, a comprehensive online health resource, including a heart disease risk calculator and individually tailored programs to help you on your health journey. You can access the site by logging into mybluecross. Once you are logged in, click on the My Good Health button on the right hand side of the page.

Celebrate World Heart Day on September 29 by thinking about the ways you can take better care of your heart. Find out more at worldheartday.org.

Stop the shame game: The psychological Impacts of acne

September 2, 2016

Though the onset of fall may not hold the significance for those outside of school years, the subtle cooling and decorative browns of September are still reminiscent of new beginnings. While some of us might still get a little fall skip in our step; for kids, teens and young adults, it's back to school — and all of the pressures that come along with that.

And while planning first day outfits, setting academic goals, buying fresh binders (or is it RAM and external hard drives?), along with making plans to pack better lunches, take new and exciting classes, and set out on the best year ever all sound swell, it's hard to ignore some of the psychological challenges that accompany those strives towards self-development. And is there any affliction that typifies the teenage strife more perfectly than the onset of acne?

It's the common skin condition that affects about 90 per cent of adolescents, characterized by the appearance of blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and large, painful cysts — and in 99 per cent of cases, spots are on the face. And while the arrival of a few bright red bumps might seem like rightful initiation into teen-hood, the emotional impacts of acne shouldn't be overlooked.

A Canadian study published in the British Journal of Dermatology interviewed nearly 500 patients affected by acne and found that even mild acne can bring on feelings of low self-esteem, depression and suicidal thoughts. Since acne often takes place during puberty, a time where adolescents are experiencing body image and self-esteem issues, the emotional impacts of the affliction are compounded.

Additionally, though acne is often seen as a teenage issue, adult acne is more common than many think, particularly in women. One third of acne patients treated by doctors are over 25 years old.

And while there is a current cultural lean towards embracing body positivity and self-empowerment, we're still a far cry from acknowledging our acne phobia, an attitude that has been recently dubbed "skin shaming" by Bustle writer Tyler Atwood.

So what is skin shaming and how do we avoid it? If you ever find yourself saying that people could cure their acne if they only got more sun or exercise or vitamins; or ate less greasy pizza or fries or chocolate or drank less alcohol; or washed their faces properly; or got chemical peels or dermabrasion or facials, or stopped stressing out so much — stop. Sure, drinking enough water and getting exercise and finding a good skincare regime and likely all of the above mentioned suggestions are all considerations people with acne make, but it doesn't mean that any of the above caused the acne.

Instead of taking part in skin shaming, here are some myths we could work on dispelling.

Myth #1: People get acne because they don't wash their faces

Overactive oil-producing glands (called sebaceous glands) that start to produce too much oil (called sebum) cause acne — similar to the way the overactive production of histamine causes the symptoms associated with allergic reactions. Although people who have acne might have to take measures to find a good skincare routine that works for them, acne is not a result of a lack of cleanliness.

Myth #2: People get acne because they eat too much greasy pizza and don't exercise

There is no evidence that links eating greasy foods with acne. Likewise there is no amount of exercise or inactivity that causes acne; and no amount that cures it. And though exercise is recommended to patients dealing with bouts of acne, it is prescribed to help people feel good and to aid with psychological symptoms, not physical ones.

Myth #3: People who have acne should/should not cover their faces with makeup

For some, using makeup to cover up spots and blemishes is a great way to feel confident; for others colour popping and highlighting is just part of their daily beautifying regime; and while some prefer to go bare-skinned to prevent irritation; some people just don't want to wear makeup. The bottom line is makeup choice is a matter of personal preference.

While there are many acne treatments that people can discuss with their doctor, it's important to remember that acne isn't caused by diet, lack of exercise, hygiene, makeup routines or any other lifestyle choice. It's also good to remember that acne can be a sensitive topic, one that some may prefer not to talk about it. But if a friend or family member does want to talk, remember to keep the myths out of the conversation.

The second annual Acne Awareness Week is being put on by the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada September 19-25. The purpose of the week is to raise awareness about the emotional implications of acne and about the available resources for those affected. Find out more at acneaction.ca.

A little assistance goes a long way: An inside look into our Addictions Management Program

August 23, 2016

Sixty clinicians serve Manitoba Blue Cross's Employee Assistance Centre (EAC) at 599 Empress Street. There individuals with Employee Assistance Program (EAP) coverage can access counselling, work-life and personal wellness services; access psychiatric consultations or receive specialized treatment through the Addictions Management Program.

"Addiction" is a broad term encompassing a dependence on, obsession with or compulsion toward a process like gambling or shopping; a physiologically addictive substance like opioids or alcohol; or stimulants that aren't in and of themselves chemically addicting – like marijuana.

According to Myrna Friedenberg, who coordinates the Addictions Management Program, registering is simple.

"People call asking for help with their addictions – or allude to issues that surround addictive behaviors or addictive type problems," she says. Once a person reaches out, he or she can typically begin treatment within a week of contacting the program.

The Addictions Management Program is also open to members of the public without Manitoba Blue Cross EAP coverage. Individuals can participate on a self-pay basis; and both self and third party referrals are accepted.

For the most part, therapy within the program is done in groups; although individuals can opt to receive treatment through individual counselling if that is better suited to their needs. All services are led by a multidisciplinary team of professional addictions specialists including psychiatrists, psychologists, social work clinicians and nurses.

One unique aspect of the program is that sessions follow a cognitive behavioural therapy model, a type of psychotherapy that challenges patterns of thought about the self and the world in order to alter unwanted behavior.

Treatment takes place over a ten-week period. The first six weeks aims to help individuals understand the thought processes behind their emotions and to get a grasp on the basis of recovery. Topics like guilt and shame; dealing with change; and managing anxiety are covered. In the remaining four weeks, the focus changes to group interaction with discussion of aftercare issues and relapse prevention.

Addictions can affect just about anybody. Gary Rockman, a clinical psychologist and advisor to the program, explains that although there is often correlational data that coincides with incidents of addiction, like trauma or addictions within the family, the cause of addiction is unknown.

"The question we are always asked from an academic perspective is how come somebody with that background becomes the alcoholic, or somebody is not affected or somebody has other issues. There's the correlational stuff, but it really doesn't answer the question because some people with the same background behave differently," he says.

"Sometimes people who come from the most perfect families end up being addicted, and people who are coming from the worst possible background won't," says Ken Barkman, who works as an addictions counsellor in the program.

Unlike physical diseases, mental illnesses tend to carry a certain social stigma – and addictions are no exception. According to Barkman, the shame and judgment associated with addictions are part of what makes treatment complex.

"You get that dynamic of the guilt and the shame and that becomes a very, very complex issue for [an afflicted individual] because that identifies so much more about whom they are as a person," says Barkman.

Friedenberg agrees, adding that in the last 15 years, she's seen a shift in attitudes and more of a readiness and willingness to ask for help.

"I feel like people don't come with as much baggage definitely as they did 25 years ago," she says. "I think it's more permissible to get help generally, which is a good thing."

Barkman adds that sometimes people can start to feel vindicated through recovery, "many times big sports people, politicians – it's almost like a badge of honour," he says, adding that people are less likely to be forward about addictions that are more shame-based like pornography or sex addiction.

Reducing stigma surrounding addiction is part of the mission of International Overdose Awareness Day (OAD), happening August 31. Unlike many other days marked on the global health calendar as commemorative, part of the work of this day involves challenging people's perceptions – with the hope that with more information and awareness, more people will seek the help they need.

With a spike in opioid-related deaths in Canada, particularly those in which fentanyl was involved in the last few years, overdose awareness is more pressing than ever.

"Probably the biggest misconception about overdose and drug-related deaths is that the majority of deaths involve illicit drugs. In many places around the world the number of overdose deaths involving prescription painkillers is higher than those involving illicit drugs," says John Ryan, CEO of Penington Institute, the organization that puts on OAD.

"This ties in with the idea that overdose happens to 'someone else' – the stereotypical illicit drug user – not me or you or someone we know," says Ryan.

Addiction can manifest itself is many different ways and people come in for treatment at varying stages of recovery.

"There's the old phrase that people have to hit rock bottom before they can reach for help, so there's that kind of reaching out – and people can do a lot of work at that – and it's a very important piece for a lot of people," says Friedenberg.

For others, she says, the best possible time to reach out is when they are feeling strong.

If you are struggling with an addiction, you can call the Employee Assistance Centre at Manitoba Blue Cross at 204.786.8880 or toll free 1.800.590.5553 or TTY 204.775.0586.

August is Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness month

August 2016

If you look out your window at sunset on August 13, you might see a little flame flickering on a neighbour's front steps, on the window sill of a house nearby, or in the hands of a passerby. Candlelighting day, traditionally taking place on the second Saturday each August, is one of the ways to mark Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness month.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a motor neuron disease that affects the voluntary muscles used for activities like walking, crawling, head and neck control, and swallowing. Approximately 1 in every 6000 babies are born with the disease; and 1 in 40 are carriers.

SMA is autosomal recessive, which means that both parents must be carriers of the abnormal gene; and both must pass the gene on in order for a child to be affected.

Those affected by SMA usually have a mutation in a gene called SMN1, the gene that produces a protein imperative to the function of the nerves controlling our muscles. When those nerves are affected; so are the muscles, leading to debilitating — and in some cases fatal — muscle weakness.

There are four categories of the motor neuron disease: type 1, type 2, type 3 and type 4 — type 1 being the most severe. The level is based on onset age and highest physical milestone reached. In SMA type 4, also known as adult onset SMA, patients usually begin to show symptoms after age 35 and show characteristically slow progression of symptoms. Alternatively, the diagnosis of type 1 is usually made within 3-6 months. A child born with type 1 SMA is usually never able to lift his or her head; and can have difficulty breathing and swallowing.

It's important to note that though the muscles are affected; intellectual ability and the ability to form emotional connection are not. According the Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy Canada (FSMAC), "it is often observed that patients with SMA are unusually bright and sociable."

FSMAC is the national charity dedicated to supporting Canadians affected by Spinal Muscular Atrophy and supporting research to find a cure or treatment.

The organization lists several ways you can participate during Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness month this August, including hosting and attending events; and spreading the word to family, friends, and online communities. FSMAC encourages social media supporters to use the #cureSMA hashtag when posting or sharing stories.

Another way to illuminate SMA is to light a candle the evening of August 13, taking part in the yearly sunset candlelighting where those who have passed away from SMA, and those who are living with the motor neuron disease are remembered.

To learn more about SMA or to find out how you can show your support this August, visit curesma.ca.

The other travel bug: What you need to know about Zika

July 2016

Fever, skin rash, headache and muscle pain - these aren't exactly the things your travel dreams are made of. Although the Zika virus usually causes only mild, yet aggravating symptoms in healthy adults, in some cases it's a bit more worrisome.

Pregnant women are at a particular risk, as babies born of mothers infected with the virus can suffer birth defects such as incomplete brain development and microcephaly (abnormally small heads) as well as eye defects, hearing loss, and impaired growth. Additionally the virus can be transmitted by male partners sexually.

As well the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently investigating a link between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome, an uncommon sickness of the nervous system that causes the immune system to attack the nerves - and can in some cases cause paralysis.

With 52 countries having reported cases of locally acquired mosquito-associated Zika virus, there's a chance that more than a handful of travellers' plans will be affected.

So what do you need to know before you get packing?

Any time you are planning a trip across the border, the first thing you need to do is check for any travel advisories issued by the Government of Canada at travel.gc.ca. If you travel to a destination for which the Canadian Government has issued a travel advisory to avoid non-essential travel or to avoid all travel - you might not be covered by your travel health plan.

As of yet the Government of Canada has not issued a Zika-related travel advisory - but has issued a recommendation that pregnant women avoid travelling to countries with Zika outbreaks. However, if you are planning to travel despite the recommendation - bearing in mind that travel is always done at your own risk - the government recommends practicing the following safety precautions:

  • Use insect repellent Spray, spray, spray - and don't forget your hair, ankles and toes. When it comes to insect repellent, coverage is key. To ensure the spray doesn't rub off; always apply after putting your clothes on. The CDC also recommends applying insect repellent after sunscreen and to choose products that contain active ingredients DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus, picaridin, or IR 3535 - as opposed to non-registered repellents like citronella, cedar, geranium and peppermint oils.

  • Wear proper clothing Even though you might be tempted to spend your vacation in tropical button downs and short shorts - wearing long pants and sleeves will deter mosquitos. Be sure to go for loose fitting clothing rather than tighter fits, as mosquitos can bite through body-clinging fabrics like nylon and spandex.

  • Use bed nets Nip those fantasies of sleeping underneath the stars in the bud. Mosquitos bite at all hours of the day and night; and you're an easier target when far away in dream land. Make sure to use a bed net, preferably one that's been treated with insect repellent, ensuring you fasten it tightly around your bed before you sleep.

  • Stay in rooms with air conditioning If the cooling system at your hotel is a cracked window, you can expect a fair share of blood-thirsty visitors. Always stay in accommodations with air conditioning to ensure windows and doors are regularly kept shut.

  • Avoid poorly constructed accommodations Although travelling often involves exploring the unknown, this might not be the time to get too experimental with your housing. Avoid structures like mud houses or huts with roofing made of foliage. Make sure that screened windows and doors are tear-free and properly secured.

Find more on Zika prevention tips at travel.gc.ca/travelling/health-safety/insect-bite.

While the government has not issued a travel advisory telling travellers to avoid countries with Zika outbreaks, it's always important to check for travel advisories both before you book and before you depart.

For up-to-date information on government issued travel advisories go to travel.gc.ca.

Time for a little tender love and self-care

July 2016

As International Self-Care Day, happening July 24, is just around the corner, you might be eager to sign up for a day of TLC. But while the celebration happens once a year - it's important to remember that self-care is ongoing and its effects are felt 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week.

But what exactly is self-care? It might mean different things to different people. While some have adopted the term when referring to a quick fix shopping spree, gourmet meal or spa day - self-care encompasses a broad range of methods, practices and measures taken to look after one's health and well-being.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "self-care is what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, prevent and deal with illness." It is the umbrella term encompassing hygiene, nutrition, lifestyle, environmental factors, socioeconomic factors and self-medication.

There are many reasons to get behind self-care: maybe the biggest reason being the mitigation of lifestyle diseases such as heart attack, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes, which according to the WHO, make up 63 per cent of annual deaths worldwide.

How can you incorporate the practice into your daily routine? The International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) identifies seven pillars of self-care:

  • Health literacy You may be inspired to sign up for boot camps, diets, or doctors' appointments to kick start your journey toward well-being, but the first step actually involves sitting tight and increasing your health literacy. Making health decisions can be difficult. Before jumping into anything, it's important to understand the language, terminology and concepts.

  • Self-awareness The second step in your journey toward health and well-being is all about knowing yourself. What are your strengths and limitations, when do you feel those aches and pains, what have you learned about yourself from doctor assessments and tests? Knowing your body and individual health concerns will help you make the best choices for you.

  • Physical activity Now that you've increased your health awareness and given your own journey some real thought, it's time to get moving. Physical activity is one of the fastest and most rewarding ways to improve your health and sense of well-being. Increasing activity is proven to improve moods, reduce stress, and decrease the risk of illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and dementia.

  • Healthy eating A balanced, nutrient rich diet is an essential part of self-care. According to ISF, poor nutrition and over consumption are proven causes of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and several forms of cancer among other diseases.

  • Risk avoidance or mitigation Making sure to grab your helmet on the way out the door is just as important as getting outside and hopping on your bike. Risk avoidance is one of the best ways to look out for yourself. The practice includes keeping up with vaccinations, drinking in moderation, and wearing a seatbelt.

  • Good hygiene When you practice good hygiene you stop the spread of diseases. By partaking in specific sanitizing practices, like filtering your water, properly preparing food, cleaning your home and workspace, and washing your hands, you are protecting yourself and those around you.

  • Rational and responsible use of products and services Self-care products and services are known by ISF as the "tools of self-care." They are things like prescription medications, vitamins, medical devices, and wellness services. They can aid you tremendously in your health care journey, but they are to be used appropriately.

We re-shingle our roofs, weed our gardens, and repair our furnaces. Why wouldn't we treat our minds and bodies with the same kind of care? From an evening walk to a good stretch to an enlightening conversation with a health professional - self-care comes with a bevy of mental, physical and physiological rewards.

There are plenty of reasons to celebrate self-care. This year's July 24 celebration falls on a Sunday - which is all the more reason to spend the day connecting with friends and family, walking through the park, or doing a little bit of tender love and self-care research.

Find out more about the importance of self-care at http://isfglobal.org/international-self-care-day/.

Blue Cross Among Top Health Benefits Providers in Canada

June 2016

Blue Cross is the top health benefits provider in the minds of Canadians, according to Marketing Magazine and Leger Marketing's 2016 Reputation study. The massive poll of 25,000 Canadians found Blue Cross to be the highest regarded health benefits provider in the insurance sector, among contenders like Great West Life, Sun Life and Manulife. In the survey of 230 brands including Samsung, Heinz and Google, Blue Cross debuted at number 75 on the list.

"It's an honour to be recognized among some of the top brands in the world," said Andrew Yorke, President and CEO of Manitoba Blue Cross. "I think this is a testament to our commitment to delivering quality service to our members."

Manitoba Blue Cross is one of the seven regional, not-for-profit health benefits providers in the Canadian Association of Blue Cross Plans. Each operates independently to provide health, dental, life, disability and travel coverage for workplaces and individuals, serving more than seven million Canadians. Blue Cross is a member of Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the most recognized and trusted health benefits provider networks in the world.

Manitoba Blue Cross was recognized as having one of the leading opinion scores among the regional benefits providers, at 62. Covering one in three Manitobans and being a part of health care in the province for over 75 years, Manitoba Blue Cross was also recently recognized as the most valued health benefits brand in the province by the 2015 McKim BrandWatch survey.

"We are incredibly proud to be able to serve our community, providing quality health benefits for Manitobans," Yorke said.

Blue Cross was ranked highly as being a good corporate citizen offering quality products and considered to be honest and transparent among respondents. Results are published in Marketing Magazine.

mybluecross® Can Make Managing Your Benefits Easy

June 2016

Managing your benefits doesn't have to be complicated. Our online tools can help you make the most of your time while you make the most of your benefits.

Check coverage details, submit your claims online and receive payment directly into your bank account at any time through mybluecross®. A free online account available through our website, mybluecross® allows members to manage their benefits, confirm listed dependents and make simple online claims - all from the comfort of wherever they happen to be.

Here are some of the highlights for signing up for mybluecross®.

  • Access your coverage information (including health, dental, travel and more), find out when you are eligible for your next eye exam and confirm the amount remaining in your Health Spending Account (if applicable).

  • Submit claims online for prescription drugs, vision and extended health services. Set up direct deposit so that you can receive your claim payment directly into your bank account.

  • Search your claims history, see if your latest claim has been processed and check your explanation of benefits statements.

  • Change your email, request an ID card and access our online health resource, My Good Health for tips and information on medications, health conditions and more. Follow the link to Blue Advantage to find discounts on health and wellness items and services.

To sign up and see the benefits of mybluecross®, click here.

Blood Is a Very Valuable Donation

June 2016

Donating is a big part of Manitoba Blue Cross employee culture, but it's more than collecting items and raising money each year for local charities. We also participate in Canadian Blood Service (CBS) Partners for Life program. Every 56 days (the minimum wait to donate whole blood), a shuttle will transport employees to donate blood at the CBS Blood Donor Clinic near Health Sciences Centre.

Last year, we collectively donated 65 units of blood and blood products, beating our pledged amount. Of the 99 active Manitoba Blue Cross donors, we added 20 new members to our ranks last year including eight first-time donors.

We challenge our members, friends and families to consider donating if they haven't before. We've been donating since 2004 as a Partner for Life and we also encourage our colleagues to join in. There are a lot of people that can benefit through blood donation.

Facts:

  • A motor vehicle crash victim can require 50 units of blood.

  • A leukemia patient may need eight or more units each week.

  • Your donation of one unit of blood, six times a year (regular donation) can help up to 18 people.

  • There is more than one blood type -in fact, over 30 different types have been recognized. However, ABO blood type and Rh factor are typically what we use to describe a person's blood type.

  • The most common blood type in Canada is O+ (39 per cent of the population). The least common blood type is AB- (0.5 per cent of the population).

Get the Most out of Your Travel Health Coverage - Know Who's First Payer

May 2016

More isn't always better when it comes to travel health coverage, especially if you already have a group plan. Purchasing extra travel health policies from reputable sources can be a good idea, but there are some things to consider - like your existing travel health coverage. Whether you want additional coverage for benefits not provided by existing plans or you have a lifetime maximum limiting the total dollar amount you can claim, there are some things you should know first.

  • Last payer of claims on secondary travel health coverage. Many secondary/individual policies have clauses that state that they are the last payer of claims. This means that if you already have another plan with travel health coverage, that plan will pay first. While this might be great if you have limited travel health coverage, if your first payer coverage has lifetime maximums it may affect future claim payouts. Be sure to read your provisions before purchasing coverage and know if your current coverage has lifetime maximum clauses.

  • You may have enough coverage already. If you have a Manitoba Blue Cross workplace benefits plan with travel health coverage, you may have enough coverage on your existing plan without last payer clauses.

While the overwhelming majority of travel health claims are paid, extra coverage may actually not be helpful in ensuring any claims you make are more successful. It's important to read your provisions and know your clauses. For example, many workplace benefits plans may not include airfare or trip cancellation and you may only need cancellation coverage. For others, a more comprehensive plan that includes baggage protection and tour cancellation is better.

However, please review your provisions to ensure you're aware of your level of coverage. If you have a plan with another carrier and purchase individual supplementary travel health coverage, this may not be the case.

Read more and compare our individual travel health coverage today.

Seniors Eyeglass program

May 2016

Did you know that Manitoba has a program that pays for part of the purchase of new glasses for seniors? Every Manitoban 65 years of age and over without additional federal or provincial funding is entitled to this benefit from Manitoba Health, Healthy Living and Seniors. Available every three years without a prescription renewal, seniors can submit a form and a copy of their receipt to the program for partial reimbursement.

An example on the provincial website states that a $250 pair of glasses would receive nearly $40 from the province. Then carriers like Manitoba Blue Cross would adjudicate based on the remainder of the claim.

Manitoba Blue Cross requires that seniors file their vision claim first with Manitoba Health, Healthy Living and Seniors. Provincial forms are available from the vision provider or a provider can submit on a customer's behalf. When submitting your claim with Manitoba Blue Cross, please include a copy of your receipt and statement from Manitoba Health, Healthy Living and Seniors. Manitoba Blue Cross will then adjudicate the claim based upon the amount remaining by Manitoba Health.

For more information, check out Manitoba Health, Healthy Living and Seniors

Spring into Action: Fight the Allergy Season like a Pro

April 2016

As the saying goes, April showers bring May flowers. However, allergy sufferers know that more than just flowers are in bloom. Once the melt begins, molds start growing and warmer temperatures encourage spring pollens, leaving allergy sufferers running for their antihistamines. Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, affects nearly 20 per cent of Canadians and that number may be on the rise.

Allergies are caused by the body overreacting to an external substance, triggering a response that releases histamine and other chemicals into your system. This reaction causes symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchy or watering eyes and coughing - the body's response to the allergen.

For those suffering the effects of spring's arrival, there are a few tips from the Mayo Clinic to help ease your symptoms:

  • stay inside during dry and windy days

  • have someone else do outdoor chores like mowing the lawn

  • swap outdoor clothes for clean ones once inside

  • close windows and doors at night

  • stay inside during the early part of the morning when pollen is at its worst

  • watch out for high pollen count days on the weather forecast and begin allergy medication before your symptoms start

If you have glaucoma, diabetes, prostate problems or other health issues, you should consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking over-the-counter antihistamines, corticosteroid nose sprays or other medications for allergies.

If you are undiagnosed with allergies but suspect you might have them, keep track of exactly when and where you are when your symptoms flare up. Write down what you experience and take it to your doctor. Your physician may recommend an allergy test or suggest some possible triggers that you can avoid or remove from your surroundings to help ease symptoms.

Top Solo Travel Stops for 2016

April 2016

Travelling is full of learning and adventure, but taking a trip on your own might be a reward unto itself. Whether it's due to conflicting vacation schedules, lack of interest from friends/ significant others or merely a personal desire to adventure at your own pace, a growing trend of solitary wanderlust is on the horizon. A 2015 survey by Visa Global Travel Intentions found that almost one in four travellers had opted to travel alone on their most recent oversees trip, up from 15 per cent in 2013. That trend is not likely to go away any time soon. The number of solo bookings for first-time travellers rose to 37 per cent in 2015.

Plenty of travellers are reveling in the independence of vacationing alone. When you only have so much time in a location, some adventurers grow to resent their travel partners who tend to sleep in, don't want to see the same things or have different levels of comfort in exploring new places and foods. These kinds of personality conflicts can undermine a trip and are common reasons for people to choose to head out solo the next time around. However, that doesn't have to mean that you're by yourself the whole time.

The Global Travel Intentions study found that group guided tours and personal guided tours are on the rise for solo travellers. Compared to 2013, there has been a 37 per cent increase in lone vacationers seeking personal guided tours and 83 per cent more solo tourists are signing up for guided group tours.

Some of the top travel destinations for the solo traveller in 2016 include:

  • Iceland. Besides being highly cultural, it's a magical place full of nature's contradictions - like ice and volcanoes. Iceland is also a European gateway with discounted flights to the continent. Some airlines will allow a stopover in Reykjavik for no additional charge, creating an affordable mini stop before heading to Europe.

  • UK/Ireland. London is an expensive destination, but the museums, galleries and historic sites are worth the visit. If you can only fit in a few days, there are plenty of places to see in England, Ireland or Scotland. Options for walking tours or bus tours are plentiful - perfect for meeting other travellers and locals alike. Bed and Breakfasts are common and often have single rooms, ideal for solo travellers avoiding the single occupancy fee.

  • Laos and Vietnam are some of the top places to find yourself on your own. Relatively safe and friendly, the low-cost of travel in these countries is a major draw, in addition to the reputation for attracting like-minded solo travellers. There is a host of activities that will inspire from the culinary and the historical to the excitement of surfing in Vietnam or zip lining through the Laotian jungle.

  • If adventure is more of your thing, Costa Rica, Panama and other Central American destinations such as Sololá, Guatemala have eco-adventure tours perfect for a solo traveller. White-water rapids, volcanoes, hiking, surfing and yoga camps can be found in these countries, a great way to meet other travellers while following a passion or trying something new.

  • European destinations like Germany, Netherlands, Austria and Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are among some of the safest and most friendly destinations in the world. Cost may be a factor, but there are plenty of museums, natural beauty and culture to engage in while being able to take your vacation at your own pace, without someone rushing you along.

  • Melbourne, Australia or New Zealand. A major pull in its own right, Melbourne is a popular destination for the solo traveller with plenty of options to hop to other locations. Sporting events, beaches, restaurants, wineries and zoos are some great activities to discuss with hostel-mates or other travellers that you happen to meet. New Zealand's gorgeous scenery and adventure sports are likely to take your breath away.

The Benefits of Having Benefits - An Estimated Six Million Canadians Avoid the Dentist Due to Cost

March 2016

A 2014 report from the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences revealed a significant portion of Canadians cannot comfortably afford the dental care they need. Looking at the stats, researchers suggest that the lack of benefits coverage is affecting equal access to dental care across the country. According to figures quoted, 41 per cent of dental expenses were paid out of pocket by Canadians - to the tune of $4.6 billion.

Although the majority of uninsured were lower income and disadvantaged groups, surprisingly, a considerable number of middle and higher income earners were also without coverage. Roughly one in five high income and over one third of middle income individuals had no dental coverage. Maybe not so surprisingly then, the report estimated that the high costs of dental care prevented six million Canadians from going to the dentist each year.

As many Canadians rely on employee group benefits for dental coverage, it follows that many people who do not have a dental plan through work are unlikely to receive equivalent dental treatment. While Canadians enjoy universal health care across the country, the quality and amount of publicly-funded dental coverage available varies greatly among the provinces and municipalities. The findings in the report showed the majority of dental care spending came from group coverage sponsored by the private sector, such as workplace benefits. This illustrated the barrier to dental care for those without group benefits who cannot pay out of pocket or qualify for publicly-funded dental care programs.

Interestingly, a study referenced in the report found that the lowest and lower middle income groups now have more dental coverage than the average middle income families. This is in part because the lowest income earners are eligible for various publicly-funded programs while more middle income families are experiencing eroding dental benefits coverage. Simultaneously, those earning a low living wage are ineligible for these programs but cannot access workplace dental benefits, either.

The report connected those who most need dental care as being the least able to pay for it. Studies found those without coverage received more emergency dental care and less preventative treatments. Declining oral health is also correlated to a variety of other health issues including diabetes and poor nutrition. Missed days of school or work and poor quality of life are additional side effects of chronic dental health issues.

For those looking for a benefits plan, Manitoba Blue Cross offers individual health plans designed for different needs, including dental coverage. Check out our help me choose page to compare our plans.

What You Need to Know About Travel Coverage

March 2016

Whether vacationing on a tropical beach or traversing ancient hillside vineyards, travelling is one of life's greatest pleasures. Apart from packing, an adventure should include picking out travel health coverage for your trip. No matter if your destination is inside or outside of Canada, you'll want to consider your coverage. Provincial medical coverage through Manitoba Health, Healthy Living and Seniors only covers basic health care outside of the province and only a small portion of emergency care outside of Canada. In a rush to get travel health coverage or the best deal, many Canadians overlook what is actually included in the provisions of their emergency travel health plan.

Travel coverage should always include basic emergency health, but things like medical evacuation and repatriation are also important for a comprehensive plan. In the case of a serious situation, family flying to your bedside can easily cost thousands of dollars. Good coverage will include these sorts of details.

Accidents can happen anywhere but it can be a very different experience in a foreign country. Language barriers, different medical standards and an isolated location can all be big factors in an emergency.

Travellers ought to know that the overwhelming majority (over 95 per cent) of travel claims are paid by benefit providers. However, the Smart Traveller survey conducted by Travel Health Insurance Association (THIA) last fall intended to find out how to improve the number of successful claims.

The survey found that although many Canadians purchase travel coverage, many are unaware of the provisions of their agreement. Every claim has unique circumstances so there is no one-size-fits-all answer that will ensure all claims are paid. However, there are some things to know to help increase your odds that any travel claims you may submit will be reimbursed.

Know your health and know what a pre-existing clause means in your contract.

Although your doctor might suggest your health is stable, it doesn't necessarily mean that you meet your plan's pre-existing conditions clause. A pre-existing condition is typically applied to people over a certain age and requires that their health has been stable for a period of time before departing on a trip.

Did you know that a blood test, change in your prescription (drug or dosage) or a doctor ordered test could void your travel health coverage? It's called a stability period and if there has been a change in your health status prior to leaving on vacation, it could mean any health claims are denied. You weren't alone if you didn't realize this; over 55 per cent of those surveyed didn't know that a blood test- and 64 per cent that a change in prescription- could affect their coverage. These provisions are common of almost every kind of coverage and can be found in your provisions booklet.

Manitoba Blue Cross doesn't count a prescription change to a generic brand, a regular modification of insulin or blood thinner medication or a doctor's visit when there has been no change in your existing health condition as a reason to deny a claim*. However, if you've had health issues 90 days before a trip departure date, you may want to check your coverage.

*Check coverage for details

It's great to have fun on vacation, but does your plan cover all of your activities?

The Smart Traveller survey found that over half of respondents didn't know that they could nullify their health coverage if they are treated for an injury while having high blood-alcohol content. Even if alcohol-free activities are more your style, you may also find that your plan doesn't cover things like accidents while hiking. The important part is to ensure that you read the provisions and purchase coverage that matches your lifestyle. Other activities like SCUBA diving may require specialty insurance on top of your regular coverage.

Keep these tips in mind

  • Many travel health plans include lost luggage, airfare cancellation, trip cancellation and more. This can be a great help when something unexpected happens on a vacation planned months in advance. Don't throw out your travel documents (boarding passes, luggage claim tags etc) until you're home in case you need to make a claim.

  • Always travel with your benefit provider's contact information- including your certificate and group number- wherever you go. Should you or a travel partner require any kind of medical treatment that could be billed, call your provider before receiving treatment.

  • If you are travelling somewhere slightly unstable (weather-wise, politically etc) sign up with Registration of Canadians Abroad at travel.gc.ca. Should something happen, the nearest Canadian consulate will be better equipped to help you. Remember, if the Canadian government advisory recommends that you do not travel to a particular country or region, your coverage won't be valid.

  • Ensure that the coverage you purchase covers the days you are out of your home province. Many providers will not let you extend your policy; some only if you haven't had a claim so far. Check in with your provider for specifics.

Healthy Habits that Stick- Keep the 'Fitness Resolution' into February and Beyond

February 2016

We've all been there; you make a resolution to get into shape this year - for real this time. You get a gym membership and start working out but by the end January (or sooner), you've stopped exercising. All the good intentions have turned into empty promises of better fitness, waiting to be resolved upon once again next year. To help you get over the hurdle and stay committed, here are some steps that will establish good habits that can last a lifetime.

  • Make daily commitments to do something small and tangible while keeping your eye on the prize. Science shows that although big goals are important for motivation, healthy behaviours are easier to turn into habits if you think in smaller portions of effort. Promise yourself to take the stairs every time and eventually you may get to the point you can run them. Before you know it, you'll move on to the next step.

  • Ask yourself, "What are the real roadblocks to reaching my goals?" What are the real reasons preventing you from going to the gym? Is it that your laundry isn't done and you have no clothes to work out? If so, how can you make it so that you have no excuses? The less excuses, choices or opportunities to get out of doing something, the easier it is to stay on course.

  • Change your environment to support your choices, not hinder them. That might mean not keeping any junk food in the house and stocking up on veggies instead. It could also mean keeping gym clothes at work to make a run at lunch time even more plausible. Once again, the less choices or options you can make on the fly, the better your decision making will align with your goals.

  • Instill Goal and Implementation Intentions into your life. Also known as 'if-then planning', the research of NYU social psychologist Peter Gollwitzer works on a simple premise of breaking down large goals into basic personal promises. Imagining choices and outcomes as an equation of, "If x, then y", helps you plan and deal with options as they arise while making choices that continue to benefit you. "If-then planning" works like this; the goal intention is (x), which could be, "I will eat better". The implementation intention is (y), which could be, "I will grocery shop each week and meal prep on Sunday so I can follow my daily meal plan all week long".

    The plan now becomes specific, measurable and achievable, which are the first steps to creating S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented and timely) goals. Even better, the commitment to meal prep each week will become automatic after a little reinforcement.

    Implementation intentions also work for other situations. If you are out at a restaurant, you can create in-situ 'If-then planning' to help keep you on track. For example, "If dessert is offered, I will only order a coffee". Planning for some common situations and even rehearsing how you will respond can promote positive choices that become routine healthy habits.

Take Heart- Healthy Living to Prevent Stroke and Promote Heart Health

February 2016

Every seven minutes someone dies from heart disease or stroke in Canada. February is the Heart and Stroke Foundation's national Heart Month. The goal is to not only to raise funds, but to promote awareness around two of the top diseases that are killing Canadians.

The canvass began in 1958 to raise funds for heart research and continues to this day. With nine out of 10 Canadians living with at least one risk factor, it's a serious issue affecting the population. According to the Conference Board of Canada, heart disease and stroke costs over $20.9 billion every year in physician services, hospital costs, lost wages and decreased productivity in Canada.

One of the best ways to combat heart disease and reduce your risk of stroke is through prevention. Eliminating as many of the risk factors as you can will go a long way in keeping your heart healthy and prolonging your life.

  • Eat well! Every year, the Heart and Stroke Foundation releases a heart-healthy cookbook and the recipes are delicious! Try getting your recommended daily intake of vegetables, fruits and dairy. Limiting the amount of your sodium and cholesterol intake - especially trans fats and saturated fats- can also help. Reducing the amount of red meat you consume, choosing leaner cuts and opting instead for fish like salmon once a week are all good choices for your heart.

  • Get your exercise! The recommendation is for every adult to have 75 minutes of vigorous cardio activity like running or jogging each week or 150 minutes of moderate activity such as brisk walking. Children should have 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

The Four Signs of Stroke Symptoms:

  • F - Is their face drooping?
  • A - Can they lift their arms?
  • S - Is their speech slurred or jumbled?
  • T - Time to call 9-1-1

Signs of a Heart Attack

  • Chest discomfort (pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain, burning or heaviness)
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body (neck, jaw shoulder, arms or back)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Light-headedness

Top Brand for Health Coverage

January 2016

Manitoba Blue Cross emerged as the top brand in the insurance sector at No. 11, ahead of Great-West Life at No. 23 and Wawanesa Insurance at No. 28.

Read the full Winnipeg Free Press article here.

Probe Research Consumer Ranking

  1. Assiniboine Park Zoo
    Sports/Entertainment
  2. Red River Co-op
    Retail
  3. Manitoba Museum
    Sports/Entertainment
  4. Winnipeg Jets
    Sports/Entertainment
  5. University of Manitoba
    Post-secondary education
  6. Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
    Sports/Entertainment
  7. Royal Winnipeg Ballet
    Sports/Entertainment
  8. Red River College
    Post-secondary education
  9. University of Winnipeg
    Post-secondary education
  10. Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre
    Sports/Entertainment
  11. Manitoba Blue Cross
    Insurance Company
  12. Manitoba Hydro
    Crown corporations
  13. Salisbury House
    Fast Food/Restaurants
  14. Manitoba Public Insurance
    Crown corporations
  15. Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries
    Crown corporations
  16. Half Pints
    Breweries
  17. Winnipeg Blue Bombers
    Sports/Entertainment
  18. Brandon University
    Post-secondary Education
  19. Winnipeg Goldeyes
    Sports/Entertainment
  20. Assiniboine Credit Union
    Financial services
  21. Canad Inns
    Uniquely Manitoba
  22. MTS
    Telcoms
  23. Great-West Life
    Insurance Company
  24. Fort Garry
    Breweries
  25. Canadian Museum for Human Rights
    Sports/Entertainment
  26. Steinbach Credit Union
    Financial services
  27. Investors Group
    Financial services
  28. Wawanesa Insurance
    Insurance Company
  29. Cambrian Credit Union
    Financial services
  30. APTN
    Media/TV

Source: http://www.mckimcg.ca/archives/mckim-brandwatch

Alzheimer's Disease and Its Impact- January is Alzheimer's Awareness Month

January 2016

It's natural as we age to forget things and to occasionally become confused. However, for the nearly 750,000 Canadians living with Alzheimer's, it's more than that. January is Alzheimer's awareness month and we've compiled some facts on the most common form of dementia.

  • What is Alzheimer's disease?

    Alzheimer's is a progressive degenerative brain disease that causes loss of function when different areas of the brain are affected, resulting in specific symptoms or changes in behaviour. In 1906, Alois Alzheimer discovered the trademark 'plaques' and 'tangles' in brain tissue that are associated with Alzheimer's disease. These are believed to prevent nerves from firing properly and eventually leading to brain cell death. There is no cure for Alzheimer's, however there are drugs that can slow the progression of the disease.

  • Alzheimer's by the numbers

    In 2011, roughly 14.9 per cent of adults 65 years or older had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Although it typically affects older people, there are cases of Early Onset Alzheimer's, which usually occurs around 40-50 years of age. Nearly three out of four Alzheimer's patients (72 per cent) are women; this is attributed to age being the biggest risk factor and women tend to live longer than men.

  • Cost of caring for dementia

    The responsibility to care for elders with dementia often falls to families. Family caregivers spent an estimated 444 million unpaid hours looking after someone with cognitive impairment in 2011, according to the Alzheimer's Society of Canada. The toll is severe, with 15 to 32 per cent of caregivers experiencing depression from the physical and psychological impact of providing care.

    The effects on society as a whole are significant as well. A study by the Alzheimer's Society of Canada found the estimated cost to the economy each year is $33 billion for medical care and indirect costs such as lost earnings. By 2031, if diagnosis rates stay the same, there will be 1.4 million Alzheimer's cases in Canada.

  • Learn more

    Get to know the differences between simple forgetfulness, Alzheimer's and other dementias. For more information on the disease, its risk factors, discovering support for caregivers and more. Visit the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba.

Caregiver Program - Employee Assistance Centre Partnership with Alzheimer Society a Caring Endeavor

January 2016

Teaming up with the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba, The Manitoba Blue Cross Employee Assistance Centre is adding new services for caregiver support. As more Manitobans find themselves caring for a family member or friend with dementia, greater support networks are needed to keep our community healthy. There are 4,500 new cases of dementia diagnosed each year in Manitoba and that number is expected to double by 2038.

The Employee Assistance Centre (EA Centre) fields calls and inquiries from Manitoba Blue Cross members who are seeking advice, support and information for a variety of wellness issues. Continually looking for new ways to expand the offerings of the EA Centre, partnering with the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba was a logical step.

Frank Cantafio, Manager of Employee Assistance Services, explains, "With one in three Manitobans affected by a friend or family member living with dementia, the role of the caregiver is more important than ever. It's not only those with dementia that require care, it's also the people that are in a caregiver role. Dealing with that level of stress, caregivers are at a greater risk of developing mood disorders and other mental health issues."

Manitoba Blue Cross is creating a customized and comprehensive approach to supporting those who provide care to dementia patients. In addition to the existing Caregiver workshops, the EA program will introduce five new workshops on dementia care, specialized training for intake support and a partnership with the First Link® referral service offered through the Alzheimer Society.

When someone calls into the EA Centre, the first step is assessing their emotional needs and discovering what kind of support is required in real time. This can include emotional support or brief psychological care. Sometimes, caregivers may need someone to talk to at that moment or they may simply be feeling overwhelmed. As a loved one begins to experience declining cognitive ability, it can create several kinds of stress on the caregiver. Oftentimes, people developing dementia do not receive immediate access to services and family members and friends often need to step in and provide care, regardless of their own responsibilities and schedules. Emotionally, witnessing the decline of a loved one's abilities is difficult and sometimes caregivers need some support through their loved ones illness.

Depending on the assessment during the intake, EA Centre staff will help decide how best to aid the caregiver. Often, the next step is giving information and education opportunities about the disease, to help caregivers and family members know what to expect and to understand what is happening to their loved one.

"It's important to remember that it's not about the person. It is the disease that is causing the behaviour," said Frank Cantafio. Knowledge of the disease is an important step in understanding how best to help a friend or family member with Alzheimer's or dementia. The workshops offered by the EA Centre deal with these topics as well as patient advocacy and care.

The third stage involves referrals to resourcing and finding the right supports in the community to help caregivers and Alzheimer's patients. One example includes direct access to the First Link® program. EA professionals can refer members to the program and First Link® will contact caregivers directly to help provide support and resources for their specific needs.

For caregivers who require continued support through their loved ones illness, the EA program offers ongoing counselling with an expert in the field. However, each case is unique and some can be resolved quickly through phone or in-person counselling.

This leads to the fourth stage - follow up. The EA Centre regularly follows up with callers to check in and see how things are going, which can be even more crucial for caregivers. Making sure that time-strapped caregivers are getting the support and resources they need requires a check-in after the initial meeting. The First Link® program also includes a follow up as part of their service, which reaches out to busy caregivers to find out how things are going. Follow up care ensures that caregivers receive the best opportunity for lasting success and brings the support plan full circle.

United Way 2015

January 2016

Manitoba Blue Cross has a proud tradition of supporting great causes like the United Way through our Colour of Caring Program. In 2015, we raised nearly $73,000 for the United Way Campaign with the efforts of staff combined with a corporate donation match. We are extremely excited to report that we had a participation rate of roughly 90 per cent!

One in three Winnipeggers have accessed a program or service supported by the United Way. Benefiting over 100 local programs with critical funding that allows doors to remain open and funds to be allotted for annual budget planning, the United Way Winnipeg is pivotal to the community.Read more about our actions or about our 2015 Day of Caring here.

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