Category Archives: Advice and Tips

How much does it cost to have a baby? Hospital study finds huge price range


pregnant-money-570By Michelle Andrews

Which hospital parents pick to deliver their baby can have serious cost consequences, according to a new study.

Hospital costs for women who had no maternal or obstetric risk factors to complicate childbirth ranged from less than $2,000 to nearly $12,000, the analysis of discharge data found. The wide variation in cost means that for expectant parents, it can pay to shop around. Continue reading


Use only approved prescription ear drops, FDA warns


ucm453229FDA consumer update

For years health care providers and pharmacies have sold ear drops that contain ingredients like benzocaine and hydrocortisone that have not been evaluated for safety and effectiveness by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Now the FDA notifying companies to stop marketing 16 unapproved prescription drugs labeled to relieve ear pain and swelling.

FDA wants to make sure that the next time your child has ear pain requiring a prescription drug, the product has been approved by FDA as safe and effective.

“If we don’t know whether these drugs have any benefits, we should not accept any possible risk of side effects,” says FDA’s Charles E. Lee, M.D. Continue reading


Many entitled to hefty insurance subsidies still opt out


turn-money-back-570By Michelle Andrews

The good news: Three-quarters of people who were eligible for the most generous financial subsidies on the federal health insurance exchange this year signed up for coverage, according to a new analysis by Avalere Health.

The puzzler: Enrollment dropped off substantially for people with only slightly higher incomes who would also have qualified for significant subsidies.

Stiffer penalties for not having coverage and redoubled efforts to reach out and educate people about the health law and their obligations may be keys to increasing enrollment for people in these income groups, says Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at Avalere Health.

Subsidies alone aren’t enough, she says.

“The carrots as a standalone don’t work,” Pearson says, referring to subsidies that are available to make coverage more affordable for people with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. “You have to make people aware of the mandate, and as the mandate penalties increase that will strengthen the effect.”

Unless they qualify for an exemption, most people are required by the law to have health insurance or face fines. The penalty for not having health insurance in 2014 was the greater of $95 or 1 percent of annual income.

This year, the penalty increases to $325 or 2 percent of income, and in 2016 rises to $695 or 2.5 percent of income. Continue reading


Your insurance questions answered


Share your story flat illustrationBy Michelle Andrews

May I Move My Son From My Insurance Plan To A Better Option On The Marketplace?

Some readers want to figure out how to become eligible for coverage on the health insurance marketplaces, while others want to figure out how to avoid it.

This week I answered questions from both.

I am covered by my employer’s health plan, but I’m not happy with it. My son is 21 and currently covered under my plan. While I realize that I am not eligible for Obamacare, I am curious if I can terminate my son’s policy so that he might be eligible.   Continue reading


Avoid powdered pure caffeine, FDA warns.


From the US Food and Drug Administration

The FDA is warning about powdered pure caffeine being marketed directly to consumers, and recommends avoiding these products.

In particular, FDA is concerned about powdered pure caffeine sold in bulk bags over the internet.

The FDA is aware of at least one death of a teenager who used these products.


These products are essentially 100 percent caffeine. A single teaspoon of pure caffeine is roughly equivalent to the amount in 25 cups of coffee.

Continue reading


Mixing medications and supplements can be dangerous – FDA


A Consumer Update from the FDA

supplementsWhen you take prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications, do you take also a vitamin, mineral, or other dietary supplements? Have you considered whether there is any danger in mixing medications and dietary supplements?

There could be, says Robert Mozersky, a medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Some dietary supplements may increase the effect of your medication, and other dietary supplements may decrease it,” he says.

“Natural does not always mean safe.”

Certain dietary supplements can change absorption, metabolism, or excretion of a medication and therefore affect its potency.

“You may be getting either too much or too little of a medication you need,” Mozersky warns.

Consequently, combining dietary supplements and medications could have dangerous and even life-threatening effects. For example, drugs for HIV/AIDS, heart disease, depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth control pills are less effective when taken with St. John’s Wort, an herbal supplement. Depending on the medication involved, the results can be serious. Continue reading


Inks found in certain tattoo kits cause infections – FDA


tatoo inkConsumer Update from the US Food and Drug Administration

Tempted to get a tattoo? Today, people from all walks of life have tattoos, which might lead you to believe that tattoos are completely safe.

But beware—there may be associated health risks.

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) became aware of a problem after testing inks in home use tattoo kits marketed by White and Blue Lion, Inc. FDA has confirmed bacterial contamination in unopened bottles of the company’s inks.

White and Blue Lion, Inc. recalled contaminated products on July 11, 2014, but FDA is still concerned that tattoo artists may be using contaminated inks from other distributors.

According to Linda Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, using these inks for tattoos could cause infection.

“FDA has confirmed one case of skin infection involving a consumer that used this company’s tattoo products,” Katz says, “and we are aware of other reports linked to tattoo products with similar packaging.”

Risks Can Be Severe

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‘Gluten-Free’ now means what it says


Bread and grainsA Consumer Update from the FDA

In August of last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final rule that defined what characteristics a food has to have to bear a label that proclaims it “gluten-free.”

The rule also holds foods labeled “without gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “no gluten” to the same standard.

Manufacturers had one year to bring their labels into compliance. As of August 5, 2014, any food product bearing a gluten-free claim labeled on or after this date must meet the rule’s requirements.

Without a standardized definition of “gluten-free,” these consumers could never really be sure.

This rule was welcomed by advocates for people with celiac disease, who face potentially life-threatening illnesses if they eat the gluten found in breads, cakes, cereals, pastas and many other foods.

Andrea Levario, executive director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance, notes that there is no cure for celiac disease and the only way to manage the disease is dietary—not eating gluten.

Without a standardized definition of “gluten-free,” these consumers could never really be sure if their body would tolerate a food with that label, she adds. Continue reading


New hepatitis C treatments – FDA Consumer Update


fda-logo-thumbnailFrom the US Food and Drug Administration

At the approval of several new drugs for hepatitis C is  welcome news for baby boomers—who make up three of four adults with the hepatitis C virus—and millions of other Americans, many of whom don’t yet know they are infected and carriers, says the US Food and Drug Administration in this Consumer Update.

Hepatitis C can be cured, and today’s drug therapies are very effective and easier for patients to take, says Jeffrey S. Murray, M.D., the deputy director of the Division of Antiviral Products in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Murray is an internist who specializes in infectious diseases.

A Preventable and Curable Disease

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Can I cancel my exchange plan if my boss decides to offer coverage?


Question Q&ABy Michelle Andrews

Q. My husband and I recently bought an HMO plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield on our state exchange.

Now my employer tells us he’s going to begin offering health insurance this month.

What if that’s a better plan and/or a better price?

Can I cancel the one I just purchased and sign up for my employer’s plan? Continue reading


Medications for allergies – an FDA Consumer Update


bee on flowerConsumer Update from the FDA

You’re sneezing, your eyes are itchy and you feel miserable. Seasonal allergies aren’t just a nuisance, they are real diseases that can interfere with work, school or recreation, and can range from mild to severe.

May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, and many allergy treatment options are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For the first time, these include three sublingual (under the tongue) prescription products to treat hay fever (also called “allergic rhinitis”)—with or without eye inflammation (called “conjunctivitis”)—caused by certain grass pollens and short ragweed pollen.

The new products—GrastekOralair and Ragwitek—can be taken at home, but the first dose must be taken in a health care provider’s office.

About Allergies

Continue reading


FDA warns consumers to stop using GenStrip Blood Glucose Test Strips.



From the FDA

The US Food and Drug Administration is advising people with diabetes and health care professionals to stop using GenStrip Blood Glucose Test Strips because the strips may report incorrect blood glucose levels.

GenStrip Blood Glucose Test Strips, sold by Shasta Technologies LLC, are “third-party” blood glucose monitoring test strips. Shasta’s GenStrips are advertised for use with the LifeScan OneTouch family of glucose meters (e.g. Ultra, Ultra 2 and Ultra Mini). Continue reading