Your autumn health care checklist: Top 5 to-dos

  • Take the time to understand and sign up for your health care plan, whether it is Medicare or a plan through your employer.

    Take the time to understand and sign up for your health care plan, whether it is Medicare or a plan through your employer. File photo

  • Teri Dreher

    Teri Dreher

By Teri Dreher
Special to the Daily Herald
Posted10/20/2018 7:30 AM

Autumn is here.

'Tis the season to not only anticipate the holidays and brace for winter, but to handle some essential annual health care activities.


They're too important to delay or shortchange, so take out your calendar and get ready to check these off your to-do list one-by-one this fall.

1. Get your flu shot

It's simple: if you don't want to get the flu -- or give it to your loved ones -- get your flu shot now.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, last year's flu vaccine reduced America's risk of infection by about 50 percent. Considering that about 150,000 people are hospitalized from the flu every year, and tens of thousands of people die from it, this is a precaution you can't afford not to take.

The CDC recommends getting your flu shot by the end of October. That's because it takes two weeks to fully take effect, and flu season runs from October to May. So, hustle over to your doctor's office, clinic or local pharmacy -- or, if your employer offers on-site vaccines, be the first in line.

2. Sign up for your 2019 health plan … thoughtfully

This is the time of year when most Americans sign up for their coming year's health insurance.

Unfortunately, because few people enjoy dealing with insurance, too many of us rush through the plan selection process. Yes, it can be confusing (America's health care system needs work). But remember: this is a decision you and perhaps your family will live with all year long.

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So don't wait until the last minute and rush through enrollment. Put aside an evening or two to educate yourself on all your plan options.

If there are classes or webinars you can take, do so. Think about how you've utilized your health insurance in 2018 and what you'd like to change.

And keep these dates in mind for open enrollment periods:

• Medicare: Oct. 15 -Dec. 7

• Affordable Care Act: Nov. 1--Dec. 15

• Most employer plans: Varies, but typically November-early December

3. Use your unused 2018 insurance benefits

If you've met your health plan deductible -- or are close -- now is the time to make all those appointments you put off earlier this year. Now, you'll pay less out of pocket.

Similarly, if you haven't maxed out on your dental plan's benefit maximum, this is a great time to take care of unfinished dental work.

And if you're fortunate enough to have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) through your employer, use those funds now -- or you'll most likely lose them (or some of them) at the end of the year.


But beware: not surprisingly, doctors' offices get quickly booked this time of year. Make those appointments immediately.

4. Take your unused vacation time

Yes, taking time off is good for your health. In studies, taking regular vacations is proven to reduce stress (and stress-related health problems), while improving cardiovascular health.

Men at risk of heart disease who skipped five years of vacation were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who didn't.

Roughly 50 percent of Americans forgo their earned vacation time. Don't be one of them. Work can get by without you for a few days. You earned it. You need it. Take that time off.

5. Help someone else with their health care checklist

Recent scientific studies show that doing good deeds contributes to better mental and physical health -- including longer life.

So volunteer to take your elderly neighbor for her flu shot. Make this the year you actually help your parents choose their Medicare plan. It's not only a good thing to do, it's truly good for your heart.

• Teri Dreher, RN, CCRN, iRNPA, BCPA, is an award-winning RN patient advocate and a pioneer in the growing field of private patient advocacy. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, she is owner/founder of NShore Patient Advocates (, the largest advocacy company in the Chicago area. She is among the first in her industry to earn the credential of Board Certified Patient Advocate. Her 2016 book, "Patient Advocacy Matters," is now in its second printing.

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