‘Tis the season of easy opportunities for health and health coverage

November is in full swing and the holidays are fast approaching. Take a moment right now to think about YOU and consider some basic opportunities to care for your health – making sure your health coverage is the best it can be for 2015.

First, since it’s the autumn season, eat pumpkin. It’s just good for you.

Then, consider these opportunities for your personal health and health coverage.

Fall is open enrollment time for Medicare and the Washington Health Plan Finder. Plans change every year, so check your options.

Something to keep in mind is that the lowest premium is not always the cheapest plan or the best fit for you. Some plans have high deductibles, high co-pays for specialty medicines or they don’t cover particular medicines. Make sure to look at your total out-of-pocket expenses, which can add up quickly. Look at what you spent over last year for medications, office visits and services, and compare what they would cost with a different plan or insurance provider.

Judging the best plan can be difficult, especially because there’s little transparency and information about what is covered by plans on the health care exchange. Until this is fixed, the National Health Council has a good online tool that can help www.puttingpatientsfirst.net. Those on Medicare can review plans at https://medicare.gov/.

Next, we are now in flu-shot season. Typically, people believe flu shots are only for those older than 50, but everyone who comes in contact with people should consider a shot.

If you’re visiting family and friends with young children, a flu shot is the best prevention because children under six months of age can’t be vaccinated. There have been some changes in flu vaccines; there are shots for people under 65, versions for people older than 65, a nasal vaccine and more. Talk to your doctor to see which option is best for you, but do it soon. It can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to be effective.

This is also true for getting vaccinated against meningitis, a disease that causes inflammation of the spinal cord and the brain. There are two major types of meningitis: viral and bacterial. Children and young people up to age 20 are at greater risk of contracting meningitis. Students are at a greater risk of contracting meningitis because it is transmitted by close contact in classrooms and dorms.

There have been serious outbreaks, from the University of Maryland to San Diego State University. Fortunately, a vaccine for the most serious form of

Meningitis, bacterial meningitis, was just approved in the U.S. Until it’s widely available, students and others can still be vaccinated against viral meningitis, which can also be fatal in some cases.

Finally, with new treatment options for hepatitis C, it’s a good time to get tested. Many people don’t realize the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggest anyone born between 1945 and 1965 be tested for the illness.

One-in-33 people born in this age group have hepatitis C, and most don’t know it. The CDC estimates that more than 100,000 lives could be saved through early detection and treatment, dramatically reducing the leading cause of death from liver cancer in the U.S.

The good news is that many of these screenings and vaccines are covered benefits under the Affordable Care Act, so you won’t pay one cent!

So, before the holiday rush begins, take some time to give yourself a gift for next year. And don’t forget to celebrate with some pumpkin – in whichever form you choose.

Sallie Neillie, a resident of Seattle, is the executive director of Project Access Northwest.

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