A yoga experience at West Acres

We had a great time helping people of all ages take a break from shopping and get a little bonus cardio in during last weekend’s Yoga Experience @West Acres event at West Acres mall in Fargo.

Here’s a short video of kids jumping around to the Recess Rocks! theme song for our Recess YES! initiative.

It was nice to get out and encourage fitness in the mall and show some alternative ways for North Dakotans to get moving inside during the long winter. BCBSND also sponsors the renovated Recess West play area at West Acres that opened in 2013.

Some of our employees provided wellness resources during the yoga event at West Acres.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by, took part in the family yoga class and the adult yoga demonstration. We’d also like to thank Mojo Fit Studios and West Acres for partnering with us on the event.

What are your favorite activities to help your kids get active inside during the winter or extreme weather?

Ryan Schuster is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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Protect your heart

This year, more than half a million Americans will die as a result of heart disease. Sadly, a good portion of them will be younger than age 65, and their disease could have been prevented through changes in health habits.

Small changes can make a big difference in your heart health. Below are 28 suggestions to get you started:

1. Schedule a checkup.
2. Check the sodium levels in your foods. Shoot for 1,500 mg or less today (and every day).
3. Do a few push-ups and abdominal crunches before you leave for work.
4. If you use tobacco, try a day off and plan a reward for your success.
5. Turn grocery shopping into exercise-park far from the door, do abdominal flexes while standing in line, load your own groceries, use cans and cartons for arm curls while putting away your groceries.
6. Set yourself up for successful sleep—eight hours.
7. Cut your food portions by 10 percent. Even if you cut 10 calories each day, in one year you would lose a pound. In 10 years, that’s 10 pounds.
8. Even a few minutes of deep breathing each day can lower stress.
9. Count your blessings. Positive emotions are linked with better health.
10. Eat an extra serving of fruit today. It’s good for your heart, your brain and your bowels.
11. Take a walk. Even 10 minutes is beneficial.
12. Go for nuts. Try some walnuts, almonds, etc.
13. Connect with a friend. Close relationships can reduce your risk level.
14. Choose a lean meat, fish or poultry serving. Note the serving sizes. For example, a healthy serving of chicken is the size of a computer mouse.
15. Take the stairs today. Maybe it will become a habit.
16. Measure your waist. Make it your goal to stay below 35 inches for women, or 40 inches for men.
17. Try an extra serving of veggies (not battered and deep-fried).
18. Take a day off from television and move instead.
19. Try a fast food fast. Bring your own lunch to work.
20. Eat a healthy breakfast. Breakfast skippers have a higher likelihood of heart disease.
21. Stretch at your desk, in the shower, at the club, anywhere.
22. Read labels and measure your cholesterol intake. Stay under 300 mg/day, or 200 mg if you are at high risk for heart disease.
23. Pay attention to serving sizes for fats and oils. Read the labels and eat no more than three servings per day.
24. Try an exercise you haven’t done before.
25. Get some dairy. Opt for low-fat or fat-free.
26. Move. Throughout the day, think of new ways you can incorporate activity.
27. Try a day with no processed foods. This could be challenging.
28. Buy a pedometer and challenge yourself to get more steps during the day.

Miss a day? Celebrate your successes, not your failures. The point is that you begin to enjoy taking care of yourself.

Denise Pinkney is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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We lost a bet on a hockey game, so we did some stretching

Like all North Dakotans, we were pulling for the U.S. women’s hockey team to beat arch rival Canada in the Olympic gold medal game in Sochi, Russia, last week. In addition to wanting to see the U.S. win, the staff here at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota were also cheering on Grand Forks natives Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux, two of Team USA’s top players.

We were so excited for the game that we decided to place a friendly wager on the outcome with our neighbors to the north, Saskatchewan Blue Cross. The loser would have to lead employees in office stretches or exercises. Unfortunately, the U.S. lost a heartbreaker to Canada, 3-2 in overtime in the gold medal game.

We’re good sports, so we decided to make good on the bet. Here’s some video of us following the instructions in BCBSND’s deskercise stretches YouTube video.

You don’t have to lose a bet to get some exercise at work. You can use our deskercise stretches and deskercise exercise YouTube videos, either at your own desk, or with a group of your co-workers. You can also follow along with the exercises in the comfort of your own home.

We hope you enjoy these videos and that they inspire you to get active and get moving at work (or at home). Be careful about making bets on sporting events, though.

Ryan Schuster is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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How to avoid health reform scams

These days North Dakotans should keep an eye out for health reform scams to protect themselves from fraud.

If you are contacted by someone you don’t know about purchasing health insurance and asked to pay or give them your personal information, you should be wary. Instead, take steps to verify their identity and ensure it is not a scam.

Never give out your Social Security number, credit card number or banking information to anyone unless you know they are working for a legitimate company. Be cautious if you are solicited by e-mail, phone or in person from someone you do not know and have never talked with before who claims to be selling insurance. Here are some more tips to avoid health reform scams.

Americans do not need to receive new “Obamacare” ID cards. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota mails out ID cards to all new members, including those who purchase BCBSND plans on the North Dakota marketplace at healthcare.gov (see image below). BCBSND members only need one health insurance ID card (those who purchase dental and vision coverage through us also receive separate BCBSND dental and vision ID cards).

The Affordable Care Act does not impact Medicare coverage and Medicare recipients do not need new ID cards. Beware of websites that claim to be selling health insurance, especially if you don’t recognize the name of the company. You can contact the North Dakota Insurance Department to verify the legitimacy of a company if you are unsure.

Please contact your local police department if you think you have been the victim of health reform fraud. You can also file a complaint online with the Federal Trade Commission.

Ryan Schuster is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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The Ultimate Guide to Surviving North Dakota Cold Weather

Danielle Ice fishing feature

Because I hate feeling cold, I’ve picked up many tips and received lots of advice on how to survive North Dakota cold. Common sense during freezing temps goes a long way, but I wanted to share some lesser known tips to help you stay warm as the cold drags on. In extremely cold temperatures, frostbite can set in on exposed skin in as little as five minutes.

Recently, I competed in an ice fishing tournament where no ice fishing shelters were allowed. Everyone fished out in the open, exposed to the winter elements. Dressing appropriately was extremely important.

Above is a picture of Jared and me at the tournament in some of our winter gear. It was around -8 that time of day factoring wind chill, but at least we were warm. Below are 21 tips I used to keep warm during the tournament and any time I’m outside during the winter in North Dakota:

1. Invest in proper winter weather gear. Winter coats and apparel were not created equally. Shop around, read labels or ask a sales associate for help. Winter gear designed for outdoor activities such as snowmobiling or ice fishing will be warmer in general than trendy looking winter gear from a clothing department store. Look for key features such as:

a. Waterproof
b. Breathable
c. Sealed seams
d. Moisture wicking
e. Highest thermal insulation value
f.  Venting
g. Adjustable cording or straps to seal off gaps such as on hoods or cuffs
h. Removable liners for multi-seasonal use
i. Buy loose fitted gear, so you can layer underneath

2. Choose the right winter gear insulation. Goose down is warmer ounce for ounce than any other insulation. However, goose down won’t keep you warm if it gets wet. Synthetic and wool insulated winter gear will still retain heat when wet. Personally, I prefer my synthetic insulated outdoor gear for North Dakota winters. It’s also easier to clean.

3. Cover your seat. Coat lengths that cover your seat will be warmer than those that stop at your hips.

4. Snow bibs will be warmer than snow pants. Bibs prevent snow and wind from reaching your waist or hips too.

5. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Fingers will stay warmer when in contact with each other.

6. Get long-cuffed or gauntlet style mittens. These are designed to be worn over your coat sleeve, instead of at the cuff. They’ll be warmer by preventing wind and snow from reaching your wrists.

7. Proper winter boots should feel relatively light on your feet, have lug soles for good traction, feel fitted with enough room to wear a good moisture wicking sock or two, and plenty of insulation to keep your toes warm. You’ll be more likely to wear your boots if they aren’t weighing you down, feel sloppy, or uncomfortable.

8. Wear eye protection such as glasses, sun glasses, or goggles to help protect your eyeballs and eyelashes.

9. A winter aviator hat (a.k.a. bomber hat or trapper hat) will be one of the warmest choices for winter caps. I’ve owned one since junior high school, and have never needed anything else to keep my head and ears warm. It’s the black one pictured. I have my sunglasses on top and a brimmed hat on underneath my bomber hat. It was really bright out. Jared is also wearing a winter aviator hat.

10. Wear behind the head earmuffs, if you dislike wearing a hat. These earmuffs will help you avoid the inevitable hair crease on top of your head with normal earmuffs. You can even get earmuffs with built in headphones. Bonus!

11. Don’t forget your scarf, mask, or neck warmer. Covering your mouth and nose from the cold will protect your lungs.

12. Layer your clothing. For extreme cold, start with a non-cotton, moisture wicking, thermal base layer of socks, pants and a shirt. Then layer on loose fitted clothing that you can remove if you get too warm. Fleece and polyester fabrics work best.

13. Avoid cotton fabrics. Cotton absorbs and retains moisture. Moist clothes will rob you of body heat.

14. Keep an extra pair of socks with you. We forget that feet sweat. Even with the best winter boots on, your feet will get cold if your socks have collected enough moisture.

15. Keep your feet dry in a pinch with some antiperspirant. Although, I recommend buying foot powders designed for keeping feet dry instead. Dry feet are warmer feet.

16. Bring pocket warmers with you. They are small, cheap and an easy source of extra heat if you need it. They comfortably fit into mittens, boots and pockets.

17.  Remove jewelry and in particular facial jewelry such as earrings. Metal becomes very cold much quicker than skin, which can lead to frost bite faster in those areas.

18. Reduce your caffeine or alcohol intake. Your morning cup of joe may help you feel warmer initially, but your body will lose heat more rapidly with caffeine in your system. Try switching to decaf or herbal tea to help you warm up.

19. Eat enough calories before you head outside. Your body needs more calories to keep warm. The morning of the fishing tournament I ate a larger than normal breakfast knowing that I would be fishing over the lunch hour. I also brought quick snacks with incase I needed some extra fuel.

20. Take a thermos of hot liquid with you. Soups or herbal teas work well to warm you up when you need a boost.

21. Look for a vacuum sealed thermos. These retain heat and cold longer than any other insulated containers I’ve owned. I filled one with decaf coffee and cream for the fishing tournament. Over 9 hours later and back at home the coffee was still too hot to drink immediately. Awesome!

I hope these tips help you winterize your body to stay warm. Don’t forget to share what’s worked best for you too!

Danielle Betteen is a web designer in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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Individual and family plans must be purchased by March 31

North Dakotans have until March 31, 2014, to enroll in individual and family plans for 2014. This includes plans available on the North Dakota Health Insurance Marketplace.  After March 31, those wishing to purchase plans will need to wait until November 15, 2014, when the next open enrollment period begins.*

You only need to enroll in coverage through the Marketplace if you wish to apply for a federal tax credit to help pay for your health insurance. Not sure if you are eligible for the tax credit? Use our handy tax credit calculator. If you do not qualify for a tax credit, you can enroll in a BCBSND health insurance plan at www.BCBSND.com/shop or by calling 800-280-BLUE (2583). You can also get started and find out how to get to the Marketplace by visiting www.BCBSND.com/shop.

This video offers some more info on how health reform impacts your health insurance options.

Who needs coverage?
The March 31 deadline only applies to those who buy their own health insurance (not through an employer) and want to have their new insurance plan begin coverage on April 1, 2014. If you already have health insurance or get health insurance through work, you do not need to purchase your own plan to meet the federal requirement to have health insurance in 2014.

New BCBSND plans available for purchase in 2014 meet all the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

If you have existing BCBSND coverage through your employer, talk to your employer about how health care reform affects your health insurance, or call BCBSND Member Services at the number on the back of your BCBSND member ID card. Call one of our Health Benefits Consultants at 800-280-BLUE (2583) if you have any questions about the tax credit, need help finding a BCBSND health insurance plan that fits your needs or have questions about how health care reform will affect you.

*You may be able to change your coverage outside the open enrollment period if you have a qualifying life event, which is a change in your life that can make you eligible for a special enrollment period to enroll in health coverage. Examples of qualifying life events include moving to a new state, certain changes in your income and changes in your family size (like getting married, divorced or having a baby).

Ryan Schuster is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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How to purchase health insurance

Many North Dakotans purchase health insurance through an employer and plan to continue doing so. But the Affordable Care Act may provide alternative options for those who purchase insurance directly from an insurance company, are currently without insurance coverage, or are shopping around for new coverage.

Find out more in this short video (the fourth and final installment of a four-part series of videos explaining health reform).

Some North Dakotans are eligible for income-based tax credits to help offset the costs of their health insurance premiums. You can visit www.BCBSND.com/shop to use our tax credit calculator and see if you qualify. If you qualify for a tax credit, you’ll need to purchase insurance from the health insurance marketplace online at www.healthcare.gov to take advantage of the credit. If you don’t qualify, you can purchase insurance directly at www.BCBSND.com/shop.

More information about health reform is available on our health reform site at www.ItStartsWithBlueND.com. You can also find out more about health reform law basics and get the latest health reform news on our website.

Let us know if you have any questions.

Ryan Schuster is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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Caring for Children needs your help

Last year, Caring for Children helped 1,310 children in North Dakota get access to primary and preventive health care. One mother said that without the program she would just pray nothing bad would happen to her son. She is a single parent who makes too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford health insurance. 

Caring for Children is a nonprofit program of the North Dakota Caring Foundation and is administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota. The program serves uninsured children from birth to age 19 whose families meet income and eligibility requirements. 

Caring for Children needs your help, as it depends upon donations to fund its services. The yearly cost of providing access to primary health and dental care for one child has increased from $456 in 2012 to $518.40 in 2014.

You can help children in need in North Dakota by donating on Giving Hearts Day, which is today, Feb. 13. Your online donation of $10 or more will be doubled!

 To make an online donation, go to www.impactgiveback.org:

  • Click on Giving Hearts Day “Donate”
  • Select Caring for Children

Denise Pinkney is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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Valentine’s Day dinners can be healthy!

Is your sweetheart is taking you out to eat for Valentine’s Day? Wondering how to make some heart-healthy choices amid the rich, creamy, breaded and battered entrée choices?






Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota Wellness Consultant Registered Dietitian Lori Howard can help you form a strategy to select a meal that won’t add inches to your waist.

  • Beverage. Order water or unsweetened tea. Pass on juices, soda or alcoholic beverages.
  • Appetizer. Go light on appetizers. If the restaurant serves chips, bread or peanuts, enjoy a small portion and then ask to have it removed from the table.
  • Soup. Select a broth soup instead of a cream-based soup.
  • Salad. When given the choice between a Caesar salad and garden salad, select the garden salad.
  • Sauces. Avoid entrees with hollandaise, alfredo and béarnaise sauces. Marinara sauce is a heart-healthy choice for pasta.
  • Entrée. Look for healthy items noted on the menu. Opt for entrees that are grilled, broiled, marinated or steamed. Pass on items that are pan-fried, sautéed, breaded, battered, au gratin, cheesy, creamy, buttered, deep-fried or crispy.
  • Sides. Ask for vegetables. Enjoy a baked potato using low-fat salad dressing instead of sour cream or butter.
  • Dessert. You can finish your Valentine’s meal with something sweet, such as fruit, sherbet or sorbet. Or share a petite dessert with your honey.

If you prefer to have a romantic candlelit dinner with your loved one at home, Lori recommends the chunky marinara with pasta and seared chicken entrée on the American Heart Association website.

Round out your meal with a garden salad mixed with dark green leaf lettuce and spinach topped with fresh cut vegetables, and green beans seasoned with original Mrs. Dash (sodium-free) seasoning. For dessert, Lori recommends a strawberry covered in dark chocolate. Not in the mood for chicken? You can find an array of heart-healthy recipes from the American Heart Association for the perfect meal for you and your sweetheart.  

Denise Pinkney is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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Employer mandate again delayed for some larger employers

The Obama administration announced that it would delay enforcement of a requirement for some employers to provide health insurance coverage for full-time employees, giving some companies more time to comply.

Here’s a look at how the delay could impact you or your employer.

What is the employer mandate?
The employer mandate provision in the Affordable Care Act requires companies that employ 50 or more full-time equivalent employees to provide qualifying health insurance coverage to employees who work 30 or more hours per week, or pay fines.

Who’s impacted?
The delay impacts businesses with 50 or more full-time employees. Companies with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent workers are exempt from the insurance requirement.

While approximately 96 percent of all employers have fewer than 50 full-time employees, most Americans work for larger companies. Companies with 50 or more full-time employees who are impacted by the employer mandate employ 72 percent of all Americans.

How will I be impacted?

  • If your company has fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees, they are not impacted by the requirement and are not required to offer health insurance to employees.
  • If your company has between 50 and 99 full-time equivalent employees, your employer will now have until 2016 to comply with the requirement (the latest announcement is the second time the requirement has been delayed, first to 2015 and now to 2016).
  • If your company has more than 100 full-time equivalent employees, your employer has until the insurance plan year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2015, to offer health insurance coverage to at least 70 percent of full-time workers. The requirement to offer qualifying coverage increases to at least 95 percent of full-time employees in 2016. The employer mandate for this group of employers was delayed from 2014 to 2015, to give larger employers an extra year to get the percentage of full-time employees offered coverage up to 95 percent.

Companies that do not comply with the requirements by those dates will face government tax penalties. The regulations also included more steps some employers will need to take advantage of the employer mandate delay and additional details.

More information about health reform is available on our health reform site at www.ItStartsWithBlueND.com. You can also find out more about health reform law basics and get the latest health reform news on our website.

Ryan Schuster is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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