Social Media and Municipal Alliance Committees (MAC)

A Primer on Municipal Alliance Committees

For those New Jersey residents still unfamiliar with Municipal Alliance Committees, (according to a State of New Jersey brochure) they are local planning and coordinating bodies established in all of New Jersey’s 21 counties to “assess needs, set priorities, develop plans and implement programs that form the foundation of New Jersey’s substance abuse prevention activities.” New Jersey’s Municipal Alliances provide over 3,800 prevention programs statewide.

The state brochure on MACs further goes on to describe the makeup of Municipal Alliance Committees established by the local governing body and made up of volunteer “appointees representing a broad cross section of stakeholders in the community.” Alliance committee members include representatives from the governing body, education, health, law enforcement, civic, religious, and business organizations. From the inception of the Municipal Alliances, community volunteers have been the backbone of the program and they are parents, coaches, peer leaders, youth, seniors and others.

The Beauty of Social Media: Great Reach at No/Low Cost

Recently, some 150 concerned Mahwah parents learned how to talk to their kids about cyber-bullying, sexting, video bullying, and other adolescent online interactions at a Thursday night seminar sponsored by the Mahwah (NJ) Municipal Alliance. The Alliance got the word about the seminar on their Website (mahwahalliance.org) and through the local media as well as several mainstream and regional Social Media platforms/outlets such as AOL’s Patch.com for the Mahwah area.

Social Media works to help municipal alliance committees understand what they can do to get their message out and how their messages can be found. Online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and dedicated Blogs are increasingly being used by community groups to enhance communication with community members and other key stakeholders including federal, state and local governing representatives.

Social media really gives financially strapped municipal alliances the opportunity to reach their target audiences for little or no cost. It is a great tool to broadcast their events and activities. It is also an incredible resource for learning from and collaborating with other municipal alliances and nonprofit groups working towards similar community goals. After all, why keep re-inventing the wheel, if we can all work together to make it roll better on a much smoother road surface? Municipal Alliances must strive to get everyone involved, especially the parents and teachers of the at-risk kids they need to reach and help.

Using feedback from members of the community is a great way to make them feel like they are a part of the municipal alliance and its programs. Never before has this been remotely possible. Now it is possible to involve people, remotely – through the Web-based tools of Social Media.

Social Media’s I/O – Input/Output

Another reason that Municipal Alliances go online is to be where the kids they are trying to protect from harm are most often found. Participating on the Web offers Alliance coordinators and members a portal into and necessary insights regarding the problematic exchanges often taking place between some children and their peers (as well as with potential child stalkers and exploiters) through Social Media. It is not coincidental that on the Mahwah Municipal Alliance website is a Today Show interview with Mahwah police Chief James Batelli regarding this same issue:

For those who were unable to view the original broadcast, it now permanently resides on the Alliance’s Website and can be viewed at any time. Word of the video’s existence on the Website and/or the video, itself, can easily be “pushed out” to the residents embedded within a digital newsletter or via E-mail blast. This is yet another example how Social Media is being used by Municipal Alliances to reach out to greater numbers of community residents and educate them about topics of interest – when they are conveniently available.

Never before the age of Social Media has constructive two-way communication with the community been possible. And, Municipal Alliances throughout New Jersey are availing themselves of these technologies and the greater benefits they yield.

New Controversial Health Insurance Options

Last Wednesday, state officials declared their intention to go ahead with new, highly controversial health insurance options aimed at state employees in light of the vote of a legislative oversight panel geared at stopping the action.

The resolution stating that the state will not expand self insurance health care options was adopted by The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), as supporters stood by the measure, saying that this action would actually stop the health care changes from being able to be implemented, as the resolution includes a new self insured open access plan as a health insurance option for state employees.

The Office of the Governor, Pat Quinn, however, denied the measure, saying that The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability actually does not have the legal authority necessary to adopt such a resolution. This finding was seconded by the Department of Health Care and Family Services. As a spokesperson for the Governor stated the intention of the administration to move forward, even the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability co chair voted against the resolution, saying that the organization moved past its legal authority in the situation.

The final result of the legal scuffle is that the state will assume the risk of paying insurance claims for state employees instead of insurance companies, as would happen under fully insured plans.

The health insurance contracts for state employees were bid upon early in the year. Two offers from Health Alliance and Humana HMOs were rejected, citing their excessive cost. The state, to replace them, selected Blue Cross Blue Shield and PersonalCare, as well as an open access plan from HealthLink, as the HMOs of choice for the state.

The main focus of the switch was to save the state money, of which reports claim will happen in excess of US $1 billion over the course of the next 10 years.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability remains unconvinced of the position of the other governmental agencies, with some of the legislative supporters predicting a lawsuit from one or more of the insurance groups that had their offers rejected. Some legislators on both sides have stated this outright.

Health Discount and Dental Discount Programs: Will They Help Someone Like Me?

There is a new health care delivery system on the market called “Consumer Driven Health Care,” more commonly known as Health and Dental Discount Programs. As with many cutting-edge concepts, this one has created a bit of controversy.

It will come as no surprise to learn that the people making the most noise on one side or the other of the issue are the ones who are make their living in the health benefits industry.

Unfortunately, this professional “siding up” just leaves the general population stuck in the middle, confused and wondering what is best for them.

In reality, there is no reason to be up in arms over the new Health and Dental Discount Programs. These programs are not meant for everyone, but rather they were designed specifically for the people who have slipped through the cracks in the current health care coverage system.

If you have health insurance now, keep it! If you can get comprehensive health insurance, get it.

If, however, you are in one of the following situations, becoming a member in a dental and/or health discount program may very well help you:

1. You have been turned down for all health insurance due to a pre-existing condition.

2. You have a pre-existing condition, have been accepted for “high risk” health insurance, and are left paying out of pocket for your care until (or unless) the cost reaches a set deductible that is very high (for example until you have paid $6,000/year out of pocket – or more).

3. You have health insurance, but you still have to pay full price for one or more of the following services: at the dentist, for new glasses or contact lenses, for your prescription medicine, for chiropractic care.

4. You already have one of the tax-free Health Savings Accounts set up, along with the required catastrophic health insurance policy, and you are paying full price – either out of pocket, or out of your HSA, for your health care until (or unless) you meet the high deductible of the health insurance policy.

5. You have talked with your insurance agent, have gone over your budget, and you truly cannot find traditional insurance coverage that you can afford.

If you are in one of the situations described above, by all means add health and/or dental discount programs to the options you look into.

As you would when selecting any service company or professional, it is important to do your homework. Check the internet web sites to see which health and dental discount companies have providers in your area.

Look at the value of the programs … how much will you pay per month to be a member of a specific discounts program, and approximately what type of savings will you receive in the various care areas of care.

Find out if you have to sign a contract for a certain length of time on the discount program. See if the company offers any type of satisfaction guarantee.

Check into the company’s credentials … in other words, how they stand with the Better Business Bureau, Consumer Health Alliance, and American Association of Dental Plans. Check to see if the company is listed with Dun & Bradstreet to make sure they are financially fit.

If you have any question about whether a discount program will work for your situation, contact a representative from both the benefit discounts company and the traditional health insurance industry.

Expect true professionals in either segment of the health benefits industry to show a willingness to investigate ALL the options that are available to you at the present time. Insisting on this high level of service by your professionals will ensure that you receive the very best personalized package of health care protection possible.

Health Cards and Health Insurance Are Very Different

Recently there has been a proliferation of advertisements for health cards. These cards claim to offer access to high quality and affordable medical care, dental care, prescription drugs, vision and other health care services. The rates vary but may be as little as $20 a month to as high of $125 a month for a family. The two big selling points of these plans are that they are affordable and that you cannot be turned down.

Exactly what are you buying? Health cards can also be called discount medical programs or plans. This industry has grown so large that they even have their own trade association, the Consumer Health Alliance. Here is the definition of a health card given by the Consumer Health Alliance. “Our member companies make health care products and services, including prescription drugs, dental, chiropractic, eye care, physician, hospital and laboratory services, available to millions of Americans by providing opportunities for consumers to directly purchase health care services and products at discounted rates.” According to the Consumer Health Alliance more then 28 million consumers have purchased these plans for various companies.

The problem lies not in the concept of the programs but in the sale and execution. The most important fact you must know about these health cards is that they are NOT health insurance. Many consumers have failed to understand what they are buying and as a result have been saddled with hundreds and even thousands of dollars in medical bills they assumed would be covered by their health card.

These plans advertise that they are affiliated with networks of medical providers. That is generally true. Their affiliation may even be with some of the national networks that insurance companies use themselves. The plan representative tells you that if you use the services of a network provider, you will get a discount on the service similar to the discounts that insurance companies negotiate when providers join their networks.

One company, for instance, gives you an example. If you see a network provider, that doctor’s normal charge for an office visit may be $120. But with your discount health card, you will only be charged $90 thus saving you $30 each time you visit the doctor, On the surface that may sound good, but remember, the consumer and only the consumer, has to pay the provider $90 every time he visits that doctor.

What happens if we discuss a hospitalization rather than a doctor’s visit. You find you need a hip replacement. According the the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the average cost of a hip replacement in 2006 was $42,000. You see a doctor who is in the network used by your $29.95 a month health card. You expect to get a significant discount for the procedure because you used a network provider. Remember your doctor visit. You got a $25% discount and only had to pay the doctor $90 of the $120 bill.

But now you have a bill from the hospital for your hip replacement for $42,000. It is also discounted at 25%. That means you owe the hospital $31,500. And you have to pay it. It’s better than owing $42,000 of course, but $31,500 is still a pretty significant amount of money that the consumer has to pay out. Unfortunately, the companies that sell these cards focus your attention on the small services. But, if consumers are smart, they will focus on the big items, which is the real risk of not having health insurance.

For some people who don’t qualify for medical insurance, discount cards may be the only option. Individual health insurance generally is medically underwritten which means if a person has a medical condition that the insurance company does not want to insure, they will be unable to get health insurance. Most states have what are called pool plans, which will insure persons with medical conditions, but as you can imagine, these plans are extremely expensive.

The real danger of these cards is the aggressive methods used to sell them. Many of these plans are actually sold as Multi Level Marketing plans. The sales representatives do not have to be licensed insurance agents, because the plans are not insurance. There interest is in adding people to their downline as that is how they make money. Learning the programs and carefully advising consumers as to what they are buying may not be the most important thing to these sales representatives.

If you are considering buying a health plan, be careful and ask questions. Understand first and foremost, that you are NOT buying insurance. Be wary of extravagant promises of discounts up to 60%. In our hip replacement example, for instance, a 60% discount would mean the service would only cost you $16,800. It is unlikely that a provider hospital would give you that kind of discount. Ask for specifics about hospitals, doctors and procedures. Ask if all the providers honor the advertised discounts. Sometimes doctors and other providers are not even aware they are listed as participants in these plans.

Ask about hidden fees. Often there are administrative fees hidden in the fine print. Be especially careful if there are fees charged for each use of your card. These fees may eat up almost all of your discount.

Discount health cards are never a substitute for health insurance. Before you consider buying one, think about how you will use it. If your need is for less expensive services, such as routine doctor’s visits, dental or vision discounts, they may be worth it. Remember, if you need an expensive procedure such as a hospitalization or surgery, you will be paying most of the bill yourself. No matter what the representative tells you or the advertisements imply, your card will never pay one single cent to any provider. The consumer will always be responsible for the amount of the charge less any discount that might be applied.

Consider your needs and the needs of your family. If you can afford it, buy health insurance. Even a plan with a high deductible such as an HSA will be a better option because at some point after the deductible is met, the insurance will pay the balance of the bill. If you can’t afford insurance or you cannot qualify because of medical problems, a health card may be useful. But before your buy, understand what it is and what it can really do for you.

About the Alliance Health Plan

One of the first things to mention about the Alliance health plan is that this company really has a much extended network of pharmacies, clinics and doctor offices it co-works with and allows its clients to benefit discounts from. And, no doubt it is one of the major advantages over its market competitors. Having thousands of clients all over USA as their members that provider has the weight and power to negotiate the best prices with its network service partners. So, unlike it is with some smaller benefit plans sellers, with Alliance there is no need to worry about the limited number of places you can get serviced with its discount card. Now, to understand better what an Alliance is, it has to be stated that this plan is not any kind of health insurance. But, it certainly can be used along with your personal and group insurance. If your insurance, for instance, is not covering some drugs you need, you may get discounts from your that health plan.

Another benefit of using a health Alliance card is that you may include your close relations, living under your roof in your discount card, stating them as your dependents. So, your Alliance health plan may work as some sort of your family medical plans’ option. There are two different types of option: gold and platinum. Both of them provide discounts on such essential medical things, as prescription drugs, dental or vision care, chiropractic help, but platinum Alliance health plan also provides discounts on hospital and physicians services, while gold one doesn’t. It is great to know that an Alliance health plan does not have any restrictions as to the number of times you use it or as to any kind of medical condition you may have. In any case, your health plan provides you with up to 60 percents discounts on your prescription drugs and up to 30 percents discounts on your doctor visits. So, there is no limitation as to how frequently you may use it.

There are two payment options an Alliance offers to its clients: monthly fees and annual fees. Besides, there is a 24/7 support service working to help along its clients and to answer any questions. Signing up is not difficult. It can be done right online by filling out one simple application. So, no paper work is required. As you may see, using an Alliance health plan really can save you much money and cut down your health care bill by the half.