It is rarer than ever today to see an organization that is cutting its own budget instead of charging its members more and more each year.  It is refreshing to see that an Arizona organization that serves teachers, school districts, cities and towns and other entities can tighten their budget.  For three years in a row now they have managed to keep costs 10% lower than in 2009.  Kudos to VSMG!

reposted from VSMG Press Release.



August 27, 2012

Phoenix, Arizona – The Valley Schools Management Group (VSMG) Board, voted unanimously to approve a no increase budget.  After having already cut ten percent of their total operating budget in the prior two years, this will be the third consecutive year with costs significantly lower than in 2009.

“It is an ongoing challenge to keep reducing costs and to maintain a high level of service year after year,” said VSMG Board Member Tom Elliott.  “However, we provide services to public entities that have already been hit with dramatic cuts and we believe it is our responsibility to bear the burden as much or more than our members.”

“We look at every budget item in great detail, and if it is not completely essential, we eliminate it”, stated Tom Boone, Chairman and CEO for VSMG.  “This year we have saved significant costs by changing from paper mailers to electronic postings and working with our insurance providers to keep their costs low through effective partnerships and negotiations.”

Recent studies by Aon/Hewitt, the largest employee benefits consultant in the world, confirm that VSMG has been saving dramatically for its members through cooperative purchasing and low administrative costs.

“It is getting tougher each year to keep our costs at zero increase and below, especially since most of our administrative costs are external.”  Ted Carpenter, another VSMG Board Member added, “We have to purchase stop loss insurance, claims processing, disease management, COBRA administration and many other items from vendors, and we have to keep their negotiated costs flat as well.  With double digit increases in health care each of the last three years, that has been difficult, but we have managed through hard work.”

The Best New Way to Bring Your Lunch

reposted from The Daily Muse

by  — May 23, 2012

Mason Jar Salad

I’ll admit it—my workday lunches can get pretty boring. I always think I’m going to finally make use of all those delicious recipes I’ve been pinning away, but then nighttime rolls around and I’m too busy watching really important things like The Bachelorette and Vampire Diaries. And then morning comes, and I’m running around like a headless chicken and I’m lucky if I remember my keys and bus pass on the way out the door, let alone find time to throw a tasty lunch together.

But with a teensy amount of planning, delicious lunches can be just a few easy steps away. All it takes is a trip to the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon, a couple pantry staples, some mason jars, and an hour of your time.

Why mason jars, you might ask? Despite the obvious cuteness factor, these jars will keep your greens fresher than fresh, they won’t stain, they’re BPA free, microwave and dishwasher safe, perfectly sized for salads for one, won’t leak, travel well, and are reusable. Convinced? Yes, I thought so!

There really are only two rules to the mason jar salad: Start with the dressing or sauce, and end with the lettuce and herbs. However you want to layer the rest of the ingredients—try different meats, beans, lettuces, cheeses, vinaigrettes, or sauces—is up to you (though I usually layer by weight so heavier items, like tomatoes, are on the bottom).

The best part is you can make five salads at a time, and they’ll stay fresh for the whole week—just grab and go on your way out the door! When lunchtime rolls around, you’ll be sitting pretty with your delicious salad ready to be shaken up.

To get you going, check out three of my favorite recipes, ingredients listed in layering order. Happy lunching!


Caprese Salad 300x300 The Best New Way to Bring Your LunchCaprese Pasta Salad

2 tbsp basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)

1 cup cherry tomatoes

1 ½ oz fresh mozzarella, chopped into bite sized pieces

2 oz cooked penne pasta

½ cup fresh spinach leaves

½ cup fresh basil, chopped


Chickpea Salad 300x300 The Best New Way to Bring Your LunchChickpea Salad

2 tbsp easy lemon vinaigrette (see below)

1 cup chickpeas

½ cup sun-dried or oven roasted tomatoes

¼ cup spring onion, chopped

¼ cup red onion, chopped

½ cup olives, chopped

¼ cup piquillo peppers, chopped

½ cup fresh spinach


Greek Salad 300x300 The Best New Way to Bring Your LunchGreek Pasta Salad

2 tbsp easy lemon vinaigrette (see below)

1 cup cherry tomatoes

¼ cup red onion, chopped

1 cup cucumber, chopped

½ cup feta, crumbled

2 oz rigatoni, cooked

½ cup mixed greens

½ cup fresh mint, chopped


Easy Lemon Vinaigrette

(will make enough for 3-4 mason jars)

Juice from one large lemon

½ cup olive oil

Good pinch of salt

Couple of grinds of black pepper

Shake all ingredients together in a small container.


Speaking of shaking, try to remember to leave room at the top of each jar. Don’t worry if you get a little over zealous (I usually am!) with your ingredients though—just shake the jar like crazy when you’re ready for lunch, eat a few bites, then shake some more once there’s a bit more room!

HIPAA Training – Does Your Carrier Provide It?

Each of us sign a bunch of forms when we see a medical professional or go to the hospital.  One of those is the HIPAA form.  Most people don’t read these forms or know why they are there.  HIPAA is very important for you.  The acronym is for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.  The provisions include privacy, which means your health data can only be shared if you give specific permission, or it is necessary for you health care.

This means that you can be assured if you test positive for AIDS, HIV, an STD for instance, that no one at your work or home can know about it unless you give permission.  Violations can be punished with up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine per occurrence.  If you work for an employer, it is very important that whoever pays or deals with your healthcare choices and payments does not disclose this information.

For instance, if your employer is self-insured, someone at your business or office will know if you had a high cost claim, perhaps cancer treatment or heart attack.  Not only is that personal information, but it is illegal for that individual to leave your information lying about, take it home, talk about it, or leave it on their computer screen for others to see.  Often these people are untrained or housed in the same location as Human Resources.  If an HR person knows you are a high cost medical claimant or unreliable due to health, this is a serious violation of HIPAA.  If you are terminated or refused a promotion based on this information it is illegal.

Someone may be sympathetic and share with a co-worker, “Poor Susan, her child has Downs Syndrome, maybe we should send her a card?”  This again is a serious violation.  Supervisors, HR staff and medical payments and benefits staff often do not know or understand your rights under HIPAA.  Spouses are often frustrated that they cannot find out medical information without a signed piece of paper from the patient.  In fact, your employer cannot even disclose if you have coverage or not without permission, unless it is to your medical provider or biller.  You can imagine for instance if a spouse found out the other had an abortion, an STD, or sexual condition when they have not been having sex.  This could result in domestic violence or even death.  You need to know your people are properly trained to protect you.

The Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT) has developed a model program to identify and train all individuals that touch the data on HIPAA rules.  In addition, their account managers do periodic walk throughs with member governments and school districts to identify areas for improvement in health security.  Some employers who are untrained, actually store your medical data in your employee file, which is illegal.  The VSEBT, administered by Andrea Billings under the VSMG umbrella run by Tom Boone ensures this does not happen to their members.


Conflicting Health Stories – What Can You Believe?

Unfortunately, we live in a pop culture with information overload.  Anyone can make some health claim and have it widely repeated by traditional media and the Internet, even though many of those claims are false.  In the last few years I have personally seen about a hundred reports on how coffee is bad for you and about a hundred more why coffee is good for you.  So what are you to believe?  If everyone was required to learn basic scientific methods, skepticism and basic statistics, it would be easier to sort though the many claims.  The following is presented as a guide on how you can decide which stories to ignore, and which you can trust.  I apologize for the length and technical nature of this post, but hopefully it will prove useful.

The Gold Standard – Peer Reviewed and Duplicated Scientific Studies.  The most reliable source I have found on health information is The New England Journal of Medicine.  They have a strict editorial policy to only include studies that were conducted using the scientific method (to be explained below), were peer reviewed, and duplicated.  A peer review means that medical professionals in the same specialty review your study to determine if all variables were properly removed and considered, that procedures were followed and that the data and results are correct.  If using those same notes and techniques, the study can be duplicated and show the same results, then you are reasonably assured it is accurate.

Scientific Methods in Medical Studies –  In order for a medical study to be correctly performed, you must eliminate as many extraneous factors as possible, to truly test one variable.  The scientific method includes creating an hypothesis, creating a test that will use criterion to evaluate the hypothesis, a large enough group to be statistically relevant, and an unbiased review of the data.

Blind Studies – In a blind study, the patients being tested do not know if they are receiving a placebo (an inert pill with no value) or a real drug.  The placebo effect is quite strong.  People who believe they are being treated with medicine will often show improvement or side affects even though they are receiving no treatment.  The placebo group is called the “control group” because they are a baseline to show how people react when they think they are being treated, and the “Hawthorne Affect” which is how people react differently when being observed in a study.  The test group, receiving the actual drug, will also experience a placebo affect and a Hawthorne Affect even though they are actually getting a real dosage.  By comparing the control group to the test group, you can see the difference actually due to the drug, not to the study itself.

Double Blind Studies – In a double blind study, neither the patients, nor the observers know who is getting the real drug or the placebo.  It is well known that the researchers themselves will act differently if they know who is receiving the placebo.  This can effect their observations and even their interaction with study participants.  There is also tremendous pressure to show positive results, so by not knowing, researchers can gather more objective data.  This data is then reviewed by others who DO know which group received the placebo.

Statistical Size Relevance – You need to include a large enough sample in order to know true results.  For instance, if you toss a regular quarter in the air randomly 100,000 times, it will come up heads about half the time and tails about half the time.  If you toss the coin only eight times, you might get eight heads in a row.  This does not give you an accurate study, it could simply be a fluke.  The more people in a study, the more significant and reliable the results.

Researcher Qualifications and Status – If a report mentions no researcher, or someone or some organization you have never heard of, be more skeptical.  Many unqualified or rogue researchers have reported inaccurate or falsified data.  Several researchers have said they could clone certain animals or create room temperature fusion and it is reported in the press, only to be debunked later by colleagues who find flawed data, falsified data, or are unable to duplicate the study.

Correlation Versus Causation – When I received my post graduate degree in Economics it was well known that when the NFC won the Super Bowl, the stock market would rise for three months, and when the AFC won, it would decline for three months.  At the time, it was a 95% correlation.  Any person knows that the winner of a football game does not really impact the entire economy for three months.  It was simply a statistical coincidence.  There were too few data points to statistically rely on it, just like tossing a quarter only a few times.  Just because things correlate with each other, does not mean they are related.

An example of this is the often reported story that diet sodas cause people to gain weight.  Researchers asked thousands of people to fill out a questionnaire about their weight, overall health conditions, eating habits, drinking habits, etc.  The researchers found that those who drank diet sodas were three times as likely to be overweight.  So, they report diet sodas cause people to be fat, and the press blindly reports it.  The fact is that if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.  If you eat less calories than you burn, you will lose weight.  You cannot gain weight on a long term basis by drinking products with zero calories.

So why the correlation in the study?  A much more reasonable explanation is that people who say they are fat, are more likely to purchase diet products.  Thus, fat people drink more diets sodas because they are fat, they do not get fat because they drink diet sodas.

Questionnaire Data – The worst studies are usually based on questionnaires such as those above.  Analysts study correlations and then make unfounded statements about why they correlate.  I saw one major report that was based on a verbal phone survey of just 36 respondents.  It was widely reported but any statistics major would be ashamed to report anything on such a small sample.  There are many causes for correlation, sometimes, like the Super Bowl, they are completely random.  One may cause the other, or they might be caused together.  For instance, people with poor diets and no exercise might be obese, have diabetes, drink diet sodas, be older or work sedentary jobs.  All of those correlations are related to poor diet and exercise, they are all symptoms, not causes.

Selection Bias – If you call people on their home phone between 9am and 5pm and ask if they are fully employed, you will get a much higher unemployment rate than if you call cell phones at 7pm.  People at home during normal work hours are not employed as much as those who are at work.  This is selection bias.  When you send out a survey or call people, a certain group will not answer or hang up.  Those who are willing to answer tend to have a different demographic than those that hang up.  Again, your study will be invalid.

Interviewer Bias – If the interviewer is looking for a result, the tone of their voice and even the way they ask the question can tip an interviewee off to what they expect.  In studies of this phenomenon, it was found that interviewees can change their answers by up to 30% if they know what the interviewer “wants to hear.”

What is in it for the Study Reporters – Are they doing real research, or are they trying to sell a book, a diet, a particular drug?  Some organizations will rig data, sometimes repeating the same study until they get the result they want, then only reporting that one study.  Be skeptical of any research done by that type of organization.  For instance, if you are selling a milk substitute and put out an anti-milk study, I would be very skeptical.

So What Can YOU Do? – In general, ignore any health advice you hear or read about on the Internet or in mass media.  Ask your doctor.  Don’t bounce around from one drug or diet to another based on some story.  If their is validity to a particular claim, your medical professional will know about it, or they can research it for you.  Common sense dictates we eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, reduce stress and get rest.  For the most part, just ignore the pop culture.

Remember, one hundred years ago, pretty much everything reported about medicine was wrong.  A hundred years from now, people will look back at what we know now, and feel the same way.  If you put your health in the hands of the latest story, it is just going to cause you unneeded stress.  Our average age has risen from around 45 to 75 in the last hundred years.  That is attributable almost entirely to sanitation, plumbing and hygiene.  Clean water to drink, unspoiled food, washing your hands, reduction of mosquitoes, screen doors to keep out flies have caused most of the increase in longevity.  The decrease in infant mortality due to proper prenatal care is the next leading cause of longer average life.  Interestingly, even now, medicine and healthcare have not added more than 3 to 5 years longevity, although they have increased quality of life.  Worrying about studies will do you more harm from stress than ignoring them.

Litchfield Elementary School District Saves 15% on Vision Care

Admistrators at the Litchfield Elementary School District (LESD) are looking for ways to maintain a healthy staff while saving money in these tough budget times to keep more money in the classroom and save tax dollars.  Recently, Wendy Qualls, the Business Manager for LESD, took advantage of the group savings available through the Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT) which allows government entities, including school districts to purchase insurance cheaper through group contracts.  LESD was able to save 15% of their vision costs while keeping the same provider, VSP.  Not only did they save money, but the benefits under the plan were increased and they received a two year rate guarantee.

Congratulations to Litchfield Elementary School District for this solid move and thinking outside the box.  VSEBT is part of the Valley Schools Management Group of programs administered by Tom Boone.  This piece of news was shared with Arizona Health Spot by Patrick Dittman of VSMG.

TV is Killing You

Jersey Shore is killing you—and not just by destroying your will to live. A newBritish Journal of Sports Medicine study found that—on average—your life expectancy decreases nearly 22 minutes with every hour of television you watch.

There’s nothing magical about watching TV, of course. “A high amount of TV watching is likely a reflection of an overall sedentary lifestyle,” says Robert L. Newton, Jr., Ph.D., assistant professor of inactivity physiology at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Americans spend about 8 hours per day engaged in sedentary behaviors, such as sitting at a desk, playing video games, talking on the telephone, and watching TV, says Newton. “As a start, we should aim to reduce the time we spend sitting by at least 2 hours every day,” Newton says.

Try setting up a standing computer desk either at work or at home to cut back on sitting time, Newton recommends. Or try cooking dinner or folding your clothes while you watch TV.

More from Is Your Office Chair Killing You?

Keep in mind that 22 minute stat is an average number that’s associated with decreased lifespan. An hour of TV doesn’t actually cause you to die 22 minutes earlier. Still, we were curious how TV compared to other activities. Here’s a look:

Positive Feelings May Help Protect Cardiovascular Health

reposted from: Sicence Daily

Happy couple. Scientists found that positive psychological well-being appears to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events.

Positive Feelings May Help Protect Cardiovascular Health

Science Daily (Apr. 17, 2012) — Over the last few decades numerous studies have shown negative states, such as depression, anger, anxiety, and hostility, to be detrimental to cardiovascular health. Less is known about how positive psychological characteristics are related to heart health. In the first and largest systematic review on this topic to date, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers found that positive psychological well-being appears to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events.

The study was published online April 17, 2012 in Psychological Bulletin.

The American Heart Association reports more than 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease (CVD) each day, an average of one death every 39 seconds. Stroke accounts for about one of every 18 U.S. deaths.

“The absence of the negative is not the same thing as the presence of the positive. We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction, and happiness are associated with reduced risk of CVD regardless of such factors as a person’s age, socioeconomic status, smoking status, or body weight,” said lead author Julia Boehm, research fellow in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at HSPH. “For example, the most optimistic individuals had an approximately 50% reduced risk of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers,” she said.

In a review of more than 200 studies published in two major scientific databases, Boehm and senior author Laura Kubzansky, associate professor of society, human development, and health at HSPH, found there are psychological assets, like optimism and positive emotion, that afford protection against cardiovascular disease. It also appears that these factors slow the progression of disease.

To further understand how psychological well-being and CVD might be related, Boehm and Kubzansky also investigated well-being’s association with cardiovascular-related health behaviors and biological markers. They found that individuals with a sense of well-being engaged in healthier behaviors such as exercising, eating a balanced diet, and getting sufficient sleep. In addition, greater well-being was related to better biological function, such as lower blood pressure, healthier lipid (blood fat) profiles, and normal body weight.

If future research continues to indicate that higher levels of satisfaction, optimism, and happiness come before cardiovascular health, this has strong implications for the design of prevention and intervention strategies. “These findings suggest that an emphasis on bolstering psychological strengths rather than simply mitigating psychological deficits may improve cardiovascular health,” Kuzbansky said.

The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio through the grant “Exploring Concepts of Positive Health.”

New Migraine Treatment

reposted from


The anti-migraine jab

by JAMES CHAPMAN, Daily Mail

Everyone from film stars to housewives uses it to banish wrinkles – but now doctors have found that Botox can also cure migraines and persistent headaches.

Botulinum toxin A, which is made from a bacterium that is the most deadly poison known to man, has become popular because it can be injected to smooth out crow’s feet.

Though lethal in large doses, a purified version can be used to treat conditions where the muscles need to be relaxed.

Now a study has proved that small amounts are astonishingly effective at preventing debilitating headaches.

Doctors who gave it to patients who did not respond to normal treatments reported success rates of up to 92 per cent at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society in Seattle yesterday.

The research was triggered after women having Botox injections for cosmetic reasons reported that their headaches and migraines had also improved.

Professor Todd Troost, of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina, who has treated more than 350 headache patients with injections, said: ‘Botox is becoming one of the main preventive therapies for headache.

‘When it is effective, the need for daily medications or acute medicines for severe attacks is significantly reduced or eliminated.’

Botox partially paralyses musclesfor about three months. For headache treatment, it is injected into muscles around the eyes and forehead and sometimes the jaw.

For patients whose headaches involve the entire head, extra injections are given in the upper back of the neck and shoulders.

Professor Troost studied 134 patients with migraine, tension headaches or chronic headaches which occur more than 15 days a month.

Most had already been given at least three headache treatments without success. The patients had from one to four Botox treatments at three-month intervals and were asked to describe the results.

Overall, 84 per cent reported improvement – and among those who had four treatments, 92 per cent reported either good or excellent effects.

Professor Troost said Botox can be less expensive and have fewer side effects than many headache treatments.

The discovery could be a major breakthrough for the 6million British migraine sufferers. The condition affects 20 per cent of women and 6 per cent of men. About 5 per cent of the population has chronic daily headache.

Anne Turner, of the Migraine Action Association, said: ‘ Something that could eliminate attacks or make them so mild that they were not a problem would be a huge breakthrough. The treatments that exist are generally hit and miss.’

She added that a larger trial, of about 1,000 patients, was under way in Britain. However, some doctors and clinics already offer Botox to people with persistent headaches and migraine, she said.

Botox already appears to help tackle a number of conditions.

A recent study suggested it combats back pain, while there have been promising results from trials on children with cerebral palsy aimed at relaxing muscles to help them walk.

People with facial ticks, squints, writer’s cramp and involuntary spasms of the head and neck have also benefited.

Read more:

Good News for Breast Cancer Screening

Seven Minutes Can Save Your Life!

SOLIS healthcare, a premier provider of mammogram screenings and treatment of breast cancer have teamed up with the Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT) to provide free screenings to thousands of teachers across the state.  Teachers will receive Harkins movie passes just for getting their mammogram.  This famous Arizona provider of women’s health is that determined to encourage women to have mammograms on time.

At age 20, you should start self-examinations for lumps.  From age 20-39, your doctor should check for lumps during your annual physical.  For women over 40,mammograms once per year, for women over 50 once every two years.  If you feel any lumps either in the breast area or the lymph nodes under your arm, you should immediately seek out a medical provider to be screened.

With early detection through mammograms, tiny lumps can be detected and treated before they spread.  Early detection can increase your chance of survival dramatically and cut costs to around $5,000, shared by your insurance plan coverage.  Late detection means the cancer may have advanced and spread, first to your lymph nodes, later to other parts of the body. At this point more radical treatment is required, averaging $150,000 and more importantly, a much higher mortality rate.

Here is a chart that shows the difference:

There are around 250,000 new breast cancer cases each year.  5,000 of those are in men.  Though rare, men should also feel for lumps in their chest wall on a regular basis.  220,0o0 occur in women over 50, however, the 25,000 women per year who develop breast cancer before age 50 often have more aggressive tumors, and that is why annual mammograms are recommended.  If you have a lump, don’t panic.  90% of tumors are benign, and with early detection your prognosis is much better.

Don’t let yourself or your loved ones die because they failed to get their mammograms.  If you are in a school district of 3,000 employees, statistically, one or two of your fellow workers will die per year because they did not get their mammograms.  It is that important.

Solis BenOra has five comfortable facilities around the valley.  While this particular program is available through VSEBT for its members, ask your employer about Solis Health.  You can get more information at: