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Stay aware, stay educated: June is National Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Awareness month

June 20, 2017

To expecting parents, few things are as important as their child's health. Birth defects, especially ones that cause lasting health problems, are common fears.

That's why June is dedicated to raising awareness of spina bifida and hydrocephalus, two birth defects that can leave people with lifelong disabilities.

Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is the most common permanently disabling birth defect in Canada, according to the Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus Association of Ontario. Every year, it affects 120 newborn Canadians.

Spina bifida occurs when the spinal column develops improperly during the first few months of pregnancy. The damage can range from minor (hidden beneath the skin, with few effects) to major (with the spine protruding from the spinal column, potentially resulting in paralysis).

The exact causes are unconfirmed, but doctors recommend women take folic acid supplements to help prevent spina bifida and other birth defects.

Hydrocephalus

Eighty-five per cent of children born with spina bifida will also have hydrocephalus, which is a buildup of fluid in the brain cavity. The fluid is cerebrospinal fluid, which helps keep the brain healthy by providing nutrients, removing waste, and regulating other important functions.

Normally, this fluid does its job and gets reabsorbed into the bloodstream. But when the reabsorption process or the natural flow is interrupted, the fluid builds up, increasing pressure on the skull.

This means hydrocephalus isn't just a birth defect – since it can be caused by conditions like meningitis, brain injuries, and tumours, it can affect people of all ages. In children, it can expand the skull and cause vomiting and irritability. In adults, it can lead to incontinence, trouble walking, and dementia. In older adults, this dementia is often misattributed to other diseases, like Alzheimer's, which is why awareness is so important.

Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association of Manitoba (SBHAM)

The SBHAM works to improve the quality of life for people with spina bifida and/or hydrocephalus through education, advocacy, research, and support.

Featured FAQ: Why did our Customer Service Centre hours change?

April 27, 2017

To create this Featured FAQ, Manitoba Blue Cross checked in with our Customer Service Centre representatives about some of the most frequently asked questions brought to light by our members. After hearing the most pressing questions and common conundrums – a topic was chosen and a little more time was put into getting you the information you need.

Thank you for speaking up, letting us know how you feel and helping us serve you better.

Manitoba Blue Cross changed the hours of the walk-in portion of our Customer Service Centre September, 2016. Our new hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. The main shift involved closing our doors to customer walk-ins on Mondays – a change made to accommodate trends in email and phone inquiries.

Over the last several years we have witnessed a significant rise in email inquiries and in phone calls, alongside a simultaneous decrease in walk-in customer volumes.

Email volumes alone have increased by more than 200 per cent in the last six years. Last year, our customer service representatives responded to over 37,000 emails, up from 16,000 in 2011. In the same span of time, we've seen a 40 per cent decrease in walk-in customer volumes.

While our Customer Service Centre has witnessed many changes over the past several years with the rise in web-based communications, we're doing our best to keep up with the changing times and to stay attuned to the needs of our customers.

We recognize that you value the customer care you receive at our Customer Service Centre. Our representatives are here to help you manage your plan and navigate your coverage information. When you need assistance, further information or clarification on your plan details, we hope you reach out to us – either by phone, email or in-person during our new walk-in hours.

We appreciate your feedback and hope you continue letting us know how to meet your needs. If you have any questions about your coverage with us, please reach out.

Find our current contact information here.

Dreaming of the clear blue sea: Q&A with Kally on her wish

March 23, 2017

celia-wish

Sailing, swimming with turtles, snorkeling and floating in the clear blue sea are the things dreams are made of – that's why Turks and Caicos was an easy decision for Kally when choosing her wish destination.

At 15 years old, Kally was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. The cancer was in stage 3 and close to being stage 4 at the time of her diagnosis.

Kally started treatment right away, including chemotherapy and surgery to remove a lump in her lymph node on her neck. She has been told that she is currently in remission.

And while 15-year-olds have enough to worry about with school and the everyday pressures of life as a young adult, Kally has braved so much more than many her age.

For her wish destination, Kally is going to Turks and Caicos, an archipelago of 40 low-lying coral islands in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of the Bahamas.

Manitoba Blue Cross is proud to sponsor the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada and to provide children like Kally with premium-free travel coverage – so they can reach their wish destinations safely.

We asked Kally about her choice destination and some of the things she plans on doing on her tropical island adventure.

We hear you did a ton of research before deciding on visiting Turks and Caicos. What stuck out to you about this destination?

The clear blue water and the stories I have heard from other people who have gone there.

What's your favourite beach or ocean memory?

celia-wish

Going snorkeling in Mexico with my family and cousins.

Snorkeling, swimming with turtles, sailing on a catamaran and deep sea fishing – clearly you're an ocean lover. What's your favourite water sport or activity?

I love to wakeboard and tube. Also just swim and float around.

We hear that you're hoping to overcome a fear of heights to try parasailing. How are you feeling about that at this particular moment?

I'm a little nervous about parasailing just because I have heard scary stories. But I still would like to try it out and live life on the edge.

...

Manitoba Blue Cross is matching donations made to the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada during March through text or the link below. We will match up to $10,000 total.

To donate text Bluewish1 to 80100 or click here.

A trip fit for a princess: Q&A with Celia on her wish

March 16, 2017

celia-wish

Four-year-old Celia now spends her time dancing with ribbons in ballet class and singing along to her favourite songs, but it hasn't always been easy for Celia to enjoy the things she loves.

On a routine check-up the day after she was born, Celia was diagnosed with Tricuspid Atresia, a congenital heart condition in which the right side of the heart can't pump blood to the lungs to be oxygenated. Normally, this would mean Celia's blood wouldn't receive the oxygen she needs to live. However, in a coincidental turn of events, Celia was also born with several holes in her heart, which allowed her blood to get oxygen accidentally – and in turn saved her life. Celia has gone through multiple major surgeries and lots of physiotherapy on her road to treatment.

Manitoba Blue Cross is proud to sponsor the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada and to provide children like Celia with premium-free travel coverage – so they can reach their dream destinations.

We asked Celia about her favourite things, her love of princesses and her upcoming trip to Florida to visit the Magic Kingdom.

We hear you love princesses! Who is your favourite princess? What do you love about her?

I love all the princesses! My favourite princess in the whole wide world is Sleeping Beauty! I love them because they give hugs!

Is it true you do ballet?

Yes, I go to dance class! I hold hands with my cousin and we dance with ribbons!

Do you have a favourite song?

My favourite song is the Trolls song Can't stop the feeling. I sing it all the time!

celia-wish

What is your favourite toy/game to play?

I like to play dress up and with my stuffies and I like to play school teacher.

We hear you are going on a really exciting trip to the Magic Kingdom in Florida! What are you going to do there?

I'm going to go in the castle and see the princesses and ride in the teacups and race cars!

Who would you love to meet at the Magic Kingdom?

I would like to meet everybody!

...

Manitoba Blue Cross is matching donations made to the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada during March through text or the link below. We will match up to $10,000 total.

To donate text Bluewish1 to 80100 or click here.

Trains, monster trucks and Lightening McQueen: Q&A with London on his wish

March 14, 2017

london-wish

London is a bright, happy boy and a lover of monster trucks, Lego, trains, cars – and especially Lightening McQueen, the hero from the animated Pixar movie Cars. That is why London chose to visit Cars Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios for his wish.

Before London was born, he had already been diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), a rare heart defect where the left side of the heart is underdeveloped. He has undergone surgeries – starting at just five days old – to treat this condition.

Manitoba Blue Cross is proud to sponsor the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada and to provide children like London with premium-free travel coverage – so they can reach their dream destinations.

We asked London about his upcoming trip to Florida to visit Disney World and about some of the things he loves best.

We hear you love monster trucks, cars and trains! What's your favourite toy or game?

I love Grave Digger from Monster Jam. I REALLY love monster truck games. I love Play-Doh and activity books. I love puzzles. I wish I got a Grave Digger puzzle.

We hear you love ice cream! What's your favourite food?

I love chocolate pudding, milk and cookies. I love strawberries, oranges and watermelon.

Is it true you are going on a really cool trip to Florida to visit Cars Land in Disney's Hollywood Studios? What are you excited to do at Cars Land?

london-wish

I want to see Lightening McQueen. I don't know if he is real or if he can talk. I want to play with new cars there!

What do you love about Lightening McQueen?

I love the numbers on him and he goes fast and he is a race car and talks.

Manitoba Blue Cross is matching donations made to the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada during March through text or the link below. We will match up to $10,000 total.

To donate text Bluewish1 to 80100 or click here.

Take a load off: How to reduce stress for a healthy heart

February 13, 2017

Talking about how stressed we are is as common place as chatting about the weather or local sports team, but do we know the heart health outcomes of our frazzled states? A recent medical study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISSMS) breaks new ground in explaining the connection between stress and heart disease.

According to the MGH and ISSMS study, feelings of stress can cause heightened activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala, something that usually occurs when we sense danger. The over-activity in this "fear region" of the brain encourages the body to produce white blood cells at a higher rate than normal – in order to repair tissue and to fight off disease. Because these white blood cells are not actually needed, the over-expenditure can result in arterial inflammation, which is associated with higher incidents of heart disease.

Stress can present itself in different ways, depending on the individual. It can commonly be a result of a major life change – good or bad – like a promotion, a new relationship or the death of a loved one. More mundane activities can also induce tension, like daily work pressures, rush hour traffic or strained communications with family and friends.

Signs that you are over-stressed include feelings of irritability, sadness or guilt; change in sleep patterns; changes in weight or appearance; difficulty concentrating or making decisions; negative thinking; loss of interest in things you used to enjoy; and restlessness.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, when you're stressed out, your body responds following three phases in order to help you respond to the situation at hand:

First, your body releases adrenalin, causing your heart rate to increase and breathing to speed up.

If the agitation is not curbed following the initial adrenalin rush, your body will then begin to release stored sugars and fats, in an attempt to supply you with extra energy. This release can lead to mental and physical exhaustion.

If you remain in this stressed out state, you will enter the third phase, in which your body is unable to provide the energy it needs. During the third phase, you may experience insomnia, judgment errors and personality changes.

It's important to identify the events in your life that trigger your symptoms. Some people find it helpful to keep a journal and write down activities that lead to greater than normal stress. You can begin to identify your triggers and think about coping strategies to help you avoid falling into the same pattern in the future.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada suggests following these three guidelines to help get rid of stress daily:

1. Just say no

Before you can look after anyone else's needs, you have to make sure you're looking out for yourself. It's important not to over commit. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by trying to please everyone, it's best recognize your own limitations. This way you can mitigate any feelings of guilt you may have for not being able to make all of your commitments as well as the stress you put yourself through trying to live up to unrealistic expectations.

1. Take action daily

Though this advice may seem counterintuitive to point number one, it's not. Putting things off, whether it's work that needs to get done or a decision that needs to be made, is stress-inducing. Checking things off your list, no matter how small, is satisfying and productive. It'll help you build confidence, reduce anxiety and develop healthy patterns.

3. Ask for help

Remember that it's okay – and much of the time necessary – to ask for help. Whether it's confiding in a friend, getting help with a project or talking to a counsellor or psychologist, a little help can go a long way. It's important to note that if going at something alone is overwhelming, we can reach out for help.

To find out more about how you can reduce stress and improve your heart health, click here.

Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance as part of their employer health plan can contact the Employee Assistance Centre directly to inquire about counselling services or to schedule an appointment:

Directly: 204.786.8880

Toll Free: 1.800.590.5553

TTY: 204.775.0586

If you are unsure as to what benefits are available to you and your family, check with your Human Resources representative.

Good health pays off: Reasons to exercise in 2017

January 19, 2017

The classic New Year's calls-to-action have probably already beckoned you to "hit the gym," "get in shape" or "achieve your fitness goals." And there is good reason for that - like the irrefutable evidence that regular physical activity helps prevent several chronic diseases and is associated with reduced risk of premature death. Yet only one in five Canadians gets enough exercise.

Though promoting cardiovascular health is the primary health-related reason people seek out active lifestyles, there are many other health benefits associated with increased physical activity, like preventing type 2 diabetes, protecting against colon and breast cancer and maintaining healthy bone mineral density - to name a few.

There is also psychological wellness to take into account. Regular physical activity is proven to improve well-being by reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Psychological wellness also has important effects on preventing other chronic diseases such as hypertension, osteoporosis, cancer and obesity.

Even though there is a bevy of evidence suggesting that exercise has many health benefits, doctors are reluctant to prescribe workout regimes to their patients. The Canadian Medical Association Journal released a study in 2016 stating that though regular exercise is valuable component to treating many chronic conditions, physicians are often reluctant to add treadmill or lifting time to treatment plans. So there's a good chance that if you're making a fitness plan in the New Year, you're going at it alone.

Motivating yourself to create and sustain an exercise routine can be intimidating. Additionally the cold at this time of year makes it hard to embrace the outdoors and healthy activities that are more appealing during the warmer months like walking, running or biking. Lastly, gym memberships and fitness classes can be expensive, and it's not always easy to shell out extra dollars after the holidays.

So how can Manitoba Blue Cross help you hop on the fitness train?

By being a Manitoba Blue Cross member, you already have a leg up on affording better wellness. Through Blue Advantage, our national discount program, you can save on medical, vision care and wellness services offered by participating providers across Canada. All you have to do is present your Blue Cross identification card to the participating provider and mention the Blue Advantage program.

So what are some of the health and wellness discounts you can expect simply for being a Manitoba Blue Cross member?

Anytime Fitness

15% off monthly membership fees (12 month & month-to-month)
50% off enrollment fees (12 month memberships)

Curves

50% off service fee
10% off monthly fees

Shapes

25% off basic annual agreement
All group fitness classes are included with your membership

Snap Fitness

10% off monthly fees
50% off enrollment

Urban Poling

15% off all products purchased through the Urban Poling online store

Read about all of your Blue Advantage discounts and find the terms and conditions of each offer here

Kick the Habit: National Non-Smoking Week is January 15-21

January 5, 2017

While "New Year, New You" is a go-to mantra for the masses making to-do lists at this time of the year, there are some New Year's resolutions that are more pressing – like kicking a toxic habit.

According to Statistics Canada, smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in Canada. Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, at least 70 of which are linked to cancer. Additionally, there is strong medical evidence that tobacco use is linked to more than two dozen diseases and conditions and that smoking has negative effects on nearly every organ in the body.

Though many of these health repercussions are known to non-smokers and smokers alike, "kicking the butt" is easier said than done. This is primarily due to one of the highly addictive chemical additives in cigarettes – nicotine. When smokers break the habit, the nicotine in cigarettes can cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including nausea and intestinal cramping, headaches, sore throat, insomnia and difficulty concentrating.

The good news is that every attempt counts. According to ManitobaQuits, a campaign launched by the Manitoba Lung Association, every attempt at quitting helps you acquire the skills, mental strength and motivation you need to quit for good.

And the rewards for quitting are almost instantaneous. After 20 minutes of not smoking, your blood pressure will drop to a level similar to that before your last cigarette – after 24 hours your risk of heart attack starts to drop.

National Non-Smoking Week has been observed in Canada for nearly 40 years during the third week of January. Each year, individuals and agencies working on local, regional and national scales take part in activities and educational efforts. The goals of the week are to educate Canadians about the dangers of smoking; to prevent non-smokers from starting; to help people quit; to de-normalize tobacco use; and to work toward a smoke free society in Canada.

While quitting smoking can be an uphill battle, there are many resources available to assist you on your journey, including smoking cessation resources through My Good Health, our free online health resource for members. To access My Good Health, log into your ®mybluecross account, accessible at the top right corner of any page of our website. Once you've logged in, click the "Learn More" button under the My Good Health box. You can find resources by clicking "Healthy Living," and then under Healthy Lifestyle, click "Stop Smoking."

Quitting can take time, and even if you are not ready to stop just yet, you can still take part in National Non-Smoking Week by planning for the future. The Government of Canada has a guide to help people do just that called On the road to Quitting - Guide to becoming a non-smoker – available in adult and young adult versions. The guide suggests aspiring quitters create action plans, following these eight steps:

  • Write a clear statement describing why you want to stop smoking
  • List your concerns about quitting
  • Prepare for the symptoms of withdrawal
  • Recognize the skills you already have to help you quit
  • Identify your supports
  • Identify your smoking patterns
  • Decide how to change the things that remind you of your habit
  • Set a quit date

To read the full guide, click here. For more information on quitting smoking, visit Go Smoke Free.

Voicing our gratitude: Manitoba Blue Cross celebrates four customer service awards

December 6, 2016

Every weekday, as many as 2,000 phone calls are triaged by Customer Service Representatives at Manitoba Blue Cross (MBC). And though we all often depend on call centres, it's easy to forget about the person on the other end of the phone and the work that goes into sourcing the information we need.

Celebrating great call centre service is what the Manitoba Excellence in Customer Contact Achievement gala is about. Over the past eight years, MBC's Customer Service Centre has always tucked a few awards under its belt for its unique environment, devotion to the community and excellent customer care. This year is no exception with four awards from the Manitoba Customer Contact Association-run event.

"We're not a typical call center," says MBC Customer Service Manager Shannon Granovsky. "What we base our success on is making sure we give quality customer service and thorough information. We trust our staff's judgment."

According to Granovsky, when it comes to people's health care, there isn't a quick hit formula.

"You can't script to answer every call in five minutes," says Granovsky. "We don't quantify like that. We have calls that can take 45 minutes. We'd rather the person have all the information they need."

One repeat win claimed again this year is an award for best workplace environment. Employee wellness is at the heart of MBC's design.

The call centre features an open concept floor plan that allows natural light to pour through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Workstation locations, seating and lighting were planned in consultation with an ergonomic and musculoskeletal expert. The building's sound masking creates a peaceful work environment for staff as they sit at their workstations, which can be adjusted to sit or stand.

"Everyone has their own desk so they can personalize them which is huge compared to other centers," says Granovsky.

Workplace wellness is an intrinsic part of MBC. Employees can attend the gym, yoga classes and boot camp onsite and access healthy snacks at Blue Café, a cafeteria located in our staff lounge. The beautifully designed building is illuminated by 488 pieces of artwork that are mostly made by Manitoba artists and populated by over 160 live plants and many more artificial plants.

And if local art, free yoga and ergonomic workstations aren't enough of a draw, MBC also offers its employees compressed work-week options, which allow staff to stay an extra half-hour each day, working toward extra days off.

"We have a strong knit team," says Granovsky. "You're tied to your desk, which is a little difficult, so we try and make the best of it. We try and do things that bring people together and make them more of a team and I think that shows."

Another award won this year was based on MBC's commitment to the community. Each year MBC supports numerous community events and charities, especially those that emphasize health and wellness. From neighborhood cleanups, to blood drives, to fundraisers, to campaigns, MBC is committed to giving back. Our Customer Service Representatives play a huge role in organizing, facilitating and supporting these initiatives.

"We are very strong at community giving – but we also use that as a motivator within our team," says Granovsky, who describes a department led initiative to raise funds for the Children's Hospital Research Foundation's Christmas drive. To incentivize employees to donate, a contact centre supervisor volunteered to shave his beard if donations reached a total of $1,500. Each time a donation was made, a decoration was hung on the tree. The initiative saw company-wide participation and raised $3,818.80.

Two of the four awards this year were won by individuals. Kayla Park, MBC Customer Service Centre's Trainer won Leader of the Year; and MBC Customer Service Representative Chantale Rivet won Representative of the Year. Granovsky says the employees decide who to nominate.

"It should be the employees nominating their peers. So we open it up to the employees and say 'who was outstanding this year?'" says Granovsky.

She says that Kayla Park makes the staff feel comfortable, which helps them learn the ropes easily.

"She's a good leader. She's a good mentor. She's a trainer in our department so the employees trust her. They go to her for questions. They don't feel intimidated if they ask something. If they don't know something, she'll be willing to help them. She's very approachable."

Granvosky talks about what Chantale Rivet brings to the team.

"People see her as a very smart individual. She does really well, so she takes a high volume of calls," says Granovsky. "But she's a team player so if someone asks her a question, she's there to answer."

And with such a high volume of important information passing through the call centre on a daily basis – it's no surprise that the spirit of working together, supporting each other, and collaboration is key.

"Communication is very important in our department and we all want to make sure we are on the same page," says Granovsky. "I think it's built a stronger team because of that."

Big congratulations to the Customer Service department for setting an example of workplace wellness, collaboration and spirit while taking care of our customers and liaising essential information.

MBC appreciates all that you do!

Safe travels: Navigating your travel policy's pre-existing condition clause

November 24, 2016

As rumours of an extra chilly Manitoba winter float through the air, some may be starting to think about planning a winter escape. And though trading in our jackets and toques for Hawaiian shirts and flip flops seems like the definition of taking a load off, travel comes with a different set of stressors. Before we can explore the wilderness, dive into the deep blue sea or traverse down unknown roads, we must navigate the mysterious world of our travel health policies.

Although there are multiple facets to examine when purchasing or reading up on our existing coverage, one of the most important and less understood clauses is that of the pre-existing condition.

According to Manitoba Blue Cross Individual Benefits Consultant Nikki Makar, not taking our medical history into account when planning to cross the border can be both medically and financially devastating.

"If your policy includes a pre-existing condition clause and something were to happen when you were on your trip related to that condition, it is possible your claim would not be covered."

Though the definition of a pre-existing condition varies between carriers, a few things that can constitute a pre-existing condition include receiving a consultation by a physician for an illness or medical condition, being hospitalized, receiving treatment, being prescribed treatment or new medication or being given a change in prescribed medication.

She explains that the purpose of a travel policy is to provide coverage for expenses arising from sudden, unexpected events. "It has to be an unexpected event for it to be considered covered. Travel policies are not designed for chronic care."

Members should be attentive to the details in their individual travel policies because the terms and conditions, limitations, restrictions and exclusions of the policy can vary between plans and carriers.

Diligence is of utmost importance. This is true for those answering a medical questionnaire. "If you answer your medical questions incorrectly, the policy can be voided. If you do not know the answers, take them to the doctor," says Makar who adds that even if you aren't required to answer a medical questionnaire, you may still have a pre-existing condition clause.

Another important aspect of the clause has to do with how long the illness has to be stable and controlled before you can be covered, which is information that will be detailed in your provisions.

"Travel policies can have various durations for stability periods," she says adding that sometimes people don't know their condition needs to be stable for a period of time before they depart.

"And it's important to note that just because your doctor tells you that you are fit to travel, it doesn't mean that your policy will cover your condition." She says quite often people decide to wait until their condition is stable before travelling for that exact reason.

To find out more about how to stay safe, healthy and financially secure while abroad, visit travel.gc.ca.

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