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Teaching Your Teenager to Drive

May 28th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

student_driver_with_parentRemember the sense of freedom you experienced when you were a teenager and just learning to drive? Remember how the wheel felt in your hands…and the exhilarating feeling of power when your foot hit the gas?

Then there was that pole you backed into while doing your best to parallel park—and the emotional explanation that followed when your parents saw the car’s crumpled fender.

And the rear-ender you had when you got preoccupied trying to change the channel on the car radio—and the insurance rates that soared as a result.

Raising a responsible, mature driver isn’t easy. Now, as an adult with teens of your own, you wish you could skip the white knuckles and fast-forward to the day when your teenager drives like a normal, sane human being.

But before they set out on their own in the family car, teens need lots of practice to learn how to drive safely. In many states, graduated driver licensing, in which teens gain experience driving under specified conditions and restrictions for a particular period of time, help ensure they learn as they go, reducing the likelihood of accident.

But that’s not enough.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the risk of being involved in a car crash per mile driven is four times that for 16- to 19-year-olds than for veteran drivers.

Why? Because along with lack of experience comes immaturity and unwise decision making—and both can kill when teens are learning to drive.

To help overcome these statistics, experts say parental coaching is the key to training teen drivers adequately—which helps keep them, and everyone around them, safer.

That means spending an abundance of time one-on-one, talking, observing and setting a good example of mature driving behavior, such as buckling up, yielding the right-of-way when appropriate, and driving within the speed limit.

No matter how crazy they act sometimes, our teens look to us for advice and coaching. So learn how to coach your teenager effectively, encourage him to drive safely, and keep insurance rates down in the process.

Some day, he’ll fill your shoes by teaching his own teen to drive—and pass along the wisdom you shared with your grandchild!

More Resources for Parents:

Keeping Young Drivers Safe

Novice Driver Road Map

Raising Safe Drivers

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The ‘Real Sugar’ Scam

May 22nd, 2009 by Jeb Foster

pepsi-and-mountain-dew-throwback-still-not-healthyLook, I’m not a fan of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It’s terrible for your health, and the industrial cultivation of government-subsidized corn pollutes our environment and corrupts our political system.

But real sugar is not a panacea. More to the point, it does not make soda any healthier. Period. I don’t care if it’s free-trade, organic, straight-from-the-cane sugar that has been blessed by the Dalai Lama. Soda, whether it’s flavored by sugar or HFCS (both of which contain similarly high levels of fructose, believe it or not), will continue to grow waistlines, rot teeth and hasten death by heart disease and diabetes, in the process clogging emergency rooms, and raising health care costs and insurance premiums. (Heart disease and diabetes are the country’s number one and seven killers, and they are also some of the most expensive medical conditions to treat.)

By all means, enjoy your real-sugar-sweetened Pepsi Throwback. Some say it tastes better. Just don’t let savvy marketers convince you that what you’re drinking is healthy. It isn’t! (You’re better off taking your chances with a mug of unsweetened hot tea.)

Or, for those who speak Yoda: Real sugar does not a healthy drink make.

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Stimulus Payouts—for the Deceased?

May 19th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

CheckbookWaiting for your stimulus check to arrive in the mail is a little like watching paint dry: Slow, painful and seemingly never-ending.

But once it finally comes, most people are thrilled, and use the bonus cash to pay their insurance premiums, buy groceries, put gas in their car or cover other bills they’ve been neglecting due to a lack of resources.

But something strange is going on with the Feds. If you haven’t received a stimulus payment made out to your dead Aunt Margie or your beloved mother who passed three decades ago (but whom you still miss like it was yesterday), count yourself lucky.

A glitch at the Social Security Administration is sending payouts to the great beyond—and leaving families dumbfounded.

That’s right: Our government is sending checks to dead people!

Just ask Antoniette Santopadre. She received a stimulus check made out to her father, Romolo Romonini, an Italian-American who lived in the U.S. for a short time and passed away out-of-country decades ago.

Ms. Santopadre doesn’t understand why the check was issued in her dead father’s name—and the explanations provided by the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service don’t ring true, she says.

Like Antoniette, James Hagner received a check in the name of his mother, Rose, who also passed away many years ago.

Similarly, Richard Hicks, who was the personal representative for a good friend, recently received a stimulus check in his friend’s name following the man’s passing.

So what’s going on? Why is the government issuing stimulus checks to dead people when we’ve got an $11 trillion budget deficit (and counting)?

Social Security says it wasn’t at fault because all stimulus checks had to be cut by June—and the ‘deadly’ payouts were simply oversight that occurred during the rush to get them out.

The IRS says it had no way of knowing those people had died, so it can’t be held responsible either.

So who is responsible? And why are they sending checks to dead people?

While you’re waiting for your stimulus check to arrive (hopefully in your own name!), pass the time by reading our article, “Stimulus Checks Issued to the Living—and Dead.” Then weigh in: Was this snafu unforgiveable—or mere oversight?

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E-Prescribing Catching on

May 15th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

When your doctor prescribes a medication, does he or she write out a hard copy—illegible

Does your doctor prescribe medications online?

Does your doctor prescribe medications online?

signature and all—and hand it to you as you exit the office?

Unless you enjoy that long line at the drug store as you wait for your prescription to get filled, or like waiting for days on end for that three-month supply to arrive by mail order, you may be in for a pleasant surprise.

These days, lawmakers and many health insurance companies are urging doctors to stop wasting their time doing things the old-fashioned way—and start making things easier for themselves and their patients.

Instead of writing prescriptions out longhand, they’re asking all but the 70,000 physicians who’ve already converted to go modern and begin prescribing online. They say doing so will help reduce the cost of drug delivery—to the tune of twenty-something billion dollars (with a ‘b’), and eliminate the 1.5 million adverse drug reactions that occur annually.

Here’s how it works. Using e-prescriptions, when a doctor is ready to prescribe a drug, he simply logs in to a centralized service, accesses the patient’s medical records and insurance information, and enters the prescription stats.

Since all patient health records are stored together in one place, the doctor has a more complete view of medical histories and can prescribe the medication that fits each patient best. If there’s even the remote possibility of two drugs interacting poorly—or the patient is allergic to the drug prescribed—the system alerts the doctor immediately so he can choose a different drug.

As more health providers jump on the bandwagon, patients may not have to worry about mistakes like getting the wrong drug or suffering an allergic reaction due to human error much longer. Prescribing medications online removes most of the human element from the equation, leaving the system to make logical deductions based on fact.

In an effort to incentivize doctors to switch to a paperless system, Medicare and some private health insurance companies are now offering payment bonuses, free software and online training to physicians interested in trashing their prescription pads and going electronic instead.

Those insurance companies will benefit too, as the number of health claims filed due to medical mistakes decreases.

Though it will likely take some time, it will be interesting to see whether there’s enough motivation to convince doctors to support e-prescribing.

Old habits sometimes die hard. But at their patients’ and insurers’ urging, e-prescribing is definitely catching on.

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Feel the Burn?

May 8th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

Steaming hot tea can be hazardous to your health!

Steaming hot tea can be hazardous to your health!

No, I’m not talking about calorie burn. I’m talking about that steaming hot cup of tea some of us enjoy every day.

I recently read some discouraging news: A new study shows that, if drank too soon after brewing, hot tea can be hazardous to your health—and lead to deadly throat cancer!

As a dedicated tea drinker, this news took the steam right out of my sails (pun intended). I don’t know about you, but for me, tea’s slightly odiferous flavor and moist steam, inhaled as I drink, heighten the appeal of its caffeinated goodness.

Without the steam, it just isn’t the same. After all, who likes lukewarm tea?

According to the study, recently published in the British Medical Journal, letting tea steep for four to 10 minutes—and cool a measly nine degrees—before drinking can cut the risk of cancer by half.

That seems significant. Not only does drinking too-hot tea put our health at risk; it puts insurance rates at risk too.

Maybe I’d better rethink my tea-drinking strategy!

For more information on these recent findings, read our article on tea drinking here. Then decide for yourself, and let us know your thoughts: is the trade-off in temperature worth it?

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Even Deadlier Than Swine Flu

May 4th, 2009 by Jeb Foster


When I wrote this article on Swine Flu (and other deadly things) last Friday, it seemed the Aporkalypse was at hand.

Today, a mere three days later, the H1N1 virus already seems like old news. Even Mexico City residents are starting to take off their masks. Phew. [Knocking on wood]

Of course, some experts worry that the Swine Flu could reemerge in six months as an even deadlier virus. Let’s hope not. Still, I’ll take an Aporkalypse Later over an Aporkalypse Now any day of the week.

In the meantime, click here to read about all of the other things you should be scared of—things that make the Swine Flu look as cute and cuddly as Babe. In fact, you’ll learn that your standard, run-of-the-mill flu is far deadlier (statistically) than H1N1.

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