Dealing With the High Cost of Dying

103407746-gettyimages-471349769-1910x1000Let’s face it. No one enjoys discussing death or dying, much less planning a funeral for a loved one or even for themselves.

However uncomfortable the subject may be, if you don’t plan in advance, it could cost you both financially and emotionally.

Shopping around for the most suitable and affordable funeral goods and services is an important step in the right direction.  However, with so many funeral homes and services to choose from, it can be a daunting process.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, which licenses, regulates, and investigates complaints against California funeral establishments and nearly 200 fraternal and private cemeteries in the State, offers a booklet titled, “Consumer Guide to Funeral and Cemetery Purchases,” which contains information that will help consumers make informed decisions throughout the process.  It provides extensive information on the legal requirements involving disposition arrangements such as home death care, retail casket sellers, embalming and cremation, as well as coroner fees and a host of other important and useful information.

consumer-guide-coverThe “Consumer Guide to Funeral and Cemetery Purchases” is available online in both English and Spanish at the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau’s Web site, www.cfb.ca.gov.

Additional help for consumers may also be on the way. Two groups, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America, recently filed a petition with the FTC seeking requirements for  funeral homes to fully disclose their prices for burial products and services online. Some establishments currently list pricing for services online; others do not.

If the requirements are approved, the change would update a 1984 FTC rule that currently requires price disclosure, but only in person or over the phone. Many consumer advocates maintain the new online guidelines—if implemented—would make planning for funerals much easier and convenient for consumers who could access funeral information with the click of a mouse and in the comfort of their homes.

Remember, once you’ve decided on a funeral home and arrangements have been made,  you’re entitled by law to get an itemized statement with the final cost so there are no surprises and you know exactly what you’re paying for.

Most importantly, the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau recommends consumers make sure that the funeral establishment, funeral director, crematory, crematory manager, or cemetery they choose are licensed by the State and in good standing.  You can verify the license online on the Bureau’s website at http://www.cfb.ca.gov/consumer/lookup.shtml

(NOTE: The State does not license cemeteries operated by religious organizations; cities, counties, or cemetery districts; the military; Native American tribal organizations; or other groups. If you don’t know who regulates the cemetery you’re interested in, ask the cemetery manager.)

If you need help with a cemetery or funeral issue, visit the Bureau’s Web site at www.cfb.ca.gov or call the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Information Center at (800) 952-5210 or the Bureau directly at (916) 574-7870.

 

 

 

 

 

Millions of Washing Machines Recalled

Samsung has recalled 2.8 million washing machines after receiving hundreds of reports of excessive vibration or the top of the washing machine detaching completely from the frame, including nine reports of impact injuries Untitled-1such as a broken jaw, injured shoulder, and other fall-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

The recall affects 34 models of top-loaded washers sold nationwide since March 2011. Front-loaded Samsung washing machines are not part of the recall.

The CPSC recommends consumers contact Samsung immediately to receive one of three remedy options: (1) a free in-home repair that includes reinforcement of the washer’s top and a free one-year extension of the manufacturer’s warranty; (2) a rebate to be applied toward the purchase of a new Samsung or other brand washing machine, along with free installation of the new unit and removal of the old one; (3) a full refund for consumers who purchased their washing machine within the past 30 days of the recall announcement (November 4).

More information on the recall and a list of affected model numbers from the CPSC are here.

Samsung can be contacted at www.samsung.com and toll-free at (866) 264-5636.

The Department of Consumer Affairs reminds California consumers in need of appliance repair to check with the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (www.bearhfti.ca.gov) to confirm that a repair person is licensed and in good standing.

 

How One Bad Apple Can Ruin Your Day

 

Beware the gray bar: It's the beginning of Touch Disease.

On July 27, 2016, Apple celebrated the sale of its one-billionth iPhone—but if you’ve experienced the “gray bar of death” or had your iPhone not respond no matter how hard you poke or swipe at the screen, you may not feel like celebrating.

Welcome to Touchgate.

Flickering bars and unresponsive screens are symptoms of Touch Disease, which has accounted for 11 percent of all Apple Store repairs according to AppleInsider. Touch Disease is found primarily in iPhone 6 Plus models, but iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s are not immune.

The defect was first spotted in August 2016 by online gadget repair specialist iFixIt; it starts with a flickering gray bar at the top of the screen and eventually results in the screen becoming unresponsive and, therefore, useless.

Touch Disease is related to the now-infamous “Bendgate,” which occurred almost as soon as the new iPhone 6 appeared on the market in 2014. Cases on the new phones were found to be extremely fragile, and anyone who carried their iPhone in a back pocket ended up with a curved phone and a screen problem. Although Apple changed the “bendy” cases to a sturdier type in later production, Touch Disease remains.

Early iPhone 6 models bent easily; although Apple changed the production to a sturdier type, Touch Disease remains.

#Bendgate: Early iPhone 6 models bent easily; although Apple changed the production to a sturdier type of case, Touch Disease remains.

Cause Found
Underneath the iPhone screen is a logic board. Sitting down with the phone in your pocket, sliding the phone on its case, or dropping the phone can cause cracks in the solder that connects chips to the logic board. Once these chips become loose or dislodged, the screen no longer works and—you guessed it—Touch Disease occurs.

Consumers Fight Back
According to Reuters, a class-action lawsuit was filed in San Jose, CA, and in Delaware and Pennsylvania against Apple in late August, charging the tech giant of violating California’s consumer laws. To date, Apple has not acknowledged the issue with the devices nor responded to the lawsuit.

Is There a Cure?
Any way you choose to address the problem will cost you money. The only cure is replacement, which is cheaper under warranty, more expensive out of warranty, however a replacement may end up with the same problem. You can take your phone to a repair shop, but make sure it is licensed by the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation; check the license online at www.bearhfti.ca.gov.

Annual Furnace Tune-ups Can Help Improve Comfort and Efficiency

As much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling, so makingshutterstock_70184671 smart decisions about your home’s heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can have a big effect on your utility bills and your comfort, according to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency.

That’s why caring for your HVAC system is an important step to help avoid costly repairs or complete breakdowns at inopportune times, such as when everyone’s over for a holiday dinner. A cleaned, lubricated, and properly adjusted furnace runs more efficiently and uses less energy, and furnace manufacturers typically include language in their product warranties requiring proper maintenance to ensure coverage. Most importantly, an improperly working system could be a safety hazard.

Energy Star says a typical maintenance check-up should include the following:

  • Checking thermostat settings to ensure the cooling and heating system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.
  • Tightening all electrical connections and measuring voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components.
  • Lubricating all moving parts to prevent friction in motors, which increases the amount of electricity you use.
  • Checking and inspecting the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump (when in cooling mode). A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house and affect indoor humidity levels.
  • Checking controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation, and checking the starting cycle of the equipment to ensure the system starts, operates, and shuts off properly.
  • Checking all gas (or oil) connections, gas pressure, burner combustion and heat exchanger. Improperly operating gas (or oil) connections are a fire hazard and can contribute to health problems. A dirty burner or cracked heat exchanger causes improper burner operation. Either can cause the equipment to operate less safely and efficiently.

DIY maintenance includes inspecting, cleaning, or changing air filters once a month in your furnace and/or heat pump—ask your HVAC contractor to show you how if you don’t already know. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure.

If it’s time to replace your equipment, ask neighbors, friends, and family for HVAC contractor recommendations. Check the status of the contractor’s license with the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) before you hire at www.cslb.ca.gov. And don’t be pressured into buying a new system, especially if it’s unnecessary. CSLB has issued warnings about upselling scams. Before replacing your system, read CSLB’s guidelines.

For more tips on how to heat and cool efficiently, visit https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=heat_cool.pr_hvac.

 

 

Can You Smile Your Way to Happiness?

Have you ever been told to “turn that frown upside down?”

It just so happens that doing so is good advice.shutterstock_154095902

Emotions may originate in the brain, but the muscles in the face either reinforce or transform those feelings.  Studies have revealed that through the enhancement of positive emotions – or the suppression of negative ones – with facial expressions, peoples moods begin to align with the emotion their face is communicating.

What kind of smile is the most beneficial?  Apparently, it doesn’t matter.  Smiles are generally divided into two categories. Standard smiles (otherwise known as posed), which use the muscles surrounding the mouth.  While genuine or Duchenne smiles, engage the muscles surrounding both the mouth and eyes (think crow’s feet).  Our brain does not differentiate between real and fake smiles.

Psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman, of the University of Kansas, conducted a study to test the effects of smiling.

During their study, participants were told to hold chopsticks in between their teeth (a pen or pencil will work, too).  The researchers discovered that by holding the chopsticks between the teeth, it forced the study participants’ faces to mimic the same expression as a standard smile and produced the same effect.

Smiling Affects How Your Brain and Body Function

According to researchers, when we smile, even faking or forcing a smile, our stress is reduced and our mood is improved.

Smiling elevates your mood and creates a sense of well-being thanks to the release of the body’s “happy chemicals” serotonin and endorphins.

shutterstock_329221124These chemicals have been found to relax the body and lower heart rate and blood pressure.  As an added benefit, endorphins act as a natural pain reliever and serotonin serves as an anti-depressant and mood lifter.

Lastly, smiling sends a signal to the rest of your body that things are okay and it’s safe to let down your guard.

 Smiling Affects Other’s Perception of You

Smiling doesn’t just benefit you on the inside; it also works to your advantage from the outside.  A study from Penn State University found that people who smile appear to be more likeable, attractive, courteous and even competent.

Additionally, studies have shown that lifting those facial muscles into a smile is also contagious.  If you smile and they smile, everyone in the room becomes a little happier.

So, the next time you’re feeling stressed or gloomy, take a tip from the researchers and grab a pen or a pencil and muster up a smile.

DEA Launches Program to Educate Youth about Prescription Drug Abuse

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In an effort to curb the growing national opioid and heroin epidemic, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has launched an educational program for middle- and high-school students called “Operation Prevention.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 78 people die every day in the U.S. because of prescription opioid overdose. Prescription opioid abuse often leads to heroin use, which has more than doubled among young adults ages 18-25 in the past decade. The DEA states the epidemic cuts across lines of age, race, gender and wealth, afflicting cities as well as suburbs and rural towns.

The DEA worked with Discovery Education, a provider of digital content and professional development for K-12 classrooms, to create a program for students, educators and parents. Operation Prevention teaches students about the science behind addiction and its impact. The program includes resources that help initiate lifesaving conversations in the home and classroom.

The program is available at no-cost and offers standards-based, classroom resources including digital lesson plans and a parent toolkit that provides information on the warning signs of substance misuse disorder and a guide to prevention and intervention.

Classroom resources include digital lesson plans and a parent toolkit that offers information on the warning signs of substance misuse disorder and a guide to prevention and intervention. In December, a student video challenge will also launch.

The California State Board of Pharmacy supports the DEA’s efforts to educate youth on opioid addiction.

The Board of Pharmacy has been proactive in combating the opioid epidemic by disciplining the licenses of pharmacists who do not demonstrate corresponding responsibility in the furnishing of opioid medications. Corresponding responsibility means that pharmacists have the responsibility to look for red flags that could indicate an opioid prescription may not be appropriate for the patient and may indicate fraudulent activity. The board has also closed pharmacies which indiscriminately dispensed opioids.

Recently, the board enacted emergency regulations to allow pharmacists to furnish naloxone without a prescription. Naloxone is an emergency rescue drug that reverses the effects of an opioid or heroin overdose.

For more information on prescription drug abuse prevention, visit the Board of Pharmacy website here.

For more information on Operation Prevention and access to the program’s free resources, go here.

Fight the Resistance! Get Smart About Antibiotics Week: November 14–20

get-smart-about-antibiotics-weekHere’s a quick quiz: Do antibiotics fight bacteria, viruses, or both? Which illnesses should be treated with antibiotics: strep throat, whopping cough, bronchitis? Bacteria are germs that cause colds and flu—true or false?

You can find the answers to these questions on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website; the CDC’s Get Smart About Antibiotics Week is November 14–20. The week’s activities are about raising awareness of the enormous and growing threat of antibiotic resistance and how we—patients and healthcare providers—can all fight the resistance.

After decades of misuse and overuse, antibiotics are no longer as effective as they once were. The Board of Pharmacy (Board) states, “This is a big problem, and is a major public health threat within hospitals and communities—wherever antibiotics are used.”

antibiotic-resistance

According to the Board, one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against drug resistance and to stop its spread is to not insist on getting antibiotics when your doctor doesn’t prescribe them. Also, don’t save antibiotics from a previous illness. When you’re prescribed antibiotics, take them exactly as directed. And never take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. Take preventative steps as well, such as keeping up with your vaccinations, washing your hands, and effectively managing symptoms to feel better versus taking antibiotics.

For more information on Getting Smart About Antibiotics Week, go to the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/getsmart and the Board’s website at www.pharmacy.ca.gov.

 

DCA Closed for Veterans Day

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The California Department of Consumer Affairs will be closed Friday, November 11, 2016, in observance of Veterans Day.

There are nearly two million veterans living in California, according to the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) website. Calvet strives to ensure that Veterans of every era and their families get the state and federal benefits and services they have earned and deserve as a result of selfless and honorable military service. On Veterans Day—and every day—let’s continue pledging our full support for our Veterans and families.  

For more information, including a list of Veterans Day events, visit https://www.calvet.ca.gov/vetday2016.

Get Ready to Cast Your Ballot

vote2If you have grown weary of political-ad rhetoric and sound bites, take heed—Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Here are a few last-minute guidelines before you vote:

  • The California Secretary of State’s website (www.sos.ca.gov) is a great resource for election and voter information, including finding the location of your polling place and an official Voter Information Guide (www.voterguide.sos.ca.gov) in 10 languages.
  • There are no fewer than 17 propositions on the ballot—ranging from recreational marijuana to single-use plastic bags—and the Secretary of State’s website breaks down each one with nonpartisan information that includes a summary, what your vote means, and pro and con arguments (www.voterguide.sos.ca.gov/en/propositions).
  • Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Personally delivered ballots must be delivered by close of polls on November 8; mailed ballots must be postmarked on or before November 8 and received by your county elections office no later than November 14.
  • Multiple media reports have exposed a social media scam that claims to “save time, avoid the line” by texting your vote for president. Don’t fall for it— if you want your vote to count, visit the polls on November 8!

It’s Not Just About Generics: Saving Money on Prescription Drugs

shutterstock_385954984The generic version of a two-pack of EpiPen is now priced at $300—a price that’s better than the brand-name cost of $600 for this widely used allergic-reaction antidote. Buying the generic versus the brand-name is definitely the first step in saving money on your meds, but what else can you do to combat rising drug prices?

You may have more control over what you pay for drugs than you think. According to a January 2016 article by Consumer Reports, prices from retailers, especially large retailers like chain drugstores and big-box stores, can vary greatly. Shop around because drug prices can cost as much as 10 times more from one retailer to the next. Also, don’t avoid independent drugstores—they may actually have more flexibility to beat their competitor’s prices.

Surprisingly, drug prices are negotiable, so ask for a lower price—even with generics. Check sites such as GoodRx.com to do some comparison shopping and to also find out the fair market price. The website also gives you information about coupons, discounts, and how to save money at nearby pharmacies.

Be sure to ask your doctor to help you find a lower-cost alternative and have he or she give you a prescription for a 90-day supply versus 30 days, which can save you money as well. A 90-day supply allows you to pay one copay for 90 days instead of one for every 30, plus it saves you extra trips to the pharmacy.

This next tip may sound counterintuitive, but may be worth checking out. You may not want to always use your insurance to pay for your prescription drugs; you may get a better price if you pay out of pocket and if you sign up for a pharmacy’s discount plan (but read the fine print to understand all terms and conditions).

Check online for lower prices—with caution. Be very careful about which online pharmacy you choose—there’s plenty of fraud out there. Only do business with online pharmacies that display the VIPPS symbol—that indicates it’s a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site. Remember, if the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Some drug companies and foundations offer financial assistance programs. Check Needymeds.org, a national nonprofit information resource that can help you locate assistance programs so you can afford your medications and other healthcare costs.

To learn more about how to save money when buying prescription drugs and for resources for medication discounts, visit the State Board of Pharmacy’s website at www.pharmacy.ca.gov.