Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Name... New Blog

We’ve moved! Check out our new blog for health tips, regional health and wellness events and inspirational stories of Floridians in the pursuit of health.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Calming Voice in a Time of Need

Loren was having a normal day when something went amiss. She was rushed to the emergency room with chest pains and later found that she had experienced a coronary occlusion. What surprised her was that she had always been in good health, was fairly young and did not have a history of cardiac problems. After being discharged, Loren’s husband, concerned for her welfare, called Blue Cross to better understand their treatment options. The customer service representative who took their call addressed their benefit issues and referred them to the Care Consultant Team. They were in need of answers from a qualified professional to help them understand what they were facing.

Enter Chris Carlee, a registered nurse and a member of the Chronic Condition Management Team at Blue Cross. This team of specialized nurses assists members in understanding and managing their rare and/or chronic conditions, such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and lupus. 
Chris’s main responsibility is serving as a point of contact for members with a cardiovascular condition and assisting them in their journey to better health. Loren’s tests during hospitalization revealed that additional outpatient diagnostic testing was needed to confirm possible causes.
Stressed and worried, Chris’s help was a godsend to the couple in getting the tests approved and scheduled. Chris personally called the specialist offices and imaging review vendor to facilitate the review process. Her diligence helped to get the tests scheduled and approved. Loren says, “Everybody thinks of Blue Cross as an insurance company. But my experience showed me that there were other purposes and ways I could get help from my insurance. Not only did Chris help me with getting the tests scheduled, she also gave me information about my benefit plan and education about signs and symptoms to watch out for.”
Chris says she was happy to help. “My goal was to be a calming voice to help her manage her stress and concern about her condition, while helping her navigate the healthcare system”. Part of that navigation involved helping Loren understand her benefits, coordinating services amongst multiple providers, providing Loren with community resources, telephonic education and health coaching on self-management tools/resources. Chris collaborated with co-workers, managers, social workers, and other BCBSF departments to help meet Loren’s healthcare needs.
Chris and Loren have one goal in telling their story – they hope that other Blue Cross members in similar situations will take advantage of the multiple services at Blue Cross to help manage their condition better. “I hope that members will reach out for help when they have questions about their health condition or when they need assistance in navigating the health care system. Just call Blue Cross Customer Service,” says Chris, “the phone number on your ID card, and explain the situation. Members can be assured that they will be referred to the care program that best suits their specific needs.”
Ultimately, Chris is glad she was able to assist Loren through this difficult process. “She is a joy to work with and her positive attitude is an inspiration to me.”
Have a story to tell us about a positive experience you had with BCBSF? Email us at For more information on the Care Consultant Team, refer to

Monday, February 13, 2012

Just Breathe … and Heal!

Recently, I attended a friend’s dinner party and just as the main course was served, I felt as though a mini Mack truck had plowed into the side of my head. The pain was so sudden and so intense that it stopped me cold in my tracks. Because this wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced a classic migraine, I knew exactly what I needed to do – locate the nearest dark cool room. Minutes later, locked in my friend’s guest bathroom, I began my Pranayama Yoga breathing exercises and instantly began to relax. With each inhalation, I filled my lungs with cleansing oxygen, and with each exhalation, I released the toxic carbon dioxide.

Almost immediately, the muscles in my neck began to relax and the intense pain on the side of my head began to dissipate. A few short minutes later, the familiar tingling feeling – as if my hair was growing – let me know that the “danger” had passed and the much anticipated relief from the pain had finally arrived.
I first learned of Pranayama breathing while reading a book entitled, “The Magic of Believing,” by Claude M. Bristol. In the book, the author describes a woman who, after suffering from years of debilitating arthritis, healed her pain by performing simple breathing exercises. Being a migraine sufferer myself, the idea of using breath work instead of taking powerful prescription medications resonated with me. I also discovered that in addition to using breath work to help heal an array of illnesses, I alone possess the power to decide if I am going to be a vessel of health and peace, or one of stress, anxiety, and ultimately “dis-ease”. When you give into daily stressors, your heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension and blood pressure increases and in response, your body produces adrenaline. This is great if you’re in a life threatening situation, but not so healthy on a day-to-day basis. Practicing Yoga and Pranayama can help break this toxic stress cycle, and give your body the opportunity it needs to heal.  Yoga and breathing exercises may also help to alleviate common ailments such as allergies. According to Clifford W. Bassett, M.D., an allergist who is medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, "Yoga and postural exercises exert a relaxation response that may modify the negative effects of psychological stress on proper immune function."
So breathe easy! Practicing deeply healing Pranayama breathing can transform your body, mind, and soul into a vessel of healing. For more information on Pranayama breathing, refer to “Breathing Lessons” by Tony Briggs at For a step-by-step guided practice, Dr. Andrew Weil has a CD entitled, “Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing” at
Breathing exercises are easy to learn. You don’t need any special equipment or tools, and you can do them throughout the day to help relieve symptoms of stress, reduce tension, and improve your overall health.
Have you practiced Pranayama breathing before? If so, share your story with us here!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

HopeBlue Palliative Care: Filling a Gap

“Don’t worry - help is on the way.” This simple sentence must have sounded like a life preserver being thrown to a drowning person. Indeed, Dr. Frank Santamaria, administering to the needs of a patient suffering from severe difficulties with breathing, was able to provide the patient his first night’s rest in months.  The next morning, not only was the patient feeling better, his wife was ecstatic with relief:  “You don’t know what you’ve done! I can’t tell you the difference you made for him.” No doubt she had her first night of rest in a long time, too.
Dr. Santamaria came to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida on a mission: he wants to make palliative care services available to more patients in Florida than he was able to do as a medical director at a local hospice organization.  Palliative care, in its simplest form, is treatment which may alleviate pain and symptoms of a serious illness and works to improve a patient’s quality of life. Symptoms may include severe pain; constant nausea or vomiting; inability to breathe without tremendous effort; anxiety; depression or others.  People who want to receive palliative care do not have to be end-stage in their illness, nor do they have to forgo additional curative care – two requirements for admission to a hospice program. Rather, palliative care can be given along with therapies such as chemotherapy as a way to manage debilitating symptoms.  It helps a person live better with his condition, and gives the family more quality time with their loved one.

Dr. Santamaria explained it this way:  our current health care system does a good job addressing the medical needs of people suffering from acute or chronic diseases (think a urinary tract infection or diabetes). It also has evolved in serving the needs of those towards end-of-life (think hospice programs). What is lacking in the continuum of care are services for patients in the middle:  those whose quality of life is poor, and getting worse as their condition worsens, yet are not at a point where hospice is appropriate.  Palliative care is meant to fill that gap.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida is now piloting HopeBlue, a comprehensive palliative care program for members offered through Chapters Health Palliative Care. HopeBlue is available first in Hillsborough County. It will extend into Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties over successive months. Eventually, the intent is to make it available to our members statewide.  BCBSF nurse case managers assisting members in those counties will help identify patients who are eligible to participate and who might benefit from the program.  Members can then voluntarily elect to join the pilot – at no additional cost to them.
Why participate?  Dr. Santamaria gives another compelling example:  he was able to assist a man living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who found it daunting even to talk on the phone or walk to his mailbox because of his severe shortness of breath.  “His quality of life was very poor. [After palliative treatment,] the man can now walk to the mailbox, and can speak more than just a few words at a time on the phone. He’s no longer quite as impaired [by his symptoms.] The man says his quality of life is three times what it was.”
Want to know more about HopeBlue?  Call our nurse case managers at 1-800-955-5692, option 4. November is also National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. Read more about how palliative care can make a difference when it’s needed the most.
We’d like to know what you think.  If you have questions about palliative care in general, or the HopeBlue program, write them here and we’ll be sure to respond back with information from our medical team.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Recipes

Halloween is just around the corner and our very own chef-in-residence, Shelby Brethour, has come up with some amazing Halloween recipes that are fast and fun to make. By day, Shelby works hard at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. By evening, she is a self-proclaimed kitchen goddess and food blog writer at In her work capacity, she travels all across the state and has had the great opportunity to eat and taste much amazing food. In our brand new section, Shelby will be using her many food adventures to bring us some amazing recipes from all around the state.

Low Fat Pumpkin Dip

 -1 (8 ounce) package fat free cream cheese, softened
-2 cups confectioners' sugar
-1 (15 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
-1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
-1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
-1 teaspoon orange juice
  • In a medium bowl, blend cream cheese and confectioners' sugar until smooth.
  • Gradually mix in the pumpkin.
  • Stir in the cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and orange juice until smooth and well blended.
  • Chill until serving. Serve with cookies, fruit, or spread on toasted pieces of whole wheat bread and Enjoy!!!
Turkey Dog Mummies

-1 can of reduced fat crescent roll dough
-1 package of turkey dogs
-Yellow Mustard
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Open the pack of turkey dogs and pat them dry.
  • Open the crescent roll dough. Take one piece of the crescent roll dough at the bottom of the turkey dog and wrap it up the turkey dog so that it looks like a mummy.
  • Repeat on all the turkey dogs and place on a baking sheet.
  • Cook 15 minutes or until the dough is golden brown.
Do you have a favorite Halloween recipe? Comment below and let us know.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Yoga - A Journey

With close to 11 million Americans practicing it, yoga is certainly a fitness routine that has captured our nation. From flexibility to strength, the many benefits of yoga have been widely discussed. In talking to Sandy Mika (our resident yoga buff), we were inspired to share more on the topic. Such was her love for the discipline that we thought it’d be best if she spoke of it in her own words.
Photo credit: Laura Faith

When I was 16, my mother signed me up for self-hypnosis classes to treat my migraine headaches. Every Wednesday night, I would go to our local high school, take my usual seat at the back and quickly slip right into my own private world. I’d envision the headache as an overflowing coke bottle that I would meticulously mop up and then ring out into a bucket. I then take that bucket, place it into a hot air balloon and off it sailed until I could no longer see it. Before I knew it an hour had passed and the instructor was sounding her chimes to gently bring us back to reality. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was “meditation” in every sense of the word and that this wonderful practice would be the thread that connected me to yoga many years later.
Photo credit: Laura Faith
Let me be completely honest, I am the most anti-exercise, TV loving, laying on the couch, staying in my pajamas all weekend girl you’ll ever meet. I have failed at every diet and workout routine strategy known to mankind mainly because I’m not what you’d call disciplined and I really hate to sweat. You name it, I’ve tried it – and failed miserably. Aerobics, jogging, Zumba, Pilates, spinning, “bootcamp”, aqua aerobics, and kick-boxing – just to name a few. So when someone suggested yoga to me, I followed my usual pattern. I was wildly enthusiastic about it, bought all the equipment (not to mention the cute clothes), and signed up for non-refundable classes, for which I would be no doubt formulating a “why I need a refund” story very shortly. Only this time, instead of walking into a room full of people that look like they’ve been practicing their entire lives, and feeling very much like the clumsy outcast on my first day at a new school, I was overcome with a feeling of indescribable peace. These weren’t muscle bound athletes with perfect Spandex outfits on cell phones; these were women of all ages and a few peaceful men that looked like they had found themselves a sanctuary. The softly lit room smelled of musky incense and everywhere I looked there were pillows, blankets and odd looking props. This comfy peaceful heaven seemed too perfect to be true. We started with a quiet meditation, thanked our bodies for just showing up, and spent the next hour and a half gingerly stretching our muscles and appreciating the quiet heaven that we created for ourselves that night. That was almost 6 years ago, and since then, I’ve increased my practice to two group classes per week and an hour per day in my second bedroom turned yoga room.
If I had to sum up what yoga has brought into my life, it’s pretty simple –it’s brought me an exercise routine that requires no special talents, equipment or experience, and the best part is that you don’t have to sweat unless you really want to.
Photo credit: Laura Faith
My yoga mat gives me a place to bring all of the day’s stress and lets me sort through it and see it for what it truly is – just life and nothing more. Yoga has enhanced my meditation skills to the point that I rarely ever need any pain medications and if I do happen to get sick, I use the power of my mind to relax and allow my body’s natural healing abilities to take over. I’ve also learned that exercise can be your friend; something to look forward to – and something that you can use in everyday life. Yoga actually makes you feel better; practicing the postures, breathing exercises and meditation makes you healthier in body, mind and spirit. Yoga lets you tune in, chill out and shape up – all at the same time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Know Before You Go

If you’ve ever been asked to go for a diagnostic procedure by your doctor or have been referred to a specialist, you know how mind-boggling it can be to locate and understand the true cost of these services. We are excited to announce our new “Know Before You Go” tool that allows Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida members to make informed decisions by giving them real-time estimated costs for health services. Know Before You Go takes into account the member’s specific benefits and provides them with an estimate so they can compare the cost of health care services before they have a procedure or visit a specialist. Know Before You Go is found within MyBlueService, your online member website. We hope this new quality and cost tool will help you be in control of your health and health care finances through access to timely and individualized information.
To learn more, watch the Know Before You Go video or log in to MyBlueService at to access the tool.