Weight Watchers Overhauls Points System
Not all calories are created equal. Indeed, a 100-calorie apple is a better choice than 100 calories worth of chips or cookies—a lesson Weight Watchers wants to instill with its new PointsPlus System, unveiled on Monday. The system assigns points to foods based on their macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fat, rather than emphasizing only their calories. Under the old plan, for example, a buttered croissant would have had the same points value as a healthier breakfast of toast, ham, and eggs, provided both contained an equal number of calories. Now, the croissant would be assigned more points to reflect its higher fat and carbohydrate content, while the toast, ham, and eggs—a richer source of fiber and protein— would be assigned fewer points. The new formula takes into account that protein and fiber ward off hunger, and also factors in that the body has to work harder to process some foods than it does others, which burns more calories. Fresh fruits and vegetables will now carry zero points, an effort to make them more appealing.
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For Help With Medical Bills, Cut a Deal With the Doctor
Getting a diagnosis isn't the only nerve-racking aspect of a medical visit, Meryl Davids Landau writes for U.S. News. The bill you're handed can be even scarier, especially when you lack health insurance or face an intimidating deductible or copay. But just as big employers and insurance companies negotiate prices down as a matter of course, individuals can bargain with doctors and hospitals, too, says Erin Moaratty, chief of external communications at the nonprofit Patient Advocate Foundation.
Ideally, the time to make your case for a discount is before you go in for a procedure. Call the medical facility and ask for the projected fees; if you have insurance, contact the company next to find out how much it will pay. Then talk over your situation with the billing department, requesting a break. You might win as much as 50 percent off full price if you offer to pay quickly by cash or check, says Cindy Holtzman, a medical billing advocate in Marietta, Ga., who's part of a growing industry of professionals dedicated to aiding patients with billing disputes. Providers accustomed to accepting less than they'd like from insurers often realize that getting payment without hassle or delay is preferable to waiting for the full amount or having to hire a collection agency.
If you can't pay even a discounted amount promptly, you'll likely still be able to get a good deal if you promise regular payments of an agreed-upon size, Holtzman says. Patients with severe financial problems (especially those brought on by illness) may find their physician is compassionate enough to accept the insurer's portion as full payment. And uninsured low-income individuals who make too much to qualify for Medicaid may be eligible for free or reduced charity care. [Read more: For Help With Medical Bills, Cut a Deal With the Doctor.]
Four Loko May Be Gone, but Dangerous Alcohol Drinks Remain
Caffeine and alcohol don't mix well, which is why the Food and Drug Administration has ordered the manufacturers of Four Loko, Core High Gravity, Moonshot, Joose, and Max to stop selling the amped-up drinks. According to the FDA, caffeine is an "unsafe food additive"—at least when it's mixed with a potent slug of alcohol.
The FDA's ban on caffeinated alcohol has been a long time brewing, but an incident in October, when nine students at Central Washington University ended up at the hospital after drinking Four Loko, might have pushed the FDA to act. The drink had 12 percent alcohol in each 23.5-ounce can; by the ounce, that's three times the amount as in a typical beer, and the alcohol equivalent of four glasses of wine. The drink comes in flavors like lemonade and watermelon. So it's no wonder that someone could down several and find himself in serious trouble, writes U.S. News contributor Nancy Shute.
"We're seeing a disturbing trend, in which marketers are targeting these younger drinkers," says Daniel Z. Lieberman, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C. "They're doing it with high sugar content. They're doing it with flavors that appeal to young drinkers—fruit punch, raspberry, peach—and they're doing it by making [the drinks] inexpensive." [Read more: Four Loko May Be Gone, but Dangerous Alcohol Drinks Remain.]
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