“Am I Allergic to Summer?”

AMBA’s Seasonal Eye Allergies Guide

Summertime is supposed to be all about outdoor fun. But what if your fun is interrupted by swollen eyelids, itchy, or red eyes? These are just some symptoms of summertime eye allergies. 

What Causes Seasonal Eye Allergies?

Eye allergies develop when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to something in the environment. Summertime eye allergies can be caused by contact with elements like pollen, grass, and some flowers. 

Eye allergies can cause your eyes to tear as they try to discharge these elements. Other symptoms can include constant eye irritation and itchiness, red eyes, and sudden swelling of the eyelids.

8 Steps to Care for Seasonal Eye Allergies

  1. Avoid triggers by making changes to your home and your routine.
  2. Keep windows closed during high pollen periods; use air conditioning in your home and car.
  3. Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen out of your eyes.
  4. Use “mite-proof” bedding covers to limit exposure to dust mites and a dehumidifier to control mold.
  5. Wash your hands after petting any animal.
  6. Avoid rubbing your eyes, which can cause symptoms to become more severe.
  7. Nonprescription eyedrops can provide short-term relief of some symptoms. They may not relieve all symptoms, and prolonged use of some eyedrops may cause your condition to worsen.
  8. Don’t use window fans. These can blow pollens and allergens from the outside into the house and worsen symptoms.

Treating summertime allergies is just one reason to visit your eye doctor. Protect your vision with the comprehensive Vision Plan from NCRGEA and AMBA. The benefits of this plan include annual WellVision checkups, 100% coverage for most lenses (even progressives!), and thousands of nationwide in-network providers. Sign up today – acceptance is GUARANTEED! – at www.AMBAdentalvision.com/NCRGEA or call 800-956-1228 M-F 9am-6pm ET.

Source: https://acaai.org/allergies/allergic-conditions/eye-allergy/
https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/allergy-q-and-a

State Health Plan Update

THE STATE HEALTH PLAN IS GEARING UP FOR A BUSY 2024!

Spring 2024 Living Power Magazine

The State Health Plan (Plan) is transitioning from Blue Cross NC to Aetna beginning Jan. 1, 2025. As a reminder, a TPA, or third-party administrator, provides a comprehensive network of healthcare providers—including doctors, specialists, and hospitals—and processes claims for the Plan. The Plan has always had a TPA. Taxpayers like you pay the claims, not the TPA.

The Plan Board of Trustees sets Plan benefits and premiums, not the TPA. The TPA simply administers the Plan. This transition affects members enrolled in the Base PPO Plan (70/30), Enhanced PPO Plan (80/20), and High Deductible Health Plan, including those Medicare members on the Base PPO Plan (70/30). This will not impact Humana Medicare Advantage Plan members.

You may be wondering if you can keep your doctor. The good news is that Aetna has an extensive national and in-state provider network. Aetna reviewed millions of Plan claims processed over an entire year, and about 99% of those claims came from providers already in the Aetna network. Even so, providers don’t have to wait to make sure they continue to serve Plan members. Talk to your provider!

It’s important to stay connected this year to ensure you receive announcements and messages
regarding the State Health Plan!

  • Make sure you have your correct mailing address, email address, and phone number in eBenefits, the Plan’s enrollment system, which you can access on the Plan’s website at SHPNC.org.
  • Make sure your employer has the correct addresses, as well. If you are a retiree, your personal information needs to be current in ORBIT and eBenefits, as the two systems do not coordinate.
  • Sign up for the Plan’s monthly e-newsletter, Member Focus, on the Plan’s website at SHPNC.org.
  • Follow the State Health Plan on Facebook! Visit Facebook.com/SHPNC.

CHART YOUR COURSE FOR A SMOOTH TRANSITION TO MEDICARE WEBINAR SERIES

As you become eligible for Medicare, you have some important decisions to make about your health coverage. The Plan is here to help you navigate your options. When considering your options, remember that timing is everything.

Don’t overlook your best option or miss an opportunity because you waited too long to take action. Attend a free, convenient online webinar so you can make informed and timely decisions regarding Medicare and how it impacts your health plan coverage. These webinars are designed specifically for the following individuals and typically last about two hours:

  • Turn 65 in the next two years
  • Work beyond age 65 and are planning for retirement
  • Turn 65 in the next two years and are already retired. Select the webinar date below that works best for you, then register by visiting the Plan website at SHPNC.org and clicking on the blue box titled Outreach Events and Webinars.”

Four Simple Steps to Get the Most from Your Retirement Savings

For many people, retirement marks a profound shift in identity. Many have difficulty adjusting away from the career that defined them. After all, you’re not just retiring; you’re redefining who you are. One aspect of this is how you view and use money. NCRGEA & AMBA are here to help you embrace this new and exciting chapter with insightful planning and an optimistic, intelligent strategy.

1. Overcome Fear and Embrace the Opportunities

We all know FDR’s great quote, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” For many, the fear of running out of money in retirement can be overwhelming. This is called “negativity bias.” For example, if you’re told you have a 99% chance of a successful retirement, many people focus on that tiny 1% chance of failure. 

Uncertainty has power over us, but we can limit its negative impact by accepting and embracing it rather than worrying about it. 

“Positive reframing” lets you take control. It redefines money as a means for joy and fulfillment instead of an ever-eroding defense against potential downsides. This shift in perspective encourages us to see money as a tool to enrich life experiences. Emphasizing the value and impact of purchases instead of their cost can help reframe your spending. 

2. Giving More Can Give You More

If you feel you already have everything you need, you can use your means to help others. Research demonstrates that spending money on others can have a more significant positive impact on one’s happiness than spending it on yourself. Using money purposefully, such as through supporting loved ones or charitable giving, benefits yourself as much as it benefits others. Keep in mind, you need to keep these contributions within your budget just like any spending. 

3. Frame Your Future

What passions did you put on pause or have you been unable to pursue while you focused on your career and family? Retirement allows you to rediscover them. Ask yourself, “What new pursuits most excite me?” 

As you align your spending with your interests and goals, your financial decisions gain a more profound sense of purpose.

The key to happiness at every stage of life is to focus on what is within your control and make time to pursue your passions. Your healthy lifestyle includes living with a sense of goal-driven purpose.

Accepting uncertainty isn’t about resignation but navigating life’s inevitable challenges and adjusting when the unexpected occurs. By recognizing what is and isn’t within your control and budget, you are more empowered to direct your attention to the things that bring you joy.

4. Consider an Annuity from NCRGEA & AMBA

Get guaranteed income with the Tax-Deferred Asset Protection from NCRGEA & AMBA to help protect your retirement. This annuity is a smart and safe way to diversify your savings and can earn much more interest than CDs or savings accounts. NCRGEA & AMBA’s Tax-Deferred Asset Protection Plan features tax-deferred accumulation of interest, a guaranteed competitive interest rate, multiple payout options, and a nursing home waiver.

Get more info at myambabenefits.info/ncrgea or speak with a knowledgeable AMBA Call Center representative at 800-956-1228 M-F 9am-6pm ET.

Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18356530

INSIDE NCRGEA’s Advocacy Goals

Spring 2024 Living Power Magazine

NC Legislature

Each year, NCRGEA develops a set of legislative or advocacy goals that guide the work of the Association in the General Assembly and with the Pension Systems’ Board of Trustees.

“While we don’t have a formal process for gathering information from our members, an important part of this process is listening to what our members say,” said Linda Suggs, chairperson of NCRGEA’s Government Relations Committee.
This input, combined with advice from the Association’s lobbyists, is the basis for the initial draft of the annual goals.

“Our lobbyists give the Government Relations Committee a draft of goals based on the key issues the General Assembly will be dealing with in the up-coming session,” explained Suggs. “We take a hard look at those, review what our members have said, and then forward to the Executive Committee a second draft. They edit that if they see fit, and forward their draft to the Board of Directors for final approval.”

Each member of NCRGEA’s Board is a retired state or local government employee, and they, like its members, are concerned about having a strong, stable pension system that its members can count on. “NCRGEA does not rank its goals, but getting a true COLA for state and local government retirees is always its number one priority,” says Suggs. “Keeping the pension system strong is right behind it.”

NCRGEA has many active programs and processes in place to achieve its annual goals, but to be even more effective, the Association needs the voice of its members to be heard in the General Assembly.

“We really need our members to be involved with the issues we are trying to achieve,” said Suggs. “One of the most important things is, they have to know who their representatives are. You’d be surprised at how many people can’t tell you who represents them in the General Assembly. On the NCRGEA webpage under the “Advocacy” tab, there is the “Find my NC Legislator” link to give you that information.

The second thing is, meet them. When they’re campaigning, go and meet them, listen to what they are saying, ask questions and get to know them. Politics is all about relationships. Develop relationships early so that when crunch time comes, you can call on them, and they will know who you are.”

“Third, use the tools on NCRGEA’s website, such as FastDemocracy. This tool puts all the information you need about your legislators at your fingertips, including their voting history and the committees they serve on. The better you know your legislators, the more confidently and effectively you can discuss issues with them.”

FastDemocracy

FastDemocracy also helps NCRGEA mobilize its members with “call for action” messages. “When the Association sends a call for action, open up the email,” stressed Suggs. “It will have a message that NCRGEA has crafted on the specific issue. You can personalize it if you want, but you don’t have to. Just fill in the box with your name and email address, hit “send,” and it will automatically go to your representative in the General Assembly. It’s that easy.

“For NCRGEA members, one of the most important races is the race for State Treasurer,” says Suggs. “Our state is one of only three states where the State Treasurer has total control on how the money in our pension funds is handled. We need to know what candidates’ top priorities would be if elected.
Ask:

  • What they would do to make possible a COLA or bonus for members of TSERS and LGERS on a regular basis?
  • How they will protect and strengthen the pension system?

These are important questions for our next State Treasurer.

Lastly, be the first to congratulate the winner, even if you didn’t vote for them. Whether you voted for the winner or not, that person now will represent you in the General Assembly!

NCRGEA Advocacy Goals

1. Advocate for annual cost of living adjustments for all state and local government retirees.

2. Strengthen and protect the state’s defined benefit plan to attract and retain the best and brightest public servants.

3. Defend public sector benefits so all public sector retirees can participate in traditional retirement systems.

4. Ensure the State of North Carolina will continue to fulfill its constitutional and legal requirements to fully fund North Carolina Retirement Systems and the State Health Plan.

5. Expand the Bailey tax exemption to all state and local retirees and pursue other tax exemption opportunities for government retirees.


For more information
on NCRGEA’s advocacy goals and how to assist the Association in obtaining them, watch our February 7 Lunch and Learn webinar on our YouTube channel.

What to Do if You Crack or Chip a Tooth

Although teeth are remarkably strong and can last a lifetime, chips and breaks are always possible. AMBA is here to help you understand the potential causes of fractured or broken teeth, how to care for a broken or chipped tooth, and what solutions and options are available. If you experience a chipped or broken tooth, rest assured these tips can help you start smiling again in no time.

What Causes Chipped and Broken Teeth?

The most frequent causes of tooth chips or fractures include biting down on something hard, impact to the face or mouth, or a dental issue such as a cavity, which weakens the tooth from the inside.

A minor tooth fracture may or may not hurt. However, a break in a tooth will likely cause pain. Many people feel pain when chewing because of the pressure on the tooth and the damaged or exposed nerves beneath it.

What Do I Do If I Have a Fractured or Broken Tooth?

Cracked or broken teeth cannot be treated at home. Only a dentist can analyze the tooth and nerves and assess the extent of the damage and the necessary steps to repair the problem. 

If you have a broken tooth and are bleeding, the following steps are recommended until you can see your dentist:

  1. Rinse your mouth with warm water.
  2. Apply gauze on any bleeding areas until the bleeding stops. 
  3. Apply a cold pack to your cheek or lips over the broken tooth.
  4. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can sometimes help overcome pain.

What Can You Expect from Treatment?

There are several types of tooth fractures and breaks, each requiring different treatments. These include:

  • Craze lines: These minor cracks are surface cracks that only affect your enamel – the outer white surface of your tooth. These cracks are so shallow they rarely need treatment. 
  • Chips: Minor chips don’t always need treatment. However, your dentist may suggest repairing the damage with filling material to prevent it from worsening.

Chipped teeth make up most dental accidents and injuries.

  • Cracked tooth: This fracture extends from the chewing surface toward your tooth’s root. If the damage doesn’t extend to the tooth’s root, it’s possible to save the tooth before the crack worsens with a root canal and crown. 
  • Severe breaks: A serious break goes deep enough to expose your tooth’s nerve. It’s almost certain to hurt and, usually, the broken part of your tooth will bleed. Frequently, a fractured tooth will need to be removed and replaced.
  • Decay-induced break: If you have a decay-induced break, your tooth has broken or crumbled because a cavity has weakened it from the inside out. Your dental professional will evaluate your cavity and recommend the best tooth restoration. If the decay is extensive and goes down to the bone, your tooth may have to be removed.

If you have a fractured or broken tooth, seeing a dental professional as soon as possible is important. It’s also important to have the coverage of the comprehensive Dental Plan from NCRGEA and AMBA. This plan lets you see any dentist you want with significant savings by seeing one of the thousands of in-network nationwide providers. This Dental Plan covers exams, x-rays, root canals, dentures, and more! Sign up today – acceptance is GUARANTEED! – at www.AMBAdentalvision.com/NCRGEA or call 800-956-1228 M-F 9am-6pm ET.

Source: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/10923-dental-crowns/recovery-and-outlook
https://www.aae.org/patients/root-canal-treatment/saving-natural-tooth/ https://www.aae.org/patients/dental-symptoms/traumatic-dental-injuries/

PEOPLE OVER PROFIT: How SECU Puts Members First

Spring 2024 Living Power Magazine

As a young professor at NC A&T State University, Dr. Samuel Moseley received an opportunity to travel to a conference that would help him advance his career in academia. But Moseley needed funding to make the trip possible. A colleague suggested he visit the North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) for help.

Dr Samuel Moseley

Moseley visited a branch to apply, and he was approved for a loan that would make it possible for him to attend the conference. “Being able to go to that conference, I was able to be more involved in my field and grow professionally,” Moseley says. “It allowed me to go on to be in a position where I could help others coming up behind me and help our students make an impact on the world.”

That kind of life-changing support happens every day at SECU. Be it a mortgage for a first-time home buyer, an auto loan, or even retirement planning advice, SECU works relentlessly to help its members meet their personal and financial goals.

Founded more than 85 years ago in 1937, SECU started with just 17 members and $437 in deposits. Since then, SECU has grown to the second-largest credit union in the United States with nearly 2.8 million members and more than $54 billion in assets. And SECU’s model of a not-for-profit, member-owned financial cooperative means that unlike most for-profit traditional banks, the interests of the members come first.

Bank Mission

SECU’s mission is “to be the trusted provider of financial services to every eligible member and to enhance the value of their lives and financial wellbeing while maintaining our fiscal strength.”

“Everything that we do is in the best interest of the member and our mission,” says Leigh Brady, president and CEO, SECU. “And that ultimately boils down to the fact that we want to help our members keep their money where it belongs—in their pocket.”

Community Focus

While SECU remains focused on its members, the SECU Foundation is dedicated to supporting local communities in North Carolina. Through the SECU Foundation, the organization promotes local and community development throughout the state by funding high-impact projects in the areas of housing, education, healthcare, and human services. Since 2004, the SECU Foundation has been funded through SECU members’ $1 per month checking account maintenance fee, which is allocated to the foundation.

And those dollars add up: Over the past 20 years, the foundation has awarded more than $258 million in scholarships, grants, and loans. That money funds initiatives such as teacher housing, hospice homes, and a robust scholarship program that supports students at North Carolina community colleges and universities in the UNC System.

“No other financial institution I know of is doing that kind of thing, going into the communities, building apartment buildings for teachers, contributing to an institution that assists persons with addiction in Greensboro,” Sibert says. “These are amazing things, and that’s where members are helping members.”

Both Sibert and Moseley say that sense of community and helping others makes banking at SECU a different experience—one that sees each individual member as valued and important, no matter how much money they have in their account.

SECU President Leigh Brady

SECU achieves that goal in a number of ways, from lower fees and competitive loan rates to a range of deposit accounts, along with lending, insurance, and investment services. Brady says financial education plays a major role in how SECU positions even those with shakier financial footing for success.

“We offer services such as financial counseling with loans,” she says. “And if our members get in dire straits, we work with them on things such as loan extensions, and we have a wonderful mortgage assistance program if they are having problems making payments.”

The SECU mortgage assistance program may include options such as payment amount modifications,
temporary payment deferment, and refinancing for members facing hardships that impact their ability to pay. And in addition, SECU assists members with services such as debt counseling, retirement planning, and even budgeting with tools like the Spending Plan Guideline, which helps members by breaking down their monthly expenses and suggesting ways to best allocate funds.

Dr. James Sibert has seen how those services can make a difference in the lives of members. The retired NC A&T administrator has served for many years on his local SECU branch Advisory Board, providing feedback on behalf of his fellow members. All 275 SECU branches have Advisory Boards with up to 12 member volunteers. “The credit union is a financial institution that is truly helping its members,” Sibert says.

James Sibert

“When you walk into the credit union, you get friendly people meeting you—people who desire to assist you in any way possible,” Sibert says. “They’re very sincere in helping you, and that member service means a lot to me—it really makes you feel good.”

More than 40 years after that first loan, Moseley says the role SECU has played in his and his family’s lives can’t be overstated. And he remains grateful for SECU’s support to this day.

“Whenever I’ve had a need, I’ve gone to the credit union,” he says. “I financed cars, I financed my home. The credit union has been good to my children, and it has always been good to me. So I’m very thankful for the credit union and how it treats members.”

North Carolina General Assembly Legislative Update: May 30, 2024

by NCRGEA Lobbyist Jessica Proctor

2024 Legislative Update

Legislators began the week with a busy three days of committee meetings and votes. The week stalled abruptly due to the death of Rick Moore, a King’s Mountain councilman and father to House Speaker Tim Moore. The Senate held committee meetings Tuesday but canceled meetings Wednesday and Thursday, as the late Mr. Moore’s funeral was held Wednesday, May 29. The House canceled its week Tuesday, including voting sessions previously scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

COLAs

Currently, there are three bills appropriating both a percentage cost of living adjustment (COLA) and a lump sum appropriation. SB 805 and House companion bill 934, “Make State Employment Great Again”, has a one-time, $100,000,000 bonus line item for retirees S805v1.pdf (ncleg.gov); H934v1.pdf (ncleg.gov). House Bill 930 H930v1.pdf (ncleg.gov) provides a 3 percent recurring adjustment for both state and local retirees, with a total price tag of $231,000,000. All three bills have passed first reading and are currently scheduled in the respective chamber’s rules committees.

Other Bills Affecting Retirees

Last week, three bills pertaining to retirees passed two committees and the House, with one sent to the Senate by special messenger. Two of the bills were technical. The other, HB 1020, Retirement Administrative Changes Act of 2024, has varied changes in current retirement policy. This includes expanding eligibility for participation in the state’s supplemental retirement plan (401k), tightening penalties for employers that submit late contributions, and ending retirement payments for persons also receiving subsequent severance.

In its original form, Section V of the bill pertained to tightening payroll and pension deduction requirements for both retiree and active associations, sunsetting groups that had: a) membership of less than 2,000 and b) had not deducted in December 2023. The NCRGEA Government Relations team and others worked together to have this language stricken from the bill. The bill is now in Rules and Operations and its latest edition may be found here: H1020v3.pdf (ncleg.gov).

House Bill 237, “Unmask Mobs and Criminals,” dramatically changed form from its original House version, only to have the House non-concur when the bill returned from Senate passage. While many provisions of the bill returned masking policy back to pre-COVID status, opponents of the bill say the bill reaches too far, restricting masks for persons with health issues. The bill is now considered dead, with opposition from both parties.

Another healthcare bill passed the Senate Healthcare Committee recently, and now rests in Senate Finance. HB 681: Healthcare Flexibility Act H681v2.pdf (ncleg.gov) originally passed the House in 2023 with unanimous, bipartisan support. Its latest version includes revised physician interstate licensure compact language and adds other healthcare policy priorities of the Senate.

These include:

• Ability for nurse practitioners with 4,000 hours of practice experience to be eligible to apply for full practice authority.
• Prohibition of facility fees for treatments performed in a non-hospital setting.

While running skeletal sessions for the remainder of the week, the legislature will fully return Monday, June 3.

To learn more, use the NCRGEA Bill Tracker powered by FastDemocracy.

Don’t Let Scammers Break Your Account or Your Heart

by Attorney General Josh Stein | Spring 2024 Living Power Magazine

heart broken

Relationships bring joy and connection—but unfortunately, scammers love to prey on other people’s hope and happiness. They are adept at using sweetheart scams to rob people of their hard-earned money. The “sweetheart scam” is one of the most widely utilized modes of preying upon a victim for financial gain. In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received reports from 6,817 elderly victims who experienced over $281 million in losses to confidence fraud and romance scams. In 2023, we received 71 sweetheart scam complaints representing more than $2.3 million in total losses.

People make new friends and and dates online—that is part of life in 2024. But if you’re connecting with someone online, be careful. The person on your screen might be an imposter. In sweetheart scams, scammers often pretend to be someone you already know or someone you’re likely to connect with because of their appearance or shared interests. They’ll use these connections to start to form a bond with you, but only to steal your money.

Often, the person will claim to live overseas and have a good reason for why they are unable to see you in person. They might say they are a US citizen, but they are stationed on an oil rig, a military base, or other convenient excuse. They are overly friendly and often quick to profess their love or admiration, and they’ll message you often and be very communicative.

They won’t ask you for money at first. They’ll wait a few months until they’ve established the relationship, and then they’ll tell you about a problem they’re having that prevents them from coming back to the country. They might be dealing with a medical emergency, have a family member with health issues, not be able to afford lights, or some other problem. Whatever the reason, it will require money to solve, and they’ll ask you to send it. They’ll make promises about visiting you and getting married once they have the money and can resolve their problem.

Have your guard up when you’re talking to people online

Try to verify who they are before you start communicating with them. Remember that if an online love interest ever asks you for money, it’s almost always a scam. And if they ask you to pay with a gift card, wire transfer, or through cryptocurrency, it’s certainly a scam. Don’t make that payment or investment.

Unfortunately, sweetheart scams can be a gateway to other scam attempts. If a scammer can get money from you once, they will likely try to get money from you again. It’s important to put a stop to these scams the moment you become concerned—talk to someone you trust before you send money, or call your bank or my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

Sweetheart scams can be especially cruel because they don’t just target your wallet—they target your heart. It might be hard to talk about being the victim of a scam because you’re dealing with grief and heartbreak, as well. But scammers try to target all of us, and there’s no reason to be embarrassed over the actions of a criminal. Let my office know if you think you or someone you know has been the victim of a sweetheart scam by calling us at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or online at NCDOJ.gov/complaint.

Don’t let a scammer break your bank account or your heart.