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Lifeline

Free mammograms

It's October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you're a woman age 40 or older and you haven't had a mammogram in the past 12 months, it's time to schedule your appointment.

Here's some good news -- your mammogram doesn't have to cost you a cent.

Univera Healthcare's most common plans cover screening mammograms without a co-pay, said Peter Kates, vice president for communications. Members in the ActiveUnivera program can earn up to $500 per person in cash, gift cards and health-related merchandise for healthy activities, including mammograms and other preventative tests.

The commercial plans of BlueCross BlueShield have not had co-pays for mammograms for years, said Karen Merkel-Liberatore, director of public relations. These plans cover most BlueCross BlueShield subscribers, she said.

Independent Health will offer free coverage for mammograms and other preventative services starting Jan. 1, 2009.

For anyone who does not have insurance or has a private insurance plan that doesn't cover mammograms or charges a high co-pay, Partners for Prevention Cancer Screening Services of Erie County can pay for a screening mammogram, as well as any other treatment that might be needed.

Partners for Prevention, funded by the state Department of Health with local sponsorship from the Erie County Department of Health and the American Cancer Society, also pays for colon cancer screenings for men and women 50 and older or who have high risk, Pap smears for women age 18 and older, and the HPV vaccine for women age 19 to 26.

To reach Partners for Prevention, call 886-9201. For questions about your insurance coverage, call the customer service phone number on the back of your insurance card.

-- Anne Neville

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Robot rehab

Each year, 700,000 people in the United States and 100,000 in the United Kingdom suffer a stroke. To help them regain the use of their limbs, some doctors use electrodes attached to the skin to stimulate their muscles.

Previous research has shown that when patients make a conscious effort to move, the technique has a better success rate. So researchers at the University of Southampton in the UK built a workstation that stimulates muscles in the upper arm while a robotic device helps the patient to exercise it.

"It is the first of its kind to combine robotic rehabilitation technology with functional electrical stimulation," says lead researcher, Christopher Freeman.

In a trial with five patients, four showed improvement in the impaired arm.

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