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Giving Thanks for Good Health

 

Each year, the holiday season offers us time to reconnect with family, slow down and give thanks for all of the things we are grateful for in our lives. One thing I never take for granted as I get older is my health, and I know having access to affordable prescription drug coverage that keeps me healthy is key. That’s why this season I’m particularly grateful for my good health.

The comprehensive and affordable drug coverage provided by Medicare Part D is one way I am able to stay healthy, and that is something we can all be thankful for. Here are three things for you and your family to consider this Thanksgiving when it comes to your Part D plan.

  • Any time beginning three months before the month of your 65th birthday, you can apply for Part D prescription drug benefits without any penalty.
  • From now until December 7, you are able to join or renew your Medicare plan. If you’re looking for help in comparing options, Medicare.gov gives you the option to complete a general or personalized plan search.
  • For Veterans, Medicare Part D can be used as a supplement to your Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. Whether it be for medication pick up or filling a prescription from a provider outside of the VA system, Part D can make up for the areas where other benefits may lack.

With all of the hassles the year has brought, don’t forget to give thanks for the things that are here to make life easier. Visit Medicare.gov for additional tips, advice and resources.



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Shopping for Medicare Part D

I recently saw a news feature about the growing number of people who complete their holiday shopping by Halloween. Wow! One shopper explained that shopping early gave her time to enjoy the holiday season with her family and avoid the frustration and exhaustion that comes with last minute shopping.

As impressive as this story is, shopping season can have an even bigger impact for those of us on Medicare — big savings on our medicines!

Every year we have the opportunity to keep or change the Part D plan that provides coverage for prescription drugs. Honestly, this may be the most important purchase of the year and far too few of us take time to shop around.

Does it matter?  ABSOLUTELY!  Here’s why:  Each year plans are allowed to make changes in the coverage they will offer for the next year. Additionally, you may have had changes or additions to the medicines you take. Why not take a few minutes to review the plan you have now and compare it to what else is available in your area?

Some key questions to ask: Are all your medicines still covered by your current plan?  What are your total costs, both premiums and cost-sharing?  Can another plan offer you a better deal? You may find that your current plan is still working well for you, or you may discover that you can save real money by making a change. Either way, checking your coverage is the best way to make sure you are getting the most from your Medicare Part D plan.

Medicare open enrollment is happening now and continues through December 7.  To compare Part D plans offered in your state, you can use the Medicare Plan Finder. If you have any questions, you can always visit your local Area Agency on Aging or call Medicare all day, any day (except federal holidays) at 1-800-633-4227.

Don’t miss out on this important shopping season!



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Medicare News: 2016 Part D and Medicare Advantage Premiums Remain Stable

In case you were too busy barbecuing and chasing grandkids this summer to monitor the latest on Medicare (and who could blame you?), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently made announcements about Medicare premiums for the Part D prescription drug program and Medicare Advantage (if you choose that option).

Image courtesy of CMS.gov

CMS projects average monthly premiums for Medicare Part D will remain stable in 2016 at around $32.50 a month. They also project Medicare Advantage premiums will remain stable around $32.60 per month in 2016. CMS credits a transparent and competitive marketplace for helping to keep premiums low.

What does that mean for you? You can breathe easy knowing that your monthly premium costs to cover medications or a Medicare Advantage plan may be about the same as it was last year, and you will have a variety of plans to choose from with different coverage options and premium costs to fit your needs.  Another reason to be thankful for a competitive structure within Medicare.

As you already know, fall is an important time for seniors to think about their health. During open enrollment, we will be providing all the information you need to make critical decisions about your needs and coverage. Premiums are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cost factors you need to consider when choosing a plan, but don’t worry – we’re here to help.

Be sure to check back here often for great tools and resources, and engage with us on Facebook and Twitter to ask questions and suggest topics for us to cover.



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Preparing for Open Enrollment

When was the last time you passed up an opportunity to save money on appliances or groceries?  If you’re anything like me, you’re always shopping around for the best deals and looking for ways to save.  When it comes to your Medicare coverage, you should be doing the same.

Open enrollment for Medicare begins on October 15th. One of the things you can do during Open Enrollment is choose your Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan. Between October 15 and December 7 you’ll be able to update, change, or switch your Part D plan to make sure it best fits your medical needs.  Each year your health plan can affect the costs associated with your treatments, so it’s critical to take the time to review your benefits. 

To help make the process easier, I’ve listed out a few things you should consider during this year’s open enrollment.

  • Preferred Pharmacies: Is your pharmacy still listed as preferred in your Part D plan? If not, your costs could increase.
  • Medications: If you’ve been prescribed new medications, check that they are covered. Part D plans also change their formulary lists each year, so you should check your existing prescriptions as well.
  • Co-payments and Co-insurance: These amounts vary, so take time to comparison shop between plans and make an informed decision based on the medications you need.

Medicare also has resources available to help – be sure to check out the Medicare Plan Finder. Write down a list of the medicines you’re taking and log-on to find plans that work for you.

Open Enrollment is a great opportunity to review your plan, update it if necessary and save money each year. Take advantage of the chance to save your money and improve your health!

For more information visit Medicare’s website, make an appointment at your local SHIP office, or visit your local Area Agency on Aging. You can also call Medicare all day, any day (except federal holidays) at 1-800-633-4227.

Additionally, make sure to keep checking Seniors Speak Out, Facebook, and Twitter for helpful advice and resources.



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Happy Birthday 1950!

If you were born in the year 1950, you’re in good company –so were Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy and the rest of the Peanuts gang. So were actors Bill Murray and Martin Short. Sharing a birthday with these icons isn’t the only reason to celebrate, if you turn 65 this year you are also eligible to enroll in Medicare!

(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

As most of us know, Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people over the age of 65 that has is important for allowing older Americans to live healthier lives. There are many benefits to having Medicare, so you should enroll as soon as you become eligible.

Before your birthday, it’s a good idea to set aside some time to think about the different coverage options that might work for you. Talk to your doctor about your long-term health needs, consider the prescription drugs you take regularly and if those will be changing soon, ask questions about what your employer or former employer offer and start reviewing the plans that are available in your area.

Your friends who have gone through the process can be great resources, but remember, everyone has different health needs, so take the time to explore your options. If you want some professional guidance, you can set up an appointment with your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Additionally, your local Area Agency on Aging office can answer any questions you have.

The first step is to determine if you are eligible for Medicare. Medicare.gov offers a simple and easy questionnaire to get you started. If you are eligible, you can go a step further and calculate your premium in a few easy steps. This will help you to plan out when you should apply for Medicare and how much it will cost.

For those over the age of 65 that are enrolled in Social Security, you will automatically receive enrollment materials from Medicare 3 months before your birthday and your coverage will go into effect on the first day of the month you were born. But even though some things happen automatically, there are a lot of choices to be made! Be sure to do your research.

Learn more about the various coverage options here to see what works for you.

For more information on Medicare, check out our resources page. Happy Birthday 1950! Thanks for continuing to follow us at Seniors Speak Out.



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Seniors Speak Out Quiz: How much do you know about Medicare?

In honor of Medicare’s 50th Anniversary, test how much do you know about the Medicare program. No cheating!

 

Question 1

Who was president of the U.S. when Medicare was enacted?




Question 2

At what age does someone become eligible for Medicare?




Question 3

What famous figure in American history received the first Medicare card?




Question 4

What is the name of the federal agency that runs Medicare?




Question 5

What is unique about the Medicare Toll Free Number?




Question 6

How many people in the U.S. are currently enrolled in Medicare?






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Results Are In! Seniors Like Part D’s Coverage, Choice, & Value

9 in 10 seniors satisfied with Part D

9 in 10 seniors satisfied with Part D

Maintaining good health is of critical importance to everyone, but especially seniors. However, the steps you take to maintain your health is as unique and individualized as each and every one of us. That’s why having a choice of easy and affordable prescription drug coverage is critical to maintaining an active and happy life.  According to new survey results, seniors agree that our Medicare Part D coverage does just that.

This year’s Medicare Today Senior Satisfaction Survey found that nearly 9 in 10 seniors are satisfied with Part D. Not only that but 94 percent of seniors think that their plan is convenient to use, 91 percent report that they understand how to use their plans, and 90 percent agree that their plan works well. Further, 7 in 10 seniors also reported it is important to them to have a variety of Part D drug plans from which to choose.

It is no secret that Part D has changed the lives of millions of older and disabled Americans. Access to care gives us peace of mind, enables us to remain active, and helps us restore and maintain our health. And most importantly, Part D does so without breaking the bank. The survey found that 85 percent of seniors think their prescription coverage is a good value and over 80 percent of seniors polled in the survey also agreed that Part D related costs – copays, monthly premiums, and total out-of-pocket costs –  are both affordable and reasonable. That’s pretty groundbreaking for a government-run health program.

Interestingly though, despite the program’s evident success, some still want to make harmful changes to Part D. My question to that is: why change a program that consistently merits high satisfaction from seniors?

Changes could limit choices and raise costs, which would ultimately undermine the success of the program. Attempts to weaken or disrupt Part D’s competitive structure would not serve the best interests of seniors and disabled Americans, so if necessary, we must stand ready to defend our benefits by speaking out to our leaders and by voting in elections. Who better than seniors like us that benefit from Part D to vouch for its success?

If you’re like me, you’ve long known that Part D truly works and keeps seniors happy. If you needed a bit more convincing, it’s hard to argue with the opinions of nearly 9 in 10 seniors who are satisfied with the program. Be sure to join us on Facebook to let us know that you agree and share stories about the difference Part D has made in your life.



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Medicare: 50 Years and Getting Stronger

Medicare is 50 years old this month, and I thought it might be worthwhile to look at some changes that have occurred in health care over this timeframe that, in many cases, have been shaped or directly influenced by the Medicare program: 

  1. Life Expectancy — When Medicare was enacted in 1965, life expectancy at birth was approximately 69.7 years. Today it is 78.7 years. An enormous change! It might be tempting to think that this achievement is because so much progress has been made in the care and treatment of pregnant mothers, newborns and young children, but that is only a part of the picture. There has also been remarkable change in the life expectancy of the senior population. Census data shows that today, life expectancy at age 65 is just over 19 years; that’s 5 years longer than it was 50 years ago. Seniors are living longer, and access to care and treatment through Medicare is the foundation that has made this possible. 
  2. Medical Research and Innovation — It is hard to believe, but very true, that when Medicare was enacted, a heart attack was most likely a fatal event. Today, not only are people able to receive care and recover from heart attacks a great deal of the time, but medicine has actually moved successfully into early detection and prevention!  And cardiovascular disease isn’t the only example. Think of the advancements in cancer, diabetes, and so many other conditions.  Access to health care via Medicare has given older and disabled Americans the ability to live productive full lives, with conditions which previously were likely to have taken their life sooner.
  3. Security — Fifty years ago, Medicare was a solution for seniors who were unable to get coverage for their healthcare needs. As healthcare capabilities have expanded, Medicare has evolved to provide beneficiaries with access to new types of care, procedures, and treatments. Ten years ago, the enactment of Medicare Part D greatly expanded health security by providing beneficiaries with comprehensive coverage for medicines.

Today Medicare is the vehicle upon which people over 65 and those living with disabilities can and do depend for their health security. A 50th anniversary is always a celebration, but Medicare’s 50th Anniversary is particularly worth celebrating for the changes and contributions this program has made to better the lives of older and disabled Americans.



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Advocates Speak Out: Bob Blancato (Part 2)

In preparation for the 2015 White House Conference on Aging starting today, Seniors Speak Out’s Nona Bear spoke with Bob Blancato, a long-time advocate for older Americans who has been involved in the past three White House Conferences on Aging, twice in leadership roles. Below is the second part of the two part conversation. To read the first, click here.

Part Two

Nona Bear (NB): What is the greatest challenge for these Conferences?

Bob Blancato (BB): In 1995, the political tone was a bit different than previous Conferences and many felt the aging programs were being threatened, which made the delegates that came much more defensive of the programs. It was sort of a battle of wills, but as a result the number one resolution became to preserve Social Security now and for the future.

NB: Since you have had the unique position of being an executive director of the Conference and an attendee, can you tell us a bit about how you think we can make sure the gains and achievements from each year are implemented and not lost?

BB: In 1995, we developed a policy that said no more than 50 resolutions would be adopted and we would have a distinct “Top 10” group that delegates would vote on. That same year, we also committed to doing a series of post-Conference grassroots activities to help move recommendations forward. We’ve been fortunate in the past to have bipartisan legislators that have taken recommendations from the Conferences and translated them into policy. I’m confident, now that the aging advocacy world is far bigger than it used to be, we’ll be able to move the things that emerge from this year’s Conference into something more concrete.

NB: What would you like to see come out of this year’s Conference?

BB: In the broad sense, we’ve got to deal with issues surrounding long-term care. We’ve got to step up on a bipartisan basis to come up with ideas and solutions that address the greatest fiscal liability that is confronting the boomer generation. I think the potential is there.

In the healthy aging space I would like to see us start getting practical about the basic things you can do throughout your lifespan to improve aging, such as developing good nutrition, the importance of education, maintaining the ability for older workers to be properly trained so they can continue to contribute and understanding from a preventative health standpoint why Medicare Part D is as important as it is. It isn’t just that older people have access to prescription drugs; it’s that they now have access to a better way of living because they have medications to help them. Within that we also have to make sure we tackle the growing concern about medication adherence.

In the long-term services category, I’d like to see an honest conversation about what we need to do. In terms of elder justice, I’d like to see us put the necessary resources into place to prevent elder abuse.

NB: One thing I know will come up is Medicare, and how it has improved the lives of seniors. How should we frame the discussion both at the Conference and afterwards?

BB: The important thing is to have a framework about what in Medicare has to be modernized. When I talk to older individuals, I tell them that when Medicare first started it was the best program to treat you once you were sick, but it didn’t do a lot to prevent you from being sick in the first place. That’s the new direction of Medicare. There have been more preventative measures added to Medicare in the past 10 years than in the past 40 years of its history. I think the focus on offering preventative benefits will save money down the road.

I would also like to see this Conference come out with a strong reaffirmation on the importance of Part D and particularly with a strong statement assuring the protection for low-income seniors moving forward.

To learn more about this year’s White House Conference on aging, visit their website.



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Advocates Speak Out: Bob Blancato (Part 1)

In preparation for the 2015 White House Conference on Aging next week, Seniors Speak Out’s Nona Bear spoke with Bob Blancato, a long-time advocate for older Americans who has been involved in the past three White House Conferences on Aging, twice in leadership roles. Below is the first part of the two part conversation. Be sure to check in tomorrow for the second part.

Part One

Nona Bear (NB): Can you explain your background when it comes to being an advocate for seniors? What are some of the issues you focus on?

Bob Blancato (BB): When Congressman Mario Biaggi of New York, my previous boss in Congress, became an original member of the House Select Committee on Aging in the late 1970s, his getting on the committee, and then becoming the chairman years later, gave me an unprecedented opportunity to become an advocate for older Americans. So it all came as a result of this work assignment. Today, many of the issues we work on are the same issues we’ve worked on in the past, such as promoting economic security for older individuals, ensuring quality of health, emphasizing the importance of the Older Americans Act, preventing elder abuse and combatting age discrimination. These are all issues that have transcended time and are still very important.

NB: Tell me a bit about your role in the past White House Conferences on Aging?

BB: I’ll have been to four of the six White House Conferences on Aging: 1981, 1995, 2005 and will be attending the upcoming one in 2015. I wish I had been at the 1971 Conference; it was such a dynamic event and had the largest crowd of any White House Conference. The best story that came out of it had to do with Richard Nixon who had Arthur Flemming as his executive director. They wanted Richard Nixon to announce the Older Americans Act so they prepared the speech and despite Arthur Flemming suggesting $50 million [to support the bill], Nixon came in and announced an initial support for $100 million. It is a thing everyone remembers, it blew everyone away.

NB: What has been the most remarkable achievement coming out of past Conferences?

BB: In addition to what Nixon did in 1971, the 1961 White House Conference on Aging laid the groundwork for the Great Society programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act. The 1971 Conference also laid the groundwork for what became the National Institute on Aging and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. In 1981, the Conference was very contentious, but it addressed the contrasting views of what to do with Social Security at that point. The National Commission on Social Security Reform, informally known as the Greenspan Commission, was created as a result and it came up with the plan that saved Social Security from bankruptcy. It was a tough vote, but it fulfilled its mandate of preserving Social Security.