Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Medicare Updates in 2019 and Beyond


This week we have a new report from our Medicare expert regarding the changes which have been made to Medicare in 2019, and the expected changes in 2020 or later.  The expert who wrote this post is Danielle Kunkle Roberts, a recognized Medicare insurance expert and Forbes Finance Council member.  Some of you may have already read some of her other helpful guest posts which she has written for this blog over the past few years.  You will find contact information for Danielle Roberts in the sidebar of this blog, as well as at the bottom of the post.  She and the staff of her company are always willing to answer the questions of our readers, as well as help you find a Medicare Supplement or Advantage Plan to meet your healthcare needs and which is available in your state.

Updates to Medicare This Year and Ones to Look Out for Next Year

 

by Danielle Kunkle Roberts

Lately, Medicare has been announcing update after update. Some of these updates have been in the works for multiple years and are just now being pushed through. Updates to Medicare include things  such as plans being discontinued, new benefits, and more.

Exciting updates have been made to Medicare already in 2019, and we expect to see these updates progress in 2020. There are several updates which have been passed, but will not take effect until the start of 2020. Also, with the presidential election in 2020, we are bound to see more updates to Medicare within the next few years.

2019 Updates to Medicare

 

Medicare made a few changes to Medicare Advantage plans in 2019.  Between 2018 and 2019, there were about 400 new Medicare Advantage plans added to the mix. In addition to new plans, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) added new benefits to the list of benefits which Medicare Advantage plans are allowed to offer.

For years, Medicare Advantage plans have been able to offer benefits which Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) does not offer. Benefits such as drug, dental, vision, and hearing can be found in many Medicare Advantage plans. Now, in 2019, Medicare Advantage plans are allowed to also offer home health care and telehealth benefits.

New Benefits

 

Original Medicare does not cover home health care for those who only need help with activities of daily living (ADL). Therefore, Medicare beneficiaries who have wanted to stay at home in retirement but were unable to care for themselves have had to pay out-of-pocket for custodial care at home. 

However, now that Medicare Advantage plans offer some home health care services, these beneficiaries can enroll in a plan with these benefits during the Annual Election Period so they can continue to live at home. Home health care benefits which may be covered are adult daycare services, custodial care, transportation, home modifications, palliative care at home, and meal delivery.

Telehealth is a new benefit offered by some Medicare Advantage plans which allows their enrollees who live in rural areas to have better access to specialists who are not close enough for the patient to see in person. Now beneficiaries who have this benefit can have a video call visit with a specialist from their primary care doctor’s office.

Medicare Advantage Try Before You Buy

 

Another update involving Medicare Advantage plans is the new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MA OEP). This period is from January 1st until March 31st. During this period, MA enrollees have the chance to change or drop their MA plan. 

This is a great update, because beneficiaries who choose the wrong MA plan during the Annual Election Period (AEP) can have a second chance to choose a better plan for their situation.

2020 Updates to Medicare

 

For the past couple of years, we have known about an update which would not be effective until January 1, 2020. This update is the Medicare Supplement (or Medigap) Plan C, Plan F, and High-Deductible Plan F discontinuation

Legislation has been passed which restricts Medigap plans from paying the Part B deductible for their enrollees. All three of the above plans currently cover the Part B deductible. Therefore, these plans will no longer be available to new Medicare beneficiaries as of 2020.

However, if you have one of these plans prior to 2020, you will be able to keep it for many years to come. Also, if you already have Part A prior to 2020, you will still be able to apply for any of these plans with a carrier who offers them.  You will likely have to answer health questions before being approved for one of these plan.

Possible Updates to Medicare in 2020

 

Since the presidential election will be held in 2020, we should all be on the lookout for important updates to Medicare. Each person running for President in 2020 is proposing changes to Medicare. 

There are proposals such as Medicare for All, Medicare at 50, and Medicare budget cuts. All of these would influence our current Medicare program in a big way. However, nothing is for certain as of right now.

Remember, Medicare always changes to some extent, each and every year. So, changes like ones mentioned in this article are not out of the ordinary.

About Danielle Robert's company, Boomer Benefits:

 

"Founded in 2005 in Fort Worth, TX, Boomer Benefits is an award-winning insurance agency for national insurance carriers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, Cigna, Mutual of Omaha and many other A-rated carriers. We are licensed in 47 states. Over the years, we’ve learned just about everything there is to know about Medicare, and we’ve become known as the baby boomers insurance agency. We pass that knowledge on to you – absolutely free. There is never a charge for our services. Boomer Benefits Consulting is free."

Readers can contact Danielle Roberts and her wonderful staff at Boomer Benefits at:

https://boomerbenefits.com/
1-855-732-9055

If you are interested in learning more about Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, where to retire, common health issues as you age and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles on a variety of retirement topics.

You are reading from the blog:  http://www.baby-boomer-retirement.com

Photo credit:  Danielle Roberts 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Food as Medicine - Help Heal Yourself

When my husband was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease ten years ago, we were alarmed to discover that the only way he could slow down the progression of the disease would be for him to carefully follow a restrictive diet. Eventually we realized this is true for many people with a wide variety of medical conditions. We have friends who have been diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes (or pre-diabetes), cancer or various intestinal disorders such as C. Difida, and in many cases they have also been told the best way to improve these conditions is to follow the appropriate diet.

While there are similarities among the different healthy diets, each one has specific foods which tend to be emphasized in order to provide the patient with the best results.  Because of this, whenever you or a loved one has been diagnosed with any serious disease, it is important to learn about the specific diet which will best control that condition and either help you heal your body or, at the very least, slow down the progression of your disease.

Learn How Food Can Help You Heal

You may want to start your treatment program by discussing dietary changes with your doctor.  However, most physicians did not study nutrition in medical school.  As a result, they may not have any more information than a brochure to get you started down the right path.

Most insurance companies, including Medicare, will cover the cost of a visit to a nutritionist who can talk to you about your current diet and explain how you can make appropriate changes in order to support your specific healthcare regimen.  In many cases, a good nutritionist may also be able to include some healthier versions of your favorite foods so you do not need to give up everything you love to eat.  They understand that you will not stick to a diet if the food does not taste good to you.

In addition, you may want to pick up a book to use whenever your diet confuses you and you are not sure what to eat.  A good choice is "Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How the Body Can Heal Itself."   

Dr. William Li, a heart expert and the author of the above book, has pulled together years of research to come up with specific doses of the best foods to help treat a variety of diseases. Regardless of your medical condition, it is worth reading.



Special Diets Can Benefit You

What are some of the special diets you can try following in order to help heal or slow down your disease progression?


If you have been diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease, you may want to use this Amazon link to  the book "Stopping Kidney Disease."

If you are concerned about memory loss, the MIND Diet has been proven to be helpful.  The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to improve heart health.  There are also special diets to help people who have been diagnosed with cancer and diabetes.  Reading about the correct medical-based diet for your condition can make it easier to find satisfying foods to eat. You can use this Amazon link to see a list of books for healthy diets and find the one which is most likely to meet your needs.

When I took the Brain Health Class with instructors from the MIND program at the University of California, they emphasized that there were no drugs which have been discovered which will either postpone or treat most cases of dementia, but they have observed that eating a diet rich in plants, in addition to getting regular exercise, did seem to make a difference for many people.

By following the right diet and making appropriate lifestyle changes, your medications will work better and you will help your doctors perform their job, rather than hinder them.

Does Diet Really Make Much of a Difference?

Despite all the research, many people remain skeptical that following the right diet can really make that much of a difference in treating their disease.  It is important that people understand that for some diseases, such as chronic kidney disease, the right diet is the ONLY thing which can slow down the disease and help you postpone dialysis.

Diet is also extremely important in dealing with diabetes, whether or not you are taking a medication.  In 2002, researchers compared the effectiveness of diet compared to taking the medication Metformin in preventing Type 2 diabetes in people who were considered at high risk. One group of people were assigned a diet which was low in sugar, salt and saturated fat. They were also told to eat lean protein, as well as to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to their meals.  The other group was told NOT to change their diets.  Instead, they were prescribed Metformin.  Those taking Metformin lowered their risk of of later developing diabetes by 31%.  The group who changed their diets and exercised regularly lowered their risk of diabetes by 58%.  The dietary and lifestyle changes were nearly twice as effective as taking the medication alone.*

In studies performed by heart expert Dr. Dean Ornish, it was discovered that people who followed his heart-healthy program were sometimes able to reverse their heart blockages and reduce their episodes of angina.

Eating the right diet for your disease is an effective way to deal with a serious illness.  When diet, lifestyle changes, medication and other treatments are combined, it can make a significance difference in the lives of most people.

Other Lifestyle Choices Can Help Fight Disease

Of course, food is not the only lifestyle change which might help your body fight off a dangerous disease.  It is also important to follow your doctor's orders regarding exercise, alcohol or sugar consumption, lowering your stress, and ending your addiction to cigarettes or other tobacco products.  No matter what disease you have, it is important to take a holistic or whole-body approach to the healing process.

If you are interested in learning more about common medical issues as you age, Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, where to retire, travel and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

* Source:  http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/lifestyle-changes-superior-to-metformin-for-diabetes-prevention/

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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Stop Scammers, Spot Fraud and Report It - Learn How!

It seems as though the older I get the more often I hear from a friend or neighbor who has been the victim of fraud.  The criminals who create these scams are ruthless.  They can seem friendly, charming and caring but, in reality, they do not hesitate to cheat their victims, even if their victim is a widow or someone living on a small fixed income.  Of course, one of the most famous cases of fraud was Bernie Madoff, who is thought to have committed the biggest financial fraud of all time.  Even though Bernie Madoff is now serving time in federal prison, cases of fraud still create financial hardship every day for ordinary people across the country.

The good news is that you do not have to resign yourself to being just one more hapless victim.  You can take action to make sure this never happens to you and, perhaps, help authorities shut down some of these scams so they do not harm other people.  Here are some of the things we all need to know.

Common Scams Targeting Senior Citizens

1.  Grandparent Scam - One of my closest friends fell victim to this scam. The way it works is that an imposter calls your home, pretending to be a grandchild in trouble. The "teen" is usually crying hysterically, so it is difficult to make out their voice.  They start the conversation by saying, "Grandma (or Grandpa)," after which many senior citizens will respond with the name of one of their grandchildren.  The scammer takes it from there, pretending to be that person.  In some cases, the scammer has already learned the name of your grandchildren and other details about your family from social media, before they ever call you, so they are even more convincing. In the case of my friend, she and her husband, a retired Sheriff's Deputy, wired $5,000 to another country to "rescue" one of their grandchildren.  In truth, her grandchild was here in the U.S., at work, not in any kind of trouble, and had never been in the country where they wired the money.  If my friend had taken just a few minutes to text their grandchild on his cell phone, or call his parents, they could have saved themselves from becoming victims.  However, like thousands of other victims, they were so distressed by the call, they rushed to "help" their grandchild as quickly as they could.  If this has happened to you, do not be ashamed.  These people are convincing.  If even a retired Sheriff's Deputy can become a victim of this type of crime, it is easy to see how anyone can fall for it.

2.  The IRS or Missed Jury Duty fines and Similar Scams - I have received these calls myself. The way they work is that a stranger calls and insists you owe money to the IRS, or you missed your assigned jury duty, or you failed to pay a utility bill, and you must pay a fine immediately or risk arrest or other penalties.  In real life, these agencies do not call people and threaten them.  If one of these agencies actually needs to contact you, they will first send you a letter.  On the rare occasions when one of these agencies or services does call, it is usually after they have already corresponded with you by mail or email.  Even if you do owe them money, they will never insist that you pay them within a few hours. They will never ask you to immediately wire them money or pay them in gift cards or other unusual ways. As a result, it is important that you never rush to send money to a stranger, no matter what government agency or private company they say they represent.  Call the agency or company at the direct number they list on your bill if you have a question and believe you may actually owe them money.

3.  Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams - Everyone hopes to win money, but what if someone claims you won a prize in a contest you don't even remember entering?  What if they say they will only send you the winnings if you first mail them a fee or payment of some kind?  Never give out personal information or credit card numbers over the phone or online to a stranger, even if they tell you they will send you a large prize in return.  Never rush to a store to buy gift cards or cashier's checks to pay for a prize.  In fact, never purchase gift cards to pay for any gift, prize or fee.  It almost always means they do not want to accept normal types of payments, which only happens when they are doing something dishonest.

4.  "Free Lunch" Investment Scams - If you live in a retirement community, you almost certainly have been sent countless offers of a free lunch at a local restaurant in return for listening to a sales pitch about annuities or other investment opportunities.  Often, this becomes a "hard sell" in which the presenter tells you that this is a "limited time" offer.  Never make major financial decisions in a hurry.  Always talk to a variety of legitimate investment advisors before investing your retirement savings with someone at one of these lunches, and check their references.  While many honest sales people do use these lunches in order to find new clients, it should be a red flag if they are too pushy and eager to force you to sign up and invest immediately with them.  Take your time.

5.  Romance Scams - One of the most heartbreaking types of scams are those in which a person pretends to care for you but, unfortunately, really just wants to trick you into giving them money.  This can happen in a variety of ways ... it could be people you already know, people you meet through a dating site, or someone who has reached out through other means of contact.  I have even seen people on sites like Twitter post that they are only there to "meet someone special."  The best advice is to never loan money to anyone, including family members, if you cannot afford to lose the money forever. If you cannot give it to them "for fun and for free," it is probably wise not to give it away at all.  In particular, do not loan money to people you do not know well, no matter how much they insist they love you, would never do anything to hurt you, etc.  Many older people, especially women, have lost thousands of dollars to unscrupulous people who claimed to be in love with them.  Often these scammers spend weeks or months gaining your confidence and then ask for a loan because of some "unexpected" problem, such as getting stranded in another country.  Do not be fooled.  These people are adept at playing the "long con", and they could be corresponding online with a dozen other people, or more, at the same time.  You do not want to be one more of their victims.

6.  Phony Charities - It is almost always best to limit your donations to organizations which you know. If you are unsure about them, there are online sites such as charitynavigator.org where you can verify which ones are legitimate.  In addition, you should know that it is unusual for most major charities to call your home and ask you to donate money to help orphans, police officers, firefighters or the sick, especially if you have never donated to that charity in the past.  If you are tempted to help one of these organizations, ask them to mail you an information packet. This will give you time to investigate the organization before making a final decision. Do not let a caller intimidate you into making a hasty decision over the phone. Anytime you feel pressured, hang up.

7.  Tech Department and Help Desk calls - No matter how often we have tried to stop it, my husband and I, as well as many of our friends, continue to get calls from strangers who say they are with with the tech department or help desk for Google, IBM, Dell, Apple or similar companies.  They always claim they are just calling to "help" us solve a problem we never knew we had.  Obviously, these callers must succeed in getting people to pay them for their non-existent "help" or they would not keep doing it.  Put a note next to all your phones: "Technology companies and computer companies will NOT call you unless you contacted them with a specific problem first."  The best thing you can do is just hang up on these people and block their phone numbers to make it harder for them to keep calling you.

8. Medicare Fraud - This can take many forms, including doctors who overcharge Medicare for treatments you did not receive, as well as people who steal your Medicare number and use it to obtain medical care in your name.  Both activities are illegal and, if you suspect someone has committed these crimes, it should be reported to the Social Security Administration and/or the Office of the Inspector General.

9. Identity Theft and Computer Hacking - A particularly frightening crime is that you could become the victim of identity theft or have your computer hacked and never realize it happened until it is too late.  These people can cheat you without ever personally contacting you.  Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself from this type of crime, too.  The best way is to make your online identity as invisible as possible.  You can start by using this Amazon link to get a book such as:  "200+ Ways to Protect Your Privacy: Simple Ways to Prevent Hacks and Protect Your Privacy - On and Offline." Follow their suggestions and you will make it much more difficult for someone who is trying to secretly steal your information.

Common Scams Targeting Veterans

In addition to the scams mentioned above, veterans face their own unique types of scams.  These include: offers of cash now in exchange for turning over your future benefits to someone else; offers to help you change your investments in order to qualify for higher government benefits; phony charities which promise to help veterans; and ID theft by people who pretend to work for the VA and request your Social Security number or other personal information.  If you have a question about calls you have received, contact the Department of Veteran's Affairs directly to make sure anyone who contacts you is offering a legitimate service.

More Ways to Protect Yourself from Scams

Register your phones with the Do Not Call List:

https://www.donotcall.gov

If you receive a questionable phone call on your mobile phone, you can easily block the number so they cannot keep calling you from that number.  They may keep trying, using a different phone number each time they call, but eventually they will run out of numbers and the calls will stop. Contact your phone carrier for your land line to find out how to block these calls on your home phone.

Check out charities at:

www.give.org
http://charitycheck101.org
charitynavigator.org

Investigate financial advisors at:

https://brokercheck.finra.org or (800) 289-9999
http://www.nasaa.org-us

Report Scams and Questionable Phone Calls to the Authorities

Whether you have become a victim of a scam or just believe someone was trying to cheat you, report these incidents to your local police or Sheriff's Department, as well as your state Attorney General's office and the Better Business Bureau.  In addition, depending on the incident, you may also want to report it to one of the following agencies:

Securities and Exchange Commission:  https://www.sec.gov

Mail Fraud: https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/investigations/MailFraud/MailFraud.aspx
(626) 304-7164

Medicare Fraud:  Call (800) MEDICARE or (800) 633-4227

Federal Trade Commission: 

https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov
(877) FTC-HELP
(877) 382-4357

Do Not Be Embarrassed if you are the Victim of Fraud

The people who plan and implement these scams are very sophisticated.  They believe that if they try over and over again with enough people, they only need to defraud a few of them in order to make it financially worthwhile to them.  They practice their approach over and over again.  Because of their persistence, there is no shame in falling victim to these thieves.  They can be very charming and convincing.

In addition, the people who cheat you out of your money may actually be relatives or trusted friends.  Before you hand a friend a credit card or loan them money, ask yourself if you can afford to take a loss.  If not, make whatever excuse you need in order to avoid giving them access to your funds.  It may strain a relationship, but not as much as it would if they cheated you.

Do not be embarrassed to report what happened to you.  The money you lose is rarely recovered, especially if it is a phone scam that originated overseas, but if these people are allowed to keep up their behavior, they may repeatedly cheat you out of money or they may scam other people.  Reporting them to authorities is the best way to protect yourself and others.

If you are interested in learning more about financial planning, Social Security, Medicare, where to retire in the US and abroad, common medical problems and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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Photo credit: Google Images

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Live a Long, Healthy Life - Try These Tips!

As we reach the last few years of our life, our ideal medical reports should read: "healthy, healthy, healthy, healthy, dead."  This statement was made by the instructor of a brain health class I recently attended.  The point she wanted to make was that we all should strive to live lives which are as healthy as possible, right up to the time we die at a very old age.  If these are our goals, how can we increase our odds of making that happen?  What can we personally do to live as long and as healthy a life as possible?

See Your Doctor and Dentist

It may seem obvious, but too many people believe they are better off avoiding doctors. As a result, they are unaware of what is actually going on inside their bodies and may miss the opportunity to avoid easily treated ailments.  Everyone needs to make sure they are engaged in the medical system and do the following:

Maintain a healthy blood pressure
Monitor their A1C or their blood sugar level
Get a colonoscopy
Women should get regular mammograms
Get flu and pneumonia shots
Get professional teeth cleanings
Be checked for other health conditions such as Hepatitis C, skin cancer, prostate cancer, C-reactive protein, and any other tests your doctor recommends.

Practice Self Examinations

While seeing your doctor and dentist regularly is important, your medical providers will not be with you all the time.  Everyone should examine their own bodies regularly and be aware of any changes.  In particular, you will want to check for:

Yellow eyes, which indicate liver problems
Drooping eyelids, which could indicate Bell's palsy or a stroke
Changes in moles
Changes in the color of your urine or bowel movements
Any other changes to your skin, breasts, teeth or mouth.

Sleep a Reasonable Amount Each Night

Get a regular amount of sleep each night, but not too much.  Ideally, you should sleep between 7 and 9 hours a night.  If you have trouble getting a restful night's sleep, check with your doctor and participate in a sleep study, if possible.  Work with your doctor to determine what could be causing your sleep problems ... sleep apnea, too much caffeine, medications you are taking, etc.  Our bodies need sleep to stay healthy and there have also been studies indicating that restful sleep may help remove toxins from the brain and reduce our dementia risk.

Exercise in a Variety of Ways

Any exercise you get is better than nothing at all.  However, the more you move in a variety of ways, the healthier you are likely to be and the longer you will probably live.  Your exercise plans should ideally include:

Aerobics such as walking, swimming, bicycling and dancing
Strength training such as weight lifting or Pilates
Flexibility through stretching or yoga classes
Balance exercises
Back exercises, which could help prevent chronic back pain

Eat a Healthy Diet

Following the Mediterranean Diet, the MIND Diet or the DASH diet, which are all very similar, are great ways to eat whole, healthy food which you will enjoy, while also maintaining good health. Here is an Amazon link to "The MIND Diet Plan and Cookbook" which, along with the other suggestions in this article, is a great way to keep your brain functioning at optimal levels.  The same Amazon link will also enable you to view books on the DASH and Mediterranean diets.

Below are a few things to include in your healthy diet:

Fish and poultry
Nuts and beans
25 grams of fiber a day
8 to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables daily
Healthy oils like olive oil

Reduce your consumption of the following foods:

Sugar and artificial sweeteners
Refined flour
Fried foods
Red meat and butter

Avoid other Dangers to Your Health and Life

No matter how much you exercise or how well you eat, an accident or excess stress can undo all your good intentions.  As a result, there are a few more dangers which you should avoid or minimize in your life.  While some of the items on the list below may seem unrelated to living a long, healthy life, research has shown that these can be problem areas which many people, especially senior citizens, need to address.  

Quit smoking
Drink only small amounts of alcohol
Stay off stepladders and stools
Learn how to deal with stress in healthier ways
Get help with your financial problems
Don't use your phone while driving
Avoid left turns while driving
Cut back on night driving
Ride in the back third of airplanes
Wear a life jacket whenever you are in a boat
Wash your hands and avoid sick people, when possible
Be suspicious of unexpected phone calls, emails or visitors
Avoid dangerous situations by shopping during the day and parking near the entrance to businesses.  The elderly are frequently the victims of crimes, so it is wise to be cautious.

Enjoy Your Life

Finally, living a long happy life is not only about avoiding illness and dangers.  It also means finding a way for your life to include joy and meaning.  Here are some ways to make that happen:

Volunteer doing something which is meaningful to you
Socialize frequently and make new friends
Spend time with family and grandchildren
Get a hobby which engrosses you
Take classes which interest you and chat with the other students
Attend religious services

All of the above activities will bring meaning and happiness to your life and give you reasons to want to live a long life!

If you are interested in learning more about common medical problems, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare, where to retire in the US and abroad and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles in this blog.

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