Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Medicare Open Enrollment - Annual Election Period - What Should You Do?

It is nearly time for the start of the Medicare Open Enrollment or Annual Election period which runs from October 15 until December 7 each fall.  As a result, we have invited our Medicare expert, Danielle Roberts, to explain what you may wish to do during this Medicare Annual Election period.  This is your opportunity to make changes to your Medicare Advantage plan and Medicare Part D plan.  

Danielle Roberts explains what you can and cannot do during this period of time.  It is important information for all Medicare beneficiaries. The more you know about how Medicare works and when you can make changes to your plan, the more you will benefit from the program.  If you have more questions after reading this article, you can contact Danielle Roberts or her staff directly at Boomer Benefits.  You can also find additional contact information for Boomer Benefits in the sidebar of this blog, under the information about our Medicare Expert.

What to do During Medicare Open Enrollment

 by: Danielle Roberts

Like other insurance programs, Medicare has designated enrollment periods. In fact, there are different enrollment periods for each part of Medicare. Some occur only once in a beneficiary’s lifetime, while others happen annually.

The Medicare Open Enrollment period in the fall is a very important enrollment period that affects nearly every beneficiary every year. It is also one of the most misunderstood enrollment periods.

What is the Open Enrollment period?

The main reason beneficiaries misunderstand this period is because of its name. There are multiple enrollment periods with the words “Open Enrollment” in the title. The Medicare Fall Open Enrollment period is often mistaken to be a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Open Enrollment window. However, that is not the case and these two periods are very different.

The Medicare Open Enrollment period in the autumn of each year is also known as the Annual Election Period. Calling it the Annual Election Period is a good way to differentiate it from other Medicare enrollment periods. 

This period occurs every year in the fall between October 15th and December 7th. During this period, Medicare beneficiaries can enroll in, change, or dis-enroll from Medicare Advantage plans and Part D drug plans

They cannot, however, use this time to apply for a Medigap plan without going through medical underwriting. This is the part most people get wrong.

Medicare beneficiaries can apply to change Medigap plans at any time throughout the year. However, if they are outside of their one-time 6-month Medigap open enrollment window, they will have to answer health questions. So, it’s important for them to realize that they cannot use the period in the fall to enroll in a Medigap plan without underwriting.

How should beneficiaries prepare for the Open Enrollment period?

Medicare beneficiaries who have enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan or Part D drug plan should look out for their Annual Notice of Change during September. This letter explains the changes the carrier plans to make to that specific plan for the next year. Every beneficiary needs to review this notice and decide whether they are okay with the changes or if they’d like a new plan.

Although Medicare beneficiaries are not required to change Medicare Advantage and Part D plans every year, they should review the other plans in their area to see if there is a more cost-effective option.

The next step is to contact a Medicare brokerage that represents several insurance carriers and plans. Beneficiaries should review and compare plans with the broker to learn which plan they should switch to during the Open Enrollment period. 

When comparing plans, beneficiaries should be looking for a plan that:

·       Includes their doctors in the network
·       Covers their important medications
·       Is the most cost-effective of the available options

Some Medicare Advantage plans offer extra benefits, such as free gym memberships. Consider a benefit like this as a cherry on top. Beneficiaries should not base their decision solely on the fact that a plan has a free gym membership and the other more cost-effective plan does not.

When choosing health insurance, you want the plan that will satisfactorily cover any major illnesses or injuries. Extra benefits are nice, but not the most important thing.

What to do During the Fall Open Enrollment Window

Once the period starts on October 15th, beneficiaries can apply to change their Medicare Advantage and Part D plans. It takes a few weeks to be approved after the application is completed since millions of other beneficiaries are also changing plans at this time of year. All changes made during the Open Enrollment period go into effect on January 1st of the next year.

Beneficiaries should not cancel their current coverage until they have been approved for their new plan. If a beneficiary cancels his Medicare Advantage plan to apply for a Medigap plan and then gets denied by the Medigap company, the beneficiary may not have enough time to get re-enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan before December 7th

So, to review, every beneficiary should review their Annual Notice of Changes in September, research local plans, and apply for the plan within the time frame. Taking these steps ensures a smooth transition into your new coverage. 

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:


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

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

Photo credit:  Boomer Benefits

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Disadvantages of Early Retirement - When Should You Stop Working?

Many young adults make it their goal in life to retire young. Some occupations, such as firemen, policemen and government jobs, even make it possible for people to begin collecting a pension in their 50s, rather than making them wait until their mid 60s, which is the full retirement age for Social Security.  Despite the fact that you may have always dreamed of retiring early, and even could begin to collect a pension in your 50s, it may not be in your best interest to retire at such an early age.

Statistics show that about 50 percent of Americans retire between the ages of 61 and 65.  Another 20 percent or so retire even earlier.  This means that roughly 70 percent of Americans retire before they reach their full Social Security benefit age of 66 or 67.  If you are thinking about doing this, too, what are the risks?

You May Live Longer Than You Think

About one-third of retirees will live to be in their 90s.  You could be among them.  Americans are living much longer than they were when the "normal" retirement age was set at age 65.  If you stop working in your 50s, this means you could live another 40 years without a reason to get up each morning and follow a routine. You will gradually fall further and further out of the mainstream, separated from co-workers, and no longer developing new skills in your profession.  Gradually, you may stop learning, stop interacting with new people, stop getting out of the house on a regular basis.  New technology could become too complex for you to deal with.  Eventually, you may simply stop trying to keep up with a changing world.

You May Not Have Enough Money to be Retired for Decades

Think about how much you paid for common items when you were in your 20s.  In my case, my first new car, purchased right off the showroom floor, cost me about $2,000.  When my husband and I married, we purchased a newly built lakefront home in California, near San Francisco, for about $35,000.  In less than four decades since then, the prices of everything have gone up 10 to 15 times, or more.  That home is worth about 20 to 30 times what we paid for it.  If I live another three decades, which is possible, prices could easily increase another ten-fold.  How many people are prepared to cover their future expenses, when they factor in inflation?  What if you need to purchase a new car, put a new roof on your home, pay for the funeral of a family member, replace your air conditioner, or cover the cost of other big ticket items?  What will that do to your retirement savings?  Even if you avoid making any large purchases during the remaining years of your life, everyday expenses such as property taxes, food, and utilities could increase faster than your Social Security benefits. You could gradually deplete your retirement fund.  As you make these withdrawals, you are likely to wonder if your money will last the rest of your life.

You May Face Financial Setbacks

If the value of your home drops, the stock market falls, or you face a catastrophic loss from a flood, fire or medical crisis, it will be difficult to recover financially, if you are not working.  You may have to dip more heavily than expected into your savings in order to recover, and then you will have even less money left for the future.  You may find yourself going deeply into debt, or you may need to sell your home and other assets, just to survive.

Early Retirement Deprives You of Years of IRA Contributions and Growth

When you turn 50 years old, you are allowed to begin making larger "catch-up" contributions into your retirement accounts.  However, if you retire early, you miss out on those extra years of contributions, as well as the potential tax-free growth in your savings.  This means you are even less likely to be prepared for decades of withdrawals and setbacks.  The more money you put aside before you stop working, the more prepared you will be.

Delaying Retirement Means Larger Social Security and Pension Checks

In addition to losing out on retirement savings, if you retire early your guaranteed benefits from Social Security or a pension will be smaller.  The longer you delay retirement, the more money you will have in benefits, and the more secure you will be financially.  If there is just one reason which will help you decide to delay retirement, it is your future financial security.

Medicare is Currently Not Available Until Age 65

If you are not employed and you are under the age of 65, you should check out what your medical insurance will cost before you retire early.  If you must purchase an individual policy from a private company, it could be quite expensive.  In addition, you need to consider the cost of your prescriptions, deductibles and co-pays, particularly if you have a serious chronic condition which could land you in the hospital.  Are you prepared to cover this expense for several years until you are eligible for Medicare?

Will You Be Bored During Decades of Retirement?

Many people have a bucket list of things they would like to do as soon as they retire ... travel, play golf, spend more time on their boat, or indulge in a favorite hobby. However, have you considered what it will be like if you try to do these things every single day for decades?  Will you eventually get bored?  Will you keep up a healthy routine?  Will you eat right, get exercise, and socialize with other people?  Or will you become lonely and depressed, often spending hours watching television?  For most people, their jobs are an important source of social interaction.  How will you replace the regular socialization and friendships you had while you worked?

It Could Be Hard to Find a Job Later

What if you quit your current job and, after a few years, realize you are going through money faster than you expected or discover you are lonely and miss working?  It could be difficult to find a job again, either at the same company or a different one.  If you do find a new position, you may discover that you have to start over in an entry-level position, rather than at the higher salary you were earning at the peak of your career.  There are a number of senior citizens who bag groceries at my local grocery store. There are others who take tickets at the local movie theater.  I am sure they had more responsible and better paying jobs before they retired.  They would probably have been better off working a few extra years in their late 60s than going back to work in their 70s or 80s.

If you really want to quit your current job, you may be able to find a compromise, rather than fully retiring. Instead of retiring from your current job and waiting you see what happens, you may want to move into a fun new career directly after quitting the job you currently hold.  It is easier to find a new job when you are currently working than it is if you have gone years without a job. The longer you go without a working, the harder it may be to find a new position.  In fact, finding a fun, new job which always fascinated you may be a smarter move than simply retiring early.  This is the time of life to go to work in that art gallery or gift shop, or to join a non-profit, or start a second career.  Even if you earn less money than you were before, at least you will be doing something interesting and fulfilling, you will postpone collecting Social Security, you may be eligible for a company health plan, and you will avoid some of the other hazards of retiring too young.

Retiring Young Could be the Death of You

According to research cited by Bloomberg, people who retire before the age of 65 are more likely to die early, even when the researchers accounted for the fact that some people retire early because they are in poor health.  There could be a number of factors at work here.  Studies have shown that people are more likely to get depressed and bored after retirement, and depressed people do not take care of themselves and tend to die younger.  Whatever the reason for the faster decline, simply by working longer you are probably going to be in better health in the final years of your life, which means you will enjoy your retirement even more!

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

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

Photo credit:   Pixabay

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Common Medical Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

As we age and develop a wider variety of health issues, our risk of becoming the victim of a medical mistake increases.  In fact, the problem is extremely common.  Researchers at Johns Hopkins estimate that over 250,000 people of all ages die as a result of medical mistakes every year!  While there is no way to guarantee that you will not become a victim, too, there are a few steps you can take which will lower your risk.  First, you have to understand the most common medical mistakes we all face, and then learn the steps you can take to prevent them.

How You can Avoid Common Medical Mistakes

Do research on your doctors - Not only will most people need to choose a primary care physician, but they are also likely to need specialists such as a gynecologist, cardiologist, internist, or surgeon.  Look them up online and make sure they do not have a history of lawsuits, complaints or problems with the state medical board.  In addition, see if you can find as many doctors as possible who are part of the same practice and have admitting privileges in the same hospital.  In the event of a crisis, this can save a lot of time and confusion.

In California, where we live, we have found that using the Kaiser Permanente doctors and hospitals have simplified our lives.  Most of the specialists are near our home and in the same building.  My husband is dealing with both chronic kidney disease and a blood cancer (as well as other conditions), and during one of his appointments, his kidney doctor left briefly during an examination and went down the hall to talk to the blood cancer doctor, before he changed a prescription.  We really appreciate how connected they are and realize that their ability to quickly and easily talk to each other reduces his risk of having one of them make a medication error. 

Keep Track of Medications - The older you get, the more medications you may take. Your doctors may accidentally give you two medications which conflict with each other, or your pharmacist may hand you the wrong prescription.  The best defense is to question both your doctor and pharmacist about every prescription.  Carry a list with you of all the medications you are taking, including over-the-counter vitamins and herbal remedies.  Update it any time there is a change. Give copies of the list to all your physicians, including your dentist.  If a doctor prescribes something new, ask them if the new medication should be taken in addition to what you are already taking, or if you should drop one of the others. Read the disclosures and instructions which come with most medications and, if you do not receive printed information, look it up online.  Finally, look at the pills every time you pick up your prescription and question the pharmacist if it looks different than normal.  Have they made an error?  Have they replaced your prescription with a similar, but different prescription?  Pay attention to what you are taking.  You can also order appropriate size prescription organizers (Ad) to keep your medications in order and to be certain you take them at the right time of day.

Do not misuse antibiotics - If you take too many antibiotics, too frequently, they may stop working for you.  Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections, not viruses.  Do not ask for antibiotics if the doctor says you have a virus.  When you are prescribed an antibiotic, make sure you take them all. If you stop too soon, your infection may come back and be harder to treat.

Choose the best hospital  - Do your research and choose the best hospital in your community.  In particular, pick the one with the most experience with your condition.  If you have surgery, make sure they perform that particular surgery frequently.  Afterwards, you do not want to rush home too quickly. If you do go home too soon, you are more likely to return to the hospital with an infection or other problem.  However, you do not want to stay too long, either, because that can also result in an increased risk of infection.  Discuss with your doctor how long you should stay to maximize the benefit and minimize the risk.

Mark the spot for surgery - We have all heard of dramatic cases where doctors operated on the wrong eye or limb.  Do not let this happen to you.  Make sure the doctor marks the right spot on your body before doing surgery.  They are often very busy and may do multiple surgeries in one day.  Be certain they are clear about the surgery they are performing on you.

Post-surgery follow-ups; make sure nothing was left behind - Another surgery risk is that the team may leave a sponge, clamp or other instrument in your body.  If you notice any odd symptoms after surgery, including unexpectedly serious pain, swelling, fever, nausea or bowel problems, discuss the issue with your doctor.  They may have to do imaging tests to see if anything was left behind.  You do not want to ignore the issue, because it could cause an infection or serious internal problems.

Do not spend too much time in bed - After major surgery or a serious injury, all you may want to do is spend time in bed.  However, too much bed rest can cause you to lose muscle mass and bone density, or cause problems with your heart, lungs and other body systems.  Get out of bed as soon as your doctor recommends, even if you do not feel like it. If necessary, use a walker or ask another adult to help you move around regularly.

Avoid delays in treatment - Another issue comes up when your physician either fails to diagnose your problem, or is not prompt about contacting you about test results and treatment options.  If you are not satisfied with a doctor's diagnosis, especially if they say nothing is wrong, get a second opinion.  If you get a test and there seems to be a delay in hearing the results, do not wait for the doctor to call you. Call their office, instead.  Once you have a diagnosis, be your own advocate and find out your treatment options as soon as possible.

Do your part to take care of your health - Staying healthy can involve much more than simply taking medications.  Many illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, and chronic kidney disease, require you to follow specific diets if you are going to maintain your health.  You may want to see a nutritionist to discuss the correct diet for your condition.  Medications alone will not stabilize these chronic health issues.  In addition to diet, it is important for patients to find trustworthy websites and learn as much as they can about their conditions.  Good websites are WebMD, Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic and the national association for your specific health condition.  Discuss what you learn with your own doctor and ask lots of questions.

Do not try to handle your medical problems by yourself - Whether you share your medical concerns and information with a spouse, adult child, or friend, it is important to have at least one other person on your "team."  Why?  What happens if you are unconscious in the hospital or mentally confused at the time of treatment?  You need a point person who is knowledgeable and able to discuss your treatment and medical condition with doctors, hospital staff and paramedics.  This point person can also be your primary care physician, although it is also helpful if you have someone else who is personally close to you, as well.

Following the above recommendations may not guarantee you will never be the victim of a medical error, but it will decrease your risk.  In addition, if you do your part, you will also improve your chances of recovering from any mistakes which do happen, such as a mix-up with a prescription.

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

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

Photo credit:  Google images; cnnpartner images 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Early Signs of Dementia - You are Probably Worrying Unnecessarily!

As we age, most of us are concerned about the possibility of developing dementia.  Every time we misplace our keys or forget a name, we worry that we may be on our way to completely losing our mind.  However, the good news is that dementia is probably not in your future. Even for those who live to be in their 90s, fewer than half will develop anything more serious than mild cognitive decline. The reason we worry, of course, is because the majority of us do not actually know how to recognize the early symptoms of dementia.  According to an article in Medical News Today, on Feb. 21, 2019, there are ten symptoms which are indicative of the type of declining cognitive functioning which could lead to a serious case of dementia.  Having two or more of these symptoms means it is time to see a doctor.

Types of Dementia

First, it is important to understand that the term dementia is an umbrella term for a number of different types of cognitive decline.  Here are the most common types of dementia:

Alzheimer's Disease
Lewy body dementia
frontotemporal dementia
vascular disorders leading to dementia
mixed dementia ... a combination of two or more of the other types

Signs of Dementia

Regardless of the type of dementia which you could be developing, you should be concerned if you or a family member develop two or more of the symptoms listed below.  In addition, the symptoms need to be severe enough that they interfere with daily life.  In other words, occasionally losing your keys, getting confused, or forgetting a name is not necessarily enough of a problem that it would indicate anything more serious than simple age-related mild cognitive decline or, in some cases, it could simply mean you are tired.  The symptoms below are only a concern when they are severe and interfere with your life, work, and relationships.  In addition, remember that you need to be experiencing two or more of these symptoms, before you need to worry that you could be developing dementia.

1.  Extreme Memory Loss - Memory loss is especially significant if you cannot remember information which you have recently learned, or events which happened during the preceding few days or weeks.  For example, when my mother's dementia began to be severe, she once told me she had not seen my sister in months, despite the fact that my sister was actually staying with my mother at the time and had only gone into another room.

2.  Difficulty solving problems and making plans - This symptom becomes obvious when a person can no longer follow driving directions or remember how to prepare a familiar recipe.  They may also have difficulty paying their bills.  My mother turned the bills over to my father a couple of years before she showed more serious symptoms of her dementia, despite the fact she had paid their bills for decades before her decline.

3.  Difficulty completing familiar tasks - This is similar to the symptom above, although it becomes an issue when a person has difficulty with even simple, familiar tasks which do not require much planning, such as making a cup of tea or going to a familiar location.  In the retirement community where I live, people occasionally become disoriented and get lost on the golf course, or on their way to a nearby bank or restaurant. 

4. Confusion about the time and place - People with dementia often struggle with dates.  While we may all occasionally think a past event happened "just last year," when it actually happened a decade ago, this is more pronounced in a person with dementia.  They may also become confused about where they are.   They may no longer remember their address or phone number.  They may repeatedly ask what time it is.  They may insist it is spring, when it is really fall or winter. 

5.  Challenges with interpreting visual information - If a person suddenly has difficulty reading the paper, judging distances, or recognizing differences in colors, this could also be an early symptom of dementia.

6.  Problems writing or speaking - Communication is very important to anyone with normal cognitive ability.  Someone with dementia may find it difficult to hold a conversation or write a note.  They may forget what they are trying to say, or their handwriting and grammar may worsen.  They may want to avoid situations where they are expected to socialize, especially with new people.

7.  Misplacing items - We all misplace common items from time-to-time, and doing so is not necessarily a symptom of dementia. However, when it happens too frequently, or the person begins to believe that their possessions are being stolen, then it can be a sign of dementia.  When my mother lost weight late in life, some of her shoes became loose.  She believed someone was sneaking into the house late at night to steal her shoes and was replacing them with pairs which were too large for her.  As ridiculous as this sounds to other people, my mother was so convinced that she was being robbed that she slept on the floor in front of her closet door for several nights until she finally forgot about the "thefts."   Until she forgot about the issue herself, no one in the family could convince her that she was mistaken.

8.  Poor judgement or decision-making - With all the other symptoms mentioned above, it is easy to understand why someone with dementia may make poor decisions.  For example, they can become easy prey to scammers and be talked into purchasing items they do not need, or they may pay too much for things.  They could also stop taking care of themselves and their personal hygiene may decline.  This is one reason why I personally get upset when residents of our over-55 community are targeted by phone scammers.  While I never fall for them, I know there are many seniors in our neighborhood who could easily get into a prolonged conversation with the caller and do whatever they ask.  These predators victimize some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

9.  Social withdrawal - Many people begin to isolate as they age. This can also be a sign of dementia.  One of the reasons for this isolation may be because they are having difficulty with conversations and other forms of communication.  They may be less aware of the people around them and not understand everything which is being said. Other reasons they may withdraw could be hearing loss or poor vision.  Fear of getting lost or being vulnerable to criminals may also cause them to stay home and become isolated.

10.  Changes in personality or mood -  If someone who has traditionally been mild-mannered begins to develop mood swings or changes in personality, this can be an early symptom of dementia, although it can indicate other health issues as well, such as severe pain or a reaction to medications such as steroids.  Whatever the cause, unusual bursts of temper or mood swings need to be investigated by their physician.

The Good News about Dementia

Even if you or someone in your family exhibits a few of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean they are going to develop severe dementia. Not all cases of mild cognitive decline progress to severe dementia.  The first thing you should do is talk to a doctor.  There could be a reversible cause for the above symptoms.  For example, as mentioned above, some medications can cause many of the above symptoms.  When the medication is removed, full cognitive function may be restored.

In addition to medication problems, symptoms of dementia can be caused by hearing loss, vision problems, depression, pain, or other treatable problems.  A doctor can determine whether or not there are underlying problems and help you find a solution.  Even if there is not a physical cause for the dementia symptoms, it is possible that a physician can prescribe a medication to slow down the progression of the disease.  Regardless of the cause of the dementia symptoms, your first step should be to make an appointment with your doctor.  No one should assume there is nothing which can be done and leave the symptoms untreated.

If you are a caregiver, you may also be interested in reading a book such as "The Dementia Handbook."  (Ad) It will provide you with even more detailed information about the stages of dementia and how to care for someone with symptoms of the disease. It is important for caregivers to get all the information and help possible.

If you are interested in learning more about common medical issues as you age, Social Security, Medicare, 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 useful articles.

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

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