SAVVY SENIOR
Food assistance programs can help seniors in need

 

July 30, 2014

Jim Miller


Q: I run a community counseling program for needy families and am frustrated that so few eligible seniors take advantage of the food stamp program. Can you write a column on this to help educate seniors to this underutilized benefit?
 

A: It’s hard to imagine that a government program serving more than 46 million Americans each month is considered severely underutilized. But that’s the reality of the federal Food Stamp Program when it comes to serving seniors.

Nationwide, food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) reaches around 80 percent of those eligible, but the numbers are much slimmer among the seniors, age 60 and older. Recent statistics indicate only 39 percent of eligible seniors receive SNAP benefits. 

There are a number of reasons for the lack of participation. Some seniors are too embarrassed or too proud to apply. Others think that if they receive SNAP they will be taking food benefits away from others (which they won’t). Some think it is too difficult to apply for SNAP, and others don’t even know the program exists.

With all that said, here’s a run down of which seniors are eligible for SNAP, what they get and how they can apply.

 

Who’s eligible?

For seniors to get SNAP, their “net income” must be under the 100 percent federal poverty guidelines. So, households that have at least one person age 60 and older, or disabled, their net income must currently be less than $958 per month for an individual or $1,293 for a family of two. Households receiving TANF or SSI (except in California) are also eligible.

Net income is figured by taking gross income minus allowable deductions like medical expenses that exceed $35 per month out-of-pocket, and shelter costs (rent or mortgage payments, taxes and utility costs) that exceeds half of the household’s income.

In addition to the net income requirement, a few states also require that a senior’s “assets” be below $3,250, not counting the home, retirement or pension plans, income from SSI or TANF, and vehicle (this varies by state). Most states, however, have much higher asset limits or they don’t count assets at all when determining eligibility.

The SNAP pre-screening tool at www.snap-step1.usda.gov/fns can help seniors, and their family members, figure out if they qualify.

To apply, seniors or an authorized representative will need to fill out a state application form, which can be done at the local SNAP office or it can be mailed or faxed in, or in many states it can be completed online.

If eligible, benefits will be provided on a plastic card that’s used like a debit card and accepted at most grocery stores.

Depending on the person’s financial situation, the amount of SNAP a beneficiary may be eligible for will range between $15 and $189 per month as an individual, or $15 to $347 for a family of two.

To learn more or apply, contact your local SNAP office - call 800-221-5689 for contact information or visit www.fns.usda.gov/snap.

 

Produce coupons

In addition to SNAP, the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program is another underused program that provides coupons that can be exchanged for fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets, roadside stands and community supported agriculture programs.

This program is currently available in select counties in 43 states, seven Indian reservations, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, to seniors, age 60 and older, with gross monthly household incomes below 185 percent of the federal poverty line, which is currently below $1,800 for individuals, or $2,426 for a family of two. For more information visit www.fns.usda.gov/sfmnp or call 703-305-2746.

 

Other programs

Seniors that are eligible for food assistance may also be eligible for a host of other programs that can help pay for medications, health care, utilities and more. To locate these programs, visit benefitscheckup.org, or call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116.

 


Senior organizations that appeal to conservatives
July 22, 2014


Q: Can you recommend any advocacy organizations for seniors other than AARP? I cut up my AARP card a few years back when they supported Obamacare, and am now looking for another organization that better represents me.
 

A: There are actually quite a few senior advocacy organizations out there promoting themselves as conservative alternatives to AARP. While AARP, with a membership of almost 38 million, is by far the biggest and most powerful advocacy group for people age 50 and older, there are millions of older Americans that don’t like or agree with their stance on various issues. Many believe AARP leans too far to the left despite its stated nonpartisan nature.

For seniors that are anti-AARP, there are numerous conservative leaning groups that you can join that may better represent your views, and most of them offer discount benefits too. Here are several to look into.

The Seniors Coalition: Established in 1990, this nonprofit organization has around four million supporters. Their key issues are to protect Social Security benefits, save Medicare, repeal Obamacare, eliminate the death tax and reform the Social Security COLA system. Members also get access to deals on travel, shopping, car insurance and a discount healthcare program. Annual membership fees to join run $10 for one person per, or $13.50 per couple. To learn more visit Senior.org, or call 202-261-3594.

60 Plus Association: Established in 1992, this nonprofit group that claims over 7.2 million supporters, believes in smaller government and lower taxes. Their top priorities include the fight to end the inheritance tax, and taking steps to help save social security for future generations. There’s no membership fee to join 60 Plus, but they do take donations for those who want to support their effort. They also don’t offer discounts to their members. 60plus.org, 703-807-2070.

American Seniors Association: Open to all ages, this for-profit group stands on what they call the five foundations of security for America’s seniors. These include rebuilding the national values respecting seniors, Social Security and Medicare reform, tax code reform, and control of government overspending. Fees to join run $15 per year, and members receive access to a variety of discounts on travel, health care, office supplies and more. AmericanSeniors.org, 800-951-0017.

Association of Mature American Citizens: With more than one million members, this for-profit organization was started in 2007 for people age 50 and older. Their mission is to help seniors fight high taxes, reduce excessive government involvement in our day-to-day lives, and preserve American values. They also offer member discounts on auto insurance, travel, vision, dental, prescription drugs, and much more. Membership fees run $16 per year, or less if you join for multiple years. Amac.us, 888-262-2006.

The National Association of Conservative Seniors: Founded in 2012, this for-profit organization emphasizes two key missions. One is to provide members, age 60 and older, with services and benefits that include discounts on travel, quality of life opportunities, better insurance and financial programs at competitive prices, and savings on household goods, food, and fun. And the second is to uphold conservative values in the United States.

Membership is free the first year, but costs $12 the second year. Or, for $5 per month you can become a “Gold Patriot” member and receive their “Click to Call” feature, which gives members direct connection to government officials. Naocs.us, 800-570-7769.

 

 

Ergonomic tools that can ease gardening pains 
July 15, 2014


Q: What are the cheapest cell phone options available today to seniors living on a shoestring budget? I only need it for occasional calls.

A: For financially challenged seniors who only want a cell phone for emergency purposes or occasional calls, there are a number of inexpensive no contract plans you can get. Or, depending on your income level, there are also free cell phones and monthly airtime minutes you may qualify for. Here’s where to find some of the cheapest deals.

No-contract phones

One way infrequent cell phone users can save money is with a prepaid cell phone - also known as pay-as-you-go phones. With a prepaid phone there’s no contract, no fixed monthly bills, no credit checks and no hidden costs that come with traditional cell phone plans. With this type of service, you buy a special prepaid phone then pre-purchase a certain amount of minutes (for talk or text) that must be used within a specified period of time.

While most major carriers like AT&T and Verizon offer inexpensive prepaid plans, as do independents like Net10, Cricket and Virgin Mobile, some of the best deals are offered by TracFone (tracfone.com, 800-867-7183) and T-Mobile (t-mobile.com, 800-866-2453).

TracFone has phones that start as low as $10 and call plans that cost under $7 per month. And T-Mobile has a super-cheap 30-minute plan for $10, and minutes don’t expire for 90 days. That averages out to $3.33 per month. If you need more talk time, they also offer an annual plan where $100 gets you 1,000 minutes that are good for a full year. T-Mobile does, however, charge a one-time activation of $35.

 Or, it you would rather have a no-contract senior-friendly phone with big buttons and simplified features, the Doro PhoneEasy 618 sold through Consumer Cellular (consumercellular.com, 888-345-5509) is probably your cheapest option. It costs $60 for the phone, with calling plans that start at $10 per month.
 

Free cell phones

If your income is low enough, you also need to check into the Lifeline Assistance Program. This is a government-sponsored program that subsidizes wireless (and landline) companies who in turn provide free cellphones and around 250 minutes of free monthly airtime and texts to low-income Americans. (Some programs in some states provide more minutes, some less, and some charge a small monthly fee.)

There are currently around 15 million Americans who have a free cell phone through the Lifeline program, but millions more are eligible.

The free phones and minutes are provided by a number of national prepaid wireless companies like Safelink and Assurance Wireless, along with a host of other regional carriers throughout the country.

Many states have more than one wireless company that provides the free phones and minutes. If you are eligible, the free cell phone you’ll receive is a basic phone that also offers text messaging, voice mail, call waiting and caller ID.

To qualify, you’ll need to show that you’re receiving certain types of government benefits, such as Medicaid, Food Stamps, SSI, home energy assistance or public housing assistance. Or, that your household income is at or below 135 or 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines - it varies by state. The 135 percent poverty level is currently $15,754 for singles and $21,235 for couples. The 150 percent level is $17,505/singles, $23,595/couples.

To find out if you’re eligible, or to locate the wireless companies that provide Lifeline government cell phones in your state, visit lifelinesupport.org. You can also learn more at freegovernmentcellphones.net.





 

Ergonomic tools that can ease gardening pains 
July 8, 2014


Q: Can you recommend some good ergonomic gardening gear for seniors? My 72-year-old mother loves to work in the garden, but has been plagued by various gardening injuries this year

A: There’s no doubt that gardening can be tough on an aging body. Garden work often requires a lot of repetitive stooping, squatting, kneeling, gripping and lifting, which can lead to back and knee pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and various other injuries.

To help make your mom’s gardening chores a little easer is a slew of new and improved gardening gear that’s lightweight, comfortable to use, and ergonomically designed to help protect her body from the physical strains of gardening. Here are several that can help.

Gloves: There are a number of specially designed gloves that can improve your mom’s grip and protect her hands while she works. Two of the best are the “Atlas Nitrile Touch Garden Gloves” (available at amazon.com for under $6), which are coated with a flexible synthetic rubber. And the “ReliefGrip Gardening” gloves (bionicgloves.com, $35), that have extra padding in the palm and finger joints that can improve grip, and cause fewer calluses and blisters.

Digging tools: There are ergonomic tools that can help protect your mom’s wrists by reducing the bending and twisting wrist movement that often comes with digging and weeding.

Some good options include Radius Garden tools (radiusgarden.com), which make a variety of curved-handle hand tools (scooper, weeder, transplanter, cultivator and trowel) and shovels that run between $10 and $50. And Corona tools (coronatoolsusa.com), which makes the ComfortGEL and eGrip hand garden tools.

Another excellent product is the “Cobrahead Weeder and Cultivator” (cobrahead.com), an all-purpose digging and weeding tool that’s available in a short handle version for close up work for $25; and a long handle for standing work for $60.

Knee and back aids: Kneepads and garden seats can also protect your mom’s knees and save her back when working close to the ground. Some popular products sold today through the Gardener’s Supply Company (gardeners.com) - a leading developer and manufacturer of innovative garden equipment - are the “GardenEase Kneeler” ($70), which is a kneeling pad with support handles; the “Garden Kneeler” ($35) that’s a kneepad/garden bench combo; and the “Deluxe Tractor Scoot with Bucket Basket,” which is a height-adjustable, swivel garden seat on wheels ($90).

Pruning tools: Fiskars (fiskars.com) makes some of the finest ergonomic pruning tools that have also earned the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use Commendation, because of their patented PowerGear mechanisms that increases leverage to make cutting three times easier than traditional pruners. The Fiskars PowerGear Hand Pruners, Loppers and Hedge Shears all run between $25 and $48.

Bahco and Corona also make a nice line of ergonomic pruning tools and handsaws that you can see at bahcostore.com or coronatoolsusa.com.

Watering: To help make your mom’s watering chores a little easier, there are lightweight garden hoses; soaker or drip hoses that can be snaked throughout the garden; and hose chests that can automatically rewind themselves.

Some good companies that make these products include Water Right Inc. (waterrightinc.com), which makes a variety of super lightweight garden and coil hoses. The DIG Corp. (digcorp.com), which makes convenient drip irrigation kits and micro sprinkler kits. And Suncast (suncast.com), the leading maker of self-winding hose reels, and hose carts.

Container gardening: Raised garden beds, trellises, and container gardening is also an easier way to grow plants and flowers because it brings the garden to you, eliminating most stooping, squatting and kneeling. The Gardener’s Supply Company (gardeners.com) offers a wide range of raised beds and garden containers at prices ranging anywhere between $10 up to $350.

 

 

How to protect your medicare card from identity theft
July 2, 2014


Q: I just turned 65 and received my Medicare card. I see that the ID number on my card is the same as my Social Security number, and on the back of the card it tells me I need to carry it with me at all times. What can I do to protect myself from identify theft if my purse and Medicare card get stolen?

A: Many people new to Medicare are surprised to learn that the ID number on their Medicare card is identical to their Social Security number. After all, we’re constantly warned not to carry our SSN around with us, because if it gets lost or stolen, the result could be identity theft.

But the Medicare ID is more than an identifier. It’s proof of insurance. Beneficiaries need to show their Medicare card at the doctor’s office and the hospital in order to have Medicare pay for treatment.

Over the years, many consumer advocates, have called for a new form of Medicare identification. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which administers Medicare, also acknowledges the problem, but so far nothing has been done.

One of the main reasons is because it would cost an estimated $255 to $317 million to fix it. And that’s just the direct cost to the federal government. It doesn’t include the expense for physicians and other healthcare providers to adjust their systems, or the cost to the states.

Other government health systems like the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense have already begun using ID numbers that are different from SSNs, but no one knows when Medicare will follow suit.

In the meantime, here are some tips offered by various consumer advocate groups that can help keep your Medicare card safe and out of the hands of fraudsters.
 

Protect your card

For starters, AARP suggests that you simply don’t carry your Medicare card at all, because it’s not necessary. Most healthcare providers already have their patients in their electronic systems and know how to bill you.

But if you really don’t feel comfortable not having it with you, then the Privacy Rights Clearing House, a national consumer resource on identity theft recommends that you make a photocopy of your card and cut it down to wallet size. Then use scissors to cut out the last four digits of your SSN, or take a black marker and cross them out, and carry that instead.

You will, however, need your actual Medicare card with you the first time you visit a new health care provider, who will likely want to make a photocopy of it for their files.

If you’re worried that you’ll need your card in an emergency situation in order to get care, you should know that emergency personnel cannot refuse you care until you show an insurance card. Although you’ll need to come up with billing information before leaving a hospital, that doesn’t mean you won’t receive care.

 

Lost or stolen cards

If your Medicare card does happen to get lost or stolen, you can replace it by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213. You can also apply for a new card online at ssa.gov/medicarecard or go to your local Social Security office.

If your Medicare card has been lost or stolen, you will need to watch out for Medicare fraud. You can do this by checking your quarterly Medicare summary notices for services or supplies you did not receive. If you spot anything suspicious or wrong, call the Inspector General’s fraud hotline at 800-447-8477.

If you need help identifying Medicare fraud, contact your state Senior Medicare Patrol program. See smpresource.org or call 877-808-2468 for contact information.





When to see a geriatrician
June 24, 2014


Q: What kinds of health problems do geriatricians treat? My mother, who’s 80, takes several different medications for various health problems, but she hasn’t been feeling herself lately. I’m wondering if she would benefit by seeing a geriatrician in place of her regular family doctor.

A: If your mom is dealing with a variety of health problems and is taking multiple medications, a visit to a geriatrician may be just the antidote to help get her back on track. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of health conditions geriatricians treat and some tips to help you locate one in your area.
 

Geriatric doctors

For starters, it’s important to know that geriatricians are family practice or internal medicine physicians that have had additional specialized training to manage the unique and, oftentimes, multiple health concerns of older adults. Just as a pediatrician specializes in caring for children, a geriatrician is trained to provide care for seniors, usually over age 65.

While most doctors, and even general practitioners, are trained to focus on a person’s particular illness or disease, geriatricians are trained to look at all aspects that can affect elderly patients - not just the physical symptoms. They also often work with a team of other health care professionals like geriatric-trained nurses, rehabilitation therapists, nutritionists, social workers and psychiatrists to provide care. And, they will coordinate treatments among a patient’s specialists.

Patients who can benefit from seeing a geriatrician are elderly seniors with multiple health and age-related problems such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, confusion and memory problems, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, hypertension, depression, respiratory problems, osteoporosis, arthritis, chronic pain, mobility issues, incontinence, vision and hearing impairment, and trouble with balance and falls.

Geriatricians are also particularly adept at tackling medication problems. Because many seniors, like your mom, take multiple medications at the same time for various health conditions, and because aging bodies often absorb and metabolize drugs differently than younger adults, unique side effects and drug interactions are not uncommon. A geriatrician will evaluate and monitor you mom’s medications to be sure they are not affecting her in a harmful way.

Geriatricians can also help their patients and families determine their long-term care needs, like how long they can remain in their own homes safely without assistance, and what type of services may be necessary when they do need some extra help.

But not all seniors need to see a geriatrician. Seniors who have few health problems are just fine seeing their primary care physician.

 

Find a geriatrician

Unfortunately, there’s a shortage of geriatricians in the U.S., so depending on where you live, finding one may be challenging. To locate one in your area, visit the American Board of Family Medicine website at theabfm.org where you can do a search online. Or use Medicare’s online Physician Compare tool. Just go to medicare.gov/physiciancompare and type in your zip code, or city and state, then type in “Geriatric Medicine” in the “What are you searching for?” box. You can also get this information by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227.

Keep in mind, though, that locating a geriatrician doesn’t guarantee your mom will be accepted as a patient. Many doctors already have a full patient roster and don’t accept any new patients. You’ll need to call the individual doctor’s office to find out.



 

Top rated new vehicles for seniors
June 18, 2014


Q: Can you recommend any credible resources that rate the best vehicles for older drivers? My wife and I are both in our seventies and are looking to purchase a new automobile but could use some help choosing one that’s age friendly. What can you tell us? 

A: While there are a number of websites that rate new vehicles for older drivers, one of the most credible is Edmunds.com, a top-rated online resource for automotive research information.

For 2014, they developed a list of “top 10 vehicles for seniors” based on user-friendly features that help compensate for many of the physical changes - like diminished vision, arthritis, and range of motion loss - that can come with aging.

But before we get to the list, here is a rundown of different features that are available on many new vehicles today and how they can help with various age-related physical problems. So depending on what ails you or your wife, here’s what to look for.

Knee, hip or leg problems: For comfort, a better fit, and easier entry and exit, look for vehicles that have six-way adjustable power seats that move the seat forward and backward, up and down, and the seat-back forward and backward. Also look for low door thresholds and seat heights that don’t require too much bending or climbing to get into. Leather or faux leather seats are also easier to slide in and out of than cloth seats.

Limited upper body range of motion: If you have difficulty looking over your shoulder to back up or merge into traffic, look for vehicles with a large rear window for better visibility, wide-angle mirrors which can minimize blind spots, back-up cameras, active parallel park assistance, and blind-spot warning systems that alert you to objects in the way. Also, for comfort and fit, consider vehicles that have a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, adjustable seatbelts, and heated seats with lumbar support.

Arthritic hands: To help with difficult and painful gripping and turning problems, features that can help include a keyless entry and a push-button ignition, a thicker steering wheel, power mirrors and seats, and larger dashboard controls. And in SUVs and crossovers, an automatic tailgate closer can be a real bonus.

Diminished vision: Look for vehicles with larger instrument panels and dashboard controls with contrasting text that’s easier to see. And those with sensitivity to glare will benefit from extendable sun visors, auto-dimming rearview mirror and glare reducing side mirrors.

Short or overweight: Look for six-way adjustable seats, adjustable foot pedals and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.

 

2014 best vehicles

Here is Edmunds list of top 10 vehicles for 2014 listed in alphabetical order. Each offers features designed to support drivers coping with the conditions discussed above. Their picks include both sedans and SUVs, and range from top-of-the-line luxury models to those with more affordable price tags.

Acura RDX SUV, Audi A8 Sedan, Ford Taurus Sedan, Honda Accord Sedan, Hyundai Sonata Sedan, Lexus ES 350 Sedan, Mazda CX-9 SUV, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan, Toyota Avalon Sedan and Volkswagen Passat.

To read more about the details of these choices visit edmunds.com and type in “Top 10 vehicles for seniors for 2014” into their search bar.

 

AAA resource

Another excellent resource that can help you chose a vehicle that meets your needs is the American Automobile Association’s online tool called “Smart Features for Older Drivers.”

At seniordriving.aaa.com/smartfeatures you can input the areas you have problems with - like knee problems, arthritic hands or a stiff upper body - and the tool will identify the makes and models that have the features that will best accommodate your needs. Although this tool looks at model-year 2013 vehicles, in many cases the features shown are carried over for 2014 models.

 



How to make an online memorial for a departed loved one
June 10, 2014


Q: What can you tell me about online memorials? My uncle recently passed away, and some of the family thought it would be neat to create an online memorial to pay tribute to him, and accommodate the many family and friends who are scattered around the country who couldn’t attend his funeral.

A: It’s a great idea! Online memorials have become increasingly popular over the past decade, as millions of people have created them for their departed loved ones as a way to recognize and remember them.

 

Online memorials?

An online memorial is a website created for a deceased person that provides a central location where their family and friends can visit to share stories, fond memories, photographs, comfort one another and grieve. The memorial can remain online for life (or a specific period of time) allowing people to visit and contribute any time in the privacy of their own space.

Online memorials started popping up on the Internet in the late 1990s, but were created primarily for people who were well known. But now, these sites are for anyone who wants to pay tribute to their departed family member or friend, and ensure they will be remembered.

Content typically posted on an online memorial includes a biography, pictures, stories from family and friends, timelines of key events in their life, along with favorite music and even videos.

Another common feature is the acceptance of thoughts or candles offered by visitors to the site who want to send their condolences and support to the grieving party.

An online memorial can also direct visitors to the departed person’s favorite charity or cause to make a donation, as an alternative to sending funeral flowers.

 

How to make one

To make an online memorial, you can either create an independent website, or use an established memorial site, which is what most people choose to do. Memorial websites are very easy to create and personalize, and can be done in less than 30 minutes.

There are literally dozens of these types of sites on the Internet today. To locate them, do an online search for “Online Memorial Websites.” In the meantime, here are a few good sites to check into.

The biggest and most established site in the industry is Legacy.com, which also publishes about 75 percent of the obituaries in North America each year through its newspaper affiliations. Creating an online memorial through this site (see memorialwebsites.legacy.com) will run you $49 for the first year, plus an annual $19 sponsorship fee to keep it visible.

Some other popular sites to check out are ForeverMissed.com, which offers a free barebones option, along with a premium plan that runs $35 per year or $75 for life; and iLasting.com, which runs $49 per year or $99 for permanent display.

If you’re on a tight budget consider LifeStory.com, which is completely free to use, but requires you to log in through Facebook to get to it. And iMorial.com, which is free if you allow ads to be posted on your uncle’s page, or it costs $50 without ads.

Or, if your uncle used Facebook, you can also turn his profile into a memorial for free when you show proof of death. Once his page is memorialized, his sensitive information will be removed and his birthday notifications will stop, but (depending on his privacy settings) it still enables family and friends to post memories and condolences. In addition, you can also request a Look Back video, which is a short video created by Facebook highlighting your uncle’s pictures and most liked status messages.

 

 

Health insurance options available until Medicare begins 
June 3, 2014


Q: At age 63, I will be retiring in a few months and need to find some health insurance coverage for my wife and me until Medicare kicks in. Is Obamacare my only option?


A:
There are actually several places early (pre-Medicare) retirees can go to find health insurance coverage – Obamacare isn’t the only game in town. Here are your options depending on your income and health care needs.


Government marketplaces

If your yearly income falls below 400 percent of the poverty level, the Obamacare insurance marketplace is probably your best option for getting health coverage because of the federal tax credits it offers, which will reduce the amount you’ll have to pay for a policy.

To qualify for the tax credits, your household’s modified adjusted gross income for 2013 must have been under $45,960 for an individual, or $62,040 for a couple.

If your income will drop below 400 percent of the poverty level in 2014 or 2015 because of your retirement, it may still make sense to buy coverage through the Obamacare marketplace, even if you don’t qualify for the tax credits based on last year’s income.

To help you see how much you can save, see the subsidy calculator on the Kaiser Family Foundation website at kff.org/interactive/subsidycalculator.

To shop for marketplace plans in your state, visit www.Healthcare.gov or call the toll-free helpline at 800-318-2596.


Outside the marketplace

If you aren’t eligible for the government subsidy, or you want additional policy options to what Obamacare offers, you can also buy health coverage outside the government marketplaces directly through insurance companies, brokers or agents. This option is not available if you live in Washington, D.C., or Vermont.

These policies do not offer the federal tax credits, but they are required to offer the same menu of essential benefits as Obamacare policies do, and they can’t deny you coverage or charge extra for preexisting health conditions. You might even find slightly lower premiums on outside policies, assuming that you don’t qualify for the tax credits.

Another possible reason for shopping outside the marketplace is to find a plan that has your preferred doctors and hospitals in its network. Many plans offered in the Obamacare marketplaces provide a very limited number of health care providers.

To shop for these policies, contact insurance companies, brokers or agents and ask them if they offer policies that are not available through the government marketplaces.

To find a local broker or agent that sells insurance plans, check the National Association of Health Underwriters website (nahu.org) which has an online directory. But keep in mind that agents won’t necessarily show you all available policies, just the ones from insurers they work with.

You can also look for these plans at insurance shopping sites like www.eHealthInsurance. com or www.gohealth.com, which lists plans and providers that may not be listed on Healthcare.gov.


COBRA

If you only need health insurance coverage for a short period of time before becoming Medicare-eligible, another option you may want to consider is COBRA. COBRA coverage allows you to remain on your former employer’s group health plan for up to 18 months, but not every employer plan is COBRA-eligible. Contact your employer benefits administrator to find out if yours is.

In most cases COBRA is expensive, requiring you to pay the full monthly premium yourself. But, if you’ve already met or nearly met your employer plan’s deductible or out-of-pocket maximum for the year, and don’t want to start over with a new plan; or if you find your employer’s health plan to be better or more affordable that the government or off-marketplace options, it makes sense to keep your current coverage under COBRA.

NEXT TUESDAY: Online memorials are growing.




Multiple resources available to determine value of old items
May 27, 2014


Q: What resources can you recommend for finding the value of old items? I inherited a large number of old antiques and unique art from my great-aunt, and I would like to find out what some of these items are worth.


A:
There are actually a number of resources and online tools available today that can help you find out the value of almost any item. Here are some tips to help you proceed.


Get an appraisal

While many people use local antique shops or collectible dealers to find out the value of old or unique items, it’s usually best to use a certified appraiser who’s accredited and meets professional and ethical standards. Certified appraisers are more likely to give you a fair judgment because there’s no conflict of interest. It’s actually a violation of professional ethics for an appraiser to offer to buy an item he or she has appraised.

A professional appraiser will provide you a written report that includes a full description of your item and the procedure used to estimate its current value. For their service, you can expect to pay either a flat fee or an hourly rate from $200 to $400 depending on their expertise and location. Avoid an appraiser who asks for a fee based on a percentage of the item’s value.

If an appraiser thinks an object isn’t worth a written appraisal, he or she might recommend other resources to arrive at a value.

To locate an appraiser either by location or specialty, search online at one of the three professional appraising organizations: The American Society of Appraisers (www.appraisers.org, 800-272-8258) which has around 5,000 members worldwide; Appraisers Association of America (www.appraisersassoc.org) that has around 700 members; and the International Society of Appraisers (www.isaappraisers. org) that has about
900 members.


Online resources

You can also get estimates by professional appraisers and other experts through a number of websites. How it works is you upload photos of your items and provide descriptions, and the sites send back valuations usually within a week.

Sites that provide this type of service include Value My Stuff (www.valuemystuff.com/us), which charges $10 for one appraisal, $25 for three or $75 for 10, and WorthPoint (www.worthpoint.com), which charges $30 for one item or $75 for three, or you can pay $20 for a monthly membership that provides unlimited access to their antique and collectibles valuations.

Another resource for finding out what antiques and collectables are worth is Kovels (www.kovels.com, 800-829-9158), which offers a free basic membership that gives you access to its online price guide, or you can purchase one of their premium services that run $39 or $60 a year. They also sell the “Kovels’ Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide 2014” for $28 that reports on recent prices paid for 35,000 items in more than 700 categories at auctions, shops, shows, flea markets, and online.

You may also be able to get an idea of what others are willing to pay for your stuff by searching similar items on the massive online auction site ebay.com, or the classified ads site craigslist.org. Both of these sites are free to search.


Tax-deductible value

If you are interested in donating any of your items, you can find out the taxdeductible value at free valuation sites available year-round by tax-prep companies like Turbo Tax at turbotax.intuit. com/personal-taxes/itsdeductible. The Salvation Army also offers a valuation guide at satruck.org/donationvalue- guide.

NEXT TUESDAY: Health insurance options for early retirees.

 



Seniors can receive help with computer issues from far away
May 20, 2014


Q: Are there any computer software products that you know of that will let me help my parents with their computer issues from afar? They are in their seventies and frequently call me with their computer questions and problems, but I live across town and don’t always have time to get in the car and drive over to help them. What’s available that can help us?


A:
Helping an elder loved with computer questions or problems over the phone can be frustrating and difficult. Fortunately, there are a number of resources available today that offer remote access software that can easily help you assist your parents with their computer issues from afar.

One of the best is TeamViewer, which is completely free to use and works with Windows and Macintosh computers.

To get started, you and your parents will need to go to TeamViewer.com and install their free software on each of your computers. How-to videos are available on their site to help with the installation.

Once installed – and with their permission – you will be able to access your parents’ computer right from your own computer wherever you are. Both machines must have broadband Internet for this to work.

This software will give you the ability to actually see what’s appearing on your parents’ computer screen, and will let you remotely take charge of their computer so you can show them how to do something, or you can do it for them while they watch. Almost anything can be done remotely with this software. You can even keep a live video chat open at the same time you’re helping them.

If you are interested in shopping around, some other free remote access programs worth a look include Chrome Remote Desktop (go to chrome.google.com/webstore and type in “Chrome Remote Desktop” in the “Search the store” box to find it), and SkyFex (skyfex.com), which works only with Windows.

Skype also has a screen share feature (see skype.com/en/features/scre en-sharing) that lets you share your screen and video chat at the same time, but you can’t actually take control of the other person’s computer. You can only show them what they should be doing by demonstrating it on your own desktop.


Professional tech support

If your parents need more tech support than you are able to manage, another option to consider is to sign them up with a tech support company like Geek Squad (geeksquad.com, 800-433-5778), which also offers remote access capabilities to help your parents with almost any computer issue.

Whenever they would need assistance, they could call the Geek Squad toll-free number anytime, 24 hours a day, or log in to their website.

A Geek Squad representative would then help them initiate a remote access session, so they could remotely show them how to do something, or make repairs or adjustments to their computer. Once the call is completed, the remote control access would be disconnected from your parents’ computer.

In addition to the remote access help, Geek Squad tech support also offers free antivirus software, they cover up to three computers (or other devices), and provide unlimited phone and in-person tech support at any Best Buy store. Costs range from $200 for one year, $280 for two years or $350 for three years, with a 15 percent discount available to AARP members.

NEXT TUESDAY: What are your old items worth? There are ways to find out.

 

 

 

 Milwaukee events  |  Waukesha events  |  Washington Co. events Ozaukee Co. events Milwaukee news  |  Waukesha Co. news Washington Co. News  |  West Bend Daily News  |  Waukesha Freeman | Ozaukee Co. News Graphic | Oconomowoc Enterprise