SAVVY SENIOR
How to get social security benefits when you’re disabled  

 

August 26, 2014

Jim Miller


Q: What do I need to do to get Social Security disability? I’m 57 years old and have some health issues that are keeping me from working, but I’ve heard it’s very difficult to get benefits.
 

A: The process of getting Social Security disability benefits can be tricky and time-consuming, but you can help yourself by doing your homework and getting prepared.

Last year, around 3 million people applied for Social Security disability benefits, but two-thirds of them were denied, because most applicants fail to prove that they’re disabled and can’t work. Here are some steps you can take that will improve your odds.

 

Get informed

The first thing you need to find out is if your health problem qualifies you for Social Security disability benefits.

You generally will be eligible only if you have a health problem that is expected to prevent you from working in your current line of work (or any other line of work that you have been in over the past 15 years) for at least a year, or result in death.

There is no such thing as a partial disability benefit. If you’re fit enough to work part-time, your application will be denied. You also need not apply if you still are working with the intention of quitting if your application is approved, because if you’re working your application will be denied.

Your skill set and age are factors too. Your application will be denied if your work history suggests that you have the skills to perform a less physically demanding job that your disability does not prevent you from doing.

To help you determine if you are disabled, visit ssa.gov/dibplan/dqualify5.htm and go through the five questions Social Security uses to determine disability.

 

How to apply

If you believe you have a claim, your next step is to gather up your personal, financial and medical information so you can be prepared and organized for the application process.

You can apply either online at ssa.gov/applyfordisability, or call 800-772-1213 to make an appointment to apply at your local Social Security office or to set up an appointment for someone to take your claim over the phone.

The whole process lasts about an hour. If you schedule an appointment, a “Disability Starter Kit” that will help you get ready for your interview will be mailed to you. If you apply online, the kit is available at ssa.gov/disability.

It takes three to five months from the initial application to receive either an award or denial of benefits. The only exception is if you have a chronic illness that qualifies you for a “compassionate allowance” (see ssa.gov/compassionateallowances), which fast tracks cases within weeks.

If Social Security denies your initial application, you can appeal the decision, and you’ll be happy to know that roughly half of all cases that go through a round or two of appeals end with benefits being awarded. But the bad news is with backlog of about 900,000 people currently waiting for a hearing it may take a year or longer for you to get one.
 

Get help

You can hire a representative to help you with your Social Security disability claim. By law, representatives can charge only 25 percent of past-due benefits up to a maximum of $6,000, if they win your case.

It’s probably worth hiring someone at the start of the application process if your disability is something difficult to prove such as chronic pain. If, however, your disability is obvious, it might be worth initially working without a representative to avoid paying the fee. You can always hire a representative later if your initial application and first appeal are denied.

To find a representative, check with the National Association of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (nosscr.org, 800-431-2804) or National Association of Disability Representatives (nadr.org, 800-747-6131). Or, if you’re low-income, contact the Legal Services Corporation (lsc.gov/find-legal-aid) for free assistance.





How to get a Medicare covered power scooter or wheelchair   
August 19, 2014


Q: What’s the process for getting Medicare to pay for an electric mobility scooter or power wheelchair? My 76-year-old mother has arthritis in her knees and hips, and has a difficult time getting around anymore.
 

A: Getting an electric-powered mobility scooter or wheelchair for your mom that’s covered by original Medicare starts with a visit to her doctor’s office. If eligible, Medicare will pay 80 percent of the cost, after she meets her $147 Part B deductible. She will be responsible for the remaining 20 percent. Here’s a breakdown of how it works.
 

Make an appointment

Your first step is to call your mom’s doctor and schedule a Medicare required, face-to-face mobility evaluation, to determine her need for a power wheelchair or scooter. For your mom to be eligible, she’ll need to meet all of the following conditions:

- Her health condition makes moving around her home very difficult, even with the help of a cane, walker or manual wheelchair.

- She has significant problems performing activities of daily living like bathing, dressing, getting in or out of a bed or chair, or using the bathroom.

- She is able to safely operate, and get on and off the scooter or wheelchair, or have someone with her who is always available to help her safely use the device.

If eligible, your mom’s doctor will determine what kind of mobility equipment she’ll need based on her condition, usability in her home, and ability to operate it.

It’s also important to know that Medicare coverage is dependent on your mom needing a scooter or wheelchair in her home. If her claim is based on needing it outside her home, it will be denied as not medically necessary, because the wheelchair or scooter will be considered as a leisure item.

 

Where to shop

If the doctor determines your mom needs a power scooter or wheelchair, he or she will fill out a written order or certificate of medical necessity (CMN) form for her. Once she gets that, she’ll need to take it to a Medicare approved supplier within 45 days. If your mother happens to live in one of Medicare’s competitive bidding areas, you’ll need to get her device from specific suppliers approved by Medicare. To find approved suppliers and competitive bidding suppliers in your area, visit medicare.gov/supplier or call 800-633-4227.

Once you choose an approved supplier, they will send a representative to assess your mom’s home measuring her doorways, thresholds and overall space to ensure she gets the appropriate mobility device.

 

Financial assistance

If your mom has a Medicare supplemental policy, it may pick up some, or all of the 20 percent cost of the scooter or wheelchair that’s not covered by Medicare. If, however, she doesn’t have supplemental insurance, and can’t afford the 20 percent, she may be able to get help through Medicare Savings Programs. Call your local Medicaid office for eligibility information.

Or, if you find that your mom is not eligible for a Medicare covered scooter or wheelchair, and she can’t afford to purchase one, renting can be a much cheaper short-term solution. Talk to a supplier about this option.

For more information, call Medicare at 800-633-4227 and request a copy of publication #11046 “Medicare’s Wheelchair and Scooter Benefit,” or you can read it online at medicare.gov/publications/pubs/pdf/11046.pdf.

 

Medicare advantage

If your mom happens to have a Medicare Advantage plan (like an HMO or PPO), she’ll need to call her plan to find out the specific steps she needs to take to get a wheelchair or scooter. Many Advantage plans may have specific suppliers within the plan’s network they’ll require her to use.





 

Life insurance in retirement  
August 12, 2014


Q: Is life insurance needed in retirement? I’m about to retire and have been thinking about dropping my policy to escape the premiums. Is this a good idea?
 

A: While many retirees choose to stop paying their life insurance premiums when they no longer have young families to take care of, there are a few reasons you may still want to keep your policy. Here are some different points to consider that can help you determine if you still need life insurance in retirement.

Dependents: Life insurance is designed to help protect your spouse and children from poverty in the case of your untimely death. But if your children are grown and are on their own, and you have sufficient financial resources to cover you and your spouse’s retirement costs, then there is little need to continue to have life insurance.

But, if you had a child late in life or have a relative with special needs who is dependent on you for income, it makes sense to keep paying the premiums on your policy.

You also need to make sure your spouse’s retirement income will not take a significant hit when you die. Check out the conditions of your pension or annuity (if you have them) to see if they stop paying when you die, and factor in your lost Social Security income too. If you find that your spouse will lose a significant portion of income upon your death, you may want to keep the policy to help make up the difference.

Work: Will you need to take another job in retirement to earn income? Since life insurance helps replace lost income to your family when you die, you may want to keep your policy if your spouse or other family members are relying on that income. If, however, you have very little income from your retirement job, then there’s probably no need to continue with the policy.

Estate taxes: Life insurance can also be a handy estate-planning tool. If, for example, you own a business that you want to keep in the family and you don’t have enough liquid assets to take care of the estate taxes, you can sometimes use a life insurance policy to help your heirs pay off Uncle Sam when you die.

It’s a good idea to talk to a disinterested third party (not your insurance agent), like an estate planning expert or a fee-only financial planner to help you determine if your life insurance policy can help you with this.

 

Life settlement option

If you find that you don’t need your life insurance policy any longer, you may want to consider selling it in a “life settlement” transaction to a third party company for more than the cash surrender value would be, but less than its net death benefit.  The best candidates are people over age 65 who own a policy with a face value of $250,000 or more.

Once you sell your policy, however, the life settlement company becomes the new owner, pays the future premiums and collects the death benefit when you die.

How much money you can expect to get with a life settlement will depend on your age, health and life expectancy, the type of insurance policy, the premium costs and the value of your policy. Most sellers generally get 12 to 25 percent of the death benefit.

If you’re interested in this option, get quotes from several brokers or life settlement providers. Also, find out what fees you’ll be required to pay. To locate credible providers or brokers, the Life Insurance Settlement Association provides a referral service at lisa.org.

 


 

How to find the best reacher grabber tool  
August 5, 2014


Q: What kinds of reacher grabber tools can you recommend for seniors who need help picking things up off the ground. I bought a cheap one at Walmart a few months ago that doesn’t work very well for me, and would like to find one that does.
 

A: A good reacher grabber is a very handy tool for anyone with mobility issues. It works like an extension of your arm allowing you to reach down and pick things up off the ground without bending or stooping over. It can also help with reaching and grabbing things in high overhead places, as well as areas that are difficult to get to.

But with so many different reachers on the market today, finding a good one that works well for you is not always easy. Depending on your needs, here are some top options to consider.

Lightweight reacher: If you want a reacher primarily for picking up small lightweight items around the house, the “Aluminum Reacher with Magnetic Tip” by Duro-Med is multifunctional. Available in 32 and 26-inch lengths, it has a trigger-style handgrip with a serrated jaw that provides a secure grip when lifting objects. It also has a magnet built into the tip for picking up lightweight metal objects like a paperclip, and a small hook (or horn) that aids in retrieving things like clothes, shoes or keys. But, because of its lightweight design, it doesn’t work as well at retrieving heaver items like canned goods from shelves.

All-purpose reacher: For retrieving small and medium-sized items, the “Ettore Grip’n Grab” can handle most chores. Available in 16, 32 and 50-inch lengths, it has a soft comfortable trigger handgrip and a rubberized jaw that’s strong enough to lift objects up to 5 pounds and up to 4 inches wide, yet sensitive enough to pick up something as small as a dime. The jaw can also swivel 90 degrees to reach things in awkward spaces.

Ergonomic handle reachers: If you have hand or wrist arthritis that makes gripping difficult, the 31-inch “Medline Reacher” has a handgrip that lets you use all five fingers to close the jaw for better gripping power. Or, consider the new “HealthSmart GripLoc Sliding Reacher,” a 43-inch two-handed reacher with a power slide handle that opens and closes the jaw (no hand squeezing required), and a twist lock that locks the jaw when it’s clinched to secure your item.

Folding reacher: For easier storage or travel, the 32-inch “EZ Reacher Collapsible” has a slip-joint in the arm that allows it to fold in half. It also has stainless steel fingers with silicone suction cup tips that do a nice job of picking up large and small items; and a pistol grip with an optional safety lock that locks the jaw onto items without continuously squeezing the trigger.

Adjustable length reacher: If you need a reacher for various lengths, the “PikStik TelescoPik” has a lockable sliding shaft that adjusts from 30 to 44 inches. It also has a trigger grip and a rotating rubberized jaw that can lift up to 5 pounds.

Outdoor reacher: For outdoor use, the 36-inch “Unger Nifty Nabber” is ideal for heavy-duty jobs. It has a rubber-coated jaw for a strong and reliable grip with a built-in magnet, an aluminum handle and can lift 20 pounds.
 

Where to buy

You can buy reacher grabbers at many pharmacies, retail, medical equipment and home improvement stores. But, because it’s a specialty item, the selection is very limited. Your best bet is to buy one online at amazon.com, which sells all of the top reachers at prices ranging between $12 and $40. Just type the product name in the search bar to find it.





Food assistance programs can help seniors in need
July 30, 2014


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.

 

 

 

 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