I’m interested in getting my 72-year-old mother a
smartphone, but want to get one that’s very easy for her
to use. What can you recommend?
There are several different ways you can go about
getting your mom a simplified smartphone that’s easy for
her to use. Depending on how much you’re willing to
spend, here are some different options to consider.
Simplify a used
cheapest way to set your mom up with an easy-to-use,
uncomplicated smartphone is to get her a secondhand
Android phone, and install a senior-friendly “launcher
app” on it, which is a user interface software
type of launcher will turn the appearance and
performance of most android smartphone into a simplified
phone with big understandable icons for commonly used
features (phone, text messaging, camera, contacts, etc.)
and no excess clutter. Most launchers can also be
customized to fit your mom’s needs and preferences.
There are a variety of launcher apps available today
that provide this type of technology and are completely
free to use. Some popular options include Necta Launcher
(launcher.necta.us), Wiser (wiser-me.com), Seniors Phone
(seniorsphone.mobi), Fontrillo (fontrillo.com) and Big
Launcher (biglauncher.com), which also offers an
upgraded version for $9.
if you have an old Apple iPhone that you’d like to
convert, check out Silverline Mobile (silverline.mobi)
that converts both Apple and androids for free.
Purchase a new phone
If you’re interested in purchasing your mom a new
smartphone, you have options here, too. For starters,
you could purchase her a smartphone that’s specifically
designed for seniors, like GreatCall’s Touch3 that costs
$150 (with no contract) at greatcall.com or
800-918-8543. This is an Android phone, made by Samsung,
that has a 4-inch touchscreen and provides a simple menu
list to often-used features like the phone, text
messages, camera, pictures, email and Internet, along
with your contacts and apps.
also offers a variety of health and safety features like
the “5Star app” that would let your mom speak to a
certified agent 24/7 that could identify her location
and get her the help she needs. “Urgent Care,” which
provides access to registered nurses and doctors for
advice and diagnoses. And “MedCoach,” which sends
Another way you could go is to purchase her a
standard/mainstream smartphone that provides a built-in
“Easy Mode” or “Simple” feature in the phone’s settings.
This will let you convert the phone into a much simpler
mode of operation, that provides larger, well-labeled
icons, to only commonly used functions like the phone,
camera, messaging, Internet, pictures, contacts and her
Smartphones that offer the “Easy Mode” or “Simple”
feature include the Samsung Galaxy phones, which are
available through most phone carriers at prices
typically ranging between $400 and $850 without a
contract. Or, for a more budget-friendly option, the
Huawei Vision 2 and Huawei Ascend Mate 2, which you can
buy as an unlocked phone or through Consumer Cellular (consumercellular.com,
888-345-5509) for $80 or $225 without a contract.
Consumer Cellular is a top-rated no-contract service
provider that also offers discounts to AARP members.
nice advantage of getting your mom a mainstream phone is
that if she masters the Easy/Simple mode (or gets bored
with it), and is ready to expand her skills, you can
always switch the phone back to the standard operation
mode exposing her to more options. You can also add any
number of health and safety features to her phone, like
what the Touch3 offers, by downloading their apps at
How to Protect Yourself from Osteoporosis Bone Fractures
Feb. 24, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can a person in their early 50’s have osteoporosis? When
I fell and broke my wrist last winter the doctor that
treated me told me I might have osteoporosis. What can
you tell me?
While osteoporosis is much more common in older seniors,
it can strike at any age. In fact, the National
Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that half of women and
up to 25 percent of men in the U.S. over the age of 50
will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Here’s what you
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the bones to
become brittle and weak and more susceptible to
fractures. Around 10 million Americans already have
osteoporosis (80 percent are women) while another 43
million have “pre-osteoporosis,” or osteopenia. But the
good news is this disease is both preventable and
people, by the time they reach their late 30’s,
gradually start losing some of their bone mass, but for
women, menopause is the time when this process really
accelerates. Bone loss for men occurs much more slowly.
However, by age 75, osteoporosis is as common in men as
it is in women.
of the key risk factors of developing osteoporosis
include: being over age 50; being female; menopause;
having a family history of the disease; being small and
thin; having an eating disorder; not getting enough
calcium and vitamin D; getting too much protein, sodium
and caffeine; having an inactive lifestyle; smoking;
drinking too much alcohol; taking certain medications
(see nof.org/articles/6 for a list); and having certain
medical conditions (see nof.org/articles/5).
help you determine your risk of osteoporosis, the
National Institutes of Health has a quick, online quiz
you can take at bonecheckup.org.
Prevention and Treatment
good first step in preventing and treating osteoporosis
is to get screened. For women, that should start around
menopause, especially if you’re not taking estrogen, or
anyone who has broken a bone after age 50 or who has
other risk factors.
women over 65 and men over 70 should be tested every two
years - Medicare covers it. Screening for osteoporosis
is a simple, painless, bone density test, which takes
about five minutes.
Here’s what else you can do to protect your bones.
Boost your calcium: The best way to get bone-building
calcium is through your diet. Dairy products (low-fat
milk, cheeses and yogurt), dark green leafy vegetables
(broccoli, kale, collards), sardines and salmon, cooked
dried beans, soy foods, almonds and fortified cereals
and juices are all good sources of calcium. Vitamin D is
also important to help you body absorb calcium.
National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends 1,000 mg of
calcium daily for women under age 50 and for men under
70, and 1,200 mg for women 51 and older and for men over
71. Note: Recent studies have found that excess calcium
could increase the risk of heart disease.
also recommend all adults under age 50 get 400 to 800 IU
of vitamin D, or 800 to 1,000 IU if you’re over 50. If
you’re not getting enough vitamin D through sunlight or
food, consider taking a supplement. Most daily
multivitamins contain at least 400 IU.
Exercise: Weight-bearing exercises like walking, and
strength training with weights or resistant bands three
or four times a week can also significantly improve your
Control these vices: Avoid smoking, limit alcohol to no
more than two or three drinks per day, and limit
caffeine (coffee, tea or caffeinated soda) to three cups
Consider medications: The most widely prescribed for
osteoporosis are bisphosphonates, a class of drugs
designed to slow or stop bone loss. Talk to your doctor
about these and other medication options, as well as
potential side effects.
You Need To File A Tax Return in 2015?
Feb. 18, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the IRS income tax filing requirements for
retirees this tax season? I didn't have to file last
year, but I picked up a little income from a part-time
job in 2014, and I'm wondering I need to file this year.
Whether or not you are required to file a federal income
tax return this year will depend on how much you earned
(gross income) - and the source of that income - as well
as your filing status and your age. Your gross income
includes all the income you receive that is not exempt
from tax, not counting your Social Security benefits,
unless you are married and filing separately
Here's a rundown of the IRS filing requirements for this
tax season. If your 2014 gross income was below the
threshold for your age and filing status, you probably
won't have to file. But if it's over, you will.
Single: $10,150 ($11,700 if you're 65 or older by Jan.
Married filing jointly: $20,300 ($21,500 if you or your
spouse is 65 or older; or $22,700 if you're both over
Married filing separately: $3,950 at any age.
Head of household: $13,050 ($14,600 if age 65 or older).
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $16,350
($17,550 if age 65 or older).
get a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements,
along with information on taxable and nontaxable income,
call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a
free copy of the “Tax Guide for Seniors” (publication
554), or see irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p554.pdf.
There are, however, some other financial situations that
will require you to file a tax return, even if your
gross income falls below the IRS filing requirement. For
example, if you had earnings from self-employment in
2014 of $400 or more, or if you owe any special taxes to
the IRS such as alternative minimum tax or IRA tax
penalties, you'll probably need to file.
figure this out, the IRS offers a tool on their website
that asks a series of questions that will help you
determine if you're required to file, or if you should
file because you're due a refund.
can access this page at irs.gov/filing - click on “Do
you need to file a return?” Or, you can get assistance
over the phone by calling the IRS helpline at
800-829-1040. You can also get face-to-face help at a
Taxpayer Assistance Center. See irs.gov/localcontacts or
call 800-829-1040 to locate a center near you.
Check Your State
Even if you're not required to file a federal tax return
this year, don't assume that you're also excused from
filing state income taxes. The rules for your state
might be very different. Check with your state tax
agency before concluding that you're entirely in the
clear. For links to state and local tax agencies see
taxadmin.org - click on “State Agencies/Links” on the
you find that you do need to file a tax return this
year, you can get help through the Tax Counseling for
the Elderly (or TCE) program. Sponsored by the IRS, TEC
provides free tax preparation and counseling to middle
and low-income taxpayers, age 60 and older. Call
800-906-9887 or visit irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep to
locate a service near you.
check with AARP, a participant in the TCE program that
provides free tax preparation at more than 5,000 sites
nationwide. To locate an AARP Tax-Aide site call
888-227-7669 or visit aarp.org/findtaxhelp. You don't
have to be an AARP member to use this service.
Who should buy long-term care insurance?
Feb. 10, 2015
Q: Is there a good rule of thumb on who should buy a
long-term care insurance policy? My wife and I have a
few assets we’d like to protect but we hate the idea of
paying expensive monthly premiums for a policy we may
There are two key factors - your financial situation and
health history - you need to mull over that can help you
decide if buying a long-term care (LTC) insurance policy
is a wise decision for you and/or your wife. Currently,
only around 8 million Americans own a policy. Here’s
what you should know.
the cost of LTC (which includes nursing home, assisted
living and in-home care) continues to skyrocket, it’s
important to know that most people pay for LTC either
from personal savings or Medicaid when their savings is
depleted, or through a LTC insurance policy. National
median average costs for nursing home care today is over
$87,000 per year, while assisted living averages
While national statistics show that about 70 percent of
Americans 65 and older will need some kind of LTC, most
people do not need to purchase a LTC insurance policy.
fact, according to a recent study at the Boston College
Center for Retirement Research only 19 percent of men
and 31 percent of women should actually get one.
reasons stem from a range of factors, including the fact
that relatively few people have enough wealth to protect
to make purchasing a policy worthwhile. Seniors with
limited financial resources who need LTC turn to
Medicaid to pick up the tab after they run out of money.
Another important factor is that most seniors who need
LTC only need it for a short period of time - for
example, when they’re recovering from surgery. For those
people, Medicare covers in-home health care and nursing
home stays of 100 days or less following a hospital stay
of more than 3 consecutive days.
who should consider buying a policy?
insurance policies make the most sense for people who
can afford the monthly premiums, and who have assets of
at least $150,000 or more that they want to protect -
not counting their home and vehicles.
Another factor to weigh is your personal health and
family health history. The two most common reasons
seniors need extended long-term care is because of
dementia and/or disability. And, almost half of all
people who live in nursing homes are 85 years or older.
So, what’s your family history for Alzheimer’s, stroke
or some other disabling health condition, and do you
have a family history of longevity? The U.S. Surgeon
General offers a free tool at familyhistory.hhs.gov to
help you collect, organize and evaluate your genetic
also need to factor in gender too. Because women live
and average of 5 years longer than men, they are at
greater risk of needing extended LTC.
After evaluating your situation, if you’re leaning
towards buying a LTC policy, be sure to do your
homework. The cost of premiums can vary greatly (ranging
anywhere between $1,200 and $8,000 per year for a
couple) depending on your age, the insurer, and the
policy’s provisions. To help you find a policy, get a
long-term care insurance specialist who works with a
variety of companies. See aaltci.org to locate one. Also
shop insurers like Northwestern Mutual and New York
Life, who work only with their own agents.
you want to save money, find out if your state offers a
LTC partnership program (see aaltci.org/partnership).
Under these programs, if you buy a long-term care policy
approved by your state Medicaid agency, you can protect
an amount of assets from Medicaid equal to the benefits
that your policy pays out.
How to make your bathroom safer
Feb. 3, 2014
Q: What tips do you recommend for making a bathroom
safer and more functional for seniors. My 79-year-old
mother slipped and fell getting out of the shower last
month, and I’d like to modify her bathroom a bit with
some safety features that can help protect her.
more accidents and injuries happen in the bathroom than
any other room in the house, this is a very important
room to modify for aging in place. Depending on your
mom’s needs, here are some tips for each part of the
bathroom that can make it safer and easier to use.
Flooring: To avoid slipping, a simple fix is to get
non-skid bath rugs for the floors. Or if you want to put
in a new floor get slip-resistant tiles, rubber or vinyl
flooring, or install wall-to-wall carpeting.
Lighting: Good lighting is also very important, so
install the highest wattage bulbs allowed for your mom’s
bathroom fixtures, and get a plug-in nightlight that
automatically turns on when the room gets dark.
Bathtub/shower: To make bathing safer, purchase a rubber
suction-grip mat, or put down adhesive nonskid tape on
the tub/shower floor. And have a carpenter install grab
bars in and around the tub/shower for support.
your mom uses a shower curtain, install a screw or
bolt-mounted curtain rod, versus a tension-mounted rod,
so that if she loses her balance and grabs the shower
curtain the rod won’t spring loose.
your mom has mobility issues or balance problems, get
her a shower or bathtub seat so she can bathe from a
seated position. In addition, you may also want to get a
handheld, adjustable-height showerhead installed that
will make washing while sitting down easier.
Another, pricier option is to install a walk-in-bathtub
or a prefabricated curbless shower. Walk-in tubs have a
door in front that provides a much lower threshold to
step over than a standard tub. They also typically have
a built-in seat, handrails and a slip resistant bottom,
and some have therapeutic spa features with whirlpool
water jets and/or bubble massage air jets.
Curbless showers have no threshold to step over, and
typically come with a built-in seat, grab bars, slip
resistant floors and an adjustable handheld showerhead.
Prefabricated curbless showers and walk-in-tubs
typically cost anywhere between $2,500 and $10,000
Toilet: Most toilets are about 14 to 16 inches high
which can be an issue for many people with arthritis,
back, hip or knee problems. To raise the toilet height,
which can make sitting down and getting back up a little
easier, you can purchase a raised toilet seat that
clamps to the toilet bowl, and/or purchase toilet safety
rails that sit on each side of the seat for support. Or,
you can install an ADA compliant toilet that ranges
between 17 and 19 inches high.
Faucets: If your mom has twist handles on the sink,
bathtub or shower faucets, replace them with lever
handle faucets. They’re easier to operate, especially
for seniors with arthritis or limited hand strength.
Also note that it only takes 130-degree water to scald
someone, so turn her hot water heater down to 120
Entrance: If your mom needs a wider bathroom entrance to
accommodate a walker or wheelchair, install some “swing
clear” offset hinges on the door which will widen the
doorway an additional two inches.
Emergency assistance: As a safety precaution, purchase a
waterproof phone for the bathroom or get a medical alert
device (SOS emergency call button) that your mom could
wear in case she falls and needs to call for help.
can find all of the products suggested in this column at
either medical supply stores, pharmacies, big-box
stores, home improvement stores, hardware and plumbing
supply stores as well as online.
How to take care of your kidneys
Jan. 27, 2015
Q: What can you tell me about kidney disease? My mother
died from kidney failure a few years ago at age 76, and
I’m curious what my risks are and what I can do to
Anyone who has a family history of kidney disease, or
who has high blood pressure or diabetes is at risk and
needs to have their kidneys tested. Here’s what you
should know and some tips to help you take care of your
More than 26 million Americans currently have chronic
kidney disease (when the kidneys can’t properly do their
job of cleaning toxins and wastes from the blood), and
millions more are at risk of developing it, yet most
people don’t realize it. That’s because kidney disease
develops very slowly over many years before any symptoms
arise. But left untreated, the disease can eventually
require people to spend hours hooked up to a dialysis
machine or get a kidney transplant. Even mild kidney
problems can double a person’s risk of heart attack and
stroke, as well as cause anemia and bone disease.
reason kidney disease has become so widespread today is
because of the rise of obesity, type-2 diabetes and high
blood pressure which all strain the kidneys.
Another factor is the increasing number of people who
take multiple medications, which can overtax the organs.
People over age 60 are especially vulnerable both
because they tend to take more drugs, and because kidney
function normally declines somewhat with age.
help you rate your risk of kidney disease, the National
Kidney Foundation has a quick, online quiz you can take
Because kidney disease has no early symptoms, the only
way to catch it before it advances is to have a simple
blood and urine test by your doctor. So, if you have
diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, a family
history of kidney disease, or are age 60 or older you
need to get tested. African, Hispanic, Asian and Indian
Americans along with Pacific Islanders are also at
you’re diagnosed with kidney disease you need to know
that there’s no cure, but there are steps you can take
to help contain the damage, including:
Control your blood pressure: If you have high blood
pressure, get it under 130/80. If you need medication to
do it, ACE inhibitors and ARBs are good choices because
of their proven ability to protect the kidneys.
Control your diabetes: If you have diabetes, keep your
blood sugar as close to normal as possible.
Change your diet: This usually means reducing the amount
of protein and phosphorus you eat, and cutting back on
sodium and possibly potassium. Your doctor can help you
determine an appropriate eating plan, or you may want to
talk to a dietitian. Also see myfoodcoach.kidney.org
where you’ll find lots of kidney friendly recipes and
Watch your meds: Dozens of commonly used drugs can
damage the kidneys, especially when taken in high doses
over long periods - most notably NSAIDs like ibuprofen
(Advil, Motrin and generic) and naproxen (Aleve,
Naprosyn and generic). Herbal supplements can also be
very dangerous. Talk to your doctor about all the
prescription, over-the-counter and herbal products you
take to identify potential problems and find
Exercise and lose weight: If you’re overweight and
inactive, start an aerobic fitness routine (walk, swim,
cycle, etc.) that gets your heart pumping. This will
help lower your blood pressure, control diabetes and
help you lose excess weight all of which will help your
smoking: If you smoke, quit. Heart disease becomes a
much greater risk to the kidneys if your smoke. Smoking
also doubles the rate of progression to end-stage renal
Getting around when you no longer drive
Jan. 20, 2015
Q: Where can I find out about alternative transportation
options for my elderly mother? She needs to give up
driving, but before she does, we need to figure out how
she’ll get around.
Alternative transportation services vary widely by
community, so what’s available to your mom will depend
on where she lives. Here’s what you should know.
For starters it’s important to know that while most
urban areas offer seniors a variety of transportation
services, the options may be few to none for those
living in the suburbs, small towns and rural areas.
Alternative transportation is an essential link in
helping seniors who no longer drive get to their
doctor’s appointments, stores, social activities and
Depending on where your mom lives, here’s a rundown of
possible solutions that can help her get around, along
with some resources to help you locate them.
Family and friends: This is by far the most often used
and favorite option among seniors. So make a list of all
possible candidates your mom can call on, along with
their availability and contact information.
Local transportation programs: These are usually
sponsored by nonprofit organizations that serve seniors.
These services may charge a nominal fee or accept
donations and often operate with the help of volunteer
check out the Independent Transportation Network (itnamerica.org),
which is a national nonprofit that has 27 affiliate
transportation programs in 23 states. With this program,
seniors pay membership dues and fees based on mileage.
And, most programs will let your mom donate her car in
return for credits toward future rides.
Demand response services: Often referred to as
“dial-a-ride” or “elderly and disabled transportation
service,” these are typically government-funded programs
that provide door-to-door transportation services by
appointment and usually charge a small fee or donation
on a per ride basis. Many use vans and offer accessible
services for riders with special needs.
or car service: These private services offer flexible
scheduling but can be expensive, however, they’re
cheaper than owning a car. Some taxi/car services may be
willing to set up accounts that allow other family
members to pay for services and some may offer senior
discounts. Be sure to ask.
Another option to look into is ride-sharing services,
which connects people with cars, with people who need
rides. Uber (uber.com), Lyft (lyft.com) and Sidecar (side.cr)
are three of the largest companies offering services in
dozens of cities across the U.S.
Private program services: Some hospitals, health
clinics, senior centers, adult day centers, malls or
other businesses may offer transportation for program
participants or customers. And some nonmedical home-care
agencies that bill themselves as providing companionship
and running errands or doing chores may also provide
transit: Public transportation (buses, trains, subways,
etc.) where available, can also be an affordable option
and may offer senior reduced rates.
someone: If your mom lives in an area where there are
limited or no transportation services available, another
option to consider is to pay someone in the community to
drive her. Consider hiring a neighbor, retiree, high
school or college student that has a flexible schedule
and wouldn’t mind making a few extra bucks.
To find out what transportation services are available
in your mom’s community, contact the Rides in Sight
national toll-free call center at 855-607-4337 (or see
www.ridesinsight.org), and the Eldercare Locator
800-677-1116, which will direct you to her area agency
on aging for assistance.
contact local senior centers, places of worship and
retirement communities for other possible options. And
check with her state department of transportation at
www.fhwa.dot.gov/webstate.htm, and the American Public
Transportation Association at publictransportation.org.
How to claim the retirement saver’s tax credit
Jan. 13, 2015
A coworker was recently telling me about a tax credit
she got last year for simply contributing to our
company’s 401(k) plan. What can you tell me about this,
and who’s eligible?
It’s called the “retirement saver’s tax credit,” and
it’s a frequently overlooked credit that’s available to
low and moderate-income individuals and families who
make saving for retirement a priority. Here’s how it
your contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA, or an
employer sponsored plan like a 401(k), 457, 403(b), SEP
plan, SIMPLE IRA or other retirement-savings plan, the
retirement saver’s tax credit will allow you to claim
10, 20 or 50 percent of your contribution, depending on
your income, up to a maximum of $1,000 per person or
$2,000 per couple.
qualify, you must also be at least 18 years old and not
a full-time student, and were not claimed as a dependent
on someone else’s tax return. And your adjusted gross
income in 2015 must be $61,000 or less as a married
couple filing jointly, $45,750 or less if filing as head
of household, or $30,500 or less if you’re a single
filer. These income limits are adjusted annually to keep
pace with inflation.
To get the 50 percent credit, you’ll need to have an
income below $18,250 if you’re single, $27,375 if you’re
filing as head of household, and $36,500 for couples in
20 percent credit rate applies to individuals earning
between $18,251 and $19,750; for head of household
filers it’s $27,376 to $29,625; and for couples it’s
$36,501 to $39,500.
the 10 percent rate is for individuals with an adjusted
gross income between $19,751 and $30,500; for head of
household filers 29,626 to $45,750; and couples it’s
between $39,501 and $60,100.
Double tax break
You also need to know that the retirement saver’s tax
credit can be claimed in addition to the tax deduction
you get for contributing to your employer’s retirement
plan or a traditional IRA. Here’s an example of how this
Let’s say you’re married and have an income of $37,000,
and your spouse is not working. If you contribute $1,000
to your company’s 401(k) plan, your adjusted gross
income would be reduced to $36,000 on your tax return.
You would also be able to claim a 50 percent retirement
saver’s credit, which is worth $5,000, for your $1,000
in mind though that this is a tax credit, not a
deduction, so it lowers your income tax dollar for
dollar. It is, however, a nonrefundable tax credit,
which means it cannot reduce the amount of tax owed to
less than zero.
How to claim
To claim the credit, you will need to fill out Form 8880
(see irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8880.pdf) and attach it to
your 1040, 1040A or 1040NR when you file your tax
return. Don’t use the 1040EZ Form.
you think that you would have qualified for the credit
in previous years but didn’t claim it, you can file an
amended return as far back as 2011 and still get the
credits. A 2011 amended return is due by April 15, 2015.
See IRS Form 1040X (irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1040x.pdf) for
instructions on how to file an amended return.
for more information on the retirement saver’s tax
credit, see IRS Publication 590 “Individual Retirement
you don’t have Internet access to see or download these
forms, call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail
them to you.
How to keep tabs on an elderly parent when you can’t be
Jan. 7, 2015
Q: Can you recommend any caregiving devices or
technology products that help families keep an eye on an
elderly parent that lives alone? Over the holidays, my
sister and I noticed that my dad’s health has slipped,
so we would like to find something that helps us keep
closer tabs on him when we’re not around.
There are many different assistive technology products
available today that can help families keep an eye on an
elderly loved one when they can’t be there. Depending on
your dad’s needs and how much you’re willing to spend,
here are some good options to consider.
If you’re primarily worried about your dad falling and
needing help, one of the most commonly used and
affordable products for seniors living alone is a
personal emergency response system (PERS) - also known
as a medical alert device.
about a dollar or two a day, these systems provide a
wearable pendent button - typically in the form of a
necklace pendent or wristband - and a base station that
connects to the home phone line.
the press of a button, your dad could call and talk to a
trained operator through the system’s base station
receiver, which works like a powerful speakerphone. The
operator will find out what’s wrong, and will notify
family members, a neighbor, friend or emergency services
PERS today even offer motion-sensitive pendants that can
detect a fall and automatically call for help. And some
offer GPS mobile-alert pendants that work anywhere. Some
top companies that offer all levels of services include
Philips Lifeline (www.lifelinesys.com, 800-380-3111),
Medical Alert (www.medicalalert.com, 800-800-2537) and
MobileHelp (www.mobilehelpnow.com, 800-992-0616).
If you want to keep closer tabs on your dad than what a
PERS offers, consider a sensor monitoring system. These
systems use small wireless sensors (not cameras) placed
in key areas of your dad’s home that can detect changes
in his activity patterns, and will notify you via text
message or email if something out of the ordinary is
happening. For instance, if he went to the bathroom and
didn’t leave, it could indicate a fall or other
can also check up on his patterns anytime you want
through the system’s website. And for additional
protection, most services also offer PERS call buttons
that can be placed around the house, or worn.
good companies that offer these services are GrandCare
Systems (www.grandcare.com, 262-338-6147), which charges
$300 for their activity sensors, plus a $50 monthly
service fee. And BeClose (www.beclose.com,
866-574-1784), which runs $399 for three sensors, and a
$69 monthly service fee if paid a year in advance.
you’re interested in a more budget-friendly option,
consider Lively (www.mylively.com, 888-757-0711), which
costs only $50 with a $35 monthly service fee. Lively
uses small motion sensors that you attach to movable
objects like a pillbox, refrigerator door, front door,
etc. These sensors will track your dad’s
movement/activity and let you know of any abnormalities
in his routines. For example, if he didn’t pick up his
pillbox to get his medicine, or he didn’t open the front
door to go out and retrieve his morning newspaper, you
would be notified and can check on him. Lively also
offers a PERS “safety watch” in case he falls or needs
to call for help.
Another affordable option to check out is Evermind (www.evermind.us,
855-677-7625), which lets you keep an eye on your dad by
monitoring his frequently used electrical appliances
through small plug-in sensors. So, for example, if your
dad doesn’t turn on the coffee maker in the morning, or
if he’s not watching his favorite television program
before bedtime, you would be notified. Evermind costs
$199 for the three sensors, plus a $29 monthly service
How to appeal when Medicare won’t pay
Jan. 2, 2014
How does one go about appealing Medicare when they won’t
pay for something that has been covered in the past?
If you disagree with a coverage or payment decision made
by Medicare, you can appeal, and you’ll be happy to know
that around half of all appeals are successful, so it’s
definitely worth your time.
before going that route, talk with the doctor, hospital
and Medicare to see if you can spot the problem and
resubmit the claim. Some denials are caused by simple
billing code errors by the doctor’s office or hospital.
If, however, that doesn’t fix the problem, here’s how
Original Medicare appeals
you have original Medicare, start with your quarterly
Medicare Summary Notice. This statement will list all
the services, supplies and equipment billed to Medicare
for your medical treatment, and will tell you why a
claim was denied.
There are five levels of appeals for original Medicare,
although you can initiate a fast-track consideration for
ongoing care, such as rehabilitation. Most people have
to go through several levels to get a denial overturned.
have 120 days after receiving the MSN to request a
“redetermination” by a Medicare contractor, who reviews
the claim. Circle the items you’re disputing on the MSN,
provide an explanation of why you believe the denial
should be reversed, and include any supporting documents
like a letter from the doctor or hospital explaining why
the charge should be covered. Then send it to the
address on the form.
contractor will usually decide within 60 days after
receiving your request. If your request is denied, you
can request for “reconsideration” from a different
claims reviewer and submit additional evidence.
denial at this level ends the matter, unless the charges
in dispute are at least $140. In that case, you can
request a hearing with an administrative law judge. The
hearing is usually held by videoconference or
you have to go to the next level, you can submit the
claim to the appeals council review. Then, for claims of
at least $1,400, the final level of appeals is judicial
review in U.S. district court.
Advantage and Part D
If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage or Part D
prescription drug plan the appeals process is slightly
different. One difference is that you have only 60 days
from the date on the denial notice to file an appeal.
And in both cases, you start by appealing directly to
the plan, rather than to Medicare. Follow the plan’s
instructions on its explanation of benefits.
D has a fast-track appeal of 72 hours if you haven’t
received your medication and waiting would jeopardize
your health. Otherwise, the plan must notify you of its
decision within seven days.
more information, along with step-by-step procedures on
how to make an appeal, visit Medicare.gov and click on
the “Claims & Appeals” tab at the top of the page, or
call Medicare at 800-633-4227 and request a copy of
publication #11525 “Medicare Appeals.” You can also read
it online at medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/11525.pdf.
If you need some help, contact your State Health
Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which has
counselors that can help you understand the billing
process and even file your appeal for you for free. To
locate your local SHIP, visit shiptalk.org or call the
Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116. The Medicare Rights
Center also offers free phone counseling at
What can you tell me about lung cancer screenings? My
husband was a long-time smoker, but quit many years ago,
so I’m wondering if he should be checked out.
Dec. 15, 2014
A: According to recent recommendations from the U.S.
Preventive Services Task Force - an independent panel of
medical experts that advises the government on health
policies - if your husband is between the ages of 55 and
80, is a current smoker or quit within the last 15
years, and has a smoking history of at least 30
pack-years, he’s at high risk for lung cancer and should
talk to his doctor about getting screened.
years are determined by multiplying the number of packs
he smoked daily by the number of years he smoked.
You’ll also be happy to know that lung cancer screenings
- which are recommended annually to those at risk - will
be covered by all private health insurance plans
starting in 2015, and Medicare is expected to begin
coverage this February or March. The Medicare screening,
however, will only cover high-risk beneficiaries through
cancer kills around 160,000 Americans each year making
it the most deadly of all possible cancers. In fact,
more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and
prostate cancers combined.
Lung cancer also occurs predominantly in older adults.
About two out of every three people diagnosed with lung
cancer are 65 or older, and the risk of lung cancer
peaks at age 71.
The goal of annual screenings is to detect cancer early
before symptoms appear, so it can be cured. The
five-year survival rate among people with lung cancer
when it’s caught in its earliest stage is 77 percent,
versus only 4 to 25 percent for people whose cancer has
get screened for lung cancer, your husband will need a
low-dose computed tomography (CT) chest scan, which is a
painless, noninvasive test that generates detailed
three-dimensional images of his lungs.
the screening, he will be asked to lie on a table that
slides through the center of a large, doughnut shaped
scanner that rotates around him to take images. Each
scan takes just a few seconds, during which time he’ll
be asked to hold his breath, because movement can
produce blurred images. The entire procedure takes only
a few minutes from start to finish.
also need to be aware that a lung CT screening has its
downsides. First, it exposes you to some radiation -
about the same as a mammography but more that of a chest
CT screenings aren’t foolproof either. They can produce
a high rate of false-positive results, which means they
frequently detect small spots (abnormalities) on the
lungs that are suggestive of cancer but aren’t
cancerous. These false alarms lead to more testing and
sometimes lung biopsies, as well as unnecessary worry
Because smoking causes 80 to 90 percent of all lung
cancer cases, the best way to avoid lung cancer is to
not smoke, and if you do smoke, quit. Even if you’ve
been a smoker for a long time, quitting now still
decreases your risk. Other factors that can increase the
risk of lung cancer include exposure to secondhand
smoke, radon, asbestos and other toxic chemicals or
more information on lung cancer screenings, call the
American Lung Association at 800-586-4872, or use their
online tool (LungCancerScreeningSavesLives.org), which
will help you determine if your husband needs to be