SAVVY SENIOR
Getting around when you no longer drive  

 

Jan. 20, 2015

Jim Miller


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. 

A: 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.

 

Transportation options

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 more.

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 drivers.

Also 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.

Taxi 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 transportation.

Mass transit: Public transportation (buses, trains, subways, etc.) where available, can also be an affordable option and may offer senior reduced rates.

Hire 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.

 

Where to look

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.

Also 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?
 

A: 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 works.

If 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.

To 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 2015.

The 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.

And 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 works.

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 $1,000 401(k) contribution.

Keep 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.

If 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.

And for more information on the retirement saver’s tax credit, see IRS Publication 590 “Individual Retirement Arrangements” (irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p590.pdf).

If 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 there     
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.

A: 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.

 

Personal emergency response systems

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.

For 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.

At 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 as needed.

Some 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).

 

Sensor monitoring

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 emergency.

You 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.

Some 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.

If 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 fee.





How to appeal when Medicare won’t pay
Jan. 2, 2014


Q: How does one go about appealing Medicare when they won’t pay for something that has been covered in the past?

A: 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.

But 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 you appeal.

 

Original Medicare appeals

If 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.

You 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.

The 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.

A 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 teleconference.

If 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 appeals

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.

Part 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.

For 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.

 

Get help

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 800-333-4114.

 



 

Q: 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.

Pack 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 age 74.

Lung 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.

 

Lung cancer screening

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 spread.

To 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.

For 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.

You 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 X-ray.

Lung 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 and anxiety.

 

Prevention

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 fumes.

For 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 screened.

 


 

Convenient ways to get help with your Social Security questions
Dec. 9, 2014


Q: Can you recommend some easier ways that I can get help with my Social Security questions? When I call their toll-free help line I get put on hold forever, and the wait time at my local Social Security office is over two hours.

A: It’s unfortunate, but the past few years the Social Security Administration has made some major budget and staff cuts that have greatly increased their phone service and field office wait times for their customers. With that said, here’s an alternative option and some tips that can help make your access to Social Security a little faster and easier.

 

Online services

With the evolution of the Social Security website, the quickest and most convenient way to work with Social Security these days is to do it yourself online. Depending on what you need, most tasks can be done at SocialSecurity.gov like getting your Social Security statement, estimating your future benefits, applying for retirement or disability benefits, signing up for direct deposit, replacing a Medicare card and much more. See a complete list of what you can do online at ssa.gov/onlineservices

You can also get information and answers to most of your Social Security questions at faq.ssa.gov if you’re patient enough to read through the information yourself.

But, if you need more help than their website offers, you can always call Social Security’s toll-free service line at 800-772-1213 Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and ask your question over the phone, or make a scheduled appointment with your local field office. To reduce your wait time, avoid calling during their rush hour times, which are the first week of the month, and daily from about 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

 

Need advice?

If you’re seeking advice on when you should start taking your Social Security benefits, you need to know that while Social Security employees do provide information on how the system works under different circumstances, they aren’t allowed to give case-specific advice on when you should start drawing your benefits.

If you want help with this, you’ll need to turn to some of the free or fee-based Social Security tools that are available online through private financial service companies or AARP.

Depending on the service, these tools take into account the different rules and claiming strategies that can affect your benefits, and some of them can crunch hundreds of calculations to compare your benefits under various scenarios and different ages to help you figure out the best time to start claiming.

Some of the best free tools are AARP’s Social Security Calculator (aarp.org/socialsecuritybenefits); SSAnalyze which is offered by Bedrock Capital Management (bedrockcapital.com/ssanalyze); and Analyze Now (analyzenow.com - click on “Computer Programs”) which offers a “Free Strategic Social Security Planner” but requires Microsoft Excel to use it.

Or, if you don’t mind spending a little money, there are higher-level services you can use like Maximize My Social Security (maximizemysocialsecurity.com), which charges $40 for their report, and takes into account the thousands of different factors and combinations to help you maximize your benefits.

And Social Security Solutions (socialsecuritysolutions.com, 866-762-7526), which offers several levels of service (ranging between $20 and $250) including their $125 “Advised” plan that runs multiple calculations and comparisons, recommends a best course of action in a detailed report, and gives you a one-on-one session with a Social Security specialist over the phone to discuss the report and ask questions.

 


 

Personal tech products designed specifically for seniors     
Dec. 9, 2014


Q: Can you recommend any tablets, smartphones or computers that are specifically designed for seniors? I would like to buy a device for my technology-challenged grandmother so she can get online and keep up with her grandkids better, but it needs to be super simplified so she can use it.
 

A: There are actually several new tech products on the market today that are designed specifically for older boomers and seniors that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with technology.

These devices come equipped with simplified software, big, vivid features, less clutter and better customer support packages, which makes them more appealing and much easier to use than mainstream devices. Here are several top senior-friendly options to look into.

 

Smartphone

If you’re thinking about a smartphone for your grandmother, check out the new GreatCall Touch3. Made by Samsung, this Android smartphone has a 4-inch touchscreen with an organized large icon menu list on the home screen that provides users simple access to often-used features like the phone, text messages, camera, pictures, email and Internet, along with your contacts and apps.

It also has a 5-megapixel camera, a full-size onscreen keyboard, and offers a variety of health and safety features like the 5Star app that lets you immediately speak to a certified agent 24/7 who can identify your location and get you the help you need. Urgent Care, which provides access to registered nurses and doctors for advice and diagnoses. And MedCoach, which sends medication reminders.

Available at greatcall.com or 800-918-8543, the Touch3 sells for $170 with a $20 introductory discount, plus a one-time activation fee of $35, and no-contract is required. Monthly service plans that include unlimited 5Star and Urgent Care service start at $25. And their data plans start at $2.50 per month for 20MB.

 

Tablet computer

If you’re considering a tablet, a top senior-friendly option is AARP’s new RealPad, which costs $189 at aarprealpad.org, walmart.com/realpad or Walmart stores.

Produced in partnership with Intel, the RealPad is an Android tablet with a 7.85-inch touchscreen. It provides a clutter-free simplified home page with large text icons to frequently used functions like email, social networks, weather, news, games, camera and pictures, Google, the Web, apps and more.

It also has a 2-megapixel front camera and 5-megapixel rear camera, and comes with 24/7 phone support, a bunch of tutorial videos, and a “Real QuickFix” tool that connects users to technology support agents over the Internet who can access the tablet and fix problems.

 

Desktop computer

If you think your grandmother would like a desktop computer, the Telikin (telikin.com, 800-717-7640), which has been around for three years now, is an excellent choice.

Ready to go right out of the box, this all-in-one touch-screen computer displays a big button menu on the screen at all times, providing simple access to most functions like the Internet, email, games, video chat, photo sharing, news and weather, and more.

Available in two sizes - the 18.6-inch “Telikin Touch” that costs $699, and the 22-inch “Telikin Elite II” for $1,079  - these computers come with built-in speakers, a Web camera, microphone, wired keyboard and mouse. They also offer a “tech buddy” feature so you can access your grandma’s Telikin computer remotely from your computer to help her when she needs it.

Running on Linux software instead of the standard Windows or Mac OS, the Telikin is also virus-resistant, comes with a 60-day trial period, a one-year warranty and free tech support.

It’s also worth noting that Telikin has a partnership with firstSTREET - a senior product direct marketing company - that is also selling the 22-inch Telikin for $1,079, but have rebranded it as the “WOW! Computer for Seniors.”




 

Free and Low-Cost Legal Services that Help Seniors in Need      
Nov. 18, 2014


Q: Where can seniors turn to for free or low-cost legal help? My husband and I need some professional legal assistance but don’t have a lot of money to pay a high priced lawyer. What can you tell us?

A: There are actually a number of free and low-cost legal resources available today to help seniors, but what’s available to you and your husband will depend on where you live, the type legal assistance you need and your financial situation. Here are several resources to check into.

Legal aid: Directed by the Legal Services Corporation, legal aid offers free legal assistance to low-income people of all ages. Each community program will differ slightly in the services they offer and income qualifications. See lsc.gov/find-legal-aid to locate a program in your area.

Pro bono programs: Usually sponsored by state or local bar associations, these programs help low-income people find volunteer lawyers who are willing to handle their cases for free. You can look for a pro bono program through the American Bar Association at findlegalhelp.org, or through lawhelp.org.

Senior legal hotlines: There are a number of states including the District of Columbia that offer senior legal hotlines, where all seniors over age 60 have access to free legal advice over the telephone. To find the states that offer this service and their toll free number, visit legalhotlines.org.

Senior legal services: Coordinated by the Administration on Aging, this service may offer free or low-cost legal advice, legal assistance or access to legal representation to people over the age of 60. Your Area Agency on Aging can tell you what’s available in your community. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get your local number.

National Disability Rights Network: This is a nonprofit membership organization that provides legal assistance to people with disabilities through their Protection and Advocacy System and Client Assistance Program. If you or your husband is disabled, visit ndrn.org to find help in your state.

 

Other options

If you can’t get help from one of these programs, or find that you aren’t eligible, another option is to contact your state or local bar association, which may be able to refer you to a low-fee lawyer. Or, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer for only part of the legal work and doing other parts yourself. This is known as unbundled legal services.

Many bar associations offer public service-oriented lawyer referral services that will interview clients and help identify the problems a lawyer could help them with. If a lawyer can help with your problem, the service will provide you with a referral to a lawyer. If the problem does not require a lawyer, the service will provide information on other organizations in your community that may be able to help. Most of these lawyer referral services conduct their interviews and make referrals over the phone.

To contact your state or local bar association, go to americanbar.org and type in “state and local bar associations” in the search field to find their state-by-state directory.

And finally, if you are an AARP member, one other discount resource that may be able to help you is AARP’s Legal Services Network from Allstate. This service provides members a free legal consultation (up to 45 minutes) with an attorney along with 20 percent discounts on other legal services you may need. To locate a lawyer near you, call 866-330-0753.

 






How to improve your balance as you age      
Nov. 4, 2014


Q: I’ve always been a walker, but when I fell last month my doctor suggested I start doing some balance exercises. Is this really something I need to practice? What can you tell me?
 

A: Most people don’t think much about practicing their balance, but you should, the same way that you walk to strengthen your heart, lungs and overall health, or you stretch to keep your body limber.

As we age, our balance declines - if it isn’t practiced - and can cause falls. Every year more than one in three people age 65 years or older fall, and the risk increases with age. A simple fall can cause a serious fracture of the hip, pelvis, spine, arm, hand or ankle, which can lead to hospital stays, disability, loss of independence and even death.

 

How balance works

Balance is the ability to distribute your weight in a way that enables you to hold a steady position or move at will without falling. It’s determined by a complex combination of muscle strength, visual inputs, the inner ear and the work of specialized receptors in the nerves of your joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons that orient you in relation to other objects.

It’s all sorted out in the sensory cortex of your brain, which takes in the information from those sources to give you balance. But aging dulls our balance senses, and causes most seniors to gradually become less stable on their feet over time.

Poor balance can also lead to a vicious cycle of inactivity. You feel a little unsteady, so you curtail certain activities. If you’re inactive, you’re not challenging your balance systems or using your muscles. As a result, both balance and strength suffer. Simple acts like strolling through a grocery store or getting up from a chair become trickier. That shakes your confidence, so you become even less active.
 

Balance exercises

If you have a balance problem that is not tied to illness, medication or some other specific cause, simple exercises can help preserve and improve your balance. Some basic exercises you can do anytime include:

One-legged stands: Stand on one foot for 30 seconds, or longer, then switch to the other foot. You can do this while brushing your teeth or waiting around somewhere. In the beginning, you might want to have a wall or chair to hold on to.

Heel rises: While standing, rise up on your toes as far as you can. Then drop back to the starting position and repeat the process 10 to 20 times. You can make this more difficult by holding light hand weights.

Heel-toe walk: Take 20 steps while looking straight ahead. Think of a field sobriety test.

Sit-to-stand: Without using your hands, get up from a straight-backed chair and sit back down 10 to 20 times. This improves balance and leg strength.

For additional balance exercises visit go4life.nia.nih.gov, a resource created by the National Institute on Aging that offers free booklets and a DVD that provides illustrated examples of many appropriate exercises. You can order your free copies online or by calling 800-222-2225.

Some other exercises that can help improve your balance and flexibility is through tai chi and yoga. To locate a beginner’s class in your area that teaches either of these disciplines, call your local senior center, health club or wellness center, check your yellow pages or try online directory sites like americantaichi.net and yogafinder.com.

If nothing is available near you, there are DVDs and videos that offer tai chi and yoga instructions and routines for seniors that you can do at home. Some good resources for finding them are amazon.com, collagevideo.com and iefit.com, or check with your local public library.
 



A guide to finding affordable dental care     
Oct. 28, 2014


Q: I had dental insurance through my work for many years but lost it when I retired. Where can retirees find affordable dental care?

A: Finding affordable dental care can be challenging for seniors living on a tight budget. Most retirees lose their dental insurance after leaving the workplace, and original Medicare does not cover cleaning, fillings or dentures. While there’s no one solution to affordable dental care there are a number of options that can help cut your costs. Here’s where to look.

 

Medicare Advantage

While original Medicare (Part A and B) and Medicare supplemental policies do not cover routine dental care, there are some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans that do. Many of these plans, which are sold through private insurance companies, cover dental care along with eye care, hearing and prescription drugs, in addition to all of your hospital and medical insurance. If you’re eligible for Medicare, see medicare.gov/find-a-plan to look for Advantage plans in your area that covers dental care.
 

Dental discounts

Another way you can reduce your dental care expenses is to join a dental discount network. How this works is you pay an annual membership fee - around $80 to $200 a year - in exchange for 10 to 60 percent discounts on service and treatments from participating dentists. To find a network, go to DentalPlans.com (or 888-632-5353) where you can search for plans and participating dentists by zip code, as well as get a breakdown of the discounts offered.

Another option that’s currently available only in the southern California area is Brighter.com. They provide users free access to a network of dentists offering up to 50 percent discounts on all services.

 

Dental schools

Dental school clinics offer savings opportunities too. All 65 accredited dental schools in the U.S. offer affordable care provided by dental students who are overseen by their professors. You can expect to pay about half of what a traditional dentist would charge and still receive excellent, well-supervised care.

Another option is to check with local colleges that offer dental hygiene programs. For training purposes, many programs provide teeth cleanings by their students for a fraction of what you’d pay at a dentist’s office.

To search for nearby dental schools or dental hygiene programs visit ada.org/dentalschools.

 

Veterans benefits

If you’re a veteran enrolled in the VA health care program, or are a beneficiary of the Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA), the VA is now offering a dental insurance program that gives you the option to buy dental insurance through Delta Dental and MetLife at a reduced cost.

The VA also provides free dental care to vets who have dental problems resulting from service. To learn more about these options, visit va.gov/dental or call 877-222-8387.

 

Low income options

If you’re low income, there are various programs and clinics that provide dental care at a reduced rate or for free. To look for options in your area contact your state dental director (see astdd.org), or your state or local dental society (ebusiness.ada.org/mystate.aspx).

You may also be able to get discounted or free dental care at one of the federally funded HRSA health centers (findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov, 877-464-4772), or at a privately funded free clinic (nafcclinics.org).

Also check with the Dental Lifeline Network (dentallifeline.org, 888-471-6334) which provides free dental care for low-income elderly and disabled; Remote Area Medical (ramusa.org) which offers free health, eye and dental care to people in select locations; and Indian Health Service (ihs.gov), which provides free dental care to American Indians and Alaska Natives who are members of a federally recognized Indian tribe.

Also see toothwisdom.org, a website created by Oral Health America that will help you locate low-cost dental care.





How Medicare covers outpatient mental health services 
  
Oct. 21, 2014

Q: Does Medicare cover outpatient counseling or therapy sessions for seniors? Since retiring, my husband has really struggled with depression and needs to get some help. What can you tell us?

Inquiring Senior
 

A: Yes, Medicare recently upgraded its coverage of outpatient mental health services to help beneficiaries with depression and other needs. Here’s how it works.

If you have original Medicare, your Part B coverage will pay 80 percent (after you’ve met your $147 Part B deductible) for a variety of counseling and therapy services that are provided outside a hospital, like individual and group therapy, family counseling and more. They also cover services for treatment of beneficiaries who struggle with inappropriate alcohol and drug use.

You or your supplemental insurance is responsible for the remaining 20 percent coinsurance. 

Medicare also gives your husband the option of getting treatment through a variety of mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers and clinical nurse specialists.

It’s also important to understand that if your husband decides to see a non-medical doctor (such as psychologists or a clinical social worker), you’ll need to make sure that he or she is Medicare-certified and takes assignment, which means they accept Medicare’s approved amount as full payment. If they don’t, Medicare will not pay for the services.

Medicare will, however, pay for the services of Medicare-certified medical doctors (such as psychiatrists) who do not take assignment, but these doctors can charge you up to 15 percent above Medicare’s approved amount in addition to the 20 percent coinsurance, which you will be responsible for.

To locate a mental health care professional in your area that accepts Medicare assignment, 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 the type of profession you want locate, like “psychiatry” or “clinical psychologist” in the “What are you searching for?” box. You can also get this information by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227.

 

Medicare Advantage

If you and your husband get your Medicare benefits through a private Medicare Advantage plan, they too must cover the same services as original Medicare but they will likely require him to see an in-network provider. You’ll need to contact your plan directly for the details.

 

Additional coverage

In addition to the outpatient mental health services, you should also know that Medicare covers yearly depression screenings that must be done in a primary care doctor’s office or primary care clinic that can assure appropriate diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annual depression screenings are covered 100 percent.

Medicare will also cover almost all medications used to treat mental health conditions under the Part D prescription drug benefit. If your husband is prescribed an antidepressant or some other medication for his condition, and he has a Part D plan, you should call his plan to confirm coverage or you can search the plans formulary (the list of medications they cover) on their website.

For more detailed information, call Medicare at 800-633-4227 and request a copy of publication #10184 “Medicare & Your Mental Health Benefits,” or you can read it online at medicare.gov/publications/pubs/pdf/10184.pdf.

 

 

 

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