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.
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.
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.
The first thing you need to find out is if your health
problem qualifies you for Social Security disability
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
How to get a Medicare covered power scooter or
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
Make an appointment
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
all that said, here’s a run down of which seniors are
eligible for SNAP, what they get and how they can apply.
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.
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.
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
SNAP pre-screening tool at www.snap-step1.usda.gov/fns
can help seniors, and their family members, figure out
if they qualify.
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.
eligible, benefits will be provided on a plastic card
that’s used like a debit card and accepted at most
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.
learn more or apply, contact your local SNAP office -
call 800-221-5689 for contact information or visit
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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
Short or overweight: Look for six-way adjustable seats,
adjustable foot pedals and a tilt-and-telescoping
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.
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
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