Medicare Columns

Medicare Part D News

by Mary Loftis, Extension Associate

The articles below are Mary Loftis's Medicare Part D columns. For more information on any of these topics or activities contact Nebraska Extension in Burt County at 402-374-2929 or contact your local Nebraska Extension office.

Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Computer Help Sheet 2015



February 3, 2017

Scam Alert:

Numerous news reports have recently been published on the “Can you hear me?” phone scam, as reported in the Omaha World Herald and USA Today among others. 

In summary, an automated or live call asks recipients, “Can you hear me?” in order to get a “Yes” response to use to fraudulently authorize purchases.

Here is the advice from the Better Business Bureau:

• Hang up on any unsolicited automatic robocall. If you are on the federal Do Not Call List and a company calls out of the blue to ask questions, it's likely a scam.

• Avoid responding with "yes," "sure" or "OK."

• Hang up if you're asked to press a button to be placed on the Do Not Call registry. Doing anything else could help scammers identify an active phone number. No government agency will ever solicit for the Do Not Call Registry.

Write down the phone number of callers with this behavior and file a scam report with the BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker/us or by calling 800-649-6814.

• Write down the phone number of callers and file a scam report with the Better Business Bureau atbbb.org/scamtracker/us or by calling 800-649-6814 and the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call List. Call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688)

·  Check your credit card, phone and cable statements carefully for any unfamiliar charges. If you suspect you have been victimized, call the billing company and dispute anything you did not authorize. The earlier you identify the unauthorized charges on your account, the easier it will be to recover any lost money. 

Omaha World Herald article: http://www.omaha.com/money/this-phone-scam-just-needs-you-to-say-yes-hang/article_9dcd0d0e-0ed8-5701-9aa1-7c0657f1c1c0.html

USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/nation-now/2017/01/27/can-you-hear-me-phone-scam/97152110/

February 3, 2017

Protecting Yourself from Fraud Associated with Medicare

As you obtain quotes on, purchase, or change Medicare plans, (Supplements, Prescription drug plans, and Medicare Advantage Plans) you will be dealing with a variety of insurance agents, companies, and unsolicited mailings, emails, phone calls, and other creative marketing tactics. It is important to carefully scrutinize these various entities to insure that those you are dealing with are legitimate and that your personal information is kept safe and secure. The following are best practices and what to do if you suspect your information has been compromised.

Consumers SHOULD

·        Protect their SSN and Medicare numbers

·        Shred documents containing health care information or other personal information before throwing them away

·        Look for official government seals, logos, or .gov web addresses

·        Be an informed consumer and take the time to compare coverage options before making a decision

·        Review information from health plans to make sure only services, equipment and prescriptions used by consumers, or their household members, are listed

·        Be aware of product promotions, so-called “special deals,” or other offers that seem too good to be true because these offers may be related to fraud or identity theft

·        End any suspicious call or visit immediately (you may need to call a family member or the police for help.)

·        Report suspicious calls or visits to your state Department of Insurance (DOI).

Consumers should NOT:

·        Respond to unsolicited advertisements

·        Give out information over the telephone or Internet unless the requestor has proven they have authority to have this information

·        Give personal information to anyone who calls or comes to their home uninvited

·        Sign blank insurance forms or applications

·        Be pressured into making purchases, signing contracts, or committing funds 

Information Needed To Report Suspected Fraud:

·        The name or ID number of the individual or entity suspected of fraud

·        Contact information for the individual or entity suspected of fraud

·        summary of the suspected fraud

·        The date for when the suspected fraud occurred

·        Whether you suspected the fraud or heard about it from a third party

You can submit a report of suspected fraud to:

HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG): The OIG Hotline accepts tips and complaints from about potential fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in any Department of Health and Human Services' programs (Medicare, Medicaid, Health Insurance Marketplace, SNAP, etc.)

Phone: 1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477) or through the mail:

HHS OIG, ATTN:

OIG HOTLINE OPERATIONS

PO Box 23489

Washington, DC 20026

Federal Trade Commission (FTC): The FTC accepts complaints related to many topics, including:

·       Identity theft

·       National Do Not Call Registry violations

·       Computers, the internet and online privacy

·       Telemarketing scams

·       Credit scams

·       Sweepstakes, lotteries, and prizes

·        Business opportunities and work-at-home schemes

·       Health and weight loss products

·       Debt collection, credit reports, and financial matters 

Online: Secure Complaint Assistant

Phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338)

Nebraska Department of Insurance (NDOI): To report insurance fraud

Online: Fraudulent Claim Form

Nebraska Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP): For help identifying and reporting possible Medicare fraud. Phone: 1-800-234-7119

January 20, 2017 

Welcome to Medicare Basics Class:

Celebrate your upcoming 65th birthday by attending a “Welcome to Medicare!” class.

If you or a family member are turning 65 in the near future, it’s a milestone birthday and a cause for celebration.

It can also be a cause for concern and confusion.

Once you know the basics you can handle the rest, or at least will know who to call for help.

Join the Welcome to Medicare informational meeting on Tuesday, January 31 at the Burt County Courthouse Meeting room in Tekamah.

The meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. and absolutely nothing will be marketed or sold at this event. It’s a free informational meeting presented by

Mary Loftis, a trained Senior Health Insurance Information Program counselor.

Anyone from any county or community is welcome to take part in this program. Family members are encouraged to also attend.

Future Welcome to Medicare sessions will be held May 24th in Blair and September 26th in Fremont if those dates work better in your schedule and hopefully aren’t after your 65th birthday.

Please call the Nebraska Extension Office in Burt County at 402-374-2929 to register so enough materials are available.

January 12, 2017

Medicare Basics Meeting:

If turning 65 and getting Medicare started for yourself or a loved one in the next few months is becoming a priority you may want to attend the Medicare Basics MeetingThis informational meeting will be held Tuesday, January 31 at the Burt County Courthouse Meeting room in Tekamah starting at 7:00 p.m.

Medicare Basics is just that, the basics about the Medicare program and how to get started. Anyone turning 65 or planning to go off a group insurance plan and onto Medicare is welcome to attend. We will discuss the different parts of Medicare, how they work, Medicare supplements, enrollment deadlines, etc. 

Absolutely nothing will be sold at this meeting, it is a free informational meeting presented by myself, Mary Loftis. I’ve worked with the Nebraska Department of Insurance through the Senior Health Insurance and Information Program for 12 years now. No question is a dumb question and if I don’t know the answer I’ll find out for you.

Helping individuals understand Medicare and how it works is important so you can make the best decisions regarding your health care.

If Tuesday, January 31st doesn’t work into your schedule, or you turn 65 later in the year you may consider attending this same program in Blair on Wednesday, May 24 or in September this same meeting will be held on Tuesday, September 26th in Fremont.

Please call the Nebraska Extension office in Burt County at 402-374-2929 to register so we have enough materials for the group. Hope to see you on January 31st in Tekamah at the Burt County Courthouse meeting room!

January 6, 2017

For Immediate Release: 

Medicare Basics: Explaining Medicare

            Are you or someone you know among the nearly 1900 Nebraskans who will turn 65 every month during 2017?  There were approximately 22,400 Nebraska citizens born in the year 1952. These are among the national wave of Baby Boomers reaching age 65 and becoming eligible for Medicare benefits.  

Do you know what Medicare does and doesn’t pay for?  Are you confused by the terms, ‘Medigap,’ or ‘Medicare Excess Charges?’ Is there an ‘advantage’ to Medicare Advantage?  Are you ready for Medicare, but not for Social Security?  Do you currently have work insurance? Are you being inundated with Medicare insurance marketing materials?

These questions and more will be answered during the Medicare Basics:  Explaining Medicare Workshop presented by Mary Loftis, Nebraska Extension Associate and trained SHIIP counselor.

The Medicare Basics workshop will be held Tuesday, January 31st beginning at 7:00 p.m. It will be held at the Burt County Courthouse meeting room in Tekamah at 111 North 13th Street.

There is no cost to attend this informational workshop and absolutely nothing will be sold.

If you are turning 65 later this year attending one of the repeat information workshops might fit your schedule better. These Medicare Basics sessions will be held: Wednesday, May 24th in Blair at the Nebraska Extension office in Washington County at 597 Grant Street and September 26th in Fremont at the Nebraska Extension office in Dodge County.

Timing for Medicare enrollment is important. Make sure your future Medicare health and drug coverage do not come with penalties because you were unaware of important and sometimes expensive deadlines.  Gain a better understanding of what you do and do not need as you enter the Medicare generation.

This presentation outlines the basics of Medicare, Medicare Supplement Insurance, Medicare Advantage Plans, Medicare Preventive Services, and the prescription drug benefit, including information regarding applying for extra help for individuals with limited income and resources.  Pre-retirees, new-to-Medicare beneficiaries, family members and caregivers are welcome to attend. Please call 402-374-2929 to register so enough materials are available.

December 8, 2016

Two major fall seasons are now in the past…Thanksgiving and Medicare Open Enrollment season.

Thanksgiving provides us the opportunity to get together with friends and family and appreciate our blessings. I hope that was a successful event for everyone.

The Medicare Open Enrollment season provides me the opportunity to get together with many Medicare recipients to help them decide what Medicare prescription drug plan or health plan will cover their needs best next year. This year was an exceptional year for me with this program.

I coordinated 22 Medicare Open Enrollment Events in Burt, Dodge and Washington Counties since October 15th.  With the help of Linda Bisanz, Deb Hawkins, Judy Knoell and Rick Scofield we met with 435 individuals helping them potentially save over $263,332.00 on their prescription drug costs in 2017.

In addition to Medicare prescription drug plans we shared information about Medicare Supplement Plans; Medicare Advantage plans and general education about the Medicare program. I will be planning general Medicare education meetings in 2017 for individuals turning 65 in the coming year. We’ll be publicizing these meetings, but if you have questions please call the Nebraska Extension Office in Burt County at 402-374-2929. They’ll be able to tell you when and where these informational meetings will be held so you can learn about the Medicare program before you need to make these important decisions. 

Although the Medicare open enrollment season ended last Wednesday, individuals on Medicaid are able to change plans every month if that gives them better coverage. Usually that isn’t the case, but they do have that option.

Medicaid recipients also need to be aware if they didn’t enroll themselves in one of the three managed care plans under the new Heritage Health managed care program they will have one assigned to them. Then they will have 90 days to decide if the program they have is accepted at their health care providers including doctors and hospitals. After 90 days this plan will be their health care plan for the rest of 2017. 

Don’t sit back and assume things will work out. Make a couple calls or ask someone to make them for you to see if your providers accept the care plan you selected or were assigned. Your health depends on it.

Thanks for all your support during this amazingly busy Medicare Season and I count among my blessings all the Medicare recipients I’ve had the pleasure of working with this year. If you have questions or problems with Medicare coverage you are always welcome to call me at the Nebraska Extension Office in Burt County at 402-374-2929.

November 27, 2016

“Last Call” for Medicare Open Enrollment

Since October 15th I’ve coordinated 22 Medicare Open Enrollment events in Burt, Dodge and Washington Counties. With the help of Linda Bisanz, Deb Hawkins, Judy Knoell and Rick Scofield we’ve worked with hundreds of individuals, helping them either save money on next year’s Medicare drug or health plans and their medications or providing peace of mind knowing they have the best plan for their needs.

At this point unless you have an appointment at the Chatt Center or Oakland Library this week, we’ll be playing catch-up and follow-up with individuals we haven’t been able to complete so will not be able to meet with you. However, you can still get help by calling 1-800-Medicare which is 1-800-633-4227. After a few phone prompts you will be able to visit with someone who can put your list of prescriptions in the Medicare Plan finder and can help you determine if the plan you have is your best choice for next year or if another plan would save you money. You may also go to the www.medicare.govwebsite and click on the “Find Health and Drug Plans” button and you’ll be on you way to input your personal information and then your prescriptions in order to compare your current plan with all 22 others with your preferred pharmacies prices.

Medicare.gov: the official U.S. government site for Medicare

Differences in plans this year not only find certain drugs dropped from some individual’s current plans, but also big changes on the parts of pharmacies. Pharmacies sign contracts with each individual drug plan each year. The pharmacies can choose to become a “preferred pharmacy” a “standard retail pharmacy” or they may choose not to accept a plan at all, which means you would pay full retail prices.

This can make big differences in what you pay when you go to the drug store in January. If you don’t check before December 7th the drug plan you have now is what you will have in January.

Don’t miss out on this annual opportunity to not only take care of your physical health, but also your financial health as you make choices about your Medicare drug and health plans.

November 15, 2016

 

Have you ever felt unsure how to do a seemly simple task?

I’m sure many people are having these feelings as they make plans to cook something for a Thanksgiving holiday meal.

My most recent example of this was trying to make one of the diabetic appropriate foods for the recent Control Your Diabetes for Life program. (If you missed the program we will have a DVD available in the Extension Office later this month.) Program coordinator and Extension Educator, Debra Schroeder picks a few recipes the site coordinators can make for those that attend the session. This session had the option of an Italian Cabbage Soup. While this might not have been my first choice, it did have the advantage of cooking in a crock pot all day since I was busy doing Medicare plan comparisons so it became the perfect choice.

My first unsure moments came when I was shopping for the ingredients. It called for a small onion. Small compared to what…a softball, baseball or golf ball? Then I needed two large carrots – I figured anything but the baby carrots would fit there. Then I needed a small head of cabbage…again…small? I really wanted to buy a bag of the shredded cabbage, but no luck at the store where I was shopping. So I got a cabbage.

Then I needed to shred it. You’d think a “mature” Home Ec. major like myself would have shredded cabbage before…well, think again. As I’m struggling to cut the “small” cabbage and keep my fingers out of the way of the shredder I started thinking about my dear mother-in-law. She probably made more coleslaw than anyone I know. Obviously that’s not something I offer to bring to a meal either since the central ingredient is shredded cabbage.

Now I like coleslaw, and so does my husband, but I’ve never made it (although it is quite expensive in the deli department.) Then I realize she didn’t shred her cabbage all those years like I was trying to do with a sharp bladed stand shredder! She had a fancy one that didn’t seem to end up with half the cabbage on the floor. (And no, I don’t want one for Christmas!)

This whole experience was humbling for me and makes me appreciate what cooking skills I do have and reminds me there are still plenty of things I can learn.

Getting back to preparing the Thanksgiving meal, I’m sure there are many unsure cooks going to the computer to find YouTube videos on how to make gravy or mashed potatoes, or even how to make a pie. How about giving Mom or Grandma a call when you feel unsure and have cooking questions? That would be much more desirable as it will make them feel good and create a special bond. You might also share a laugh or two as they recall their early (or recent) cooking challenges.

Learning something new is the foundation of the 4-H program Youth, parents and leaders are learning something new at every opportunity. Give us a call at the Nebraska Extension office in Burt County at 402-374-2929 if you’d like to find out what learning opportunities await you and your child in 4-H.

Don’t let a little insecurity in your cooking or in any skill keep you from trying (and learning) something. You’re never too old, or too young to learn something new…believe me…but please don’t ask me to bring coleslaw or cabbage soup to your potluck meal!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

November 12, 2016

Medicare Count Down

If you are on Medicare and you haven’t made an appointment to compare plans, contacted www.medicare.gov or called 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) your time is running out. The Medicare countdown has begun and if you are waiting for the last minute don’t wait a minute longer!

3…2…1…and before you know it, it’s December 7th which is the end of Medicare Open Enrollment. Whatever Medicare Prescription Drug Plan or Medicare Advantage Plan you have at that time will be what you have in 2017.

Don’t panic yet…there are still a few opportunities to meet with a SHIIP (Senior Health Insurance Information Program) counselor to help you make sure your current plan is the best one for you. The Nebraska Department of Insurance trains these counselors to work with Medicare recipients at their Medicare Open Enrollment Events across the state. They are unbiased and will help you find the best plan for the least amount of money using your preferred pharmacies.

Blair and Fremont will host these Open Enrollment Events this Thursday and Friday, November 17 and 18th in Blair and Monday and Tuesday, November 21 and 22 in Fremont. The Nebraska Extension offices in each county will take appointments and host the events. Individuals living in any county are welcome to attend. Call 402-426-9455 to make an appointment in Blair and 402-727-2775 to make an appointment in Fremont.

After the Thanksgiving holiday we’ll be back in Burt County with Medicare comparison events. We’ll be at the Chatt Senior Center in Tekamah on Monday, November 28 and Wednesday, November 30th. On Thursday, December 1 we’ll be at the Oakland Library. If you want to make an appointment for one of these sessions please call Nebraska Extension in Burt County at 402-374-2929.

Saving money is important to everyone…especially if you are on Medicare.  Knowing the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan or Medicare Advantage Health Plan you have for 2017 will covers your needs for the least amount of money is especially important. So don’t panic but make sure you compare soon before time runs out!

November 4, 2016

Medicare Choices - Your Vote Still Counts!

          If you thought the election was over – you’d be right on several counts, but wrong on one important one. If you are on Medicare or Medicaid and you haven’t checked on any changes in your prescription drug or health plan you need to take action now!

          The Medicare Open Enrollment started October 15 and continues until December 7th but help sessions become scarce as the deadline draws near and getting help with this comparison is vital.

          You may compare your drugs and drug or health plan on the internet by going to www.medicare.gov and clicking on the “Find Health and Drug Plans” button. Then you’ll be on your way to compare your drugs and plans to all of the plans offered in Nebraska and/or your county. (Medicare Advantage Plans are only offered county by county depending where you live.) You may also call the 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) help line for Medicare health or drug plan assistance.

Medicare.gov: the official U.S. government site for Medicare

          Medicaid recipients also have important decisions to be made as their health care is changing to a Managed Care Program. They need to decide between three managed care plans under the total management care of Heritage Health. If Heritage Health triggers a memory of a letter you’ve received beneficiaries need to call Automated Health Systems (bogus sounding, but is for real!) at 888-255-2605 or they may go on line to www.neheritagehealth.com .

Welcome to Nebraska's Heritage Health Program! Heritage Health is a new health care delivery system that combines Nebraska’s current physical health, behavioral ...

SHIIP Counselors have NOT been trained regarding this information, so beneficiaries should only speak with representatives from Automated Health Systems as they compare the three managed care plans offered with the health providers they prefer. They may also seek assistance from other reliable sources like nursing home social workers, Department of Health and Human Services staff and Area Agency on Aging workers.

For Medicare Health and Drug Plan comparisons there are still opportunities for you to get help from trained, unbiased counselors. Call your local Nebraska Extension Office at: 402-374-2929 for Burt County; 402-727-2775 for Dodge County or 402-426-9455 for Washington County and make an appointment for help comparing your plans.

You could save hundreds, or maybe even thousands of dollars by investing 30 minutes of your time visiting with a counselor, or you just might go home confident that you already have the best and most economical plan for your health and prescription needs for 2017. Either way, you’ll be glad you made the appointment and voted whether to stay with or change your coverage.

November 4, 2016

The Diabetes Arthritis Connection

Work in the yard one day and you’re stiff the next.  Take a long walk and your knees ache.  It’s just part of the aging process, right?  Yes but your diabetes may have something to do with it.  People with type 2 diabetes are almost twice as likely as with normal blood glucose to develop osteoarthritis.  

Through extensive world-wide research conclusions are being drawn that diabetes must have a direct effect on the joints.  Diabetes is an independent predictor for severe osteoarthritis.  Scientists are not sure why diabetes contributes to joint damage, but they have theories.  People with diabetes and especially poorly controlled diabetes, tend to have difficulty healing.  It takes longer for joints to heal after injury, and joint damage is the result.  Out-of-control diabetes may also promote the production of inflammatory substances that degrade joints.  Researchers are starting to think of osteoarthritis not as a wear and tear condition and more as part of the disease complex know as metabolic syndrome. 

Unfortunately for people with multiple health issues, joint pain often takes a back seat.  Doctors don’t ask about it, or patients thinks it’s just a normal part of aging.  Caring for joints may play an important role in controlling your diabetes.  Arthritis in the knees and hips is very likely to interfere with the ability to exercise, which those with diabetes need to do to control weight, cholesterol and blood glucose levels.   

During the November 14 session of “Control Diabetes for Life” we invite you to learn about the diabetes and arthritis connection. The program will help you learn how to protect your family members and what information to share with your medical team.  During the program you will also learn now making healthful eating and staying active as a family a high priority will help in prolonging the development of diabetes.  Healthy eating and staying active benefits your entire family.    Feel better and stay healthy for years to come by exercising and lowering your blood glucose level.

The program “Control of Diabetes for Life” will be held on Monday November 14 from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the Tekamah Herman High School. The program will be held in a new location in the school. Come to the front doors and look for the yellow signs leading you to the Home Economics room.

“Control Diabetes for Life”, is a program to help participants learn to control diabetes and prolong the onset of complications.  Topics that will be covered during the November 14 session include:  “How Medicine Works to Control Blood Sugar Levels”, “The Diabetes Arthritis Connection”, “10 Steps for More Energy”, “Managing Alcohol with Diabetes”, “Insight from Food Diaries”. The program is a joint project, sponsored by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, Franciscan Care Services of West Point and cooperating schools, and is offered free-of-charge.

Participants are asked to pre-register for “Control Your Diabetes for Life” by calling the Burt County Extension Office. Please register by Friday, November 10, so the proper number of handouts may be prepared. If too few register for this free program it will not be held, but a DVD will be available in a few weeks.

Nebraska School Food Service Association has approved this session for two hours of continuing education credits for food service staff for attending.

Control of your diabetes for life! Start by attending the November 14 distance education program. Call today to register!