Posts

Quitting Smoking Decreases Risk of Developing Cataract

Quitting smoking appears to decrease the risk of developing cataracts, according to a report published by JAMA Ophthalmology, a Journal of the American Medical Association Network publication.

Smoking is a risk factor for developing cataracts, which are a leading cause of visual impairment, according to the study background.

Birgitta Ejdervik Lindblad, M.D., Ph.D., of Örebro University Hospital, Sweden, and colleagues examined the association between smoking cessation and cataract extraction in a group of Swedish men (ages 45 to 79 years). Researchers identified 5,713 cases of age-related cataract removal during 12 years of follow-up.

Men currently smoking more than 15 cigarettes per day had a 42 percent increased risk of cataract extraction compared with men who never smoked. Quitting smoking decreased this risk with time, although the risk persisted for decades. More than 20 years after stopping smoking, men who smoked an average of more than 15 cigarettes a day had a 21 percent increased risk of having a cataract removed compared with never smokers.

“Smoking cessation may decrease the risk of cataract, but the risk among former smokers persists for decades. Since smoking is also related to other ocular diseases, strategies to prevent smoking and promote smoking cessation are important, and eye care professionals should encourage people to stop smoking,” the authors conclude.

Source: Journal of the American Medical Association

 

The Changing Face of Retirement

Retirement from the job doesn’t mean retirement from living. Filling the retirement years meaningfully is one of the most important factors in a sense of having lived a great life.

What is your image of a retired person? Many who have not yet reached that age think of stereotypes: the former executive in a rocking chair with his newly issued gold watch…the couple zipping down the highway in their RV with a “We’re Spending Our Children’s Inheritance” bumper sticker…the widow who sits at home waiting for the grandchildren to visit….

The reality is, there are as many styles of retirement as there are retirees—and the million-plus Baby Boomers who turn 65 each year are reshaping retirement even more.

Most people look forward to retirement as a time of well-earned leisure and relaxation. Many have planned a financial strategy, including contingency plans for some of the negative things that might happen—a downturn in health, a loved one who requires caregiving, loss of a spouse, a change in the economy.

But research suggests that one aspect of retirement that most of us look forward to can also hold some negative effects. It’s a sure bet that some rest and relaxation are on your retirement “to do” list…but many retirees are surprised to find out that leaving work creates a “vocation gap” in our later years.

Many seniors are continuing to work for economic reasons. But it’s not just about the money. Ending one’s working years can carry a surprising number of pitfalls relating to a loss of what we might call “a sense of vocation.” “Vocation” doesn’t just mean one’s work; it refers to all the things that give us a sense of purpose. Did you know that gerontologists predict that one of the greatest health challenges baby boomers will face is depression? Sometimes there is a physical cause behind the sense of sadness and lethargy…but in many cases, depression is triggered by boredom and a loss of purposefulness. Here are some facts about the emotional aspects of retirement to think about as you plan for your retirement years:

Retirement is one of the big “life-changing events,” right up there with marriage, your first job, becoming a parent or the death of a loved one. People adjust to change in their own way—and even “change for the better” can be stressful.

Retirement can mean a loss of social context. Even if your co-workers drove you crazy sometimes…or if you didn’t socialize much at the office…or if your workplace relationships stayed firmly in the workplace…your job still probably included a lot of contact with other people. Even the self-employed generally have frequent contact with customers or clients. Removing that social context can leave a sudden gap.

Confidence and self-esteem often stem from work accomplishments. What’s the first thing people ask when they meet someone new at a party? Often as not, it’s “What do you do? Who do you work for?” Most adults consider their jobs to be an integral part of their identity, so finding an updated answer to that party question can be an important “task” of our later years.

Some retirees experience a sense of purposelessness. When you retire, the good news is that you are far more in charge of your own time…the bad news is, you have to provide all the structure yourself! Over the years, many of us become so wrapped up in our work that we neglect to cultivate outside interests. Work can be all-consuming, the main focus of our entire adult lives. Some retirees report feeling useless, as if “there’s nothing to wake up for in the morning.”

Retirement can mean a big change in family relationships. You’ve probably heard the old jokes about the wife who suddenly has to cope with the retired husband being underfoot all day. Nowadays, of course, it is just as likely to be the opposite. Then throw into the mix elderly parents and in-laws, adult children and grandchildren…whatever the dynamic of a family, retirement means a disruption of established patterns.

Retirement is a risk factor for inactivity. Research shows that physical activity is the most important contributor to healthy aging. For some people, retirement means more time to be active…but others find themselves evolving into couch potatoes. And depression is a real danger when we cut back on physical—and mental—activity.

Cultivating a Sense of Purpose Throughout Life

Researchers suggest several steps for transitioning into the retirement years active, engaged, and ready to make the most of what for many of us turns out to be a full third of our lives. And no matter how long you’ve been away from the workplace, it’s never too late to give your retirement ideas a “makeover”!

  1. Plan ahead. You know the importance of having a financial and healthcare plan in place. Add to that a strategy for enhancing your life with meaningful activities. Check out pre-retirement planning courses through your local senior center. Find out if your employer offers retirement planning counseling.
  2. On the other hand, allow for flexibility. Should you stay in the home or move to a retirement community? Move to a different area, perhaps to be near children, or for recreational opportunities? There are plenty of choices to be made—but in most cases, you don’t need to make them right away.
  3. Consider retiring in stages. More and more baby boomers are finding that leaving their jobs altogether might not be the best strategy. Many boomers are cutting back their work hours gradually. Others move into consulting work, or even begin an entirely new career path. Still others take lower-key part-time jobs. The fact is, financial realities and increased life expectancy make working beyond 65 a necessity for many…and many others simply do not choose to leave the workforce.
  4. Give from the heart by volunteering! Paid employment isn’t the only rewarding work. For many seniors, retirement allows the opportunity for giving back to the community. Consider working for an important cause, serving as a mentor, enjoying unpaid work for cultural institutions, or helping in a wide variety of volunteer agencies. What a great way to make new social contacts!
  5. Learn new skills, take up new hobbies. Many retirees report that they have “reinvented” themselves after leaving their career of many years. Retirement offers the luxury of time—at last you can pay more attention to those things that have always seemed interesting. Write a novel or your memoirs, learn a language, join a gym, take a class—the opportunities are limitless. Lifelong learning need not be expensive: check out community colleges, senior centers and other programs to find learning opportunities that are meaningful to you.
  6. Work out a schedule. After those first few weeks of sleeping late and lounging around the house, many retirees find that it is easy to lapse into inactivity. Plan to apply some of the same kind of discipline to your days that you always have. Working out a routine is a great way to avoid the pitfall of depression.
  7. Increase rather than decrease your level of physical activity. Exercise is one of the key factors to successful aging—so banish the thought of setting up residence in that lounge chair! One of the best uses of your increased leisure time is to up your exercise level, which can help control or prevent many physical and emotional conditions that become more common with aging. This is a great time to try those sports and activities you never could quite make time for.
  8. Build new relationships. Another key component to quality of life as we age is being involved in activities and relationships with others. Retirement provides more time to spend in activities with family and old friends…but it’s also a great time to expand our social network by forming new connections. Yet another reason to add new activities and interests!

Yes, it has almost become a cliché that “turning 65 is not an ending but a beginning.” Retirement from the job doesn’t mean retirement from living. Instead, once we are handed the precious gift of more control of our time, to fill those hours meaningfully is one of the most important factors in a sense of having lived a great life.

Copyright © AgeWise, 2014

 

Managing Money for a Senior Loved One

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently published four guides to help financial caregivers, particularly those who handle the finances of older Americans, carry out their duties and responsibilities in managing someone else’s money.

“In order to protect our seniors, we must educate the caregiver generation,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “The Consumer Bureau is publishing a series of guides called ‘Managing Someone Else’s Money.’ The guides are designed to help people meet the responsibility of managing money for a loved one.”

Millions of Americans are acting as fiduciaries, meaning they manage money or property for someone else. Many older Americans experience declining capacity to handle finances, which can make them vulnerable. Even mild cognitive impairment can significantly impact an older adult’s ability to handle finances and to detect fraud or a scam. About 22 million people age 60 or older have named someone in a power of attorney to make financial decisions for them—and millions of others have court-appointed guardians or other fiduciaries. In addition to older adults, many younger adults with disabilities may also lack capacity to handle their own finances. The fiduciaries that help them are a critical source of support, but often have no training.

To help meet that need, the CFPB released guides that explain the four main responsibilities of a fiduciary:

  • Act in the person’s best interest: The first duty is to act in the person’s best interest, which means, for example, that the fiduciary should not loan or give the person’s money to themselves or others. The fiduciary should avoid conflicts of interest, and the guides provide examples of actions that may pose conflicts.
  • Manage money and property carefully: The second responsibility is to manage the money and property carefully—such as by paying bills on time, protecting unspent funds, investing carefully, and having a list of all monies, properties, and debts.
  • Keep money and property separate from own: The third responsibility is to keep the money and property separate from the fiduciary’s own. That means avoiding joint accounts and paying the person’s expenses from their own funds, not from the fiduciary’s funds.
  • Maintain good records: Lastly, the fiduciary should maintain good records. The fiduciary should keep a detailed list of the money received or spent on the person’s behalf, avoid paying in cash in order to have a record of purchases, and keep all receipts.

Each guide contains information on the fiduciary’s responsibilities. The Bureau published four guides in order to tailor them to the needs of people in four different fiduciary capacities:

  1. People who have been named in a power of attorney to make decisions about money and property for someone else.
  2. People who have been appointed by a court to be guardians or conservators of property, giving them the duty and the power to make decisions on someone’s behalf.
  3. People who have been named as trustees under revocable living trusts. In these cases, ownership of some or all money and property has been transferred to a trust and, as a result, the person named as a trustee has the power to make decisions about what is in the trust.
  4. People who have been appointed by a government agency to manage income benefits, such as Social Security or veteran’s assistance, for someone.

All of the guides also contain tips on how to spot financial exploitation and avoid scams. Older consumers can be attractive targets for scams and financial exploitation because they often have higher household wealth in the form of retirement savings, accumulated home equity, or other assets. Common signs that someone is being exploited financially include atypical frequent ATM usage, multiple attempts to wire large amounts of money, and spending money on unusual items.

Additionally, the guides include a list of agencies to contact to report fraud or a scam, as well as contact information for other agencies and organizations that can help financial caregivers with their duties. The Bureau contracted and worked closely with the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging to prepare the guides.

A copy of the guides can be found at www.consumerfinance.gov/managing-someone-elses-money. Paper copies of guides may be ordered online at: http://promotions.usa.gov/cfpbpubs.html.

Source: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit consumerfinance.gov.

Does Happily Ever After Mean Healthy Ever After?

A 2013 study by researchers from Brigham Young University found that people in happy marriages live less “in sickness” but enjoy more of life “in health.” In a 20-year longitudinal study tracking health and marriage quality, BYU family life researcher Rick Miller found that as the quality of marriage holds up, physical health tends to hold up too.

“There’s evidence from previous research that marital conflict leads to poor health,” Miller said. “But this study also shows happy marriages have a preventative component that keeps you in good health over the years.”

The study used data from a nationally representative sample of 1,681 married individuals followed over the course of two decades – the longest study on marital quality and health to date.

Miller and colleagues measured marital quality in two ways: First, in terms of happiness and satisfaction, and, second, in terms of marital problems (Do you argue about money? Do you fight about in-laws?). Respondents then rated their health on a 1 (excellent) to 4 (poor) scale.

The results showed those with higher marital conflict were more likely to report poor health. “The implication is that marital conflict is a risk factor for poor health,” Miller said. “Couples that fight or argue frequently should get professional help to reduce their conflict because it is affecting their health.”

Miller hopes the mounting research on the importance of marriage catches the attention of policy makers. For example, Miller and many colleagues believe health insurance should cover marriage counseling because it can help shore up marriages and prevent future health problems.

To that end, sustaining a happy marriage also tends to inspire habits that lead to better health. Happily married spouses encourage one another to stay current on doctor’s appointments, sleep better, drink less and participate in healthy activities.

“When spouses have a bad day, in a happy marriage, they’re more likely to support each other and empathize with each other,” Miller said. “That support reduces stress and helps buffer against a decline in health.”

Source: Brigham Young University

Living With Heart Failure

February is American Heart Month, here is some background information about living with and managing this condition, which today affects over five million Americans.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) occurs when the heart is weakened and cannot pump enough blood for the body’s needs. This results in a backup of fluid throughout the body. CHF can be caused by previous damage to the heart muscle or valves, by high blood pressure, diabetes or other underlying conditions, or by a combination of causes.

Symptoms of CHF include shortness of breath, swelling of feet, ankles and abdomen, fatigue, coughing and raspy breathing.

MEDICAL TREATMENT FOR CHF

Occasionally CHF can be cured, if the condition is caused by an underlying heart defect that can be corrected with surgery. However, most cases cannot be cured. But medical treatment and lifestyle changes can improve symptoms and prevent further loss of heart function.

Medical treatments include surgery, medications, supplemental oxygen, and careful management of underlying conditions.

Lifestyle choices and following your healthcare provider’s instructions can prevent worsening of your condition. For example, it’s important to avoid smoking, excess cholesterol, obesity, alcohol abuse, inactivity, excess fluid intake and stress.

CHECKLIST FOR MANAGING CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE

If you or a loved one has CHF, are you doing everything you can to manage the condition? Here is a checklist to guide you:

  • Am I under regular medical care?  
    It’s important that your physician monitor your heart health, medications and lifestyle. Keep all your appointments, and bring along any questions.
  • Do I take my medications as directed?
    Medications for CHF can work only if taken correctly—the right amount, at the right time, and in the right way.
  • Do I restrict my sodium (salt) intake?
    Sodium increases water retention, which puts extra strain on the heart. Your healthcare provider or dietitian can show you how to reduce sodium in your diet.
  • Do I avoid cholesterol and saturated fat?
    Cholesterol and saturated fat contribute to coronary artery disease, a major cause of CHF. Follow your physician’s recommendations for “heart smart” cooking, and read the labels on packaged products.
  • Am I a smoker?
    Tobacco damages the blood vessels and puts extra strain on the heart. If you are a smoker, ask your healthcare provider about smoking cessation programs.
  • Do I drink alcohol?
    Alcoholic beverages can weaken the heart, and may interact negatively with your medications. Ask about help if controlling your alcohol intake is a problem.
  • Do I limit my fluid intake?
    Excess fluid puts strain on the heart. If you’ve been instructed to limit liquids, be sure to keep track of everything you drink.
  • Do I weigh myself every day?
    A sudden increase in weight can be a sign of increased fluid retention. Report a gain of over three pounds in a day, or five pounds in a week. Be sure to weigh yourself at the same time each day.
  • Do I alert my healthcare provider if other symptoms worsen?
    Call your doctor if you experience increased swelling of legs, feet, abdomen; increased shortness of breath; irregular heartbeat (“palpitations”); increased fatigue, dizziness or fainting.
  • Do I get enough—and the right kind of—exercise?
    For most CHF patients, regular exercise can help the heart pump more efficiently—but it’s very important to follow an exercise program that is right for each case. Do not begin an exercise program without consulting your physician.
  • Do I get enough sleep—and make time for resting during the day?
    Rest periods are recommended, to give the heart a chance to work more easily.
  • Am I under a lot of stress?
    Stress and anxiety put strain on the heart. Develop relaxation strategies and eliminate stressful situations from your life.
  • Are my immunizations up to date?
    Flu and pneumonia are especially dangerous for people with CHF. Be sure you are immunized, and avoid persons with communicable diseases.

Lifestyle changes and following the healthcare provider’s instructions can prevent worsening of the condition. But successful management of CHF doesn’t just happen. It requires cooperation between patient and healthcare team. Family members and friends, too, can provide support and encouragement.

FOR MORE INFORMATION…

The American Heart Association (www.heart.org)  is the sponsor of American Heart Month. Their website offers information on heart failure [link to: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/Heart-Failure_UCM_002019_SubHomePage.jsp] and other cardiac conditions, including this recent comprehensive article appearing in the journal Circulation [link to:  http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/127/13/e525.full]

The Heart Failure Society of America (www.abouthf.org ) sponsors National Heart Failure Awareness Week, and offers educational materials and tutorials for people living with CHF, as well as for their family caregivers.

Copyright © AgeWise, 2014

New Retirement Realities and the Longevity Bonus

When it comes to financial goals, achieving peace of mind is seven times more important than accumulating wealth to adults age 45 and older, according to a recent Merrill Lynch study, conducted in partnership with Age Wave. The study found that retirement has been redefined, with people expecting to live and often work longer than any preceding generation, and taking different approaches to preparing for and living their best life during these years.

“Boomers have always paved their own way, and are once again pioneering new territory,” said Andy Sieg, head of Global Wealth and Retirement Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “They share a strong view that retirement is not an end but a beginning, an opportunity for reinvention. Their perspectives, concerns, goals and how they plan to achieve them are different. What they seek is clarity and confidence about what is possible in the context of their hopes and myriad uncertainties.”

The study was based on a nationwide survey of more than 6,300 respondents age 45 and older. Key findings were published in a report titled “Americans’ Perspectives on New Retirement Realities and the Longevity Bonus,” which reveals new insights into people’s approaches to and thoughts about retirement, including:

Reinvention: Today’s retirees are largely not retiring. They view the “longevity bonus” as a chance to explore new options, pursue old dreams and live life to the fullest. Fifty-seven percent of Americans age 45 and older consider retirement a whole new chapter in life. Many view it as an opportunity for career reinvention, with 51 percent of pre-retirees who plan to work in retirement indicating they want to launch into a different line of work altogether.

Family Interdependencies: Another key finding was the potential financial impact of supporting family members across multiple generations. Within many families, one or more individuals may be struggling financially. Balancing an individual’s or couple’s retirement needs with the needs of parents, siblings, children and grandchildren is a growing and complicated challenge. Fifty-two percent of parents expect to provide their adult-age children with some form of ongoing support—be it financial, healthcare, housing or education—and 35 percent believe they will need to support their grandchildren in such ways.

Connections: People find comfort, meaning and safety in connections with family, friends, communities and trusted guides during their later years. For many, work can play a significant role in maintaining a social network. Although pre-retirees think a reliable income is what they will miss most about leaving their career, retirees find that it is actually the social connections they miss most.

Traditional Values: Today’s retirees are defining happiness not in terms of dollars but in terms of new experiences, peace of mind, helping family and making a difference. When asked what is most important to pass on to future generations, respondents indicated their top priorities are values and life lessons, which are viewed as more than twice as important as financial and real estate assets.

“Americans have mixed feelings about living longer and transitioning into retirement,” said Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Age Wave, a firm that provides research and insight on the aging population and its impact. “While they welcome the extra time to pursue new interests and spend more time with family and friends, they are concerned about outliving their assets and experiencing a serious health disruption. Even those who have saved adequately can be anxious and often overwhelmed by this complexity and the unknowns they face.”

The study also offered new insights about sources of concern and the need for guidance, including:

Health Disruptions: Although many people consider early retirement a sign of financial success, the number one reason that people retire early is actually the loss of health. The cost of healthcare tops these adults’ list of retirement worries—even more so among the affluent (37 percent and 52 percent, respectively).

Falling Short: Not knowing how long one is going to live causes insecurity about the ability to support a long life. Serious health problems, being a burden on one’s family, and outliving assets ranked among respondents’ top concerns when asked about their views on living a long life (72 percent, 60 percent, and 47 percent, respectively).

Home and Community: Whether it is the nearly half of Americans looking for help deciding the best place to live during retirement, the 38 percent who expect to provide housing support for family members (including inviting them to move in), or finding ideal housing or eldercare for parents, decisions about living arrangements are among the most important when it comes to retirement planning.

“Most people understand that retirement planning is not a ‘once and done’ proposition,” said David Tyrie of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Where guidance is needed most is helping people understand how all of these variables and decisions work together over time.” He ex[plains, “We are developing a new approach to help people carefully consider nearly all aspects of their life when planning for and living in retirement, including health care costs, family, giving, home, work, leisure and finances.”

Read the entire “Americans’ Perspectives on New Retirement Realities and the Longevity Bonus” report on the Merrill Lynch Wealth Management site [add link to: http://wealthmanagement.ml.com/publish/content/application/pdf/GWMOL/2013_Merrill_Lynch_Retirement_Study.pdf ]

Source: Bank of America Merrill Lynch (www.ml.com)

Useful Holiday Gifts for Loved Ones with Health Challenges

Holiday shopping—at the pharmacy? Loyola University Medical Center experts offer tips for practical, inexpensive gifts for loved ones who are recovering from an injury or living with a chronic illness.

For the 133 million Americans who are living with chronic conditions today, the best holiday gift is something that will make navigating a daily routine easier. “Sweaters, pajamas, candy and perfume are all very nice, traditional and thoughtful gifts, but if you want to really show them you are concerned about their well-being, check out your local pharmacy for gifts they’ll use every day,” said Debbie Jansky, assistant nurse manager of home health services at Loyola’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital.

Jansky and her team of 35 registered nurses, therapists, social workers and home health aides make about 1,600 home visits each month to those who need skilled nursing or physical therapy in their home. “It’s very sad to see patients receive gifts of expensive perfume or cardigans that they will never enjoy because they can’t open the bottle or unbutton the buttons,” Jansky said.

Jansky regularly recommends several items that can be purchased at your local pharmacy. “These are used and appreciated every day,” she reports.

Here are Jansky’s top picks for holiday gifts, with suggested prices:

  • Medication organizers ($1.50 – $10). Help Mom or Dad keep track of all their pills. Available in daily or weekly sizes and in different shapes, these tools will give the whole family peace of mind that the right pill is being taken at the right time.
  • Pill cutter ($3). Many pills and tablets need to be halved or quartered. These handy devices offer precise cutting with minimal effort.
  • Pill punch ($8). “Many medications come in a multipunch card that those with arthritis have trouble manipulating,” said Clark Chrisman, pharmacist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital. “The pill punch easily pushes the individual pill through the sealed packaging.”
  • ID bracelet ($7 and up). A simple piece of jewelry alerts medics to important medical information such as allergies to penicillin, congestive heart failure or diabetes.
  • Item grabber ($28). These sturdy, clawlike hand tools can be used to retrieve a box of crackers from the top shelf or fish out a slipper that was kicked too far under the couch.
  • Adjustable cane ($27). These canes compress to a 5-inch-long stick, much like a collapsible umbrella. Small enough to place in a purse or coat pocket, they can be quickly assembled to provide support.
  • Medication coolers (around $45). Keep insulin or other medications cool and organized for easy use.
  • Rollator ($160). A luxurious walker with high-quality wheels and brakes, with a basket for shopping and a handy bench to stop and rest.
  • Accessible bathroom aids ($27-$100). Handheld water sprayers, toilet seat benches and bathtub safety rails may look insignificant in their box, but install them in the bathroom, and you have created a safe haven that will be appreciated.

Speak with the pharmacist with questions about specific items. He or she may have other great ideas, as well.

Source: Loyola University Health System (Loyola). Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, it is a nationally recognized leader in providing specialty and primary health-care services.

 

Do You Qualify for “Extra Help” With Your Prescription Drug Plan Costs?

Medications play an important role in senior health. They are beneficial in controlling many of the diseases and conditions that older adults experience, such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, heart disease and more. But many seniors fail to take their medications correctly, or at all. The reason may be that the high cost of prescription drugs means they must choose between their medications and food or other necessities.

Seniors on Medicare who have a limited income should know that they may be able to save money on their medications. They may be unaware that they could qualify for the Social Security Extra Help program, which could save them up to $4000 each year on the cost of drugs.

Here is information from Social Security about the Extra Help benefit:

Anyone who has Medicare can get Medicare prescription drug coverage. Some people with limited resources and income also may be able to get Extra Help to pay for the costs related to a Medicare prescription drug plan. This might include:

  • Monthly premiums
  • Annual deductibles
  • Prescription co-payments

To qualify for Extra Help, you must meet three requirements:

  • You must reside in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia
  • Your resources must be limited to $13,300 for an individual or $26,580 for a married couple living together. Resources include such things as bank accounts, stock and bonds. Social Security does not count your home, car and any life insurance policy as resources.
  • Your annual income must be limited to $17,235 for an individual or $23,265 for a married couple living together. Even if your annual income is higher, you still may be able to get some help. Some examples where your income may be higher are if you or your spouse:
  • Support other family members who live with you
  • Have earnings from work
  • Live in Alaska or Hawaii

How To Apply

It is easy to apply for Extra Help. Just complete Social Security’s Application for Extra Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs (SSA-1020). Here’s how:

  • You can apply online at www.socialsecurity.gov/extrahelp . The online application is secure and easy to use.
  • Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to apply over the phone or to request an application
  • Apply to your local Social Security office

After you apply, Social Security will review your application and send you a letter to let you know if you qualify for Extra Help. Once you qualify, you can choose a Medicare prescription drug plan. If you do not choose a plan, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will do it for you. The sooner you join a plan, the sooner you begin receiving benefits.

For more information, visit www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Source: U.S. Social Security Administration, edited by AgeWise, 2013

Five Ways to Save Money on Your Medications

Managing medications can be difficult when the cost of your drugs is high. If you’re having trouble paying for your prescriptions, here are 5 ways you might be able to save money.

1. Talk to your doctor—and your plan.

When you’re prescribed a new medication, check to see whether it’s on your plan’s formulary (approved drug list) and how much your copayment is. If your drug plan doesn’t cover your prescription, or if your copayments are very high, ask your doctor for help.

Physicians will know whether there are comparable, less expensive drugs (e.g., generics) that may be available to you. Some may even be able to provide free samples of medications while you seek other coverage options. Doctors also can request an exception to ask your plan to cover the medication, or to pay at a lower tier.

2. See if you qualify for Extra Help.

The Medicare Part D program has a subsidy called Extra Help that assists people with limited income and resources with paying for their drugs. If you get Extra Help, you’ll save money on your drug plan premium, deductible, and at the pharmacy—with prescriptions costing between $1.15 and $6.60.

Learn more about who qualifies for Extra Help and apply online today. [link to: https://www.benefitscheckup.org/cf/extrahelp.cfm]

3. Check with your state.

About half of the states have State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs (SPAPs) to help people with limited incomes pay for their prescriptions. Many SPAPs work with Medicare Part D, “wrapping around” coverage, meaning they help pay for certain costs that Part D does not cover.

However, each state runs its program differently, so it’s best to check what the rules are in your area. See if your state has an SPAP. [link to: http://www.mymedicarematters.org/PrescriptionDrugs/CurrentCoverage/spap_contact.php]

4. Find help from drug manufacturers.

Patient Assistance Programs, or PAPs, are programs offered by drug companies to help people pay for their drugs. Through these programs, many drug manufacturers offer the drugs they make for free, or at a discount. Some PAPs are for people who don’t have insurance, while a few help people with Medicare Part D who don’t qualify for Extra Help.

The National Council on Aging’s (NCOA) BenefitsCheckUp® screening tool [link to: https://www.benefitscheckup.org] can help you see whether you can get help from a PAP—or any of the other programs mentioned on this page.

5. Don’t forget Open Enrollment!

Every year from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, people with Medicare can switch their prescription drug plans for the following year. If you’re having trouble with your drug costs, it’s a good idea to compare plans to see if there’s a more affordable option.

You can go online at any time to compare plans using the Medicare Plan Finder, or you can get personalized help from your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Every state has a SHIP that offers free, objective, and personalized information to people with Medicare.

You also can ask your SHIP whether you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period to switch plans. Find your SHIP here. [link to: https://shipnpr.shiptalk.org]

Source: The National Council on Aging (www.ncoa.org) is a nonprofit service and advocacy organization whose mission is to improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged. NCOA is a national voice for older Americans and the community organizations that serve them, and works with thousands of organizations across the country to help seniors find jobs and benefits, improve their health, live independently, and remain active in their communities.

 

People with Medicare and the Health Insurance Marketplace: Frequently Asked Questions

You have probably heard that a key part of the new healthcare law, the new Health Insurance Marketplace, will begin on October 1. Seniors on Medicare have expressed confusion about how they are impacted by this new law and what they should do. Here is a brief overview:

Q: How will the Health Insurance Marketplace that starts in 2014 affect my Medicare coverage?

The Health Insurance Marketplace is designed to help people who don’t have any health insurance. You have health insurance through Medicare. The Marketplace won’t have any effect on your Medicare coverage.

Your Medicare benefits aren’t changing. No matter how you get Medicare, whether through Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage Plan, you’ll still have the same benefits and security you have now, and you won’t have to make any changes.

The Marketplace provides new health insurance options for many Americans. If you have family and friends who don’t have health insurance, tell them to visit HealthCare.gov to learn more about their options.

Q: Do I need to do anything with Marketplace plans during Medicare Open Enrollment (October 15 – December 7, 2013)?

Medicare’s Open Enrollment isn’t part of the new Health Insurance Marketplace. It’s against the law for someone who knows that you have Medicare to sell you a Marketplace plan.

Medicare Open Enrollment (October 15 – December 7, 2013) is the time when all people with Medicare are encouraged to review their current health and prescription drug coverage, including any changes in costs, coverage and benefits that will take effect next year. If you want to change your coverage for next year, this is the time to do it. If you’re satisfied that your current coverage will continue to meet your needs for next year, you don’t need to do anything. For more information on Medicare Open Enrollment, visit Medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE.

Note: The Health Insurance Marketplace Open Enrollment period (October 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014) overlaps with the Medicare Open Enrollment period (October 15 – December 7, 2013). Therefore, people with Medicare who are looking to make Medicare coverage changes should make sure that they are reviewing Medicare plans and not Marketplace options.

Q: What should I do if I’m contacted about signing up for a health plan?

  • The Medicare open enrollment period is a time when there’s a higher risk for fraudulent activities.
  • It’s against the law for someone who knows that you have Medicare to sell you a Marketplace plan.
  • DO NOT share your Medicare number or other personal information with anyone who knocks on your door or contacts you uninvited to sell you a health plan.

Senior Medicare Patrol programs are teaching people with Medicare how to detect and report fraud, and protect themselves from fraudulent activity and identity theft. To learn more about health care fraud and ways to protect against it, visit StopMedicareFraud.gov or the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) program in your area (locate your SMP at SMPresource.org).

Source: United States Department of Health and Human Services.