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Check Your Mail: Changes to the 2018 Medicare Open Enrollment Period Mailings

Changes 2018 Medicare Open Enrollment PeriodIt’s time a year again! Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period (OEP) is almost here, starting October 15th and ending December 7th. If you’re already enrolled in a Medicare plan this is the time of year where you can re-evaluateyour coverage to make sure you are still enrolled in the best plan for your needs.

Over the next few weeks, leading up to and during the Medicare OEP you’ll receive notices from your current Medicare plan, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and advertisements from other Medicare companies claiming to offer the best plans. All this information can be overwhelming and as tempting as it may be to lump is with the junk mail and throw it away, that may not be the best idea. There are a lot of changes occurring with Medicare this year and to stay informed you need to review all the notices provided by your insurance company and CMS.

One of the most immediate changes impacts the Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plan notification policies. Plans will no longer mail copies of the Evidence of Coverage to beneficiaries. Instead, the Evidence of Coverage will be available online and a hard copy must be requested. Here’s a list of notifications and resources which you should review and/or request as you prepare for Medicare Open Enrollment:

  • The Annual Notice of Change (ANOC), a 10+ page document sent out to people enrolled in a Medicare Advantage and/or Medicare Part D The ANOC is sent by your Medicare plan and includes any changes to your current plans coverage, costs, or service area effective January 2019. Insurance companies can make changes every year that may increase your out-of-pocket cost or decrease your benefits, so it’s important to review this document thoroughly. You should receive this notice by September 30, if not contact your plan directly.
  • The Evidence of Coverage is 140+ page document that contains a detailed overview of what your current plan covers, cost, and more.  Beginning in 2018, Medicare Advantage and/or Medicare Part D plans are no longer required to mail hard copies of the Evidence of Coverage to Medicare plan enrollees.  Instead, Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans are required to publish the EOC on their website by October 15.
  • Plans are required to mail a printed notice called the Notification of Electronic Materials to all enrollees explaining how to obtain hard copies of plan materials routinely available on the plan’s website (EOC, provider directories and formularies). The notice must list the plan’s website, the date the documents will be available on the website, and a phone number to request hard copies of the EOC, plan provider directories and/or plan formularies.
  • Medicare & You Handbook is sent by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in late September. This handbook contains lots of useful information about when Medicare covers certain services, including preventive care, medical equipment and supplies and much more. If you don’t receive one by the second week in October, call 1-800-Medicare to get another copy with your state’s specific plan information, or go to the Medicare site to view the general information online.

Additional Medicare Notifications

  • Notice of Plan Termination/Reassignment Notice. If your Medicare Part D or Extra Help plan will no longer be available in 2019, the CMS will send you this blue notification. You will have the option of selecting a new drug plan for the new year or being reassigned to one by CMS. Your decision must be made before December 31st.
  • The Consistent Poor Performer Notice is sent to individuals enrolled in a Medicare plan that has received an overall star rating of less than 3 stars for at least three years. Plans with less than 3 stars are considered poor quality and it’s recommended that you switch to a 4.5 or 5-star rated plan during the Medicare OEP. If you choose to remain enrolled in your plan during the OEP you can switch any time of the year using a Special Enrollment Period for lower rated plans.

All of these documents should be reviewed thoroughly to help you decide if your current plan still meets your needs for the upcoming year. If you haven’t already done so, consider going paperless this year. You can start by creating a Medicare.gov account to receive all notices via email. Then, call your plan to learn about their paperless options. You can find their customer service phone number on your insurance card.

To get help finding a Medicare plan that fits your needs try taking our Medicare Questionnaire, which can connect you to free professional advice about Medicare from a licensed benefits advisor.

MEDICARE GUIDE

Source: MyMedicareMatters.org  By: The My Medicare Matters Team

Get ready for Open Enrollment!

It’s almost time once again for the annual Open Enrollment Period (Oct. 15-Dec. 7) during which Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their Part D and Medicare Advantage coverage. They can use the OEP to enroll in a drug plan, or change how they get their Medicare benefits such as going from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare, or vice versa. Any changes your clients make related to the OEP take effect on January 1, 2018.

Here’s everything you need to have to get ready to counsel clients during this year’s OEP.

Cost information for 2018

Counseling tools and checklists

Enrollment & disenrollment basics

Marketing rules

Other resources

Source: NCOA.org

Maple Syrup Fights Alzheimer’s

Maple syrup isn’t just delicious, it also could cure Alzheimer’s disease

It’s a sweet new health discovery: Maple syrup could cure Alzheimer’s disease.Maple Syrup Alzheimer's

The delicious pancake topping may soon find its way into granny’s pill bottle because it stops brain cell damage that causes the disease, scientists revealed Monday.

The tasty treat may prevent the clumping and “misfolding” of brain cell proteins — which build up and cause plaques that trigger the devastating disease, researchers at the American Chemical Society said.

An extract of the sticky stuff stopped the dangerous “folding” in two types of brain proteins, researchers from the Krembil Research Institute of the University of Toronto said.

“Natural food products such as green tea, red wine, berries, curcumin and pomegranates continue to be studied for their potential benefits in combating Alzheimer’s disease,” said symposium director Dr. Navindra Seeram.

“And now, in preliminary laboratory-based Alzheimer’s disease studies, phenolic-enriched extracts of maple syrup from Canada showed neuroprotective effects, similar to resveratrol, a compound found in red wine,” she said.

Researchers plan to study whether a maple syrup extract can be effective as a cure for degenerative brain disease.

The syrup protects two brain proteins — beta amyloid and tau peptide, researchers said.

Researchers from the American Chemical Society discussed the discovery at an annual symposium, which is being held March 13-17 in San Diego.

Dr. Donald Weaver of the Krembil Research Institute revealed the discovery.

 

Source: New York Post, March 17, 2016

Safety First When Turning Up the Heat

As temperatures drop, more people will turn on heaters to stay warm. The nation’s emergency physicians warn about the potential risks involved with heating your homes and bodies.

“Every year, tragically, people are burned, start fires, get an electric shock and even die from carbon monoxide poisoning, because they weren’t taking proper precautions,” said Dr. Alex Rosenau, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “I don’t want anyone in my emergency department suffering from an injury that could have been easily prevented.”

Each year more than 2,500 people died in house fires in the United States, according to FEMA and another 12,600 are injured.

Another big concern each fall and winter is carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and even death. People can be poisoned by breathing it.

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. High levels can cause loss of consciousness. Every home should have a carbon monoxide detector, and if you have any of these symptoms, you should seek emergency care.

ACEP recommends the following:

  • Check all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Make certain they are working properly. If they are battery operated, change the batteries. There should be one of each detector on every floor of your house.
  • Have a professional inspect your gas furnace at least once a year. One with leaks or cracks can be dangerous for your home, leaking carbon monoxide or possibly causing a fire.
  • If you use a fireplace, have a professional inspect and clean it every year to avoid fires. Also make sure any flammable materials are away from the open flame area. Never burn trash, cardboard boxes or items that may contain chemicals that can poison your home.
  • If you use a wood burning stove, have a professional inspect and clean the chimney each year. Make sure you have a safe perimeter around it, because it can radiate excessive heat. Place on a flame-resistant carpet, and use a screen to prevent sparks and hot coals from coming out of the stove. Use safe woods, such as oak, hickory and ash — avoid pine and cedar.
  • Never use a range (electric or gas) or oven as a heating source. It’s not only a dangerous fire hazard; it can also release dangerous fumes, such as carbon monoxide.
  • If you use an electric space heater, keep a safe perimeter around it. Make sure it is away from water or anything flammable like curtains, paper, blankets, or furniture.

Check for any faulty wiring that can cause electric shock or fire. Supervise children and pets around space heaters, and turn them off before leaving the room or going to sleep.

For more on this and other health related topics, go to www.emergencycareforyou.org.

Source: The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Visit the ACEP website for more information (www.acep.org)

 

Blindness Due to Age-Related Macular Degeneration Should Not be Considered an Inevitability

The American Academy of Ophthalmology advises that early detection and today’s treatments for common eye disease among seniors can help stop vision loss.

While age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in Americans age 65 and older, seniors who develop AMD should not consider blindness in advanced age to be inevitable, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The Academy is advising the public that regular eye exams, along with today’s treatments for AMD—if provided early enough—can help seniors avoid unnecessary AMD-related vision loss.

AMD, which affects an estimated 11 million Americans, is the deterioration of the eye’s macula—the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye that is responsible for central vision, the ability to see fine details clearly. AMD has two forms—wet and dry. While dry AMD leads to a gradual loss of vision, wet AMD leads to faster vision loss and is the most advanced form of the disease. Wet AMD is responsible for 80 to 90 percent of all AMD-related blindness. As AMD is not commonly detected in patients until they begin to suffer vision loss, it is critical for seniors to understand the importance of routine eye exams. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that by age 65, seniors should get eye exams every one to two years, or as recommended by their ophthalmologist.

Years after Joan Nick, an 86-year-old retiree from Carmel, Calif., lost vision in her right eye in her 60s due to glaucoma, she was diagnosed with dry AMD in her left eye. Her ophthalmologist at the time advised her not to worry since the disease typically progresses slowly. But, during a routine eye exam, Nick was shocked to find she could not read an eye chart. Although she hadn’t noticed any changes in her vision, her AMD had progressed from dry to wet. Nick immediately visited a retina specialist who began treatment that restored the vision lost to AMD.

“I am so thankful that this treatment has given me a second chance to enjoy the activities I love, such as reading and cooking,” says Nick.

Rahul N. Khurana, M.D., Nick’s ophthalmologist specializing in retina-related conditions and a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, encourages seniors to learn from Nick’s example of taking action to fight the progression of AMD. “Many older people develop AMD and other age-related eye diseases as part of the body’s natural aging process, but seniors should not suffer in silence about their sight loss because they feel it’s inevitable,” said Dr. Khurana. “There is so much that we ophthalmologists can do these days to help seniors prevent, slow and treat AMD. It’s important for seniors to know that people with AMD today have a much better chance of saving their vision than they did 10 years ago.”

For individuals who have been diagnosed with dry AMD, nutrient supplements have been proven beneficial in lowering the risk of developing wet AMD. For those who have the wet form of AMD, treatments are available and include anti-VEGF injections that are administered directly into the eye, thermal laser therapy, or photodynamic therapy which involves a light-activated injected drug in combination with a low-power laser.

Seniors who are worried about AMD or other eye conditions, and have not had a recent eye exam or for whom cost is a concern, may qualify for EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology that offers eye exams and care at no out-of-pocket cost for eligible seniors age 65 and older. Visit www.eyecareamerica.org to see if you are eligible.

More information about AMD

Symptoms of dry AMD include:

  • Blurry or hazy vision, especially in your central vision
  • Need for increasingly bright light to see up close
  • Colors appear less vivid or bright
  • Difficulty seeing when going from bright light to low light
  • Trouble or inability to recognize people’s faces

Symptoms of wet AMD include:

  • Distorted vision—straight lines will appear bent, crooked or irregular
  • Dark gray spots or blank spots in your vision
  • Size of objects may appear different for each eye
  • Colors lose their brightness or do not look the same for each eye

Learn about AMD risk factors and view an AMD vision simulator [optional link to: http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/age-related-macular-degeneration/macular-degeneration-vision-simulator.cfm] to see how this eye disease can affect vision. For more information about AMD and other eye diseases, visit www.geteyesmart.org.

Source: The American Academy of Ophthalmology, the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. For more information, visit www.aao.org. The Academy’s EyeSmart® program educates the public about the importance of eye health and empowers them to preserve healthy vision. EyeSmart provides the most trusted and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. OjosSanos™ is the Spanish-language version of the program. Visit www.geteyesmart.org or www.ojossanos.org to learn more.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015

“Nightcap” Before Bedtime? Not a Good Idea!

Do you have a “nightcap” to help yourself relax before bedtime? This might not be such a good idea, according to sleep researchers. Experts have long known that consuming beer, wine or spirits right before bedtime can cause us to wake up after only a few hours and then feel tired during the day. A recent study from the University of Missouri School of Medicine helps explain why.

Mahesh Thakkar, Ph.D., and his team report that alcohol is a powerful sleep inducer, and almost one in five Americans drinks alcohol to help fall asleep. But, says Prof. Thakkar, alcohol interferes with the body’s natural mechanism that regulates sleepiness and wakefulness. This mechanism, called sleep homeostasis, makes us want to sleep if we haven’t slept in a while, and wakes us up if we’ve slept too long.

The researchers found that drinking alcohol interferes with the sleep homeostatic mechanism, putting pressure on us to go to sleep right away. When this happens, the sleep period is shifted. In addition, as the alcohol wears off, we may wake up. Said study co-author Dr. Pradeep Sahota, “Based on our results, it’s clear that alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid. Alcohol disrupts sleep and the quality of sleep is diminished.” He added, “Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic, which increases your need to go the bathroom and causes you to wake up earlier in the morning.”

These findings are important for seniors, who are at higher risk of sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep, waking during the night and waking up too early. Poor quality sleep worsens many health conditions and can lead to depression and falls. Instead of having a drink, seniors are advised to read a book or listen to soothing music before bedtime, and to improve the sleep environment. Adding exercise during the day—but not right before sleep—also helps.

Dr. Thakkar said, “Sleep is an immense area of study. Approximately one-third of our life is spent sleeping. Coupled with statistics that show 20 percent of people drink alcohol to sleep, it’s vital that we understand how the two interact. If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, don’t use alcohol. Talk to your doctor or a sleep medicine physician to determine what factors are keeping you from sleeping. These factors can then be addressed with individualized treatments.”

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, reporting on a study http://www.alcoholjournal.org/article/S0741-8329(14)20115-7/abstract from the University of Missouri Health System

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015

Do Working Caregivers Provide Less Care for Loved Ones?

There’s a common assumption that when a loved one needs care, family members who do not work outside the home will be first to step up and provide support. Of course, in reality this is not the case. Many other factors come into play as a family’s caregiving arrangement takes shape.

In a series of studies over the past year, the United Hospital Fund and the AARP have been looking at the facts about family caregiving in the U.S. One thing they’ve discovered is that family caregivers today are performing more and more medical and nursing tasks for their elderly relatives. Family members are providing medication management, performing wound care, monitoring their loved ones’ health conditions and operating specialized medical equipment. The researchers also looked at the level of care and number of care hours provided by family members who were also employed outside the home, compared with those who were not. Said Susan Reinhard of the AARP Public Policy Institute, “We expected that caregivers who didn’t have to manage the demands of a job would have more time to take on these challenging tasks—tasks that would make a nursing student tremble—but our data shows that there’s little difference between the two groups.”

Though working caregivers were only one percentage point less likely to be providing this kind of care (45 percent of them, versus 46 percent of non-working caregivers), the percentages diverged dramatically in another category. Said Carol Levine of the United Hospital Fund, “Where we did find a difference was in the stress associated with juggling the demands of caregiving with other responsibilities.” Levine reports that while 49 percent of family caregivers who are not employed report feeling stressed, fully 61 percent of the working caregivers reported such stress.

This study is yet another reminder of how important it is for our nation to support family caregivers, whose unpaid work is worth billions of dollars each year, and many of whom are also productive members of the workforce.

Read the entire study [link to: http://www.uhfnyc.org/assets/1157] on the United Hospital Fund website.

Source: AgeWise reporting on research from the United Hospital Fund and AARP.

 

Could Having a Sense of Purpose Lengthen Our Lives?

Over the last few years, aging experts have been looking at the role played by a sense of purpose—the feeling that our lives have meaning, and that we have a place in the world, that we make a difference. A number of studies have found that having a sense of purpose motivates us to take care of ourselves, reduces stress, and lowers the risk of a host of ailments that become more common as we age.

In November 2014, an article appearing in The Lancet suggested that having a sense of purpose can even add years to our lives. As reported by University College London (UCL), seniors who experienced a certain type of well-being were 30 percent less likely to die over the course of a study that was conducted by researchers from UCL, Princeton University and Stony Brook University. The researchers explained that “eudemonic well-being” is the positive feeling we get when we feel that what we do is worthwhile and that we have a purpose in life.

Explained study leader Professor Andrew Steptoe, Director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology, “We cannot be sure that higher well-being necessarily causes lower risk of death, since the relationship may not be causal. But the findings raise the intriguing possibility that increasing well-being could help to improve physical health. There are several biological mechanisms that may link well-being to improved health, for example through hormonal changes or reduced blood pressure. Further research is now needed to see if such changes might contribute to the links between well-being and life expectancy in older people.”

The study appeared in the Nov. 6, 2014 issue of The Lancet. [optional link: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2813%2961489-0/fulltext]

Source: AgeWise reporting on news release from University College London.

 

Retirement Communities Encouraged to Promote Muscle-Strengthening Activities

A University of Missouri expert encourages staff and administrators to include a well-rounded fitness program in order to keep residents healthier.

The majority of adults aged 65 and older remain inactive and fail to meet recommended physical activity guidelines, previous research has shown. However, these studies have not represented elders living in retirement communities who may have more access to recreational activities and exercise equipment. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have found that older adults in retirement communities who reported more exercise experienced less physical decline than their peers who reported less exercise, although many adults—even those who exercised—did not complete muscle-strengthening exercises, which are another defense against physical decline.

“Physical decline is natural in this age group, but we found that people who exercised more declined less,” said Lorraine Phillips, an associate professor in the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing. “The most popular physical activities the residents of the retirement community reported doing were light housework and walking, both of which are easily integrated into individuals’ daily lives, but these exercises are not the best choices for maintaining muscle strength.”

Phillips and her colleagues studied the physical activity of 38 residents at TigerPlace, an independent living community in Columbia, four times in one year. The researchers tested the residents’ walking speed, balance and their ability to stand up after sitting in a chair. Then, researchers compared the results of the tests to the residents’ self-reported participation in exercise. Phillips found that residents who reported doing more exercise had more success maintaining their physical abilities over time.

Phillips says the national recommendations for exercise include muscle strengthening exercises, such as knee extensions and bicep curls. Most of the study participants did not report completing these types of activities despite daily opportunities for recreational activities and access to exercise equipment. Phillips says muscle strength is important to individuals of this age group in order for them to maintain their ability to conduct everyday activities such as opening jars, standing up from chairs and supporting their own body weight.

“For older individuals, walking may represent the most familiar and comfortable type of physical activity,” Phillips said. “Muscle-strengthening exercises should be promoted more aggressively in retirement communities and made more appealing to residents.”

To combat the lack of physical activity among seniors, Phillips says health care providers should discuss exercise programs with their patients and share the possible risks associated with their lack of exercise, such as losing their ability to live independently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals 65 years of age and older that have no limiting health conditions should do muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups at least two days a week.

Phillips’ research, “Retirement Community Residents’ Physical Activity, Depressive Symptoms, and Functional Limitations,” was published in Clinical Nursing Researchhttp://cnr.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/02/10/1054773813508133.abstract

Source: University of Missouri News Bureau.

 

Home Care Supports Seniors Who Want to Age in Place

The U.S. Census Bureau reported last year that the percentage of seniors who are living in a nursing home dropped by 20 percent over the last decade. Are seniors just healthier today? The truth is, older adults today need as much care as did previous generations, but more of them are receiving it in assisted living communities, adult day centers and, in growing numbers, in their own homes.
This information comes as little surprise to the 65 million Americans who are already serving as family caregivers for older loved ones who need help managing health conditions and the activities of daily living. Many of these caregivers are members of the baby boom generation, who are reaching the age when they themselves might be expected to need care! From the local to the federal level, government agencies, too, are taking notice of the financial impact resulting from this population shift. The discussion about how to best and most cost-effectively care for our seniors is taking center stage.
The Census study showed that 90 percent of seniors would wish to receive care in their own homes. Is this realistic? Can they be safe and well-cared for even if they are living with age-related illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, or memory loss? Several demographic changes in our society make this more of a challenge than it was in the past:
• A University of Michigan study showed that almost 40 percent of chronically ill older adults in the U.S. live alone, and the majority of those who are married have spouses who are themselves facing health challenges.
• Our lower birthrate equals fewer adult children to help out as parents’ care needs increase.
• Adult children are more likely to live at a distance, having moved to find employment.
• A higher divorce rate means more seniors live alone, and family caregivers’ financial and time resources are stretched when parents live in different households, or even in different parts of the country.
The cost of institutional care continues to grow. For some seniors with medically complex health challenges, nursing homes and other residential health facilities are the best choice. But for many other seniors, home care is a desirable and cost-effective arrangement.
Dr. Soeren Mattke of the RAND Corporation noted, “The aging of the world’s population and the fact that more diseases are treatable will create serious financial and manpower challenges for the world’s healthcare systems.” He added, “Moving more healthcare into the home setting where patients or family members can manage care could be one important solution to these challenges.”
A wide variety of care services can be provided right in a patient’s home:
Skilled healthcare services can be provided at home and are cost-effective. Visiting nurses and rehabilitation professionals provide skilled medical services in the home. Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) perform hands-on procedures such as wound care and IV therapy. Rehabilitation professionals include physical, occupational and speech/language therapists.
Nonmedical home care provides companionship and homemaking services that support the senior’s independence, at a much lower cost than nursing care. Caregivers provide supervision, assistance with dressing grooming and other personal care, laundry and housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation, socialization, and respite for family caregivers.
Dementia support is also available. Even when adult children live close to home, dementia complicates the caregiving dynamic. Trained in-home caregivers who understand the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and similar conditions can help patients remain home longer, even as the need for assistance and supervision grows.
Many experts believe that bringing more care into seniors’ own homes will allow them to take better charge of their own care—and will save seniors and the healthcare system money.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015