Do You Want to Learn More About Caregiving?

Giving

Challenges in Caregiving: Giving Care, Taking Care, a caregiver training conference will be offered on Monday, June 3, 2013 at the Tukwila Community Center in Tukwila, Washington. The event is hosted by Aging and Disability Services Administration, Full Life Care and Pierce County Community Connections/Aging and Long Term Care along with the support of numerous community organizations. The conference is designed to provide current, practical skills and resources that community caregivers can use in their daily caregiving responsibilities. The conference is intended for:

• Family caregivers (spouses, adult children, parents of adults with disabilities, or other relatives)
• Home care workers and adult day services staff
• Adult family home or assisted living staff
• Social service or mental health professionals who work with family caregivers

The Early Registration fee (by May 15) for individual caregivers is $30. Scholarships are available for unpaid family caregivers. The Early Registration fee for agency-based caregivers is $50. Fees include workshops, lunch and resource exhibits. Registration forms will be available in April and space is limited – so don’t delay! For more information or to receive a full brochure and registration materials, please call 1-800-422-3263 or 360-725-2544.

~Professional Medical Corp.

Are Your Medical Bills Out of Control?

If you are like many America’s facing unexpected medical bills the task of sorting through invoices can be tedious.

Patients are frustrated to receive multiple bills, for such things as hospital services, with little to no explanations as to what the invoice includes.

None of this surprises Pat Palmer, the founder of Medical Billing Advocates of America. “We get feedback from consumers saying that providers are telling them ‘We can’t give you an itemized statement’ or ‘You should have asked for it before you left the hospital.'”

For those with confusing or huge hospital bills some experts’ advise patients to take the following steps.

Knowing your patient rights within a doctor’s office or hospital is the first step in avoiding financial disagreements. Make it clear that you are aware of your legal right to have such things as an itemizes invoice.

Get explanations in writing and take protests to the top. All communications with a provider should be in writing and if customer service departments are not helpful avoid them and write a letter to the chief financial officer.

Ask for help from you insurer. They have a responsibility to some degree to what happens between you and a contracted physician and can often be a great ally.

And finally seek help and file complaints if your bill is much higher then you expected or can afford. Organizations such as Medical Billing Advocates of America and Health Proponent can help you fight charges or lower your bill.

To learn more read HERE

~Professional Medical Corp.

The Boomer’s Guide to Medicare.

AARP has posted the top 8 “Do’s and Dont’s” when it comes to Medicare. Make sure you are not only aware…but truly in the know when it comes to the future of your health care.

Here’s what you should know…

1. Do give yourself time to learn about Medicare: It’s a system with many choices and deadlines. Being informed is the best way to avoid mistakes that cost money.

2. Don’t expect to be notified when it’s time to sign up: Unless you’re already receiving Social Security benefits, you must apply for Medicare. But you won’t get any official notice on when or how to enroll.

3. Do enroll when you’re supposed to: To avoid permanent late penalties, enroll at age 65 if you’re not working, don’t have employer insurance or live abroad; or, beyond 65, enroll within eight months of stopping work — even if you continue to receive COBRA or retiree health benefits from an employer.

4. Don’t despair if you haven’t worked long enough to qualify: You may qualify for Medicare on your current or former spouse’s work record. Or you may be able to buy into the program.

5. Don’t worry that poor health will affect your coverage: If you qualify for Medicare, you receive full benefits. You can’t be denied coverage or charged higher premiums because of current or past health problems.

6. Do remember that Medicare is not free: You pay premiums for coverage and copayments for most services, unless you qualify for a low-income program or have other, extra insurance.

7. Don’t assume that Medicare covers everything: It covers a wide range of health services (including expensive ones like organ transplants), prescription drugs and medical equipment. But there are gaps.

8. Don’t expect Medicare to cover your dependents: Nobody can get Medicare under age 65, except those who qualify through disability. Medicare has no family coverage.

For a complete Medicare starter kit, head to http://www.aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance/info-04-2011/medicare-starter-guide.html.

 

COBRA Confusion

Bill Bregar thought he was doing everything right. With his former employer’s health insurance due to run out in May 2009, he believed that his visit with his wife to the Social Security office to sign up for Medicare would be routine. He was wrong. They were told they wouldn’t be able to get Medicare coverage until July 2010. Suddenly, in their late 60s, they faced the prospect of 13 months without health insurance. “My reaction was disbelief,” he recalls. “My wife went into shock.”

Bregar, a former software engineer from Lake Oswego, Ore., and his wife, Ruth, had run afoul of an obscure rule that is little understood by Medicare beneficiaries, employers, health insurance companies and even some Social Security and Medicare officials. And their experience has led directly to their congressman, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., proposing legislation to have the rule changed.

Obscure rule hurts beneficiaries
Under current law, working Americans with employer health coverage can postpone signing up for Medicare until after 65. When they retire, accept a buyout or are laid off, they then get an eight-month special enrollment period to sign up for Medicare Part B (which covers doctors visits and other outpatient services) immediately and without penalty.

But many people in these circumstances are able to extend their employer coverage for a year or two under a 1986 law known as COBRA, which is what Bregar did.

What they may not realize is that waiting until their COBRA coverage expires to enroll in Part B disqualifies them from the eight-month grace period. Instead, they must wait to sign up during open enrollment, from Jan. 1 to March 31 each year, and their coverage won’t begin until the following July. They also get hit with a late penalty, an extra charge added permanently to their Part B premiums.

The COBRA catch
Social Security officials explain that under the law, people can postpone signing up for Part B without penalty only while they have group health insurance provided by an employer for whom they or their spouses are still working. Therefore, time on COBRA—used after employment has ended—does not entitle them to special enrollment.

Although this rule is 24 years old, in recent months AARP and other consumer help organizations have both seen a significant uptick in the number of calls complaining about it.

The Medicare Rights Center, which tracks calls involving Part B enrollment problems, reports that this year more than 21 percent of these relate to the COBRA issue. The timing may be due to the fact that when the economic recession hit in 2008, more older Americans lost their jobs and opted for COBRA coverage without thinking to sign up for Part B—and are only now facing the consequences. Nobody yet knows how many people are affected.

Confusion, even among experts
“It’s clear from the number and types of calls we get on our hotlines that there is a lot of confusion about how Medicare works with COBRA,” says Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center. “Not only are individuals confused, but employers are as well, and the price of the confusion can be devastating for some.”

Yet the crucial Medicare regulation barring a special enrollment period for people whose COBRA coverage is ending is rarely publicized. It is not mentioned in the Department of Labor’s guidance for people considering COBRA. It is mentioned briefly on page 24 of the official handbook, “Medicare & You 2010”—but without any warning of a delay in Part B coverage. It isn’t included in Social Security’s general website information on enrolling in Medicare or in its frequently-asked-questions section—though entering “COBRA” into the site’s search engine leads to an explanation.

But many people don’t go to these sources. Instead, they rely on information from their employers, their insurance company or Social Security officials. Bregar, who accepted a voluntary retirement package from the Hewlett Packard Company in 2007, consulted all three. On an earlier visit to the local Social Security office when he turned 65, he says the official told him he didn’t need to sign up for Part B until his employer insurance ended. “What he didn’t say,” Bregar adds, was that this wasn’t true “if I stopped working at any time even if my health insurance were still in effect.”

After the bombshell landed, Bregar repeatedly called Social Security. Among some 15 conversations with officials, he says, “two of them told me exactly the same wrong information as I was given in the first place.”

But one suggested he apply for “equitable relief.” This little-known option allows Social Security to investigate cases and reverse decisions if it finds an official has given faulty information. Bregar wrote a letter applying for relief and took it down to the office. “The lady there said: ‘Well, I’m happy to forward this on, but I can tell you I’ve been here for 26 years and I’ve only seen one case resolved in favor of the applicant,’ ” he recalls.

At that point, Bregar called the office of his congressman, Schrader. His staff, who’d never heard of the rule either, became interested. Their calls resulted in a “congressional inquiry” label attached to the Bregars’ Social Security file. Meanwhile the couple, frantically trying to find insurance, discovered that only one policy—costing around $1,700 a month—was available to them. On the day they were due to sign up, Bregar received a call from Social Security. He says the official said simply: “When do you want your Medicare insurance to begin?” He said: “Next week?” “Done,” she replied. The power of a congressional inquiry had paid off.

Unlucky victims caught in the trap
Many others in the same situation are not so lucky. Harvey Fine, of Woodstock, Ga., had planned to retire from his job as a packaging company executive upon reaching age 70 in October. But last summer he was laid off and now he and his wife, Lucille, are covered under COBRA until December. He, too, was stunned to discover last month that they’d fallen into the unforeseen trap and would have to wait until next July for Medicare. Everyone had told him that COBRA was simply an extension of his employer’s group coverage—“same policy, same card, same everything,” he says. “The hidden point to me was this eight-month window. You lose out unless you know these things.”

Fine, too, complained to Social Security that he’d been given wrong information, but at a review he was denied because he couldn’t remember the name of the official he’d visited a year ago. There was a record of his visit, but “they said the person didn’t enter anything into my file,” he recalls. The agency confirms that an investigation cannot be opened unless the applicant can provide the name of the official and the date and place of the conversation. And an applicant making a formal appeal is unlikely to succeed, because ignorance of the law is not a defense.

Fine wonders why he is being penalized when, by taking COBRA for 18 months, he has actually saved Medicare money. “There seems no logic in this rule,” he says. The confusion is compounded by the fact that Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, has a different rule: People whose COBRA benefits expire are allowed a two-month special enrollment to sign up with a drug plan without penalty.

No Medicare for months
Many older Americans who fall into the Part B-COBRA trap aren’t so concerned about the late penalty, but say the prospect of no insurance for months is frightening.

Like most others, Fine’s insurance options after COBRA ends are limited. With a history of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol—which his current medications keep in check—he is unlikely to find individual coverage. He isn’t eligible for insurance under the new health care law’s high-risk pools that accept people with preexisting medical conditions, because to qualify people must have been uninsured for at least six months.

He may be able to get coverage under another law that allows people who have had continuous coverage from an employer plan and COBRA for at least 18 months to buy insurance regardless of preexisting conditions, but this is usually very expensive. Fine is exploring all possibilities, but the process “is like Russian roulette,” he says. “My worst case scenario is to bite the bullet and dig into whatever savings I have.”

A proposed change in the law
It was Bregar who suggested to Schrader that the law should be changed.

Schrader agreed.

His bill, entitled the Medicare Enrollment Protection Act of 2010, proposes to allow people a special enrollment period of eight months after COBRA benefits run out to sign up for Medicare immediately and without penalty.

The bill would also create continuous enrollment for people who miss their Part B deadlines for other reasons. They, too, would get coverage the month after they applied, but would pay an appropriate late penalty. That’s to prevent people gaming the system and deliberately failing to sign up and pay premiums until they have serious medical issues, Schrader says. “Seniors have earned these benefits and need to be covered,” he adds.

Courtesy of AARP

Beware: New Medicare Scam

Patients with diabetes are being targeted in the latest Medicare scam—one that’s especially worrisome because the fraudsters appear legitimate since they actually know the name and address of doctors who treat their intended victims.

“We have no idea how they have this information,” says Tamra Simpson, program director of the Senior Medicare Patrol at the Indiana Association of Area Agencies on Aging (IAAAA). “But in each call we know about, the caller knows the name of the [recipient’s] doctor—and they usually cite the [doctor’s office] address.”

Such information could come from stolen medical records or from records of patient conditions kept by pharmaceutical companies and other medical product suppliers—records that have been accessed by scammers.

The bait behind these calls is nothing new—an alleged offer for free medical supplies, which in this case is a promise of diabetes testing equipment and other medical goods. And the hook is the same: to get the beneficiaries’ Medicare number, which, of course, is that person’s Social Security number.

In the past two weeks, at least eight residents from across Indiana—all with diabetes—reported to the IAAAA that they had received phone calls asking for their Medicare numbers. Complaints of similar calls have been reported from every area code in Indiana.

At least one Californian also received a similar phone call.

In each case, Simpson notes, the caller specifically asks these Medicare beneficiaries if they have diabetes.

In some cases, the callers—who also already know the recipient’s name, address and phone number—also request the maiden name of the patient’s mother, allegedly to “verify” their identities.

So far, the phony calls have originated from Florida, but as of Thursday that number was disconnected. The callers appear to have a foreign accent, says Simpson, and have sometimes identified themselves as calling from “Med-care.”

This new scam comes on the heels of others tied to the $250 “doughnut hole” rebate checks, which are now arriving to eligible Medicare recipients. The first batch of those checks was mailed June 10, to about 80,000 people, and will continue monthly throughout 2010. Those checks are sent automatically—with no forms or other action needed—once Part D enrollees have spent at least $2,830 out of pocket on prescription medications since Jan. 1.

Some scam callers posing as government workers say the checks will be issued only after Medicare numbers are confirmed with them. Other scams involve false claims from unscrupulous insurance agents who say additional policies are needed under health care reform. The bottom line: Never provide your Medicare number or other personal information to an unknown caller. And don’t be fooled into buying a supplemental policy tied to the rebate checks. Such policies can be useful but aren’t required in order to receive the $250.

If you are contacted about this new scam, or any other Medicare inquiry, report it to that agency at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) as well as your local Area Agency on Aging at 1-800-986-3505.

Courtesy of AARP

HHS Launched Health Reform Site

HHS launches new website dedicated to health reform.

On March 5, 2009, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a Press Release announcing that it has launched a new website dedicated to health reform.

The new website contains a report entitled Americans Speak on Health Reform: Report on Health Care Community Discussions, which is a summary and analysis of reports from 3,276 health care community discussions and 30,603 participant surveys on health reform that took place in December 2008.

Source: Medicare Update