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Looking Toward the “Fourth Quarter”

By Dr. Yanira Cruz

Tonight President Obama will lay out his fourth quarter plan for his last two years in the White House. Over the last few weeks, he has shared a couple of “SOTU spoilers,” traveling the country to discuss different aspects of what he will present in tonight’s speech.

On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Hispanic older adults, families, and caregivers we represent, here are a couple of areas we would like to see the President prioritize over the next two years.

1. Work with Congress to protect low-income Medicare beneficiaries.

The Medicare Qualified Individual program, which pays for low-income seniors’ Medicare Part B premiums, has been temporarily extended until March 31, 2015. Congress should make this program permanent and provide funding to help low-income seniors, particularly Hispanic older adults, gain access to the Qualified Individual program and other Medicare benefits as those who are elegible are most likely not to receive it.

Medicare fraud is also a pervasive issue among Latino seniors. They are systematically targeted due to the multiple barriers that keep them from accessing and understanding their benefits and rights as Medicare beneficiares. Congress should ensure that proper funding be secured to conduct culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach and education to this vulnerable, hard-to-reach population.

2. Urge Congress to strengthen and reauthorize the Older Americans Act.

The Older Americans Act is long overdue for reauthorization, and needs to be modernized to better serve the needs of the growing and diverse older adult population it serves, particularly low-income seniors who are struggling to make ends meet. The programs of the OAA are also extremely important in allowing older adults to age in dignity and the best possible health as it authorizes a wide variety of programs focused on health, nutrition, caregiver support, job training, and more.

3. Urge Congress to pass the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2014.

The bill would provide some sorely needed updates to this long-neglected program which provides subsistence level income for over 8 million older Americans and people with disabilities. A majority of those who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are women, including two-thirds of those who receive SSI on the basis of age. Revising the current SSI program to match 2014 cost of living standards and expenses is not only common-sense, but critical to the success, health, and well-being of all seniors, and especially those in the Hispanic community.

4. Provide increased subsidized housing opportunities for Hispanic older adults and low-income seniors.

The Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Section 202 Program helps to expand the supply of affordable housing with supportive services for older adults.  It provides very low-income older adults with options that allow them to live independently but in an environment that provides support activities such as cleaning, cooking, and transportation. Additionally, the building and housing units have railings and other features which make them easily accessible for older adults. Many Hispanic older adults live in subsidized housing, but the wait lists are long, and many wait years before qualifying. Increased funding for these housing programs is needed to reduce the wait periods and allow more Hispanic older adults and low-income seniors to have a safe and affordable place to live.

5. Take action so more working families have access to family and medical paid leave.

Currently, the United States is lagging behind other developed countries on paid family and medical leave policies: it is the only developed nation that doesn’t require employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave. According to the White House, it is estimated that 43 million private-sector workers in the United States do not have access to any form of paid sick leave. We applaud President Obama’s announcement last week, which included a call to Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, but there is more to be done to ensure that all working American families have access to the time off they need to take care of themselves or a family member.

NHCOA will be live tweeting tonight during the State of the Union, which starts at 9 pm ET. For live streaming and more information about tonight’s speech, visit wh.gov/SOTU.

What I am thankful for on MLK Day

Washington, DC NHCOA Leaders class of 2012

By Dr. Yanira Cruz

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day to remember Dr. King’s legacy through acts of service. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people are participating in a wide range of projects that strengthen communities, promote leadership, and provide solutions to social issues. As we strive to achieve the democracy and social justice Dr. King envisioned for our country, MLK Day serves a reminder that servant leadership and volunteerism lie at the heart of who we are: a society that believes in giving back, sharing the best of our talents, and empowering others to be the best they can be.

Service and volunteerism at the core of our Hispanic Aging Network, a growing group of individuals, groups, and organizations that carry out our mission of improving the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers, in different areas of the county. The commitment and dedication of this intergenerational, multicultural, and bilingual network is the lifeblood that enhances and inspires our work in Washington and in the field. Their volunteerism helps to:

Today I would like to offer my gratitude to those who share the best of themselves—not only on MLK Day, but every day of the year— to improve the lives of others who need encouragement, support, and aide.

¡Muchas gracias!

New Year, New Goal: Don’t Lose Sight of Glaucoma and Eye Disease

slider-program-saludAmong a diabetic’s main concerns are maintaining a healthy diet and blood sugar (glucose) levels. This is because high blood sugar can affect other body functions both permanently and irreversibly. Therefore, there are several preventive measures people with diabetes should take to ensure they are in the best health possible. One such measure is getting a yearly eye check ups to rule out eye diseases, including diabetic eye, cataracts, and glaucoma.

The month of January is dedicated to raising awareness about glaucoma, a disease that can potentially blind its victims and isn’t limited to people with diabetes. In fact, people over age 60 are at a higher risk of getting glaucoma. Quite frequently, by the time people are diagnosed, they’ve already noticed changes to their side, or peripheral, vision.

It’s important not to wait until you notice problems with your vision to see your eye care professional.

“Studies show that at least half of all persons with glaucoma don’t know they have this potentially blinding eye disease,” said National Eye Institute (NEI) director Dr. Paul Sieving. “The good news is that glaucoma can be detected in its early stages through a comprehensive dilated eye exam.”

A comprehensive dilated eye exam is a procedure in which an eye care professional places drops in your eyes to dilate (or widen) the pupil to examine the back of your eyes and your optic nerve for signs of disease. This exam may help save your sight because when glaucoma is detected early, it can be controlled through medications or surgery.

It is very important that those at higher risk for glaucoma—which includes everyone over age 60, especially Latinos, and those with a family history of the disease—get a comprehensive dilated eye exam every 1 to 2 years.

A low-cost exam may be available to beneficiaries through Medicare. For more information, call 1–800–MEDICARE or visit www.medicare.gov. For additional information about glaucoma, visit www.nei.nih.gov/glaucoma or call the National Eye Institute at 301–496–5248.

 

Salud y Bienestar (Health and Well-Being) is NHCOA’s national flagship program that educates and informs Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers on how to prevent and/or manage diabetes and its complications. The program, sponsored by the Walmart Foundation, has helped thousands of Latino seniors and families over the last several years make healthier lifestyle changes.

Día Once: ¡Luchemos Contra el Fraude al Medicare en el 2015!

En los próximos 12 días estaremos compartiendo escritos diarios para motivarles a pensar en la salud y el bienestar suyos, de sus padres y abuelos y de toda la familia durante en las fiestas de fin de año. Algunos escritos ofrecerán consejos cortos, mientras que otros llamarán a la reflexión. Esperamos que estas palabras lo inspiren y que las comparta con sus amigos, vecinos y seres queridos. 

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El fraude en el cuidado de salud es uno de los mayores tipo de fraude afectando a los adultos mayores, especialmente nuestros abuelitos. Esto es a causa de múltiples factores como poco dominio del idioma, aislamiento y miedo a las autoridades hacen que los adultos mayores hispanos sean blancos vulnerables, por lo que entender lo qué es el fraude al Medicare y cómo prevenirlo es tan importante para nuestros padres y abuelos.

A través del programa National Hispanic SMP, NHCOA ha desarrollado una una serie de videos educativos cortos para adultos mayores hispanos y sus cuidadores sobre el fraude al Medicare. Esta serie forma parte de un catálogo de recursos disponibles en español para ayudar a adultos mayores, sus familiares y cuidadores a proteger, detectar y reportar el fraude al Medicare.

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Durante esta época navideña, compartamos el regalo de la información y la educación con nuestros queridos padres y abuelos para que puedan unirse a la lucha contra el fraude al Medicare y protegerse de personas malintencionadas.

Si sospecha que un ser querido ha sido víctima del fraude al Medicare, puede llamar al National Hispanic SMP para una consulta gratuita en español al 1-866-488-7379. 

Day Eleven: Join the Fight Against Medicare Fraud in 2015!

Over the next 12 days, we will be sharing daily posts to motivate you to think about your health and well-being during the holiday season. Some posts will focus on handy tips, while others will offer a reflexion. We hope these words will inspire you and we invite you to share them with friends, neighbors and family.   

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Health care fraud is one of the most pervasive types of fraud targeting seniors, especially Hispanic older adults. Multiple barriers such as limited English proficiency, isolation, and fear of authority make Latino seniors vulnerable targets for unscrupulous scammers, which is why understanding what Medicare fraud is and how to prevent it is so important for our parents and grandparents.

Through the National Hispanic SMP program, NHCOA has developed a series of short educational videos for Hispanic older adults and caregivers that cover Medicare fraud basics. These videos are part of a catalog of Spanish language resources available to help Latino seniors, their families, and caregivers protect, detect, and report Medicare fraud.

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During the holiday season, let’s share the gift of awareness and education with our beloved parents and grandparents so they can join the fight against Medicare fraud and protect themselves from scammers and con artists.

If you think your loved one has been a victim of Medicare fraud, they can call the National Hispanic SMP for a free consultation in Spanish at 1-866-488-7379.

Día Cuatro: ¡Infórmese sobre su cobertura de Medicare para el 2015!

En los próximos 12 días estaremos compartiendo escritos diarios para motivarles a pensar en la salud y el bienestar suyos, de sus padres y abuelos y de toda la familia durante en las fiestas de fin de año. Algunos escritos ofrecerán consejos cortos, mientras que otros llamarán a la reflexión. Esperamos que estas palabras lo inspiren y que las comparta con sus amigos, vecinos y seres queridos.

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El periodo de inscripciones para el Medicare terminó hace 8 días, y muchos de ustedes habrán cambiado su plan de seguro médico y/o medicamentos recetados. Por eso, les ofrecemos una corta lista de recomendaciones del Medicare para asegurar que puedan aprovechar su cobertura al máximo en el 2015:

  1. Asegúrese que su tarjeta del Medicare esté al día. 

En particular, esto es importante si ha cambiado de su plan de seguro médico y/o medicamentos recetados para el 2015. Si no ha recibido una tarjeta nueva o un paquete de bienvenida a más tardar el primero de enero de 2015, llame al proveedor de su plan inmediatamente. Si debe llenar una receta médica y no tiene su tarjeta nueva, aprenda cómo hacerlo.

Si se ha cambiado de un plan de Medicare Advantage (como un HMO o PPO) al Medicare Original, use su tarjeta de Medicare roja, blanca y azul cuando vaya al doctor. Además, si su tarjeta se perdió, dañó o necesita actualizar su información, debe solicitar una tarjeta nueva.

Medicare Card

2. Presupueste el deducible de la Parte B de Medicare para el 2015. 

Recuerde que si tiene la Parte B de Medicare y está en Medicare Original, tendrá que pagar su deducible antes de que la cobertura del Medicare se haga responsable del pago de los servicios y equipos que necesitará en el año. El deducible de la Parte B de Medicare será $147 en próximo año, igual que en el 2014. Cuando presupueste sus gastos de cuidado de salud, tome en cuenta el costo incrementado de sus visitas médicas durante el periodo en que esté cubriendo su deducible. Aprenda más sobre los costos del Medicare en el 2015.

3.  Coordine sus citas para hacerse exámenes preventivos.

Medicare cubre toda clase de servicios preventivos para que esté saludable y se pueda detectar cualquier problema de salud. Muchos de estos servicios se ofrecen cada año de manera gratuita. Pregúntale a su doctor cuándo deba programar su visita anual de bienestar además de otros exámenes preventivos que pudiera necesitar. Hable con su médico sobre estos servicios preventivos gratuitos para saber cuáles necesita, según su cuadro de salud. Además, si le gusta usar la computadora o tiene un ser querido que pueda ayudarle, puede utilizar la aplicación web MyMedicare.gov para crear un record de los servicios preventivos que haya recibido así como un control de sus visitas médicas.

4. Asegúrese que su plan médico y de medicamentos recetados satisfagan sus necesidades.

A veces situaciones de vida repentinas pueden cambiar sus necesidades de manera drástica. Si considera que su plan de seguro médico y/o medicamentos recetados ya no cubre sus necesidades específicas, hay una manera de cambiar de plan sin tener que esperar hasta el próximo periodo de inscripción. En cualquier momento del año, Ud. puede cambiarse a un plan de Medicare Advantage o de medicamentos recetados que tenga una calificación de 5 estrellas.

Estas calificaciones están basadas en encuestas realizadas con beneficiarios, información de los doctores y proveedores de cuidado médico y otras fuentes. La designación de 1 a 5 estrellas señala la calidad y rendimiento del plan, 5 estrellas siendo el plan mayor rating. Este cambio se puede realizar una vez por año calendario. Haga clic aquí para encontrar planes de seguros médicos y de medicamentos recetados con 5 estrellas en su área.

Recuerde que la información más al día sobre el Medicare está en www.medicare.gov.

Day Four: Get your Medicare ready for 2015!

Over the next 12 days, we will be sharing daily posts to motivate you to think about your health and well-being during the holiday season. Some posts will focus on handy tips, while others will offer a reflexion. We hope these words will inspire you and we invite you to share them with friends, neighbors and family.

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The Medicare Open Enrollment Period ended 8 days ago, and many of you may have changed health insurance or drug plans. If so, here is a short check list of recommendations from Medicare to ensure you make the most of your 2015 coverage:

1. Make sure you have your current Medicare card. This is particularly important if you changed either your Medicare health insurance plan or drug plan (or both) for 2015. If you haven’t received a new card or welcome packet by January 1, 2015 contact your plan provider for assistance. If you need to fill a prescription right away, find out how to fill a prescription without your card.

If you changed from a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO) back to Original Medicare, use your red, white, and blue Medicare card when you go to the doctor. Also, you should request a new card if yours is lost, damaged, or the information needs to be updated.

Medicare Card

2. Budget for next year’s Medicare Part B deductible.

Keep in mind that you have Medicare Part B and are in Original Medicare, you’ll have to meet your deductible before your Medicare coverage pays for services and supplies. Next year, the Medicare Part B deductible will be $147, the same as it was in 2014. When you plan your health care budget, take into account the increased cost of your doctor visits during the time it will take to cover your deductible. Learn more about Medicare costs in 2015.

3.  Schedule appointments to get any preventive tests or screenings.

Medicare covers all sorts of preventive services to keep you healthy, as well as screenings to check for health problems. Many of these services are covered each year for free. Ask your doctor when you should schedule your yearly wellness visit in addition to other screenings you might need. Talk to your doctor about these covered preventive services to find out what’s right for your health needs. Also, if you are computer savvy or have a loved one who can assist you, use the MyMedicare.gov web application to create a preventive services calendar to keep track of your visits.

4. Make sure your drug or health plan meet your needs.

Sometimes sudden life situations can significantly change your needs. If you realize that your drug or health insurance plan no longer suit your specific needs, there is a way to change your coverage without having to wait until the next Open Enrollment. At any time during the year, you can switch to a Medicare Advantage Plan or Medicare Prescription Drug Plan that has a 5-star rating.

Plan ratings are based on member surveys, information from doctors and health care providers, and other sources. The plan ratings are scores that show the quality and performance of the plan, on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the highest-rated plans. You can make this change once per calendar year. Click here to find 5-star health and drug plans in your area.

Remember that the most up-to-date information on Medicare is at www.medicare.gov.

Medicare Open Enrollment Starts Tomorrow!

Fall is an exciting time of the year — hayrides, crisp weather, and the holiday season is around the corner. As we swap out our t-shirts for pull-overs in preparation for the colder months ahead, the Fall season is also an opportunity for Medicare beneficiaries to reflect on their current health insurance and assess whether or not they should explore other coverage options.
The status of our health can change significant from one year to the next, as can our life situation. For this reason, Medicare offers several options for its beneficiaries to choose that can best suit their needs and preferences. While having a variety of options is necessary given that each person’s condition is unique, it can also be confusing and overwhelming.
Let’s take a look at what Medicare Open Enrollment is and how to take advantage of this yearly opportunity Medicare offers its beneficiaries.

Take advantage of the Medicare Open Enrollment period.

This month review your Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage plan by answering the following questions:
  • Does this plan still meet my Medicare and healthcare needs?
  • Has my health condition changed much since last year?
  • Have I moved to another state or city?
  • Will my plan be available for 2015?
Also, if you already have a Medicare Part D plan, you should look back over your 2014 plan and make an enrollment decision for your coverage for 2015. Should you stay with your existing coverage or make a change? If you make no decision, you will remain in the same plan as you elected in 2014. If you are satisfied that your current plan will meet their needs for next year, you don’t need to do anything. If you don’t have Part D, consider if you should enroll for 2015.

Medicare Open Enrollment is only once a year.

The Medicare Open Enrollment period is October 15 through December 7. During this time period you can review your health care coverage and decide if you need to make any changes for your coverage next year. Conversely, if you are happy with your current plan and it is still being offered next year, you don’t need to do anything.
Medicare consists of four parts: A, B, C and D. The first two parts is what is referred to as Original Medicare (Parts A and B). Original Medicare is offered directly through Medicare and includes hospital insurance (Part A) and health insurance (Part B). Part C is similar coverage, the key difference being that it is offered through private companies. Therefore, a Medicare beneficiary either has Original Medicare or Part C (also known as Medicare Advantage) to cover their hospitalization and health insurance needs. During Open Enrollment a beneficiary can choose to switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan or move from one Advantage plan to another.
Finally, there is Part D, which is a voluntary program that subsidizes the costs of prescription drugs and prescription drug insurance premiums for Medicare beneficiaries. This keeps seniors healthier and ultimately reduces costs to the Medicare system.

Enrollment in Medicare Part D is voluntary.

While Medicare Part D is a voluntary program, the downside to not enrolling is that you may be subject to a life-time premium penalty when you do decide to enroll in a Part D plan. However, the cost-saving benefit and access to the proper medicine if and when you need them are far greater than the penalty.

What if I like my 2014 coverage? What do I do now?

If you are satisfied that your current plan will meet your needs for next year, you do not need to do anything. If you miss the 2014 open enrollment period, your next chance to enroll is October 2015 for coverage in January 2016.

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

Open Enrollment and Medicare Part D

It’s Time! Medicare Open Enrollment Period Is Fast Approaching

shutterstock_184856234phrma_2012logoIt is that time of the year when beneficiaries review Medicare Plan D prescription drug plan options and ask questions about different plans. For 2015 coverage, the open enrollment period runs from October 15 – December 7, 2014. 

What is Medicare Part D?

Medicare Part D, also called the Medicare prescription drug benefit, is a voluntary federal-government program to subsidize the costs of prescription drugs and prescription drug insurance premiums for Medicare beneficiaries in the United States. The program is administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Private insurance carriers implement the various Medicare Part D plans across the country under the direction of CMS. Because various carriers administer the plans, it is important to compare them in order to get the best value. As of 2012, 37.4 million beneficiaries were enrolled in Medicare Part D.

Why is Medicare Part D important? 

Medicare Part D is a voluntary program. While no one is obligated to enroll into the prescription drug plans, its savings and virtues far outweigh its costs and detriments

Medicare Part D gives older Americans access to prescription drugs at an affordable cost. Additionally, it provides access to the affordable medicines older Americans need and in turn, keeps them healthier –which directly reduces costs to the Medicare system. The Journal of the American Medical Association found that improved access and adherence to medicines through Part D saves Medicare about $1,200 in hospital, nursing home, and other costs in the first two years of the program. That adds up to about $13 billion in total savings.

The downside to not enrolling is that a beneficiary may be subject to a life-time premium penalty when he/she decides to later enroll in a Medicare Part D plan. The beneficiary will be assessed the penalty if s/he does not have some other source of creditable coverage, at least as comprehensive as the Part D benefit, such a retiree coverage through a previous employer. The accrued benefits of having cost savings and access to the proper medicine if/when you need them are far greater than the costs presented.

What are the important dates to remember? 

  • October 1, 2014 – Medicare Part D Prescription Drug plan Marketing Activities can begin for the 2015 Part D plans – At this time you will be able to once again gather information and evaluate the various Part D plan alternatives.

NOTE: no enrollments may be accepted before October 15, 2014 for 2015 plans. 

  • October 15 to December 7, 2014 – Annual Coordinated Election Period – Here is your chance to join a Medicare Part D plan for the 2015 plan year (however your plan will not take effect until January 1, 2015). If you already have a Medicare Part D plan, this is your time to look back over 2014 and make an enrollment decision for your coverage for 2015.
  • Should you stay with your existing coverage or make a change? If you make no decision, you will remain in the same plan as you elected in 2014. If you are satisfied that your current plan will meet their needs for next year, you don’t need to do anything. 

HOWEVER: If you do nothing, and do not enroll during this period, your next chance for coverage is January 2016. 

  • January 1, 2015 – Your new Medicare Part D plan becomes effective and you will be able to begin using your Part D benefits (your old plan will automatically be discontinued).
  • January 1 to February 14, 2015 – Members of Medicare Advantage Plans may Dis-enroll from their Medicare Advantage Plan returning to Original Medicare and select a stand-alone Medicare Part D plan.
  • January 1 to December 31, 2015 – Persons turning 65 can enroll in a 2015 Medicare Part D Plan. Medicare beneficiaries also enrolled in Medicaid recipients can enroll or change their enrollment in a 2015 Medicare Part D Plan and individuals who become eligible because of a disability may enroll over the course of the year.

Where can I get more information? 

NHCOA encourages you to consider reviewing your Medicare drug or health care plan, but it is not mandatory. For more information, visit www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Download a one-page FAQ here.

NHAAAD 2014: Shifting Attention and Focus to HIV/AIDS and Aging

Aging is a part of life; HIV doesn’t have to be.

This is the theme for the 7th annual National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day (NHAAAD), which is observed yearly on September 18.

This awareness day was created to address two distinct truths:

  1. Many older Americans are not getting tested for HIV. Myths, stigma, and lack of targeted education make this population, especially diverse older adults, less aware of how to protect themselves from the virus. This is concerning because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that by next year, 50% of the people living with HIV in the United States will be 50 years or older.
  2. Medical breakthroughs have improved HIV treatment, allowing people living with HIV/AIDS who stick to regular and continuous care lead longer and healthier lives. While this is a positive outcome, we face a shortage of services and support mechanisms for older Americans living with HIV/AIDS. In addition, there isn’t enough research or data about the impact of HIV/AIDS on the normal aging process.

“If we look at the data, the numbers are very clear. There is a clear need to shift attention and focus to older Americans, who face many of the same HIV risk factors that younger age groups do, yet are more likely to receive a late diagnosis,” said Dr. Yanira Cruz, NHCOA President and CEO.

“This is particularly true among diverse seniors, who face many health disparities compared with their White non-Hispanic peers. That is why NHCOA became a proud partner of the CDC’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative to help reduce the rates of HIV in hard-to-reach and diverse communities. While NHCOA serves and represents the needs and interests of Hispanic older adults, we know they don’t live in a vacuum.”

“Through our work with AAALI we leverage the strong connections, leadership, and influence Latino seniors have within their families, communities, and places of worship and leisure by offering culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach and education focused on intergenerational storytelling and dialogue to break the silence and eliminate the stigma.”

What you can do on National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day

  • Get the Facts. Start a conversation at home, or with a loved one, on HIV/AIDS. You can get more information here.
  • Get Tested. If you are sexually active, ask your healthcare provider for an HIV test during annual check ups. [Under the ACA, most new health insurance plans must cover certain recommended preventive services, including HIV testing. Free HIV screening is also included in Medicare Part B.]
  • Advocate. Read the Diverse Elders Coalition’s Eight Policy Recommendations for Improving the Health and Wellness of Older Adults with HIV.
  • Join the Conversation. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtags #AIDSandAging and #NHAAAD to be part of the ongoing conversation. Here are some sample messages and memes to get you started.
  • Go Viral. Share this blog post and NHCOA videos like the one below with your contacts and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and aging.