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Medicare Open Enrollment In Full Swing

2016 October 26

2017By Aaron of Allsup

We’re getting ready for the presidential election and the World Series, so that means it’s also time to prepare for Medicare open enrollment season.

Actually, open enrollment is well underway. It began Oct. 15 and runs through Wednesday, Dec. 7.

Open enrollment is the window that Medicare participants have to review their 2017 plan options. This is your opportunity to make changes to your Medicare Advantage or Part D prescription drug plans.

You can also find ways to save money.

Because Medicare’s Boards of Trustees said they expect higher Part B premiums next year, I strongly advise you to take a good look at all of your options—that’s your money they’re talking about. (Looking for details about Medicare’s “Parts”? Click here.)

Choosing your Medicare plan can be difficult because there are so many options to consider. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that you’ll have a choice of about 19 Medicare Advantage plans, 26 prescription drug plans and 16 Medicare Advantage-Part D plans.

That’s why I suggest that you check out the Allsup Medicare Advisor. It provides Medicare plan selection assistance with Medicare Advantage plans, Part D prescription drug plans and Medigap, or supplemental coverage.

Click here to learn more the Allsup Medicare Advisor, or send me an email with your questions to

To Claim Power To Improve Your Finances, You Have To Ask

2016 October 12

crawford-clayBy Guest Blogger Crawford Clay, patient navigator, Colon Cancer Alliance

Hi there! I’m Crawford. I’d like to take a minute to talk to you about a tricky subject: finances.

I’m a 12-year stage III rectal cancer survivor. I’ve also worked with the Colon Cancer Alliance’s free helpline for the past five years. Nearly half the calls we get are about money, so I’ve had a lot of experience talking about finances.

It’s a topic people can get pretty uncomfortable talking about.

I know because you tell me. You also show me. It’s hard to keep people talking long enough to truly help them. Callers hustle me off the phone so fast you’d think I was asking them for money.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

Finances are a tough subject, but it all starts with asking for help. Yep, it is that easy. The first thing I want you to understand is people want to help. As proof, we have over 10 pages of organizations that offer help in the Colon Cancer Alliance’s Support and Financial Resource Guide.

The second key is to be proactive, not reactive.

Once you’ve gotten the eviction notice, your options become incredibly narrow. Most organizations limit their help to before you get in the hole financially.

I can’t say it enough: The time to start looking for help is now.

Ideally, you should discuss finances at time of diagnosis. You should talk to:

  • The hospital
  • Your doctors’ offices
  • Your landlord/mortgage company
  • The utility company
  • Anyone you owe regular payments to

You also need to be creative in your thinking. Maybe you can’t find help for your treatment copays, but what if someone could help with your power bills? The money you save there may be enough to cover your copay for the month. You never know until you ask.

That’s the bottom line right there. You have to ask.

Not everyone will say yes. Expect about three out of 10 requests to get a yes. That can feel like a lot of no’s to go through. But in baseball, an average like that is a Hall of Fame career. You miss 100 percent of the balls you don’t swing at.

And just like baseball, you need to practice. Take a few minutes to practice what you want to say before you call. You have to prepare for success.

Let me close with this thought from Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I just have found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Editor’s note: Join Crawford and other patient resource advocates during the Allsup True Help® Web Event, True Help Claiming Power to Improve Your Finances, on Thursday, Oct. 20, at noon CST. Click here to register.

Financial Resources Are Available For Life After Stroke

2016 October 7

staci-blinn-national-stroke-associationBy Guest Blogger Staci Blinn, programs coordinator at the National Stroke Association

I work at the National Stroke Association helping design programs to promote stroke prevention and education. I also have been given the gift of working with stroke survivors and caregivers, connecting them with resources, and offering support.

I am routinely amazed by the strength, bravery and resilience that these individuals show. We receive calls, emails and letters every day from survivors looking for more information about stroke and life after stroke. Stroke can touch any aspect of life, and many people find themselves unprepared for the toll a stroke can take on their finances.

When people think about stroke, they largely focus on the effects it has on the mind and body. While post-stroke conditions can be devastating, struggling to make ends meet and an inability to pay for medical care can be just as detrimental to recovery.

The effect on finances is even more noticeable when looking at younger stroke survivors who have not yet retired. The rate of stroke in adults younger than 65 is rising at an alarming rate. This means we have more and more working people facing disability and an inability to work, causing extreme financial stress.

While some people are able to go back to their previous employment or find a new job, others cannot. Some are thrust into unknown territories, unsure of how to proceed. When a stroke survivor is thinking about going back to work, I direct them to our Return-to-Work webpage, which helps them consider many different options and find the choice that is right for them. Many other resources that support stroke survivors can be found online at

It is so important for people in this situation to reach out for help and to not give up. People may feel lost and depressed, and they may not know where to turn.

I encourage them to reach out for help. Call an organization such as the National Stroke Association that can point you in the right direction and can recommend places to get assistance.

Know that you are not alone—there are agencies to help you apply for Medicare, Medicaid, or find other insurance options. You can get help applying for Social Security Disability Insurance, or receive help from your state gaining new skills through vocational rehab.

Being thrust into financial distress due to an injury or illness is confusing and frightening. It can seem unfair that circumstances outside of your control are causing such distress. Remember that there are ways to get assistance, and the National Stroke Association is always here to provide information and resources.

Editor’s note: Join Staci and other patient resource advocates during the Allsup True Help® Web Event, True Help Claiming Power to Improve Your Finances, Oct. 20 at noon CST. Click here to register.

True Help With Cancer Costs During Oct. 20 Web Event

2016 October 5

true-help-webinarBy Tai of Allsup

Millions of dollars are raised and spent each year trying to find a cure for cancer. Millions more are spent treating it. According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, each year, cancer costs the world more money than any other disease. These costs often have devastating impacts on individuals and families.

A recent study showed that one-third of working-age cancer survivors go into debt and 3 percent file for bankruptcy.

A study released at last month’s American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) conference, found similar negative impacts. Of 1,000 survivors of breast, colorectal, lung and prostate cancer, more than half experienced some form of financial burden related to cancer.

“In order to pay for cancer care, many patients experience changes to their financial situation that can include everything from cutting back on leisure spending to dipping into savings or selling assets, taking on debt, or even losing a home or declaring bankruptcy,” said the study’s lead author, Theresa A. Hastert, Ph.D., MPP, in an AACR news release.

The cost of cancer drugs can range from $100 to as much as $65,000 a month, depending on the type of cancer being treated, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Financial Resources To Help

Fortunately, there are a number of organizations and programs that offer financial assistance to individuals with cancer. True Help Claiming Power to Improve Your Finances is a web event Thursday, Oct. 20, that will help individuals with cancer and other chronic illnesses or disabilities connect with resources that can help them improve their financial outlook.

For example, the Colon Cancer Alliance’s Blue Hope Financial Assistance program helps individuals pay bills so they can concentrate on their health. The Caregiver Action Network has resources and tools for caregivers to help them manage their own and their care recipient’s finances.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is another resource available to former workers that provides a monthly income, access to Medicare and assistance returning to work if and when they are medically able. However, obtaining SSDI benefits can be a daunting task.

True Help Claiming Power to Improve Your Finances will feature information and tips on improving the chances of getting approved for SSDI benefits. Register here for the web event taking place Oct. 20 at noon CST.

Advocates and patient resource experts from the Colon Cancer Alliance, Caregiver Action Network, National Stroke Association and Allsup will be on hand to answer questions during the live event. The webinar also will be available on-demand after Oct. 20, and participants who submit questions will receive an email response.

Share the wealth, and post the event registration link,, on social media. You can meet your friends in the chat room and make new ones during the event.

People With Chronic Pain Have Voices, Please Listen

2016 September 23

us-pain-foundation-logoBy Guest Blogger Michaela O’Connor, director, U.S. Pain Foundation

For 100 million Americans, September provides the opportunity to raise awareness for the chronic pain they live with every day.

For the U.S. Pain Foundation—the local, state and national acknowledgement of September’s Pain Awareness Month provides the much needed platform to raise the issues plaguing the chronic pain community.

Chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. While they struggle with everything from insurance coverage to medication access, it begs the question, “Don’t people with pain matter?”

Greater Pain Understanding Is Needed

As an organization created by people with pain for people with pain, the U.S. Pain Foundation believes that the 33 percent  of Americans living in chronic pain not only matter, but they deserve proper care, respect, and understanding from both the healthcare community and the nation as a whole.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) allocates less than 1 percent of its $32.3 billion budget to research chronic pain, despite the fact that chronic pain costs America $560 billion to $635 billion a year. This translates to only $3.23 per person spent on research each year, while the costs amount to $5,600-$6,300 per pain patient in treatment.

We believe that pain patients deserve more than $3.23 invested in understanding and improving their health each year. U.S. Pain believes that finding safe, effective treatments for chronic pain will take more than the 1 percent of the NIH budget allotted. The staggering number of pain patients deems the increase necessary. Pain patients deserve a chance at proper, effective treatment, no matter their diagnoses.

Improving Pain Alternatives Is Key

U.S. Pain also is fighting to improve healthcare insurance so that it covers the most effective treatments currently available.

Patients deserve access to available alternative therapies and to have those therapies covered by insurance, especially during a time when medications are being cut back or restricted altogether. Individuals’ options can and should include opioids, medical marijuana, name brand and generic medications.

While September is a great time for the chronic pain community to unite, educate, and embrace lives, it also is a time for the nation to acknowledge pain as the serious medical condition it is.

That acknowledgement provides us with the platform necessary to advocate for patients’ rights year-round. It gives the U.S. Pain Foundation the power to educate, empower and inform the entire pain community, while creating change at every level of government.

With one-third of a nation in chronic pain, it is time to recognize and acknowledge that people with pain matter.

Get To Know The No. 1 Cause Of Disability In America

2016 September 21

spinehealthlogoBy Guest Blogger Carol Conduff, founder and executive director, The Spine Health Foundation

“I got to the point where my life wasn’t worth living. I was standing on the edge of the bridge, figuring it was better to jump than to go back to where I was. I have a new life now.”—Bill Walton, NCAA and NBA legend as reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune, on April 17, 2010.

Bill Walton had suffered with back pain for years and tried many noninvasive treatment options, to no avail. Everything changed when he was introduced to a surgeon offering a new surgical technique. The surgery was a success, and Bill went on the record stating his surgeon saved his life.

One out of 10 Americans is affected by chronic back pain. Chronic back pain is difficult to explain and even more difficult for others to understand. Ongoing, chronic pain can cause depression, unemployment, pain medication addiction and family breakdown. These negative effects can lead to isolation, exacerbating the condition and situation. It’s a difficult and never-ending cycle for the affected individual.

Chronic back pain is a widespread epidemic in our country. The cost of back pain to Americans is estimated to be anywhere from $50 to $200 billion each year in lost wages, productivity, disability and medical care.

Access Help Through The Spine Health Foundation

The costs associated with chronic back pain are tremendous, and The Spine Health Foundation (SHF) is making a small difference in the total sum. But we are making a big difference in the lives of our recipients and their families by giving them back their lives.

Since 2011, SHF has provided access to more than 800 medical resources, including 34 spine surgeries.

Recently, a young working mother reached out to SHF for help. She has since seen a specialist, undergone medical treatments and spine surgery. She is now back at work and moving forward with her life.

“I have had back problems and pain for several years,” she said. “I went to see a doctor, but since I was uninsured, they couldn’t just get me the help I needed.

“One day, late last year, I had a fall and was taken to the ER. The physician recommended I call SHF. This is when I learned of this wonderful foundation. I am honest when I say that I do not know where I would be today if not for Carol and The Spine Health Foundation. She has helped me and others so much! I’m still receiving help through the foundation and I am grateful and blessed.”

September and October are spine health awareness months.

Please take the time to learn more about how to protect your spine from injury all year. You also can show your support for spine health by liking The Spine Health Foundation on Facebook.

What 9,000 Things Can You Do During Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month?

2016 September 19

sciaBy Guest Blogger Mercedes Rauen, executive director, Spinal Cord Injury Association of Illinois

September is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.

While I do not have a spinal cord injury (SCI), and I believe it is best when the Spinal Cord Injury Association of Illinois (SCIA of Illinois) can be represented by a peer member—I appreciate this opportunity to let people know about paralysis.

SCI is a low-incidence disability. Nationally there are about 12,500 traumatic spinal cord injuries a year. That number is small when compared to medical conditions that impact hundreds of thousands. Many of us live our lives without knowing a person who is paralyzed.

But spinal cord injury does not discriminate; it can happen to anyone at any age.

The leading causes of traumatic injuries are motor vehicle crashes, falls and violence. Most injuries can be prevented, which is why the SCIA of Illinois’ injury prevention presentations to students and adults are important.

Resources When Spinal Cord Injury Happens

Whether the spinal cord is damaged by trauma or medical conditions, loss of function and voluntary movement below the point of injury may occur.

Along with paralysis and the inability to walk, other effects may include dysfunction of the bowel, bladder and sexual function, chronic pain and spasticity. Multiple complications including pressure sores, urinary tract infections, respiratory complications, pneumonia, osteoporosis and depression may occur.

Nearly every aspect of life is affected by paralysis. Relationships change. Financial costs are staggering. Wheelchair accessibility and accommodating the disability become a way of life.

SCIA of Illinois is a resource for information, education and guidance to facilitate life in the world of disability. It is a place to find peers who share their knowledge and hope for the future.

During SCI Awareness Month, SCIA of Illinois, along with Adaptive Adventures, is holding a three-day outdoor adventure called “Beyond Boundaries.”

Teams from rehab hospitals go to the Mississippi Palisades State Park to camp, hand cycle, kayak and rock climb. Using adaptive equipment to pull oneself up a 145-foot rock is an extraordinary experience. Some people think they will never be able to do such things, but with a good support network, they can.

My favorite quote is from the book, “Options–spinal cord injury and the future.” W. Mitchell is featured in the book, and he was burned in a motorcycle crash and later paralyzed in a plane crash. He went on to become an author, TV host, international speaker and much more.

Mitchell said, “The way I look at it, before I was paralyzed, there were ten thousand things I could do; ten thousand things I was capable of doing. Now there are nine thousand. I can dwell on the one thousand, or concentrate on the nine thousand I have left.”

  1. Mitchell knows life with paralysis is not easy, but it can be very good! SCIA exists to help make that happen. Learn more about SCIA of Illinois online.

Do I Need A Representative For My SSDI Application?

2016 September 8

JimBy Jim of Allsup

I’ve been in the business of Social Security Disability Insurance for more than 30 years, and I’ve been alive a lot longer.

Over the years, I’ve learned that I can’t do everything myself. I’m not a tax expert, so when it’s tax time, I look for an accountant to help. When I have a water leak in the house, I’m in the market for an expert plumber.

Face it, there are some things we just can’t do well by ourselves.

For example, filing an SSDI application is a complicated process and most people could benefit with professional help from the beginning.

Only a small number (about 14 percent) of people file their disability insurance applications with a representative on their side.

This can be a risk because if your benefits are denied at the application, then you’re in store for one to three years of waiting for your claim to be decided during appeals. Overall, about 67 percent of initial applications are denied.

So don’t try to slog your way alone through the Social Security disability application.

With empower by Allsup® you can receive a free online assessment of your likelihood of being eligible for SSDI benefits. Those who successfully complete the assessment can move immediately into the Allsup-designed web-based tool and get started on their Social Security disability application.

It’s easy to understand and accessible on your desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device.

Easy Technology & Expert SSDI Representation

And if you choose Allsup as your representative, we can guide you through the complex Social Security disability application process.

We can help so your claim isn’t denied because of simple mistakes. You need a professional who minimizes the hassle and helps improve the odds of you receiving your SSDI benefits quicker. That’s what we do.

With empower by Allsup and our three decades of experience, we work to ensure you receive your SSDI benefits as quickly as possible. The beauty of Allsup’s innovative, dual purpose online tool is that it gives you more control over the process. It is designed to help you obtain your SSDI benefits and also explains how you can return to work if and when you medically recover. Find more information about the disability application process at

I have to run now. My car is making some funny noises and I need to Google a mechanic. An expert mechanic, of course.

Take A Bite For Gastroparesis Awareness Month

2016 August 23

gastroparesis-awarenessBy Guest Blogger Melissa Adams VanHouten, gastroparesis advocate

August is Gastroparesis Awareness Month, and we would like to share a little information about our condition.

Gastroparesis literally means “paralysis of the stomach.”

It is a digestive motility disorder in which the stomach muscles, controlled by the vagus nerve, fail to contract and move food from the stomach into the intestines at the proper rate.

This slowing of the stomach emptying process can cause debilitating and sometimes life-threatening symptoms. The may including stomach/abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, heartburn/gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and early satiety and can lead to serious complications, such as malnourishment, dehydration, extreme weight loss, esophageal damage, blood sugar fluctuations, bezoars and chronic fatigue.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that more than 5 million people live with gastroparesis.

The most common known cause of this condition is diabetes, which accounts for about one-third of the cases. Other known causes of gastroparesis include neurologic disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, connective tissue disorders, complications resulting from surgeries, and direct damage to the vagus nerve. Most cases of gastroparesis, however, are labeled “idiopathic,” meaning that there is no known cause.

Gastroparesis is most commonly diagnosed by the gastric emptying study (GES), a procedure in which radioactive food is traced through the digestive tract to determine the rate at which food travels from the stomach to the small intestine. Other methods of diagnosis include upper endoscopy, barium x-rays, gastric manometry, and the “smart pill,” which, when swallowed, transmits data regarding the rate of passage through the digestive tract.

As of now, there is no safe, reliable, and effective treatment for gastroparesis—and there is no cure.

Available treatment options include surgery, which often is ineffective; medications, which carry the risk of serious side effects; feeding tubes or total parenteral nutrition (TPN), as well as dietary changes to liquid or soft foods, which often does not provide relief.

Living with gastroparesis is challenging, both physically and mentally. It truly is a life-altering diagnosis.

We seek awareness, better treatments, and, ultimately, a cure. We invite you to join one of our awareness campaigns: #TakeABite4GP. The idea is to get people to notice that we cannot eat with the ease that “normal” people can.

Another way you can help is to support H.R. 2311, the Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders Research Enhancement Act of 2015. This federal bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Health on May 15, 2015.

This bill would expand research, increase funding, and promote awareness and understanding of devastating functional gastrointestinal and motility disorders that greatly impact the lives of millions of sufferers. You can send a letter asking Congress to pass this bill at

For more information about gastroparesis, please contact one of our fine gastrointestinal disorder organizations: the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders at, and the Association of Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders at, or visit

Connect With NAMI And Connect With Others

2016 August 12

John-FreeburgBy Guest Blogger John Freeburg, NAMIWalks Team Captain and NAMI Washington Board Member

I am writing today to share my story with you, and invite you to learn more about the National Alliance on Mental Illness during the True Help® Web event, Claiming Power to Improve Your Relationships, Thursday, Aug. 18, at noon CST.

NAMI, exercise and medication have been my escalator to regaining sanity. But first, let me explain how insane I became. My descent began in 1978. While I was a graduate student in New York City, the first symptoms of schizophrenia appeared. I thought horns were growing out of my head, I was afraid of a brass ornamental lamp and convinced I was Jesus. I lived in constant fear and, for more than 10 years, was plagued by delusions such as these—and worse. I eventually attempted suicide and, within a couple of years after that, I was homeless.

It was in the late 1990s that I first became involved with NAMI. The Connection Recovery Support Group training class helped me to understand and cope with my disease.

At NAMI conferences and conventions people openly learned about and discussed medications and issues I had only previously thought about in private. I entered a new common language, which has enabled me to grow and take charge of my recovery.

Invaluable Resources From A Community Of Support

NAMI has provided me and my family with invaluable resources and a community of support—and has also given me the privilege of leadership.

My experience has grown to include serving as board president of my local affiliate, NAMI Kitsap County, as well as serving two terms on the NAMI Washington state board, and being appointed as the representative to the National NAMI Consumer Council from Washington. I am proud of how far I have come on my journey back into the light, and I am grateful to NAMI for offering programs and opportunities that give new hope every day to people just like me.

Through NAMI we gain sanity—enough to give back. Through NAMI we reclaim power to improve our relationships and make meaningful connections.

NAMI’s Senior Education Program Manager Suzanne Robinson is a featured speaker for the Aug. 18 event, and will share information on NAMI signature programs.

Most family members and consumers benefit greatly from our classes, support groups and community presentation programs such as Family-to-Family, NAMI Basics for Parents, In Our Own Voice, and Connections Recovery Support Group. Others of us enjoy the leadership and advocacy opportunities that offer a chance to make our society stigma free. There is a place for everybody within NAMI.

Editor’s note: Please share the registration link for True Help Claiming Power to Improve Your Relationships, at, on Facebook and Twitter.