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Hit with Medicare Part-B Penalties? Waiver May Provide Relief.

2017 June 20

By Tricia of Allsup

As director of Allsup’s healthcare services, I receive a lot of questions about how Medicare and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, coordinate benefits.

That’s no surprise, because both federal programs are complex and can be difficult to navigate, especially when transitioning from one to the other. A big concern our customers deal with is knowing when to enroll in Medicare.

Once a person has been granted Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, they are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A (hospital care) 24 months after they begin receiving SSDI benefits. They also must enroll in Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and outpatient care. Failure to do so can lead to lifetime penalties.

Prior to becoming eligible for Medicare, they may have been on a Marketplace plan and either chose to stay on that plan when they became eligible for Medicare or were unaware that they needed to enroll in Medicare Part B or face a penalty, even if they had Marketplace coverage.

Many of them are used to the healthcare coverage offered by their former employer. Now, they are coordinating other types of healthcare coverage options that work very differently than the coverage they are used to.

Because of widespread confusion about how Marketplace and Medicare coordinate and the Part B enrollment requirement, individuals can now apply for a penalty waiver. This waiver will reduce the Part B penalty for those who had a penalty from 2015, 2016 or 2017, and allow newly enrolled individuals to get Part B without an ongoing penalty.

Contact Social Security at (800)772-1213 or visit your local office to get more information about the Part B premium waiver. Be sure to mention “equitable relief.”  All requests must be filed by Sept. 30.

Visit our site here to learn more about Allsup’s healthcare services.

Making Mental Health Sexy

2017 June 14

By Tai, Allsup

Mental Health America’s (MHA) 2017 conference theme, “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll,” is provocative.  It’s designed to capture attention, and reflects the complicated, personal and often embarrassing issues related to mental illness that aren’t often discussed publicly.

Although nearly everyone has experienced a mental illness or is close to someone who has, there is still a tremendous amount of stigma attached to mental disorders.  Couple mental illness with other “taboo” topics such as sex and addiction, and its easy to understand why these conversations rarely take place.

However, issues such as sexual trauma and the sexual side effects of mental illness medication, the opioid epidemic, alcohol and drug dependence, and the connection between mental illness and the creative mind will take center stage in Washington, D.C. this week.

MHA is bringing advocates, experts, and elected officials together for frank conversations that can promote hope, resilience and recovery. Simply knowing that others share similar experiences is empowering.

MHA’s website states, “Recovery is founded on the principle that people can take on meaningful roles in the community in spite of mental health challenges, when they receive the support they need.”

Usually, people need help accessing support. This is true when people apply for disability. However, much like mental illness, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is not a sexy topic and there is a stigma attached to it.

Many people don’t know where to turn for help with SSDI, or where to even begin the conversation. However, for individuals who cannot continue working due to a severe mental illness, SSDI benefits, which include a monthly income and access to Medicare, can be a lifeline.  If you need support or more information on SSDI, visit Allsup.com.

Roll on Capitol Hill with United Spinal Association

2017 June 6

Photo courtesy of United Spinal Association.

By Tai Prohaska

United Spinal Association and over 100 disability advocates and wheelchair users will gather in Washington, D.C., June 11-14 for the 6th Annual Roll on Capitol Hill. They will meet with congressional leaders to highlight health, independence, community, and quality of life issues vital to people with spinal cord injury/disease (SCI/D).

Allsup is pleased to be a long-time sponsor of this annual signature policy event, which allows lawmakers to hear their constituents’ perspectives on issues that are important to United Spinal’s membership and the broader disability community.

“Our advocacy efforts have never been more critical than they are this year,” said James Weisman, United Spinal’s president and CEO.

“As we join voices at Roll on Capitol Hill we must remain vigilant to ensure that all people with disabilities, including wheelchair users and our veterans, have access to quality healthcare, independence and equal rights,” said Weisman.

Priority issues include:

  • Protecting healthcare benefits and services for the SCI/D community.
  • Advocating for improved access to complex rehab technology needed to live active and healthy lifestyles.
  • Safeguarding the provision of accessible transportation for individuals with disabilities across the country.
  • Ensuring people with disabilities and wheelchair users have access to public accommodations at the federal and state levels.
  • Strengthening the provision of home- and community-based services and supports so that individuals can live and participate in their communities.
  • Ensuring robust funding for agencies from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Labor.

United Spinal’s VetsFirst program will also host educational and advocacy sessions on legislation to improve employment benefits and access to healthcare services for veterans at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

United Spinal has long been at the forefront of changing and shaping public policy that not only benefits individuals with spinal cord injuries and disorders, but also benefits those with a wide range of disabilities and the abled population as well. Examples include improved access to transportation, healthcare and employment.

The organization is also addressing the current Social Security Disability Insurance hearing backlog of 1.1 million people. Most people who apply for disability are denied and will wait a nationwide average of 583 days for a hearing.

I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with United Spinal on SSDI and related topics for many years. I’ve also had the pleasure to participate in the Roll on Capitol Hill and interact with chapter presidents and advocates. They work year-round to address a broad spectrum of issues important to its 50-plus chapters, 200 support groups and over 1 million individuals impacted by SCI/D across the country.

Roll on!

Let’s Say Aloha to the SSDI Backlog

2017 June 2

I just got back from visiting family in my home state of Hawai’i. The people, the beauty, the “mana,” (loosely translated as energy or power) of that truly special place always refreshes my spirit and helps me focus on what’s truly important in life.

After 12 days in paradise, I returned to work today, to read Allsup’s latest news release on the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) backlog. Unfortunately, the backlog’s existence is not news. What is remarkable is that it is at an all time high—Americans with severe disabilities are waiting an average of nearly 600 days for benefits they paid for while working.

Nationwide, more than 1.1 million people are waiting an average 583 days for a hearing before an administrative law judge.

The backlog was already an issue in 2009, when Allsup surveyed individuals going through the SSDI appeals process. Of those surveyed, 90 percent said they faced negative repercussions while waiting for their SSDI award. These included:

  • Stress on family – 63 percent
  • Worsening illness – 53 percent
  • Draining of retirement/savings – 35 percent
  • Lost health insurance – 24 percent
  • Missed mortgage payments – 14 percent
  • Foreclosure – 6 percent
  • Bankruptcy – 5 percent

In Hawai’i, we tell each other to, “hang loose”—life is short, so appreciate every day. According to the Social Security Administration, one in five men and nearly one in six women who obtain SSDI die within five years. Helping people obtain their SSDI benefits in a timely manner would go a long way to improving the quality of life for individuals with severe disabilities, so they could indeed, appreciate each day.

As the SSA and other organizations work to address the backlog, my advice for people who need to apply for disability benefits is to get expert help at the application level. Most people are denied at this level, but those who are approved avoid the SSDI backlog altogether.

empower by Allsup® is an online tool that can help individuals get expert help right away, beginning with an assessment that helps determine their likelihood of qualifying for SSDI benefits.. If you are unsure whether or not you should file for SSDI, or if you even qualify, using empower by Allsup is a free, convenient way to help you make an informed decision.

I bid a fond aloha to my family and friends this week. On behalf of individuals with chronic illnesses and severe disabilities and their families, I’d like to say goodbye to the SSDI backlog as well.

What do you think about the SSDI backlog? Post your experiences, comments and suggestions and see what other organizations are doing on the Banish the Backlog Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/banishthebacklog/.

Remembering Col. Mark Stephensen on Memorial Day

2017 May 26

By The Old Sarge

President Calvin Coolidge wrote, “The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.”

On a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, I walked directly to panel 18E, Row 116, and gently ran my fingers along the name etched into the polished black granite: Mark L. Stephensen

Like all of the 58,307 names carved into the wall, the name left behind a story, a family, and more than a few tears.

On April 29, 1967, Air Force Major Mark Stephensen, 37, lifted his RF-4C Phantom fighter off the Udorn RTAB, Thailand, runway on his way to complete a reconnaissance mission over Hanoi, North Vietnam. Because of his calm, yet strong, demeanor, they called him “The Quite Tiger.” Flying with him that day was backseater 1st Lt. Gary Sigler.

It was their last flight. Years later, Air Force officials learned that the Phantom had been downed by surface-to-air missiles. Lt. Sigler managed to eject from the crippled fighter with Major Stephensen still at the controls. The young lieutenant was captured and spent the next seven years as a prisoner of war.

Major (later promoted to Colonel) Stephensen was listed as missing in action until his remains were recovered more than two decades later.

I interviewed the colonel’s wife and their children over two days at a July 1988 meeting of the League of POW/MIA Families in Washington, D.C. It was just weeks after the Vietnamese identified and made arrangements to return his remains to the States.

“It wasn’t until the Air Force confirmed the ID that the reality of losing Dad finally settled in,” his son told me.

For two days, we talked about the memories of their husband and father and the horrible years of not knowing his fate. There was no bitterness; just a longing for the years they missed being together as a family.

Mrs. Stephensen asked me to attend her husband’s long-delayed military burial in Riverton, Utah, and I agreed. The family quietly held hands during the ceremony and didn’t flinch when the bugler missed a note on Taps. There were some tears, but they were tears of pride.

The Quiet Tiger had returned home.

Finally at rest.

Finally at home.

I love you.

I miss you. So do we all.

Thank God

You’re back where

You belong.

From the Eulogy given by Kyler Stephensen, daughter of Colonel Mark Stephensen

Memorial Day is Monday, May 29. It’s a time to remember Colonel Stephensen and all of America’s fallen war heroes.

Young Stroke is An Unexpected Reality

2017 May 18

By Guest Blogger Robyn Moore, CEO of the National Stroke Association

There was a 44 percent spike in the number of young Americans (under 45 years old) hospitalized due to stroke over the last decade. Yet 73 percent of younger Americans are not familiar with stroke symptoms and the need for urgent medical attention.

In honor of National Stroke Awareness Month in May, the National Stroke Association created a website with a plethora of free resources that allow the public to become advocates for stroke and educate themselves and others.

Visit www.stroke.org/NSAM to learn about stroke and how to spot it by viewing videos, downloading materials and other tools, and using community presentations to help spread the word.

It is critical that we get the word out and educate younger Americans about stroke. It’s the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in adults, and it can happen to anyone.

A stroke is a “brain attack” that occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or broken blood vessel and can be caused by a number of factors. It is a myth that stroke only happens to the elderly.

About 800,000 people will experience a stroke in the U.S. this year, and more than 130,000 will die.

At the heart of our May stroke awareness campaign is a video titled “Young Stroke: An Unexpected Reality,” which offers insight about stroke and resources for stroke survivors and families.

One way to identify a potential stroke is by using the FAST method.

FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Our 2017 campaign primarily focuses on younger stroke survivors, but it also gives people of any age the tools to become informed and spread our message about stroke. Even something as simple as posting on Facebook or sending one of our colorful e-cards about stroke risks to family members, co-workers and friends. That may make a difference in getting everyone to wise up about the symptoms of stroke and prevention.

The National Stroke Association is the only national organization in the U.S. that focuses 100 percent of its efforts on stroke by developing education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke. Visit www.stroke.org for more information.

May is Fibromyalgia Awareness Month

2017 May 16

By The Old Sarge

Admit it. Sometimes you really get angry at people with no apparent disability who park in a handicapped slot at the grocery store. I know I used to.

Then I realized that not all physical disabilities are readily apparent. According to the Invisible Disabilities Association, about 26 million Americas suffer from a severe disability, but only about 25 percent of them use a cane, crutches, walker or other assistive devices.

In other words, they suffer from an invisible disability. Fibromyalgia is such a disability, and May has been set aside to raise awareness of the disease.

Fibro affects the body’s soft muscles and tissue. Symptoms range from chronic muscle pain, insomnia, fever and crippling fatigue so severe that sufferers struggle to make it through a normal day.

Other symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Concentration and memory problems — known as “fibro fog”
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Morning stiffness
  • Painful menstrual cramps
  • Numbness, and tingling in hands, arms, feet, and legs
  • Tender points
  • Urinary symptoms, such as pain or frequency

According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, fibromyalgia often occurs following a physical trauma, such as an acute illness or injury, which may act as a “trigger” for the disorder.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases reports that fibro affects 5 million Americans 18 and older. Although men and children can be affected, between 80 and 90 percent of those diagnosed are middle-aged women.

There is no cure for fibromyalgia. People normally have the condition usually for life, but it usually does not get worse with aging. There are treatments and medications that may reduce symptoms.

Allsup may be able to help you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits if you had to stop working because of fibro. Click here to see how empower by Allsup®, a free online tool that helps you determine your likelihood of obtaining SSDI benefits, can improve your chances of being approved. You can read personal stories from individuals with fibromyalgia who obtained their SSDI benefits at Allsup.com.

In the meantime, be careful who you get angry at in the grocery store parking lot.

What Do You Know About Lupus?

2017 May 12

By Tai Prohaska, Allsup manager of Strategic Alliances

May is Lupus Awareness Month, and boy, does this disease need it.

According to the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), 73 percent of Americans between 18-34 have either not heard about lupus or know little or nothing about lupus beyond the name. To put that in perspective, there are approximately 400,000 Americans living with multiple sclerosis and about 1 million living with Parkinson’s disease.

The Lupus Foundation of America wants you to “Get to KNOW LUPUS.” Allsup team members probably know more than most Americans because we help individuals with lupus obtain Social Security Disability Insurance benefits if they cannot continue working. Allsup is pleased to support LFA chapters throughout the country.

“Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that is both mysterious and cruel,” said LFA Heartland patient services manager Rosemary Chustak.

“With lupus, something goes wrong with the immune system resulting in the body attacking and causing damage to itself.  It is difficult to diagnose as symptoms are different from person to person, imitate the symptoms of other illnesses and symptoms come and go.”

While lupus can strike anyone at any time, 90 percent of people living with lupus are females. Women of color are at an especially high risk. Hispanic, Asian and Native American populations also have an increased risk. Lupus usually develops between the ages of 15 and 44. Although symptoms range from mild to life threatening, with proper diagnosis and treatment, the disease is now more manageable than in years past.

Common symptoms include joint pain, headaches, anemia, edema, pleurisy, photosensitivity, hair loss, abnormal blood clotting, mouth or nose ulcers, skin rashes, overwhelming fatigue and fevers. For some people with lupus, symptoms can be debilitating, even to the point of forcing them to stop working.

I was at the St. Louis Walk to End Lupus Now last weekend and I talked with people about the challenges they face living with lupus, including the struggle to keep working. Many who had to stop working had filed for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and, like most who apply, they were denied benefits. They were looking for a better way to apply for SSDI or appeal their denial.

I was happy to tell them about empower by Allsup®, a free online tool that helps people determine their likelihood of obtaining SSDI benefits, and improves their chances of getting approved if they are eligible.

One of the most common things people say when I tell them about Allsup’s services is, “I wish I had known about you earlier.”

Lupus thrivers, share this blog and help me spread the word.

Remembering a Friend During Brain Tumor Awareness Month

2017 May 5

By The Old Sarge

I remember a guy I worked with in the Air Force.

He was a stand-out star on a staff of creative types. Talented, personable and in his mid-40s, he was a movie-star handsome guy who routinely landed walk-on parts in Hollywood and television movies. Happily married and a father of twins, he had it made.

Then his life began to fall apart. It started with a few complaints about bad headaches, which later mushroomed into full blown migraines. Normally a quiet, cordial guy who got along with everyone, his interactions changed. He became quarrelsome, and spontaneous, unexplainable arguments would erupt.

I retired from the Air Force about this time to join Allsup, but I stayed in contact with my former co-workers. I learned that his inexplicable behavior continued to worsen. He frequently started arguments with co-workers and the migraines caused him to start missing work. He began to have family problems. This just wasn’t the friend we all knew and respected. I had my suspicions, so I wasn’t surprised when I learned that he was suffering from a brain tumor. He died not long after the diagnosis.

I was reminded of his story when I learned that May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month. The National Brain Tumor Society (NBTS) says that about 700,000 people in the U.S. and millions worldwide are living with a brain tumor or a central nervous system tumor. With a survival rate of only 35 percent, the NBTS hopes that raising awareness of brain tumors will lead to more research and more funds to continue the fight for new treatments.

According to WebMD, common symptoms of a brain tumor include:

  • Headaches that are worse in the morning and ease during the day
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness or loss of feeling in the arms or legs
  • Stumbling or lack of coordination in walking
  • Abnormal eye movements or changes in vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in personality or memory
  • Changes in speech

Many individuals with brain tumors are not able to work during medical treatment, and they may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

When evaluating claims related to brain tumors, Social Security looks at benign and malignant tumors differently.

Depending on the size and location, benign brain tumors can affect people differently. The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates them under listings of epilepsy, stroke, or other affected body systems. Malignant brain tumors are evaluated under cancer. More serious brain tumors may qualify an individual for expedited processing under SSA’s Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program.

Allsup can help individuals determine their likelihood of being eligible for SSDI benefits and the CAL program.

 Click here to learn how empower by Allsup® makes it easier to apply for SSDI.

Editor’s note: The NBTS will host a Tweetchat on May 18, #BTeAM, to discuss the resources, support, information and tools available to brain tumor patients.

No Standing in Line for empower by Allsup®

2017 April 26

By The Old Sarge

After wearing an Air Force uniform for more than 22 years, I know all about standing in lines. There were lines to get into the mess hall, the firing range—even for doctors’ appointments.

Want to join the Air Force? Get in line. Want to get out of the Air Force? Join the crowd. You get the idea. Believe me; I thought I knew everything I needed to know about standing in lines.

But then I learned about the staggering lines at the Social Security office for people applying for disability benefits. At the end of 2016, nearly 2 million people were waiting to learn if they would receive the insurance benefits they paid for when they were working.

More than 1 million are waiting for a hearing before an administrative law judge and the average wait for a hearing nationwide is a staggering 578 days. Some of these applicants will die before they reach the end of the line.

The airmen I stood in line with in while in the Air Force were healthy GIs who knew what they were getting into when they raised their right hand to take the oath of service. Former workers with severe disabilities waiting for their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits have no idea what’s in store for them.

We at Allsup are doing our best to help them avoid those lines, and cut the wait time if they are denied at the application level and decide to appeal. Since 1984, we’ve helped more than 275,000 applicants receive the SSDI benefits they deserve.

One of the ways we do that is through empower by Allsup. This unique software is a dual purpose online tool that offers people with disabilities a no-cost online option to determine if they are eligible for SSDI benefits. It also offers return-to-work assistance for people whose health has recovered to the point they’re able to return to the workforce.

Best of all, there’s no waiting in line. You can start your SSDI application from the comfort of your home, and the easy-to-understand information is readily available on your desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device.

More than half of the people Allsup helps are approved for SSDI benefits at the initial application level—they never have to endure the SSDI hearing backlog. Overall, 97 percent of the people who complete the SSDI application process with Allsup obtain their benefits. See how empower by Allsup can speed up the process when applying for Social Security disability benefits.