Having Second Thoughts About The Medicare Plan You Chose For 2014?
By Paula of Allsup
Medicare’s annual open enrollment season ended on Dec. 7, just as the holiday season shifted into high gear.
As you ring in the New Year, you want to feel confident that the Medicare plan you chose for 2014 will meet your needs.
If you’re having second thoughts about the plan you chose, you may wonder if there’s anything you can do about it now.
The reality is that Medicare offers only limited second chances to change your coverage outside of annual enrollment.
But it may be worth it to explore these opportunities if you’re unhappy with your Medicare coverage for 2014:
- If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you can drop it and switch to Original Medicare. The Medicare Advantage disenrollment period runs from Jan. 1 through Feb. 14. If you drop your plan, you’ll still have coverage through Original Medicare, Parts A and B. But be aware that you’ll also be responsible for the costs that Original Medicare does not cover. In addition, you may not be able to buy a Medigap supplement policy to cover these costs if you have a pre-existing condition.
If the Medicare Advantage plan you drop covers prescription drugs, you also can enroll in a prescription drug Part D plan through Feb. 14.
- You can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan or a prescription drug Part D plan with a five-star quality rating. Whether you have Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage, you can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan that has a five-star quality rating. You also can switch to a Part D plan with a five-star rating.
You can make this switch at any time during 2014, but you can only do it once. Note: There may not be a five-star plan available in your area.
- If specific circumstances change during 2014, you may get a special enrollment period. For example, if you move to a new address, you may be able to switch to a new Medicare Advantage or Part D plan. You also can make a switch if you move into, currently live in or move out of a skilled nursing facility.
If you qualify for financial assistance, such as Medicaid or Extra Help, you’ll get a special enrollment period as well. Find a full list of special circumstances on Medicare.gov.
By Tai of Allsup
If you’re still looking for holiday presents, this blog is for you.
Here is the inside scoop on unique and meaningful gifts from nonprofits that are dedicated to serving individuals with disabilities across the country, including where you live.
In The Holiday Spirit
“Hope Ornaments” are 100 percent recycled cotton fiber. The American Parkinson Disease Association explains that your purchase helps “ease the burden and find the cure” for Parkinson’s. They are available here.
The Lupus Foundation of America‘s “Gifts of Hope” include cellphone charms, T-shirts and books. Click here to browse lupus gift items.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s holiday gift program allows you to send an e-card to notify loved ones you made a donation in their name. For more info, click here. Visit the MS Society store by clicking here.
You can send a holiday e-card from the National Parkinson Foundation when you make a donation in any amount. Click here to see cards.
Healing And Health Focus
The Brain Injury Association of America brings help, hope and healing to millions of individuals. Consider gifting a special BIAA pin. Click here to view these and other BIAA items.
The book, “But You LOOK Good!” gives those living with chronic illness and pain a voice about how they feel, what they need and how others can encourage them. Available for $5, thousands of copies have been sold around the world. Order directly from the IDA website.
Mended Hearts improves the quality of life for heart patients and their families through peer-to-peer support. The Mended Hearts Marketplace features heart-shaped ornaments, mini aspirin containers, and stadium blankets. Visit the marketplace by clicking here.
Gifts That Support
Your purchase from the Shop Stroke Store (they even have baby onesies!) supports the National Stroke Association’s work toward reducing the incidence and impact of stroke in communities across the nation.
The Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA) knows that a future free of colon cancer isn’t just a dream; it can be a reality. Go to the CCA eStore for survivor pins, apparel and more. My fave is the “Screen this too!” T-shirt.
For a one-time or recurring donation of $25 or more, the United Spinal Association will send you its beautiful 2014 Friendship Calendar to keep or give as a gift. View the calendar here.
If you have a veteran in your life, you may want to visit The Fight Continues website to order the book, “The Things They Cannot Say,” available in paperback and digital format. The organization receives a portion of the book sales made through its website.
Do you know of any other gifting opportunities that support people with disabilities? Please share and post them on Allsup’s Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/Allsupinc.
By Tricia of Allsup
Lots of us spend too much money during the holiday season because we’re trying to make everyone happy.
We want to find the perfect gift for every person on our ever-growing list. We want our homes to look sparkly and festive. We want our holiday get-togethers to feel welcoming and sumptuous.
The problem with holiday spending is that it can lead to an overload of stress.
It’s hard to enjoy time with family and friends, and to feel gratitude for the good things in our lives, if we’re stressed out about how we’re going to pay for it all. And if we finance this spending with credit cards, we may still be paying for this year’s holiday next year.
Take A Deep Breath . . . And Make A Plan
When it comes to the holidays, a little planning can give you a lot of peace of mind. Here are three steps to creating a holiday spending plan:
1. Make a list of the things you plan to spend money on this holiday season. Include gifts, decorations, entertaining and travel.
2. Set a spending limit on what you can afford to spend on each of these categories. With gifts, be sure you list every person you plan to buy a gift for and set a limit on how much you can spend on each gift.
3. Add it up. Do a grand total of what you plan to spend on all your categories of holiday spending. Be realistic. If it’s more than you can afford, go back to your plan to look for ways to spend a little less.
Tips For Trimming Your Gift List
When it comes to gifts, it really is the thought that counts. Choose gifts that are personal and that will be meaningful to the recipient. They don’t have to cost a lot.
- Focus on exchanging gifts with just a few people who are closest to you. For other people on your gift list, consider giving a card with a personal note that expresses what you appreciate about them.
- Create a new family gift tradition. For example, if you have a large family, draw names out of a hat so that everyone buys only one gift. Or consider buying a single gift for the entire family.
- Give the gift of your time. Be creative and make a gift or holiday treat. Or think about what you do well, and give someone a homemade coupon for your services.
What are your favorite things to do during the holidays that don’t cost much money? Share your traditions on Allsup’s Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/Allsupinc.
The 2014 edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac indicates we’ll be bundling up in sweaters and piling on the blankets this winter.
It’s forecasting a frigid winter for much of the United States.
A good way to make your home cozy is to keep warm air in and cold air out. “Winterizing” your home also can save you money.
You could save 5 to 30 percent on energy bills by making your home more energy efficient, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
That’s up to $30 savings per month, based on a $100 monthly gas or electric bill. Multiply that savings over several months, and you have a plan to help your financial future.
Even Small Fixes Can Have An Impact
Do you have a drafty door? Use a door sweep or “draft snake” to close the gap. You can even make one yourself by using a rolled bath towel or by filling an old necktie with sand or kitty litter.
Want to know if air from the outside is entering your home around window frames? Do the hair dryer test: Have someone go outside and run a hair dryer around each window while you hold a lighted candle near the window frame on the inside. If the air from the dryer makes the candle flicker, you have a draft and should apply caulk or weather stripping around the window frame.
For more ideas on how to winterize your home, check out energy.gov.
Find Help For Larger Projects
One option for finding out how to make your home more energy efficient is a home energy audit.
A certified energy auditor calculates how much energy you use and how much your home is wasting. They then recommend steps to take and possible upgrades to make your home more energy efficient and save you money for years to come.
Many utility companies offer free or discounted home energy audits.
Many utilities also offer programs to help customers with the cost of winterizing and energy-efficient projects. It can pay to give your utility company a call to see what they can offer you.
For those with lower incomes, you may qualify for as much as $6,500 worth of help with energy improvements to your home through the Weatherization Assistance Program. Learn more on the Department of Energy’s website.
Do you have energy tips to share? Post your suggestions on Allsup’s Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/Allsupinc. And have a warm and wonderful winter!
By Tai of Allsup
So my first October on the East Coast, I thought my neighbors’ Maryland house was on fire when I smelled smoke and saw dark gray plumes rising from their yard. I almost called 911. Now, after 15 years on the mainland, I am used to it, and even enjoy the occasional sweet, smoky smell of burning leaves.
However, I don’t have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), also known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis.
If I did, I don’t think I would enjoy that smell at all. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that the moisture trapped within leaves makes them burn slowly and generate large amounts of airborne particulates. These particulates can reach deep into lung tissue and cause coughing, wheezing, chest pain, shortness of breath and sometimes long-term respiratory problems, such as COPD.
Breathing Issues and Social Security Disability Insurance
COPD Awareness Month during November is smack dab in the middle of peak leaf-burning season. COPD is a disease that affects lungs and bronchial tubes, and makes it hard to breathe. It causes coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and other symptoms.
It’s estimated that 24 million Americans have COPD, but half of them don’t even know it.
They think they can’t make it up the stairs because they are just out of shape. That’s a shame, because there are treatments that can help them breathe better and enjoy a more active life.
If you are having trouble breathing, ask your healthcare provider for a simple breathing test, known as a spirometry. Consider the test, especially if you:
- Have shortness of breath, chronic cough or have trouble performing simple daily tasks like grocery shopping or doing laundry;
- Are over age 40 and currently smoke or used to smoke;
- Have worked or lived around chemicals or fumes.
Even with treatment, however, COPD can make it impossible to continue working.
Many individuals with COPD also suffer from other debilitating conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. If work is no longer an option, Social Security Disability Insurance may be a resource for monthly income and access to Medicare.
To help people with COPD and those at risk, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has developed a national campaign called COPD Learn More Breathe Better®.
To help people with COPD or any disability that keeps them from working, Allsup offers a free SSDI eligibility screening at Expert.Allsup.com or by calling (888) 841-2126.
By Ed of Allsup
Lung cancer is that common—it is the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s important to remind people of these risks during November—Lung Cancer Awareness Month. But many people may not know lung cancer is a leading cause of severe disability.
Lung cancer comes with symptoms such as coughing up blood, chest pain, wheezing or coughing that doesn’t go away. Shortness of breath is another impairment. Respiration is critical to the functioning of the human body, and lung cancer can be devastating to these functions.
That’s one reason why lung cancer is the third leading cancer diagnosis for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
For people to qualify for SSDI benefits, they must have a severe disability and be unable to work for 12 months or longer, or have a terminal condition. They also must be under their full retirement age and have paid FICA payroll taxes in order to be insured.
The Social Security Administration oversees this federal insurance program, and they have disability examiners who review claims for benefits against the SSDI program guidelines. Read more about SSDI guidelines online.
Many people who reach out to Allsup with cancer diagnoses will say they didn’t realize they could have applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits when they were undergoing treatment.
Some people battle cancer for years—and, as a result, they have to stop working. If you are in this situation, please remember that SSDI benefits may be an alternative to provide you and your family with some financial stability.
One way to make the SSDI process easier on yourself is to seek help from an expert representative like Allsup.
Having specialized help and assistance on your side can give you the support you need, so you can focus on the real fight—beating lung cancer.
Click here for a free SSDI evaluation of your situation, or call (800) 678-3276.
I think it’s important to stop and take time to realize the sizable sacrifice that our military veterans have made—those who have left service and those who are currently serving. These individuals have not only put their own lives at stake for our national security and stability, they have made all sorts of sacrifices.
These sacrifices include time spent with family, missing special occasions with their spouses and children, as well as mental and physical sacrifices.
Allsup has benefited from the dedicated work of dozens of our own employees who have served in the armed forces. Many of our employees are spouses of those in service, including those at the Scott Air Force Base, which is near our Belleville headquarters, in the metro St. Louis area.
Veterans who return from service with chronic injuries and disabling impairments have an enduring reminder of what their service costs.
On this Veterans Day, please take time to say thank you to the veterans in your families, your neighborhood and your workplace.
Thank you to all veterans. You stepped forward, following in the footsteps of many millions, to ensure the safety and livelihoods of hundreds of millions more.
It’s a great sacrifice that we cannot truly understand, but I hope all of us will attempt to appreciate.
Please visit Allsup’s Facebook page and share your appreciation today at https://www.facebook.com/allsupinc.
By Tricia of Allsup
The Social Security Administration just announced a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
More than 60 million people will see more income next year as a result. This includes 57 million Social Security recipients, veterans and those on Supplemental Security Income.
The raise amounts to about $17 more per month for the average person receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.
Really, it’s a small amount of money. But it will be dollars you didn’t have before.
The increase begins in January for Social Security recipients, and if you haven’t taken a close look at your budget lately—this is a good reason to do it now.
Our Allsup Disability Life Planning Service® specialists frequently work with SSDI applicants to figure out how they can make their money last. This is especially important while they wait for their claims to be processed.
Most people seeking SSDI benefits (67 percent) will be denied when they apply, and it may take another one to two years to receive benefits—depending on how many appeals they must file.
Going so long without regular income can be financially devastating. Taking small steps, as early as possible, can help minimal savings grow into something larger.
It can be hard to face this type of transition, especially if you only recently quit working because of a severe, long-term disability.
If you’re already receiving SSDI benefits, revisit your budget. Can you find a way to make this $17 a month grow into more savings for your future?
If you are waiting for your SSDI claim to be decided and you have growing financial concerns—read more about possible options on Allsup’s Guide to Personal Finance information on Allsup.com.
For more information about SSDI benefits and getting help, call (800) 279-4357.
Here’s a news flash for all military veterans with service-connected disabilities: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) makes mistakes.
Although the VA says it made the correct decision on more than 90 percent of the disability claims it processed in recent months, the nation’s largest veterans group says the numbers just don’t add up.
According to a Sept. 12 story in the Air Force Times newspaper, The American Legion says these accuracy claims are inconsistent with its own numbers, where errors are found “routinely in over half of the cases reviewed.”
The Legion is a partner with the VA in processing benefits claims, but a Legion spokeswoman said the error rate was determined after VA employees, not the Legion, reviewed the accuracy of disability decisions.
A Legion spokeswoman added that “the VA has either erred or failed to properly develop claims in over 70 percent of claims” of those veterans whom the organization represented before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Reviews of VA regional offices indicate that the error rate may be as high as two-thirds.
I’m not slinging mud at the VA. Because of budget cuts and an exploding number of claims (more than 1 million this year), its workers are stressed out, overworked and undermanned. Backlogs are growing, although the VA says it is processing claims faster than ever. Unfortunately, quick decisions can mean inaccurate decisions.
But Allsup can help. If your claim for VA benefits was denied, it’s time to call one of our VA-accredited claims agents at (888) 372-1190.
You also can visit our website to learn more about the Allsup Veterans Disability Appeal ServiceSM.
Seven weeks. That’s about how long you have if you participate in Medicare to choose your plans for next year.
If you start earlier, that can put you in a better position to do the research, see all your options and enroll by the Dec. 7 deadline.
For many people, it’s hard to know where to begin. And it may just seem easier to stick with the Medicare plan you already have.
But here are a few steps to consider.
- Take a look at your health. Did it change in the past year? Did you start taking a new medication? Examine how your plan covered your needs, and whether you had any unexpected costs.
- Review the documents that your Medicare Advantage plan and prescription drug Part D plan sent to you. These include the Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) and Evidence of Coverage (EOC). These will tell you if your plans are changing and possibly eliminating features or medications that are important to your health. You should have received these by Sept. 30.
- Check out your options. Rather than just going to one insurance company for options, consider other choices. Depending on where you live, you may have 35 or more Part D plans. You also may have 20 or more Medicare Advantage plans to compare. Start with what you need and see how the plan matches those needs.
- Look at other coverage. If you have additional coverage through an employer (former employer or your spouse’s employer), check to see if there are any changes that will affect your Medicare choices next year.
- Seek help from a Medicare specialist. Many people are not aware professional, unbiased assistance is available. A Medicare plan comparison service like Allsup can offer you a review of your options—specifically studying your healthcare needs and finances.
Medicare can be a complex program to understand, but there are steps you can take to ensure you have a Medicare plan that’s a better match for you.