Posts Tagged ‘older adults’

The Importance of Programs

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Have questions about what services are available to you? We have answers! | via Pixabay

 

The Importance of Programs

There are many programs available for eligible older adults, but not everyone is signed up for them. Some people aren’t aware of the types and specific programs available and others may know the programs, but don’t believe they’ll qualify for assistance. In today’s blog post we’ll take a brief overview of the types of programs available and why they’re important.

Why are these programs important? Often, due to a number of circumstances, including unforeseen medical costs, outliving one’s planned savings, needing to leave the workforce early or for lengthy periods due to medical or caregiving needs (and so on), older adults often find themselves with far fewer financial resources than they need to survive. The impacts of these problems are especially noticeable in a high-cost state such as New Jersey. Research on the issue, such as the Elder Economic Security Index (EESI), has repeatedly showcased the difficulties faced by older adults continuing to age in New Jersey. Older adults face higher risks of homelessness, hunger, and delayed or neglected medical care due to their financial means. Although the programs listed below help to combat these disturbing trends, these programs are also often threatened by financial cuts, changes in eligibility requirements, and lack of legislative or community support.

Food Assistance

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may the one of the most well-known of the food assistance programs. Another popular program is the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP), which “promotes nutritional health among New Jersey’s senior citizens by providing them with locally grown fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs.”

Check your eligibility and apply for SNAP here: Apply for SNAP

Medical Assistance

In addition to Medicare, there are several other programs for older adults, including prescription assistance. The Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged & Disabled program (PAAD) is a state-funded program that helps eligible seniors and individuals with disabilities save money on their prescription drug costs.

To learn more about applying for Medicare go to the Social Security Administration’s website here: Social Security Administration: Medicare

To learn more about applying for PAAD, the Senior Gold Prescription Discount Program, and other Medicare savings programs, continue to the section on the new NJ Save application and follow this link: NJ Save Application

Assistance for Homeowners

For eligible homeowners, assistance is available with your property taxes. The Property Tax Reimbursement Program (popularly known as the Senior Freeze Program) and the Homestead Benefit Program are available to older adults who qualify.

Learn more about the eligibility requirements and how to apply for the Property Tax Reimbursement Program here: NJ Property Tax Reimbursement Program a.k.a. “Senior Freeze”

Heating and Cooling Assistance

The Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) “helps very low-income residents with their heating and cooling bills, and makes provisions for emergency heating system services and emergency fuel assistance within the Home Energy Assistance Program.”

Check your eligibility and download the application for LIHEAP here: Apply for LIHEAP

Multi-Program Savings and Application

New Jersey’s new application NJ Save allows eligible older adults and those with disabilities to apply and enroll in the following programs simultaneously:

-Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PAAD)

-Senior Gold Prescription Discount Program

-Lifeline Utility Assistance

-Medicare Savings Programs (SLMB & QI-1)

-Medicare Part D’s Low Income Subsidy (aka “Extra Help”)

-Hearing Aid Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (HAAAD)

The application is also used to screen for LIHEAP, SNAP, and Universal Service Fund (USF). In addition, individuals who qualify for PAAD and Lifeline Utility Assistance through NJ Save may also be eligible for Property Tax Freeze (“Senior Freeze”), reduced motor vehicle fees, and low-cost spay/neuter for pets.

Learn more about NJ Save and apply here: Apply Through NJ Save

Programs aimed to assist our most vulnerable often seem out of reach for many, and while it may be true that these programs all have eligibility requirements, many programs are under utilized. Remember that only 48% of eligible older adults in New Jersey are currently receiving SNAP benefits. Rather than assume you don’t meet the eligibility requirements, look into the requirements for each program (or use the NJ Save application) and apply for all the programs you meet the criteria for. Regardless of what assistance level you might receive from an individual program, each benefit can help you and even small benefit amounts can quickly add up to substantial assistance across several programs!

 

If you have feedback or would like to be part of the conversation, leave us a comment below or email us as [email protected].

Come back for our next blog! New posts are published on the first and third Thursdays of each month.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Getting Ready for Summer

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Are you ready for summer weather?

We’re now in the middle of summer and it’s time to make sure you’re prepared for hot, long days and more time!

But, you may be thinking, what do I need to do to prepare? What do I even need to prepare for?

Although summer may be the season of sun and relaxation for many, it’s one of our “extreme” seasons alongside winter. As such, there are many preparations to make and precautions to take whether you’re an older adult, a caregiver or both. And, of course, it’s the perfect time to get other things done you may have been putting off during winter.

 

  1. Be prepared for hot days: Make sure you have access to a cool place for the hottest of days. Keep in mind that heat susceptibility is a problem for our bodies as we age, and overheating can be deadly—especially for those with medical conditions, young children, and older adults. For those who have and can afford air conditioning, use air conditioning as needed. For those who do not have access to air conditioning, use a fan and keep ice on hand, if possible. You can also look for cooling centers near you, such as libraries or senior centers, or contact NJ 2-1-1 for help finding a cooling center near you.

In addition, make sure to check on anyone you are a caregiver for during the hottest times of the year, and neighbors and friends. Also practice basic heat stroke prevention: drink plenty of cool fluids, stay out of the sun during the peak hours of 10 AM-4PM, and find shade/cool indoors as soon as you begin to feel overheated. Caffeine, alcohol, and certain medications may increase your risk of dehydration (which will increase your risk of overheating), so be aware of any increased risk of dehydration and adjust your fluid intake and activity level accordingly.

 

  1. Storm and hurricane preparation: Summer storms have already been severe this year and will continue to be, and hurricanes at the end of summer can be devastating. There are many steps that should go into emergency preparation for storms and hurricanes. Luckily, we’ve prepared a full list of steps to take in a previous blog post, which you can read here: (Disaster Preparedness and Safety)

 

  1. Make preparations for vacations: If you are a caregiver, make sure the person you provide care for will be cared for while you are gone—even if all they need is a person they can call in case of emergency. If you plan to travel and receive care or assistance from someone make sure to speak to your doctor and/or formal or informal caregivers to let them know of your plans and determine any equipment/supplies you might need to take or any arrangements you might need to make for your care.

 

  1. If you have concerns about paying for summer or winter cooling/heating costs, now is the perfect time to get in touch with NJ SHARES or your own utility company to see if you’re eligible for utility assistance programs. Several different continual assistance programs, one-time grant programs, and payment plans are available through different agencies and have different eligibility requirements. You can read more about these programs and the availability of energy assistance programs in the 2019 Summer issue of Renaissance here on page 6: Renaissance Summer 2019

 

  1. If you need meal assistance during the summer (for any reason), see if you’re eligible for SNAP. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is currently underenrolled, with only 48% of eligible adults in New Jersey currently enrolled. Don’t assume that you don’t qualify for SNAP benefits, apply today! Learn more about the program and apply for NJ SNAP here: NJ SNAP

 

  1. Because older adults are more susceptible to illnesses carried by biting insects (e.g., West Nile Virus). Plan on wearing long, protective clothing when outside or apply bug spray.

 

  1. Read up on policy updates and changes to your communities at the local, state, and national level! Now is the perfect time to learn more about the 2020 Census and changes coming to your communities. We’ll be releasing a blog post later this summer with updates and news on several different public policies and acts—check our blog throughout the summer for more updates!

 

If you have feedback or would like to be part of the conversation, leave us a comment below or email us as [email protected].

Come back for our next blog! New posts are published on the first and third Thursdays of each month.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

How to Age Well: Planning Your Path, Part 3: Money and Retirement

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Are you ready for your financial future? | Photo by Mathieu Turle via unsplash.com

 

There is no way to get aging “right”…

 

…But it does help to plan.

Something is happening each and every day across New Jersey. Across the United States. Across the entirety of the planet.

We are all getting older.

Like it or not, each and every one of us is on a journey of aging. From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we are aging.

We tend to think of aging as being something saved for an arbitrary age, like 50, 60, 65,…etc. We could list off the ages at which society (for one reason or another) has decided we’ve hit a certain benchmark in aging. Whether it’s Social Security benefits, Medicare enrollment, retirement, “senior citizen” discounts, or a screening your doctor now wants you to undergo, we tend to have these changes attached to specific ages or with “being of a certain age.” We think of them as being times in our life when a monumental change has occurred, a mark of “aging.”

But the truth is, regardless of what arbitrary number might be assigned to program enrollments or coupons, we don’t age in random, sudden leaps. We age constantly and gradually. While this might make it tempting to wait to plan for your later years, you should plan now. No one wants to be caught unawares by changes as you age or a sudden health crisis, so it makes sense to plan for your later years as early as possible. Think of planning now as training for becoming an older adult.

What if you already consider yourself an older adult? That’s not to say this blog doesn’t apply to you too! It absolutely does—no matter where you are or where you consider yourself to be in your path of aging, it makes sense to plan now for the road ahead, whether that road is two days or twenty years from now!

Having plans in place will mitigate much stress and bad decision-making in emergency situations. Much heartache and avoidable stressed is caused by being forced to make difficult decisions in the heat of the moment; time spent worrying about what the best decision is and then wondering if the right decision is the one you made.

What are some priorities to focus on? We’re so glad you asked. In this three-part series we’ll cover different aspects of how-to age well as we lead up to our 21st Annual Conference. If you’d like to register for the conference but haven’t yet, go to www.njfoundationforaging.org for more information.

This week, in the final chapter of our three-part series, we’ll cover: money and retirement.

 

Money

Do you have money saved for the future? Will it be enough for yourself and any care you might need? Have you enrolled or will you enroll in supplemental programs? Do you know your eligibility? Have you already retired? Are you about to retire? Do you have money saved up for retirement? Will money be coming in during your retirement or will it just be going out?

Suffice it to say there are many questions surrounding money throughout the course of our lives, particularly as we become older, possibly retire, and consider our long-term care needs. If you haven’t already, read Barbara O’Neill’s article on flipping financial switches later in life (Flipping a Switch: For Happiness and Financial Security in Later Life, pages 6-7) in the latest issue of Renaissance for some great insight into what financial changes you can anticipate facing as you age.

The sheer number of questions can be daunting, let alone the stress financial decisions and discussions can instill in people. But just having a plan for your financial future can save you from a load of future stressors and difficulties. If you’re facing a loss of income it may be necessary or helpful to consider what options you have: could you work a part-time job or are you eligible for Social Security or disability benefits? Would you be interested or able to live with a roommate or relative?

 

A note about programmatic assistance

As part of your financial discussions, investigate eligibility requirements for assistance programs—there are many different types of assistance programs across the state for services ranging from utilities, to property taxes, food and fresh produce, medication, and more! Learn more about each program and see which ones may best work for your own situation. You can learn more and apply to multiple assistance programs (though not all assistance programs) through the state’s new, simplified application NJSave.

Some programs include, but are not limited to, Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PADD), the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LiHEAP), and NJ SHARES. PADD is a prescription drug assistance program that can help you pay for your medications and LiHEAP and NJ SHARES are utility assistance programs that make it easier for older adults and others to pay their utilities throughout the year and may offer weatherization tips or tools. Whether you are eligible for one or all of these programs, each can make a significant difference and positive impact in your life. You may be eligible and not know it, so make sure to look into each of these programs.

It’s important to know that some of these programs, particularly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), face chronic underenrollment—in NJ alone, only 48% of eligible older adults are receiving benefits, meaning that 52% of eligible older adults are facing additional food insecurity and financial strain and may not realize they qualify for this benefit. Learning more about SNAP and other assistance programs could help you today or in the future, depending on your eligibility status. Furthermore, signing up for these programs will help you save money and ensure you have access to basic necessities and a higher quality of life. Although you cannot apply to SNAP through NJSave, you can apply only through the NJ SNAP website.

Another way to help secure greater benefits later in life is to put off taking your Social Security benefits until you’re 70, if possible. Waiting until age 70 will maximize your benefits payout. If you plan on using Social Security benefits to supplement your income in a meaningful way you’ll want to have as much of your money as possible coming to you in each benefit check or deposit.

 

Retirement

Does the thought of retiring make you sweat or fill you with joy? What will you do with your newfound time? Will you have too much, too little, or none at all? How can you make this new phase of your life work best for you?

Retirement can be a joy for some and a great sorrow for others. Whether you’re looking forward to retirement or dreading it, it’s important to know what you’re going to do with this next phase of your life. Many people may choose not to retire or may not be able to for financial reasons, and in this case it’s equally important to choose how to spend this time when many friends may be retiring or health changes may make it necessary for you to cut back on hours spent working.

For those who are retiring, having a plan for your retirement can make the difference between remaining healthy and happy and declining physically and mentally. For many of us, even those who don’t love their jobs, having a regular work schedule can fill us with a sense of purpose or, at least, give us a predictable schedule and a way to pass the time. A newfound freedom in retirement may allow you to pursue a hobby or travel, spend time with friends and family, or relax in ways you didn’t think were possible. If this sounds good to you, try planning out at least a few days a week with activities that are meaningful to you and keep you engaged; this could be going out and socializing with friends, reading books, engaging in a craft or sport, or volunteering—anything that gives you pleasure and a sense of purpose.

If the above sounds boring and pointless to you, or at least unfulfilling and unwanted, consider working part-time as part of your retirement or semi-retirement. For many people fulltime retirement may not be enjoyable—it may seem dull, and could lead to depression, physical and mental decline. A volunteer role (fulltime or part-time) may work for some, but not for others. The work could be a passion of yours that’s been on the backburner, or could be something like office work, cashiering, or other positions that work for you and your schedule. Often it’s the set schedule of work that’s vital to keeping people happy and engaged more than the work itself. Moreover, people who have the luxury to choose to work past retirement instead of working out of necessity can enjoy the freedom of knowing they can leave their job if and when they choose to and can have greater flexibility in schedule and line of work.

However you decide to spend your later years, come up with a preliminary plan and a backup plan. Although your plans may change over the years, it will be helpful to have an initial plan in place now for how you’d like to spend your time and what activities will be meaningful to you in the future.

 

 

There is no one solution to deciding how you will cope with money, retirement, and other financial changes. Just as your life changes, so many the appropriate solution for you—having a plan, or even considering your current or future needs, is the first step to aging well.

Thank you for reading our three-part series on how to age well and how to plan for aging! We hope you learned something new, connected with a resource, tried one of our tips, or had thought-provoking discussions with loved ones. If you missed part one or part two in this series, you can read them here ( Part 1: Mobility and Transportation ) and here ( Part 2: Home, Health, and “After I’m Gone…” ?). As this series in our blog winds to a close the excitement for our June 4th, 2019, annual conference is just beginning! If you’d like to attend our 21st Annual Conference, “The ‘How-To’s’ for Aging Well,” go to njfoundationforaging.org for more information and to register! We hope to see you there on June 4th!

 

If you have feedback or would like to be part of the conversation, leave us a comment below or email us as [email protected]g.org.

Come back for our next blog! New posts are published on the first and third Thursdays of each month.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

How to Age Well: Planning Your Path, Part 2: Home, Health, and “After I’m Gone…”

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Have you planned for future health and home changes? | Photo via pexels.com

 

There is no way to get aging “right”…

 

…But it does help to plan.

Something is happening each and every day across New Jersey. Across the United States. Across the entirety of the planet.

We are all getting older.

Like it or not, each and every one of us is on a journey of aging. From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we are aging.

We tend to think of aging as being something saved for an arbitrary age, like 50, 60, 65,…etc. We could list off the ages at which society (for one reason or another) has decided we’ve hit a certain benchmark in aging. Whether it’s Social Security benefits, Medicare enrollment, retirement, “senior citizen” discounts, or a screening your doctor now wants you to undergo, we tend to have these changes attached to specific ages or with “being of a certain age.” We think of them as being times in our life when a monumental change has occurred, a mark of “aging.”

But the truth is, regardless of what arbitrary number might be assigned to program enrollments or coupons, we don’t age in random, sudden leaps. We age constantly and gradually. While this might make it tempting to wait to plan for your later years, you should plan now. No one wants to be caught unawares by changes as you age or a sudden health crisis, so it makes sense to plan for your later years as early as possible. Think of planning now as training for becoming an older adult.

What if you already consider yourself an older adult? That’s not to say this blog doesn’t apply to you too! It absolutely does—no matter where you are or where you consider yourself to be in your path of aging, it makes sense to plan now for the road ahead, whether that road is two days or twenty years from now!

Having plans in place will mitigate much stress and bad decision-making in emergency situations. Much heartache and avoidable stressed is caused by being forced to make difficult decisions in the heat of the moment; time spent worrying about what the best decision is and then wondering if the right decision is the one you made.

What are some priorities to focus on? We’re so glad you asked. In this three-part series we’ll cover different aspects of how-to age well as we lead up to our 21st Annual Conference. If you’d like to register for the conference but haven’t yet, go to www.njfoundationforaging.org for more information.

This week we’ll cover: home, health, and “after I’m gone.”

 

Home

Wherever you live, there are changes you can make today for a better home tomorrow. A home that’s better suited to your future self.

Area rugs may be soft on your feet, but they can be a major trip hazard. Remove area rugs to prevent falls and cut down on your number of tripping hazards. If you still want something soft for your feet, consider installing carpets—these aren’t as trip-free as hard floors, but better than area rugs. Also, stay in the habit of wearing secure shoes instead of open-toed sandals or loose slippers around your home.

Although we covered many changes that may be needed due to mobility changes in the first part of this blog series (How to Age Well: Planning Your Path, Part 1), it’s also worth considering what changes you may want to make for your own comfort or peace of mind.

If your home is too large for you to comfortably handle, you may want to consider downsizing. Constant upkeep and cleaning of rooms that aren’t being used can take a toll on your energy and your money. If you’re concerned about having rooms available for visiting friends and family, let them stay at nearby hotels, motels, or Airbnb listings while they’re visiting. Not having to pay for extra heat, air conditioning and electricity, or regularly clean an infrequently used room, will make the visits more fun for everyone.

And if you missed it in the first part in our series, we have a link to help you find an aging-in-place specialist in your area: Living in Place.

 

Health

Whether or not you consider yourself to be in good health now, chances are that sooner or later you’ll have to face potential health issues. And even if you’re blessed with good health for the rest of your life, it’s a good idea to plan for a potential emergency. Whether it’s the diagnosis of a long-term illness or a broken ankle after a tumble on a running trail, illnesses and accidents happen—it’s best to be prepared.

First, learn your family medical history as best as you can and share this information with your medical providers. Is there a family history of cancer? Heart disease? Glaucoma or cataracts? Dementia or Alzheimer’s? Have you been previously diagnosed with any conditions or illnesses? Your medical provider should be alerted to any family or personal health history you have—this isn’t a guarantee you’ll have the same conditions, but a way for your physician to know what they should pay special attention to and screenings or treatments that could best benefit you. And remember that routine screenings and hygiene appointments, such as dental exams and cleanings, should be done regardless of age.

Interview your medical providers. If they don’t have a good understanding of aging in medicine or make you uncomfortable, look for a provider better suited to your needs. Many in the community of aging professionals now recognize the benefit of annual screenings for changes in cognitive abilities for early detection of possible dementia and Alzheimer’s—ask your provider if they do such screenings and any other screenings you have concerns about. Stay on top of changes in your health and don’t delay bringing them up with your provider; bring any questions you may have to your provider and make sure you get answers for each question. Bring your list with you and something to write on and with (don’t trust you remember everything when you get home) or ask your provider to send you home with additional information materials or resources. If your provider is unwilling to answer your questions, they are probably not the right provider for you.

Plan too for future caregiving needs and needed adaptations to changes. If you need caregiving, who will provide it and how? Will it be a nurse or a friend or family member? Will you need to pay this person? How often will you need help? You can ask your provider what insight they might have into your future needs, but also plan to have these discussions with spouses/partners, family, and yourself.

In addition to these concerns, you may think about bringing someone with you to your medical appointments—especially if you find yourself getting overwhelmed during exams or need some assistance in understanding procedures or doctor recommendations. If you have a caregiver or think it would be beneficial to have someone in the exam room with you, bring this up with your provider. Ask them if you could have a trusted person or caregiver with you.

As long as you’re planning, you should also plan what you would like in your medical care and end-of-life care. Seriously consider creating an Advance Directive and POLST form (Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment). You can learn more about these and fill the forms here NJ Advance Directive and POLST. Having an Advance Directive or POLST form often makes people uncomfortable because they believe the form is only for declining further medical care. This is not true. These forms allow individuals to express, in writing, when they are mentally and physically capable of making decisions, what they would like their medical care to be. Individuals can choose to have as many OR as few life-saving measures they would like to be taken in the event they are not conscious to tell doctors or loved ones their wishes. The POLST form also travels from doctor to doctor, allowing individuals to make their wishes known without having to fill out the form over and over again.

 

“After I’m Gone”

A former co-worker of mine, a planned giving attorney, used to use the phrase “If I get hit by an asteroid crossing the street tomorrow…” when talking about all the things we’d need to know if he died suddenly (he liked it as opposed to, “If I get hit by a bus,” because it seemed so much less likely!). In his line of work he was constantly discussing wills and estates with the organization’s supporters. This wasn’t as morbid as it may sound—the conservations were much less about death than a way for these supporters to tell my co-worker how they wanted to be remembered.

We don’t need to necessarily dwell on death with morbidity, but it’s healthy to recognize it will, inevitably, happen to us all. Whether or not we’re planning to give away money or large assets when we die, it’s not only wise, but necessary to plan what will happen with ourselves, our loved ones, and our things before and after we’re gone.

If you’re an adult, you should have a will. Regardless of how many assets you have or don’t have, whether you own a car or a house, a pet, or you have only the clothes on your back, it makes sense to dictate who will get what in a will. You can make this will as secret or as public as you’d like, give it all away to a favorite school or organization, or pass it along to family and friends, but you should make a will. Make sure you also have your will and wishes reviewed by an attorney to ensure your wishes can be carried out.

Even though most of us may be reluctant to discuss our own deaths, it’s worth remembering that our loved ones will have to process taking on additional household and/or financial responsibilities in addition to processing the emotional toll of our deaths. To make things easier for loved ones, it’s wise to write a list of passwords for bank accounts, utility accounts, etc., and to create other lists, such as where household objects are stored, how to maintain appliances or accounts, and other useful information your spouse/partner or loved ones might want to have access to.

Also consider having conversations with your loved ones about how you would like to have your death recognized. Let your loved ones know if you have religious/spiritual or personal practices that you would like incorporated into any kind of memorial service, song or story requests you may have, and any other details about your preferred type of service. If you face reluctance from loved ones in discussing matters of death, try to gently and compassionately remind them that these conversations are going to make things easier and are, ultimately, about love.

 

As we said in the first in our series, there is no one solution to deciding how you will cope with your home, health, or end-of-life decisions. Just as your life changes, so may the appropriate solution—having a plan, or even considering your current or future needs, is the first step to aging well.

 

Stay tuned for our next blog post, the third and last part in our “Planning to Age Well,” series: money and retirement.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

How to Age Well: Planning Your Path, Part 1: Mobility and Transportation

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Where will you go? How will you get there? | Photo via pexels.com

 

There is no way to get aging “right”…But it does help to plan.

 

Something is happening each and every day across New Jersey. Across the United States. Across the entirety of the planet. We are all getting older.

 

Like it or not, each and every one of us is on a journey of aging. From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we are aging. We tend to think of aging as being something saved for an arbitrary age, like 50, 60, 65,…etc. We could list off the ages at which society (for one reason or another) has decided we’ve hit a certain benchmark in aging. Whether it’s Social Security benefits, Medicare enrollment, retirement, “senior citizen” discounts, or a screening your doctor now wants you to undergo, we tend to have these changes attached (or attach ourselves) to specific ages or with “being of a certain age.” We think of them as being times in our life when a monumental change has occurred, a mark of “aging.”

 

But the truth is, regardless of what arbitrary number might be assigned to program enrollments or coupons, we don’t age in random, sudden leaps. We age constantly and gradually. While this might make it tempting to wait to plan for your later years, you should plan now. No one wants to be caught unawares by changes as you age or a sudden health crisis, so it makes sense to plan for your later years as early as possible. Think of planning now as training for becoming an older adult.

 

What if you already consider yourself an older adult? That’s not to say this blog doesn’t apply to you too! It absolutely does—no matter where you are or where you consider yourself to be in your path of aging, it makes sense to plan now for the road ahead, whether that road is two days or twenty years from now!

 

Having plans in place will mitigate much stress and bad decision-making in emergency situations. Much heartache and avoidable stressed is caused by being forced to make difficult decisions in the heat of the moment; time spent worrying about what the best decision is and then wondering if the right decision is the one you made

 

What are some priorities to focus on? We’re so glad you asked. In this three-part series we’ll cover different aspects on how-to age well as we lead up to our 21st Annual Conference. If you’d like to register for the conference but haven’t yet, go to www.njfoundationforaging.org for more information.

 

This week we’ll cover: mobility and transportation.

 

Mobility

Whether or not you anticipate needing ambulatory aids like a wheelchair, walker, or cane, or already use one, mobility is a serious consideration for all of us as we continue to age. Because it’s impossible to guess how much your mobility may be impacted in the future (either through changes in health or sudden accidents) it’s best to come up with contingency plans for different scenarios. Ask yourself the following questions for differing levels of physical ability. For instance, how comfortable would you be in your current home if walking unaided was difficult? What if you needed to use a cane, crutches, walker, or a wheelchair?

 

If you live in a home with stairs or are looking to move, consider how your living situation might need to accommodate future needs. Would you be able to fit in a chairlift? Or an elevator? Are your stairs wide enough? Too steep?

 

Stairs are one of the most common considerations, but there are many others that are often forgotten. Would you be able to get into your bathroom if you needed assistance? How about your shower? Would your cabinets be difficult to use if you had limited range of motion in your arms? Could you open your drawers or doors if you hand limited hand strength?

 

Even if you’re unable to move or implement these changes now, plan for what you’ll do in the future if the need arises. Will you need to move or will you be able to retrofit your home? If you need to move are there places in your community you could easily move to or will you need to expand your search? Will you move or make these changes at a certain date in anticipation of future needs? Having a plan in a place will help you meet your needs without making a move or renovation more stressful.

 

If you’d like to find an aging-in-place specialist, you can use this link to find one in your area: Living in Place

 

Transportation

Whether you drive or not, you’ll likely need to consider how transportation will be impacted by aging as you get older. If public transportation is or will be your continuing form of transportation some considerations you may face are: distance to public transit routes, if public transit will serve your daily transportation needs, how you will get to and from transit stations, and any access or assistance you may need.

 

If you currently drive and plan to continue driving there are different considerations you’ll need to take into account. As age may affect your eyesight, hearing, and reflexes, it’s a good idea to regularly monitor any changes in your ability to drive or operate a motor vehicle. You may also want to consider regularly scheduling road tests to determine if your driving skills still meet the state licensing standards. Finally, it’s important to be willing to give up your keys if you need to. Although this can be a scary, frustrating, and emotionally and logistically difficult process for many, if driving has become dangerous for you or others, including drivers, pedestrians, animals, or property, it’s necessary to stop driving.

 

For many another option may be formal or informal car services. Although almost everyone will already be familiar with traditional car services and taxis, there are also newer services like Uber and Lyft (or GoGo Grandparent for those who don’t feel comfortable hiring an Uber/Lyft on their own) for a fee. Or you can call your area office on aging to see what services might be available in your area (you can call 1-877-222-3737 toll-free and be connected with your county’s office). If you’re fortunate enough to have relatives, friends, or caregivers nearby who can provide you with transportation, this is of course another option. Each of these options have different pros and cons. Private car services and taxis are generally the most expensive, but may be more reliable than other services or may give the riders more peace of mind. Services like Uber and Lyft have more price ranges, making them more affordable for many older adults, and you’re likely to find a ride any time day or night, but these services and the lack of consistency and accountability may make some people uncomfortable with using them. Lastly, volunteer services or the use of relatives/friends are wonderful and the most cost-effective of these transportation options, but riders may face limited availability of rides at times—however, you might form great friendships with your drivers!

 

There is no one solution to deciding how you will cope with mobility changes or transportation needs. Just as your life changes, so many the appropriate solution for you—having a plan, or even considering your current or future needs, is the first step to aging well.

 

Stay tuned for our next blog post, the second part in our “Planning to Age Well,” series: health, home and “after I’m gone.”


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Help for the Season: Tax Season

Thursday, April 4th, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Oh boy, it’s tax time! | photo by Mathieu Turle via unsplash.com

 

As April rolls around we prepare for one of the few certainties in life: Taxes.

 

If you’ve already filed your annual income taxes, congratulations! If filing your taxes is still on your “to-do” list, we have some suggested resources to assist you in preparing and filing your taxes. (Please note that we’re not certified or trained tax professionals; if you have questions about your taxes or finances it’s always best to consult an expert.)

 

Whether or not you’re an older adult, New Jersey has many resources available to you for tax preparation assistance. To see if your town offers local tax preparation services, call your town’s municipal center, public library (if one is available in your town), or your county Office on Aging (if you don’t know the phone number for your county’s office, you can call the toll-free number 1-877-222-3737 and you will be directed to your local office). For those who prefer to file their taxes on paper (as opposed to digitally), tax forms are also often available at municipal buildings and libraries. If you prefer, you can also download and print tax forms at home through the first link below.

 

…Did you know that there are FREE tax preparation services available to you? If you’re a taxpayer and over age 60, you’re eligible for (the unfortunately named) Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE). If you’re not age 60 or older, but are low- to moderate-income, have a disability, or are non-English speaking, you can get tax preparation assistance though Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). You can follow the link below to learn a little more about these services and how to find one near you.

Free Tax Preparation Services for Taxpayers https://www.state.nj.us/treasury/taxation/vita_tce/freeservices.shtml

Free Tax Return Preparation for Qualifying Taxpayers

https://www.irs.gov/individuals/free-tax-return-preparation-for-you-by-volunteers

 

…As you might know, there have been several changes in the past few years which have affected your annual income taxes. Depending on your individual situation, you may have been greatly affected or not at all; although there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer, the link below will provide you with some information regarding changes to your NJ state income tax filings.

NJ Income Tax – Important Changes for 2018

https://www.state.nj.us/treasury/taxation/new2018.shtml

 

…If you have some general questions about your taxes or filing, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has an FAQ section specifically for older adults and retirees. In addition, the IRS also has a guide of tips for older adults and retirees in preparing and filing their federal taxes. These may not answer more complex or idiosyncratic questions but can be a good place to start for general questions and help.

IRS “Seniors & Retirees”

https://www.irs.gov/individuals/seniors-retirees

Frequently Asked Questions for Seniors

https://www.irs.gov/individuals/seniors-retirees/frequently-asked-questions-for-seniors

Tips for Seniors in Preparing their Taxes

https://www.irs.gov/individuals/seniors-retirees/tips-for-seniors-in-preparing-their-taxes

 

…If you still need help with your federal taxes, you can find ways to contact the IRS online and via phone through the link below, as well as helpful information, such as contacting the IRS on behalf of someone else and what information and identification you should have ready. You can also call the NJ Division of Taxation through the second link below.

IRS “Let Us Help You”

https://www.irs.gov/help/telephone-assistance

NJ “Important Phone Numbers”

https://www.state.nj.us/treasury/taxation/phonenos.shtml

 

…And, of course, you always need to be careful about tax collection scams. Just like we warned in our series on technology and scams, tax time is commonly used by scammers who claim to work with the IRS or other agencies. For more information on this and other tax collection scams you should watch out form, follow this link.

Watch Out for Tax Collection Scams

https://www.state.nj.us/treasury/taxation/scamalert.shtml

 

…If you need to apply for property tax reimbursement, otherwise known as “Senior Freeze,” or learn more about the program and eligibility requirements, you can do so here through the link below:

2018 Senior Freeze (Property Tax Reimbursement)

https://www.state.nj.us/treasury/taxation/ptr/index.shtml

 

Finally…If you’ve already applied for property tax reimbursement, otherwise known as “Senior Freeze,” you can check on the status of your application at this webpage.

Check the status of your New Jersey Senior Freeze (Property Tax Reimbursement)

https://www20.state.nj.us/TYTR_PTR_INQ/jsp/PTRLogin.jsp

 

 

Tax season is at its height and the deadline to file your taxes on April 15th, 2019, is rapidly approaching. Don’t be late on your taxes!—Use the resources above to make sure you file your taxes correctly and on time. If you have questions about your taxes make sure to consult a tax expert or call the IRS or NJ Division of Taxation to seek help with your taxes and filing.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Scams and Tech, Part 3: Kicking Scammers to the Curb

Thursday, March 21st, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Make yourself a to-do list for completing these tips | photo via stock photos

We’ve already given you some tips to protect yourself against the scammers we’ve listed in this series, but what else can you do? How can you best ensure you’re safe from scams and scammers?

Sadly, there is no silver bullet, no perfect solution that will guarantee you’ll never be in contact with scammers or never fall victim to a scam. But there are many steps you can take to help protect yourself. These steps can be easily divided into two categories: proactive and reactive. Proactive steps are ones you can take to help ward off scammers—these are the best steps to take because they help prevent financial and/or identity loss. Although reactive steps aren’t as ideal, they’re a good way to handle scams after you believe you’ve been contacted by a scammer or have been scammed.

Proactive

  • Consider opening an account for your Social Security number (SSN) at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/ to monitor your Social Security account.
  • Consider freezing your credit—this option may help prevent identity theft, but don’t freeze your credit if you plan on making a major purchase in the near future, such as a car, boat or home. Credit checks run while your credit score is frozen will hurt your credit score.
  • Monitor your credit throughout the year. You’re entitled to free credit reports from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax once per company per year. Rather than get all three at once, spread these reports out every four months to stay vigilant. You can learn more at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action.
  • Never email or text your Social Security number or banking information, such as credit card, account, or routing numbers.
  • Never give your SSN or credit/banking information to someone who reaches out to you.
  • Educate yourself on the latest scams—scams tend to come in droves, so it’s helpful to learn what scammers might approach you with.
  • Install virus and malware protection on any device connected to the internet, including (but not limited to) computers, tablets, and smart phones.
  • Consider adding a trusted contact to your bank accounts—if unusual spending is noticed, your bank can alert you and your trusted contact (this may be particularly useful if you’re the victim of a romance scam).
  • Read reviews for organizations and businesses that send solicitations before engaging with them.
  • Look for the fine print on solicitations you receive. If a solicitation references a relationship with another business you know (say, your mortgage company or landlord/apartment management), contact that business directly to investigate the mail/email/text/phone call you’ve received.
  • Double-check any potential romantic/friend dates before pursuing a meeting or relationship. Let people you’re close to know about anyone involved in your life (even if the relationship is online-only).
  • Don’t open any emails or click on links or attachments you’re not expecting. This goes not just for emails from strangers but emails from loved ones—Scammers can hack into accounts or disguise their email address as coming from someone in your list of contacts.
  • Use your caller ID on your phone and let calls from unknown numbers go to your answering machine or voicemail. If you’re worried about missing an important call, you can always use the general principle, “If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.”

 

But maybe you’ve already gotten a suspect phone call, or a strange voicemail. Maybe you’ve realized, too late, that the person you gave your credit card number or sent money to wasn’t who they said they were. If these things have already happened, then it’s time to take reactive steps.

Reactive

  • If you receive a call you believe is a scam, hang up the phone immediately. If caller claims to be a from a legitimate business or organization, hang up the phone—reverse search and contact the actual organization. Ask if the organization has contacted you.
  • If you’ve opened an email that seems fishy, delete it immediately. DO NOT click on any links in the email!
  • If you’ve given your credit or banking information to someone you later suspect is a scammer, report this to your financial institutions and request new card and account numbers.
  • Report any attempted scams.
  • If you’ve been a victim of a scam, report it—your report will help you AND might prevent someone from being scammed in the future.
  • You can report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.
  • To report Social Security scams, call the Office of the Inspector General at ?1-800-269-0271 or report online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.
  • If you or someone you know has been the victim of an online scam, register a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx or with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/ or by calling 800-242-5846 (toll-free in NJ) or 973-504-6200.
  • Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to report it if you’ve been the victim of a scam—scams can happen to anyone.

 

While this is not a comprehensive list, these suggestions can help guard you against tech-based scams or help you even after you’ve found yourself to be victim of a scam. Remember, scams can pop up anytime, from anywhere, and are especially prevalent through all of our tech-devices. Remaining vigilant and working to minimize your exposures to scams is the best way to prevent being scammed. But if you are the victim of a scam, report your scam to the proper authorities—your report could help you and could prevent someone else from being scammed!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series on tech-based scams! Come back in April for our newest blog!


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Scams and Tech, Part 2: Sweetheart Scams

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Are they interested in you, or your money? | photo via unsplash.com

In part one of our tech-scams series, we talked about the all-pervasive en-masse scams, the kinds of scams that flood your inbox and phone. Today we talk about a scam more sinister and possibly more dangerous, the romance scam.

Romance scams, also known as “sweetheart” scams, are one of the most prevalent tech-based scams. These scams may start off all “<3”s and “XOXO”s, but they end with heartbreak, $0.00 in your bank account, and maybe your stolen identity.

Romance/sweetheart scams are longer, more intense scams than the scams in the first installment of our tech-scams series. Sweetheart scams typically start online on dating websites or internet forums, but can quickly migrate to messaging services, emails, phone calls, or text messages. Many people fall victim to romance scams because of their long, drawn-out nature. It’s important to note that these kinds of scams aren’t new, but they’ve become easier for scammers to instigate with the advent of the internet, dating websites, and social media apps. It’s also important to know that although sweetheart scams are most common through internet-based channels, they can and do still occur offline through newspaper personal ads, etc.

Sweetheart scams target adults across all ages, but they’re more prevalent among older adults. And they’re successful. What does this mean and why? How can you protect yourself? How do romance scams work?

Some victims believe they’ll be quick to pick up on the lies, others may be blinded by an attraction or feeling of affection for the person they believe the scammer to be. Although it’s easy to think we can always tell if someone is interested in us or just our wallets, the truth is, it isn’t that simple. In romance scams the scammer is interested in a bigger payout, so they’re willing to invest more time and energy into the scam. This means they put a lot more effort into gaining your trust and access to your money and information. Long before they’ve talked to you, they’ll already have their stories straight. They’ll already have pictures they can send to you, phones they can use to call you, and plausible reasons why they can’t meet you or why they might run into financial troubles.

And, despite their name, sweetheart scams aren’t always overtly romantic in nature. Although the relationship between the scammer and victim is often under the pretext of dating or romance, the relationship may be seen as a friendship or companionship by one or both parties. Some people fall victim to these scammers because they believe sweetheart scams always involve overt romance or dating. The sad reality is that plenty of people have been scammed out of their money or identity believing they’re helping a dear “friend” they’ve met online.

So it can be easier for people to fall prey to sweetheart scams. But why is it so hard to get out of them? Won’t somebody in that person’s life notice? Won’t the victims eventually realize what’s going on?

 

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, suffice it to say there are many reasons it can be more difficult to get someone out of a romance scam, or even to notice one is occurring. Some of these reasons include:

  • The victim may be secretive about the relationship or may not divulge certain details (Even in the best, non-abusive, of circumstances, many of us are unlikely to tell friends and family how much money we’ve loaned or given to our significant other)
  • If the victim or the victim’s closest contacts aren’t scam-savvy (or if cognitive issues play a role) it may be harder for the victim to recognize red flags, such as common scamming techniques
  • Affection and attention are crucial to our happiness and health—If the victim is, or feels, isolated they may be more susceptible to sweetheart scams
  • Scammers may use “gaslighting” to make victims doubt themselves—“Gaslighting” refers to a technique common in abusive relationships where the abuser manipulates their victim into questioning their own perception of reality or sanity
  • Even if the victim has concerns, they may be too embarrassed to ask for help

 

Romance scams can be extremely difficult for not just the people directly involved, but for the people around the victim as well. Sweetheart scams prey on our need for love, affection, and companionship, and it can be incredibly painful to admit there’s a problem. It can be even harder to give those things up—even if the scammer’s “affection” isn’t genuine. The victim’s loved ones may also find themselves between a rock and a hard place: they don’t want to see their loved ones continue to be financially abused, but they also may come against a defensive victim who is unwilling to believe their boyfriend/girlfriend or friend is really taking advantage of them.

Across the country (and globe), there are countless stories of sweetheart scams and their victims. People who have been left bankrupt, had their identity stolen, or, at the very least, had their sense of safety and stability disrupted. Sadly, there are still many more victims out there who will never come forward out of feelings of embarrassment or shame. Some victims can recoup some of their losses through the legal system, but, unfortunately, most won’t see any of their money returned. The best way to avoid the losses caused by a romance scam is to steer clear of them through education and vigilance.

 

Here are some common tricks look out for:

  • The person claims to be in the military and unable to access funds (impersonating soldiers deployed overseas is a common tactic used by scammers. The U.S. military and U.S. government warn that you should not send money to anyone overseas or with these claims)
  • The person claims they have a large amount of money they’re currently unable to access (but promise to share this wealth with you in the future)
  • The person can never meet in person—or they make plans to meet but need to cancel after an emergency or tragedy (or they never show up at all)
  • The person consistently asks to borrow money
  • They ask for personal information that could be linked to your financial information
  • They ask for access to your financial information or accounts (they may use this for future identify theft or monetary theft)
  • It’s a “whirlwind” relationship
  • They ask you to send wire transfers, gift cards, or electronics
  • Reverse check the picture of your date—if the picture is attached to more than one profile, this is a major red flag
  • It seems “too good to be true”—whether it’s their profession, their photos, their financial situation, a combination of these factors or something else entirely, follow the old adage “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

 

Dating websites, apps, and online forums can still be wonderful places to meet people for romance or friendship. The prevalence of romance scams doesn’t mean you need to throw out your computer or delete your apps, but it does mean you need be consistently vigilant and careful.

Just as you would with a blind date, let trusted people in your life know who you’re talking to online. They can help be a barometer for “normal” or “suspect” behavior and can alert you when something seems fishy—listen to their concerns and take them seriously, they are looking out for you.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of an online scam, register a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx or with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/ or by calling 800-242-5846 (toll-free in NJ) or 973-504-6200.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Scams and Tech, Part 1: The En Masse Scams

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

 Are you safe from scams? | photo via pexels.com

We know about tech. We know about scams—scams where older adults are often the target. But what do we know about how tech and scams overlap?

Wherever you live and however tech-savvy you consider yourself, it’s more than likely you encounter scams on an almost daily basis. Many of these scams may sound familiar: barely-legal businesses send flyers to your home insinuating to be affiliated with state or local agencies, or that urgent repairs need to be done to your residence; door-to-door or supermarket “magazine subscription sellers” try to get cash for magazines that will never come; a stranger who haunts a local business and always needs money for gas, etc. This isn’t a reason to give up on people or to believe that everyone you meet is out to do you wrong, but it is a reason to educate yourself and become “scam-savvy.” And where being scam-savvy may be more important than ever is in the use of those pervasive, everyday tools: our tech.

Why are there so many tech-based scams? Technology provides a quick and simple way for scammers to attempt scams on, literally, millions of people simultaneously at little to no cost. Scammers can send you emails, phone calls, and texts from anywhere in the world at any time. They can attach malware or spyware, infect your computer, get your information and your money. While there are some basic tools you can use to protect yourself from the uninvited scammers (antivirus programs for anything that connects to the internet—this includes not just computers, but smart phones, tablets, etc.) the most basic tools are free and always available: arming yourself with information, vigilance, and skepticism.

The tactics of most scammers are basic and easy to see through—so why do we fall for them? It’s not because we’re stupid or naïve—it’s because scammers also prey on our basic emotions: fear and love. The tactics of most scammers are to threaten either ourselves or someone we love.

Now, does this mean you can expect to get action movie-style emails in your inbox or texts to your phone? “Give me the last four digits of your Social Security Number or Fido gets it”? No, I don’t think that’s something you need to worry about. But what may happen is something like a call from the “IRS”—“We have recently opened a claim against you. Your bank accounts and benefits will be frozen unless we can confirm your Social Security Number,”—or from a “friend” of a loved one—“Hi, I’m a friend of your grandson and he just got arrested. He can’t make the call, but asked me to call you. Can you send a wire transfer for bail money?” Or you could get a seemingly legitimate email that appear to be from a well-known business, like Apple or Amazon.com, that claims your account has been locked, you’ve won a gift card, or someone has racked up huge charges to your account. (There are several other scams out there; the scams listed above are only a few examples of some of the currently common scam scenarios.) So, if and when you get these messages, what can you do?

First, don’t immediately react to your impulse of fear for yourself or a loved one. Don’t click on any links in an email, don’t rush off to send a wire transfer, and don’t give away any personal information, including your Social Security Number. Instead, stop, think, and confirm. Immediately hang up on any suspicious calls. If you have a concern about any claims against you or a freeze of your Social Security benefits, hang up and call the IRS (1-800-829-1040) or Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213 or TTY  1-800-325-0778) directly. Even if the number that called you appears to be coming from a legitimate government agency, don’t trust it (scammers can disguise their phone numbers easily) and call the agency directly. If you receive a call that a friend or relative has been arrested or is in the hospital and needs money call that person first to check out the story (some individuals have reported tricking the would-be scammer by giving a false name for the loved one, birthday, etc. to verify the scam is a scam, but we recommend hanging up immediately to spend as little time talking to the scammer as possible). And if you receive an email from a business, go directly to that business’s website and verify whether there is any problem with your account (or call customer service). Never give any financial information or personal information in any of these scenarios where you did not initiate contact.

You can report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. To report Social Security scams, call the Office of the Inspector General at ?1-800-269-0271 or report online at  https://oig.ssa.gov/report.

Scams like these are usually quick and dirty and easier to see through. The scammers aren’t too likely to hound you constantly—when you don’t fall for the scam, they’ll just move onto the next person so they can make a buck. And usually (but now always) this means they’re a little easier to spot and avoid. The IRS and SSA won’t send you robo-calls or leave automatic voicemails, your grandchild or friend isn’t likely to have a third party call you while they’re in jail, and you’re probably not the winner (but we can dream) of a $1,000.00 Amazon gift card. But what other common scams are out there?

Check back on March 7th for part 2 of our tech-scam series: One of the other most common scams aimed at older adults? “Sweetheart” scams.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Important Updates to Medicare: The New Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

By Guest Blogger Charles Clarkson, Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period Ending.

Beneficiaries in a Medicare Advantage plan previously had a Disenrollment Period from January 1 – February 14 every year. This disenrollment period ended on December 31, 2018. It has been replaced with a new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period. This new period was effective starting January 1, 2019.

The old Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period had permitted beneficiaries to drop their Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare (Part A and Part B). It also allowed a beneficiary to sign up for a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan.

The New Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

Starting January 1, 2019, a new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period will run from January 1 – March 31 every year. If you are already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you will have a one-time opportunity to:

  • Switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Drop your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare, Part A and Part B.
  • Sign up for a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan (if you return to Original Medicare). Most Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage already. Usually you cannot enroll in a stand-alone Medicare Prescription Drug plan if you already have a Medicare Advantage plan.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment: why would I want to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan?

  • Medicare Advantage plans can change every year. Premiums, co-pays and deductibles may change and a beneficiary may find and switch to a plan more suited to his/her needs.
  • If a beneficiary is not happy with the Medicare Advantage plan’s network (doctors and hospitals who participate in the plan) or a beneficiary discovers that their doctor has dropped out of the plan’s network and no longer accepts the plan, he/she may want to switch to a plan that their doctor participates in.
  • Medicare Advantage plans are required to provide beneficiaries with similar coverage as Original Medicare. Many of them also include coverage beyond Original Medicare (Part A and Part B). For example, most plans include prescription drug coverage, and some include routine vision services, some dental and hearing services or other benefits such as Silver Sneakers program. With new changes in Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans may soon offer other services such as adult day care services, home and bathroom safety devices, transportation and home meals. Of course a beneficiary should review the plan documents carefully to understand these services and their limitations.
  • These extra benefits (beyond Part A and Part B) can change year to year. For example, suppose you take certain medications and you have a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan. Your plan might cover your prescriptions. But sometimes a plan changes its formulary (list of covered medications). If your drugs are no longer being covered, you should seriously consider changing Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Medicare Advantage plans may change premiums, deductible and co-pays every year. You might even be able to find a Medicare Advantage plan with a zero premium that was not available in 2018.
  • Some Medicare Advantage plans can provide better service than others and can be rated higher or lower than other plans. Medicare has a star rating system that rates Medicare Advantage plans from 1 to 5 stars. Many beneficiaries may feel uncomfortable staying in a lower rated plan.

 

Every fall, your plan will send you an Annual Notice of Change. Pay attention to this, because it lists any changes to your benefits or plan rules. A plan formulary may change at any time. You will receive notice from your plan when necessary.


Charles Clarkson, Esq. is the Project Director for Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey.

 

 

The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP) is a federally funded program of the Administration for Community Living. The grant for this program has been awarded to the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, 32 Ford Avenue, Milltown, New Jersey 08850, telephone number 732-777-1940. Its mission is to assist Medicare beneficiaries in fighting health care fraud, waste and abuse. SMP also seeks to educate Medicare beneficiaries about Medicare so they will not become victims of fraud, waste and abuse.