What you know about benefits can be critical

Changing drug plans allowed only in some situations

I hope that everyone who is on the Medicare Part D drug program has gotten into the best plan they could find because they will not be able to change into another plan until next October, unless they are also either on Medicaid or an Extra Help Program from Social Security.

When the new low-income guidelines are published in February (or March) you may find that you might become eligible and then you can apply for the Extra Help program.

Social Security and prescription drug plan: check the numbers

By now, everyone on Social Security should have received their notice as to what their SS income will be for 2013. This is an important piece of information that you should keep in a safe place.

You will find on your Social Security statement that they are deducting the cost of your prescription drug plan, and the amount should be the same as you have been told it will be.

Starting the clock on your Medicare Part D

If and when you become eligible to receive Social Security during 2013 and you get on Medicare, then you will have up to 63 days to get on a Medicare Part D drug program. If you do not do so within that timeline, there will be a penalty when you find that you need more medications then you ever thought you would. Even if the only medications you take are generics, you still have to get on a drug plan. But you don’t have to buy your generic drugs on the plan, if you can get them at a cheaper pharmacy.

The insurance companies have mandated that you must pay their Part D insurance premiums, even if you don’t take any medications.

Anchorage doctor makes house calls to Medicare patients

For Anchorage residents, there is a traveling doctor available to visit you in your home. Dr. T.R. Green is board-certified in Internal Medicine and will accept Medicare insurance or payment by check or cash. Medicare will only pay for your home doctor visit if leaving your home takes a “considerable and taxing effort.” But Medicare will pay even if you are able to leave your home for medical treatments or for short, infrequent absences for non-medical or personal reasons. Contact Dr. Green at 243- 4677 at any time.

For new patients, you will receive a registration packet, which will ask for information about your condition and insurance, etc., and when this is returned to Dr. Green, an appointment will be scheduled.

How to save Social Security: A few ideas

If our elected officials are serious about fixing the Social Security program, each month, I will discuss some alternative ways to fix it and I invite any questions or discussion about any of the facts that I will present to you.

Raise the minimum wages subject to contribution from the 2013 ceiling of $113,700 to $140,000. Any wages above $113,700 go untaxed for Social Security. This cap generally increases every year with increases in the national average wage. Today the cap covers about 84 percent of total earnings. Eliminating the cap so that all earnings would be subject to Social Security’s payroll tax would help close the funding gap. Only 6 percent of those who pay income taxes earn wages above the current payroll tax ceiling. Eliminating the cap so that all earnings would be subject to the Social Security payroll tax would help close the program’s funding gap. If all earnings were immediately subject to the SS tax, the new revenue is estimated to fill 86 percent of the funding gap. (Virginia Reno, National Academy of Social Insurance)

Increase the number of years used to calculate Initial Benefits. Social Security benefits are based on a worker’s average earnings history. Average earnings are computed from a worker’s highest 35 years of annual indexed earnings that were subject to Social Security payroll taxes. If a worker has fewer than 35 years of earnings, each year needed to reach 35 is assigned zero earnings. One option to help close the funding gap would increase the number of years of earnings used to calculate SS benefits from 35 to 40. Because that method would typically include more years of lower earnings, the average earnings would decrease and benefits would be lower. Adding more years would encourage younger people to start working sooner, and the resulting small benefit changes would help to preserve Social Security for everyone. (David John, Heritage Foundation)

Please do not hesitate to voice your opinions, as all are welcome to this discussion. Social Security and Medicare need to be fixed before both programs will be changed irreparably. Many of these alternatives have been proposed by AARP and discussed in the halls of Congress. Submit your opinions to seniorvoice@gci.net or ritaopag@gci.net.

Rita Hatch volunteers for Older Persons Action Group’s Medicare Counseling and Assistance program. Call her at 276-1059 in Anchorage or toll-free statewide at 1-800-478-1059. Her e-mail address is ritaopag@gci.net.