Some encouraging numbers and painful realities

News and views from Rita

I hope you said happy birthday to Social Security, which had its 79th birthday on Aug. 14. In a 1938 article, the director of the Bureau of Old-Age Insurance described the challenges faced by the Social Security program in registering workers and posting wages to get the program started.

On the heels of the 49th anniversary of the signing of Medicare and Medicaid into law, CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) projected that the average premium for basic Part D Medicare Prescription drug plans in 2015 will increase by about $1 for an estimated $32 per month, continuing its low growth rate.

The administration also recently announced that more than 8.2 million people with Medicare have saved over $11.5 billion since 2010 on prescription drugs as a result of the Affordable Care Act, an average of $1,407 per beneficiary. The Affordable Care Act closes the doughnut hole over time.

The Medicare Trustees also brought some more welcome news as they found that Medicare Part A (hospitalization) is solvent through 2030, which is 13 years longer than had been assumed, and that it is due to the Affordable Care Act.

According to the trustees, in 2015 the Medicare Part B (doctors visits, etc.) premiums will not increase and will remain the same as it has been for the last three years at $109.40 ( if your income is below $85,001).

More than 25 million adults and people with disabilities are living on annual incomes of $23,500. The real good news is that the trustees’ findings reinforce the fact that there is no justification for cutting benefits or shifting costs to beneficiaries, particularly when so many are in no position to afford higher health care costs.

Jacked-up heating costs

Just a question for all of us living in Anchorage: Do you find it strange that the RCA (Alaskan Regulatory Commission) has allowed Enstar Gas Utility to take a 48 percent increase in their prices to us, especially when our gas comes from Cook Inlet? How do these things happen? How are seniors on fixed incomes supposed to heat their homes this winter? I suggest that you get your application in for Heating Assistance just as soon as possible.

SSI and Benefits Checkup

Supplemental Security Income is an additional benefit that is based on your income, living arrangements, etc. It is based on the CPI (Consumer Price Index). As of Jan. 1, 2014, the benefit was $62 for a single person and $1,082 for a couple. Some states supplement the federal benefit with additional payments and you will have to contact your state for payment information.

I suggest that if you are Internet-capable (or near a public library) you can go to This program will show you all the benefits (not just Social Security) that you are entitled to, after you input all the information it asks for. Your information is not saved and it is important to report all your income and all your expenses to receive all the benefits and information on how to apply for them.

New TRICARE resource

If you are a military beneficiary on TRICARE, you might be interested in knowing that on July 24, unveiled a new design to give TRICARE’s 9.6 million beneficiaries clear and easy access to benefit information. Users now have more ways to browse their site. The new design is the result of an ongoing review about what beneficiaries are looking for when they visit is a powerful educational tool for beneficiaries to learn about their health benefits and stay updated on them.

ER realities

Just a note about emergency rooms, and I speak from experience. If you go to an emergency room because you just don’t feel well, you might have a long wait to see a doctor, depending on how busy they are. But if you call 911 and the paramedics take you to the hospital, you will get immediate admittance to the ER, where a nurse will put you in a bed and take your vitals. Then another person will come in and take your insurance information.

If you are bleeding with cuts, bullet wounds, have broken bones or are bleeding from any orifice you will be carefully tended to. However if you have a problem that is not necessarily discernible, even after various tests, you can forget a diagnosis . They will send you to your own physician, if you have one.

To be fair, ERs are just for that – emergencies. If you have a cough, cold or flu, do not bother the emergency room personnel. They are working to save lives. Go to a doctor.

Rita Hatch volunteers for the Older Persons Action Group’s Medicare Assistance program. Call her at 276-1059 in Anchorage or toll-free statewide at 1-800-478-1059. Her email address is

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