Updates on Medigap, retirement benefits

News and views from Rita

What retirement ‘security’?

The United States ranked 19th in a recent international assessment of retirement security worldwide. This places the U.S. just behind France and just ahead of Slovenia in the rankings, while Switzerland, Norway and Australia took the top three positions. Nations were ranked in four categories: finances in retirement, health, quality of life and well-being. The United States’ comparatively low level of retirement benefits, in addition to a lack of workplace retirement plans for many employees, likely contributed to its comparatively poor ranking among developed nations. (from The Washington Post at http://tinyurl.com/nak3hol.)

Covering the costs of Medicare gaps

For those who are new to Medicare, you should know that Medicare will pay only 80 percent of most Medicare procedures and therefore you will need a supplement that will pay the other 20 percent. These costs that you pay for Medicare benefits, such as co-insurance, co-payments and deductibles, are called “gaps” in Medicare Parts A and B, and the supplements are called Medigap policies. Some Medigap policies also cover benefits that aren’t covered in Medicare, like emergency health care while traveling outside the US.

You may want to buy a Medigap policy to help cover these gaps, which unfortunately are only available to those who are 65 years or older and have Medicare Part A and Part B in Alaska, where there are no managed care plans (Medicare Advantage).

There are 10 different Medigap plans, however not all insurance companies are required to sell all the plans, but they must sell Plan A if they offer any Medigap policy. The benefits in any Medigap plan are the same for every insurance company; however the costs for a policy may be different depending on the insurance company. You are shopping for COST.

Once you are 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B, the Medigap open enrollment period starts and cannot be changed. The Open enrollment period lasts for 6 months. If you delay enrolling in Medicare Part B because you or your spouse were working and you had group health coverage through an employer or union based on current active employment, your Open enrollment period begins when your Part B begins. You must buy a Medigap policy within 6 months during which time you have a guaranteed right to buy one. They cannot deny insurance for pre-existing conditions.

Before you buy any plan you should review your options to decide which plan best suits your circumstances. Then you should call several companies to check on their current prices. You should also ask them all the specifics of what is included in the plan you have chosen – patient options and increases and any other concerns you might have.

A list of all the companies selling Medigap insurance with their toll-free numbers is available at OPAG. Just call (907) 276-1059 and ask for the Medigap plans to be sent to you.

People who are on Medicare and younger than 65 will find it difficult to purchase a Medicare Supplement Plan (Medigap) in Alaska. An alternative is health insurance through ACHIA, the Alaska Comprehensive Health Insurance Association. You can find information about this at http://www.achia.com or by calling 1-907-269-7900.

Stop attacking the disabled

It will not be a surprise to anyone who has been reading my column for awhile, but there are certain congresspersons in the newly empowered majority targeting the millions of sick and injured Americans who receive Social Security Disability payments.

These self-righteous congresspersons are labeling those unfortunately disabled as shiftless and suggest that they are faking their illnesses. They are now claiming that the Social Security system is in crisis because of swollen disability benefits. They are trying to arouse anti-government resentment, and because no one in the popular media is discussing this, these congresspersons are doing well.

The facts are these: Disability insurance payments go to nearly 11 million Americans, including more than 2 million vets and 1.8 million children. Just as in Social Security retirement, this is an insurance program that workers have paid into with their FICA deductions. The average benefit is $1,200 monthly and for 30 percent of the beneficiaries that is their entire income.

The majority in Congress have changed an accounting rule that would set up the disability system for a 19 percent reduction in benefit payments, putting these unfortunates into official poverty status. I propose that all congresspersons who vote for this outrageous inequity take a 19 percent reduction in their own salaries, which really wouldn’t hurt them since the average annual congressional salary is over $100,000.

I am asking all my readers to contact their representatives and senators in congress and demand they stop hurting the poor and defenseless.

Volunteer wanted

I am still looking for a compassionate person, who would like to help people and doesn’t expect to be paid for that help. You cannot imagine how good you will feel after helping someone who truly needs some help. Call me at (907)276 -1059 or email me at ritaopag@gci.net.

Rita Hatch is an Older Persons Action Group board member and volunteers for OPAG’s Medicare assistance program.

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