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What To Do if You Are Sick

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you’re snug inside your home while we all ride out the pandemic situation. But even if you’ve practiced regular hand washing and social distancing techniques, it is still possible to get sick. Some people will still experience regular colds, allergy symptoms, the flu, or other illnesses during this time. And yes, Covid-19 is a possibility for anyone. Here’s what to do if you get sick.

Don’t proceed to the emergency room, unless you are truly experiencing a life threatening emergency. For one thing, you don’t want to expose yourself to all of the illnesses in the waiting room. Second, if you do have Covid-19, you wouldn’t want to expose everyone else to the illness. And most importantly, hospital staff are severely overworked right now. They need to focus on the most critically ill patients, and for most of us, minor illness is not an emergency.

If you think you might have Covid-19 and your symptoms are severe, proceeding to the emergency room is certainly what you want to do. But do call ahead first, so that they can review their procedure with you. You might be asked to use a separate entrance or take other precautions to avoid exposing others to the potential illness.

Call your doctor. We can’t stress this enough. Before going anywhere for medical attention (except in emergency) calling ahead is proper procedure now. Your doctor can assess your symptoms over the phone, decide if you need to be tested for Covid-19, and direct you on how to complete that lab work.

Otherwise, it might be possible to receive a prescription over the phone, or to schedule an appointment when necessary.

Don’t panic. Remember that for most people, Covid-19 is not a deadly illness. If you are over the age of 60, are immune compromised, or have health conditions that predispose you to complications (such as asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes) then you certainly want to be extra careful. These are the people who need to seek more urgent care. Everyone else should still call their doctor and discuss their options, but there is no need to panic.

If you test positive for Covid-19, or if you experience mild symptoms but do not qualify for testing, follow self-quarantine procedures precisely in order to protect others from infection. This guide from the CDC shares more of this information in detail.

 

 

No Out-of-Pocket Fees for Coronavirus Testing

If you’re concerned about the novel coronavirus outbreak currently sweeping the globe, perhaps we can offer at least one bit of good news: Health insurance companies in California, New York, Vermont, and Maryland have waived all out-of-pocket fees associated with coronavirus testing.

This means that if you show symptoms of the virus, and head to your physician or hospital for the test, you won’t be required to pay your normal per-visit fee.

It is possible other states will soon follow suit. President Trump just signed a spending package worth $8.3 billion, aimed at reducing the spread of the outbreak and addressing patient needs. This funding will go toward testing as well, although at current time the requirements for receiving a test remain unclear.

Currently, more than 500 cases of the novel coronavirus have been diagnosed in the United States, with our own death toll standing at 22. Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 114,000 and killed more than 4,000.

Between two and fourteen days after exposure, patients with coronavirus notice the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing/wheezing

The illness is typically more severe in those with known health complications, including asthma, other breathing disorders, or suppressed immune systems. The elderly tend to experience more trouble with the illness as well. Yet, regardless of your state of health, testing is important in order to detect and quarantine patients so that we can reduce spread of the virus to the most vulnerable populations.

If you suspect you might have contracted the novel coronavirus – and remember, odds for that are still extremely low unless you have a known exposure risk – remember to call your physician or the emergency room before heading their way. Health officials have ordered certain preparations be made ahead of potential patient exams, so that the spread of the virus can be contained. Follow their instructions when arriving for your exam and test.

7 Medicare Facts You Need to Understand

As you prepare for your retirement years, planning for medical care and expenses will become a considerable part of your strategy. Here are the basic facts you need to know about Medicare, so you can begin to make some of those important decisions.

There are two parts of Medicare. Medicare Part A covers hospitalization, and it’s free to everyone who has worked and paid Medicare taxes for ten years (or is married to someone who did). Part B covers doctor visits and certain other services, and is available for a premium.

You have to sign up at 65, unless you have credible employer or union coverage. You’re required to enroll in Medicare at age 65 (from three months before your birthday until three months afterward). If you miss that enrollment window you will be charged a permanent penalty on your monthly Part B premiums, in the amount of 10 percent for each 12-month period that you delay enrollment.

Note: This requirement does not apply to those with credible employer or union coverage.

You can enroll in Medicare before claiming your Social Security benefits. If you’ve claimed Social Security prior to turning 65, you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare. On the other hand, you might prefer to wait until your full retirement age (66 to 67, currently) before filing for Social Security. In that case you will need to remember to enroll in Medicare at 65.

You must choose between Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage. You can choose to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B (and optional Part D prescription coverage) or a Medicare Advantage plan, but not both. Medicare Advantage plans are administered by private health insurance companies, and must offer at least the same amount of coverage as Original Medicare. However, many plans offer additional benefits such as dental or eye exams.

Part B premiums are based on income. Most people pay the standard Part B premium, which is currently $144.60 per month. But some higher earners will pay a bit more. Currently, single tax filers who earn above $87,000 or married couples who earn above $174,000 are subject to this premium adjustment.

You can enroll in Medicare and also maintain private insurance coverage… If you’re still working at age 65 and covered by an employer’s plan, or you’re covered by a working spouse’s plan, you can enroll in Medicare. If the employer has 20 or more workers, Medicare will serve as secondary insurance. In many cases this can mean you owe very little to nothing for out-of-pocket medicare expenses.

But you can’t contribute to a health savings account anymore. Those covered by an employer’s health insurance plan plus Medicare cannot contribute to a health savings account (HSA) so that’s something to consider before enrolling.

There’s a lot to know about Medicare coverage, and these facts are just the basics. For more in-depth information related to your specific situation, give us a call and we’ll be happy to help you.

 

Coronavirus: Separating Fact from Fiction

If you’ve been hearing the news about the coronavirus outbreak in China that has now spread around the globe, you might be feeling concerned. It doesn’t help that sensational headlines and even conspiracy theories are fanning the flames.

If you’re overly worried about coronavirus, don’t be. As we separate fact from fiction, you will hopefully feel better about the situation.

Is coronavirus a brand new pathogen we’ve never seen before? No, not really. Many different strains of coronavirus exist, and we’ve known about them for years. In fact, coronaviruses are some of the most frequent causes of the common cold.

The particular strain of coronavirus causing the outbreak is a new one, but new strains of virus are discovered all the time. So, the situation is not that unusual.

Is this new coronavirus an instant death sentence? Definitely not! The news has focused heavily on the number of deaths, but glosses over the number of people infected by this new strain of coronavirus. The fatality rate is actually about 2 percent, which admittedly is concerning, but we’re not exactly living out a science fiction movie.

In fact, some health organizations believe the actual fatality rate is even lower than 2 percent, because many cases of coronavirus are mild and are not being diagnosed at a hospital. Therefore, more people are infected than we even know. That sounds bad, until you realize we don’t know about them because they think they simply have a mild cold.

Are hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of people dying? Some pretty wild reports have circulated on social media, but there is no substantive evidence of a high death toll at this time.

Unfortunately, around 1,000 people have died in the outbreak so far. But according to reports, the deaths are due to complications from pneumonia, which mostly strikes older people and those with compromised immune systems. We know that pneumonia is a problem in this population already; the situation isn’t exactly new.

Those who are otherwise healthy and have robust immune systems typically do not suffer the more serious complications.

Will you catch coronavirus? Chances are, you’ve had a few strains of coronavirus before. As for this new strain, nearly all cases are confined to China at the moment. Public health officials are doing all they can to quarantine suspected cases and prevent spread of the virus.

Overall, the odds are low that you will catch coronavirus. Officials do recommend that you reschedule travel plans to China, just in case.

If you have any concerning symptoms, such as fever, coughing, or shortness of breath, seek medical care right away… But it’s probably just a routine illness.

Health Insurance Enrollment Deadline Rapidly Approaches

As the deadline to enroll in an individual or family health insurance plan rapidly approaches, we wanted to take a moment to remind you of what you need to do.

The deadline for health insurance Open Enrollment is January 31. You must sign up for a healthcare plan, or you might miss your chance for the rest of the year (more on that in a moment). And, since California now enforces its own statewide version of the Individual Mandate, you might be subject to a penalty if you don’t have healthcare coverage in 2020.

This deadline applies to individual and family healthcare plans only. It does not apply to Medicare plans, or to group health insurance plans (those offered by an employer).

What you should do during Open Enrollment. Contact your health insurance professional for help with comparing different healthcare plans available in your area.

You might qualify for a subsidy to help with the cost of your premiums. Make sure to provide the appropriate financial information so that your subsidy can be calculated.

Or, if you already qualify for a subsidy, you should update your financial information to ensure that your subsidy can be recalculated for 2020.

If you like your current plan and want to keep it, review the details to be sure it’s still a good fit for you. Sometimes changes in coverage occur from one year to the next, and you shouldn’t assume that your plan will continue to fit your needs perfectly.

In some cases, you can enroll in a healthcare plan outside of Open Enrollment. If you experience a qualifying life event, such as a move or change in family structure, you can enroll in a plan or change to a different plan outside of the usual Open Enrollment window. However, since you can’t count on one of these events occurring, it would be wise to go ahead and enroll now.

Remember, the deadline for health insurance coverage is January 31, so get started today. Give us a call and we can help you determine the next steps you should take.

What to Do if You’re Turning 65 This Year

About ten thousand Baby Boomers turn 65 each day, meaning around 3,65,0000 will reach that milestone during 2020. That’s over three-and-a-half million people who will now become eligible for Medicare, and yet many aren’t yet sure what they’re supposed to do. So, if your 65’th birthday is rapidly approaching, this brief Medicare enrollment primer might help.

If you claim your Social Security benefits… You will be automatically enrolled in Part A coverage, which is free for most people, and you will have the option to enroll in Part B coverage (for a monthly premium).

If you aren’t claiming your Social Security benefits yet, you will need to take the initiative to enroll in Medicare. You will not be automatically enrolled, so it is very important to remember the following time frame.

You’re eligible to enroll in Medicare during a seven-month period. You can start the enrollment process at any point during the three months before your 65’th birthday, during your birthday month, or for three months afterward. If you miss this initial enrollment window, you could face higher premiums when you do enroll. So mark this deadline on your calendar. Contact your local Social Security office, or apply online at www.ssa.gov

Decide if you want to enroll in Medicare Part D. Part D, or prescription drug coverage, is available to those who are concerned about the cost of current or future prescriptions. You will pay a monthly premium in exchange for managed prices on many common drugs.

Research Medicare Part C, or Medicare Advantage Plans. Instead of enrolling in Medicare Parts A and B, you can opt for a Part C plan (also called Medicare Advantage plans). These comprehensive plans roll Parts A and B into one healthcare plan, and many also include Part D coverage. These plans are available for a premium, but the type of coverage offered might be more convenient or affordable for you in the long run.

As with any other healthcare plan, what’s right for one person won’t be perfect for another. So you should carefully compare Advantage plans before determining whether this option better suits your needs.

We can help with this part. If you’re interested in Medicare Advantage plans, give us a call and we’ll discuss your needs. Then, we can match you with a plan and review the details with you.

 

What Can You Do if You Missed the Medicare Open Enrollment Period?

Medicare’s annual open enrollment period just ended on December 7. If you missed the deadline, you might be wondering if you’re stuck with your old plan until next October 15, when enrollment opens again. Fortunately, there are a few situations in which you can still make changes to your Medicare plan(s).

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MAOEP). From January 1 to March 31, those who are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan can switch to a different Advantage plan if desired. Or, you can drop Medicare Advantage entirely, and go back to Original Medicare. However, before dropping your Advantage plan, keep in mind that you’ll lose the benefit of an out-of-pocket spending cap on approved medical services, because Original Medicare does not have one. You might also lose access to your network of providers.

The main thing you can’t do is move from Original Medicare into an Advantage plan at this time.

Switch to a five-star Medicare plan. Medicare plans are rated each fall. If you’re not enrolled in a five-star plan, you can move into a Medicare Advantage Plan, Medicare Cost Plan, or Medicare Prescription Drug plan between December 8 and November 30. You can only switch plans once, and you must select a five-star plan in order to make a change.

Consider a Medigap plan. Certain Medicare Supplement Insurance Plans, or Medigap plans, will allow you to purchase coverage outside of the regular annual enrollment period. Eligibility depends upon numerous factors and is subject to underwriting approval, so discuss this issue with your insurance professional to see if this is a viable option for you.  However, even if it is, this could affect your prescription drug coverage and you could be subject to a penalty when enrolling outside of the Annual Enrollment Period.

Medicare Special Enrollment Period. Certain life changes will allow you a Special Enrollment Period, during which you can make changes to your Medicare plan. If you move, lose access to certain insurance coverage, have an opportunity to enroll in a new form of coverage, or your plan changes its contract with Medicare, you might be eligible for a special enrollment period. Certain other situations also quality you to make changes outside of the usual enrollment period. You can learn more about those here.

If you find yourself dissatisfied with your Medicare plan outside of the annual enrollment period, give us a call. We can discuss your concerns and investigate whether one of the above options might provide a solution for you.

 

The Surprising Benefits of Dental and Vision Care

The benefits of dental and vision care seem obvious: You can keep your teeth and gums healthy, obtain corrective lenses if you experience vision problems, and detect any early signs of diseases of the eye. But the benefits of regular dental and vision screenings actually don’t stop there.

During a simple checkup, your dentist or eye care professional can detect early signs of many serious diseases. In fact, over 90 percent of systemic diseases present symptoms in the mouth, and many produce changes in the eyes as well.

For example, the following conditions manifest certain symptoms related to your eyes, often at an early stage of the disease:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Arthritis
  • Several types of cancer
  • High cholesterol
  • Certain tumors
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Sickle cell disease

In addition, if you’re becoming susceptible to a stroke, certain signs of that risk might show up in your eyes.

In a similar fashion, many diseases are associated with oral symptoms. For example, certain bacteria in the mouth are associated with heart attack risk. During a routine exam your dentist might discover early signs of the following conditions:

  • Diabetes
  • Leukemia
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Oral cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease

In the event that your eye care professional or dentist notice something amiss, they won’t formally diagnose you with one of these conditions. They will, however, advise you to visit your primary care physician to double check on these symptoms, to see if they are related to a more serious disorder. Since most of us tend to rely upon annual exams to discover the development of chronic illness, staggering dental checkups and eye exams throughout the year can be a good way to stay on top of your health. You’re more likely to discover serious conditions in an earlier stage of development, when they are more easily treated.

Some health insurance plans don’t offer coverage for dental and vision care, but anyone can enroll in a supplemental (extra) policy. Give us a call about dental and vision insurance, and we can help match you to a plan that suits your needs.

 

5 Last Minute Open Enrollment Tips

The Open Enrollment season for health insurance is in full swing, but some of you probably haven’t gotten started yet. That’s okay, but keep in mind that with the holidays rapidly approaching, you might run short on time later. In California our Open Enrollment lasts from October 15 to January 31, but you must sign up for a plan by December 15 if you want coverage to start January 1.

So, how do you get started right now? Just follow these simple tips.

Step One: Make a short list of your priorities. Do you prefer to remain with a favorite healthcare provider? Do you have any health conditions for which you require medication or specialized care? Are you at risk of developing such a condition, and want to cover your bases just in case? Do you value certain types of care over others? Which healthcare facilities are convenient for your location and schedule?

Step Two: Analyze your family structure. Are you single, married, or married with children? Do you plan to add a child to your household in the next year (whether through pregnancy or adoption). Changing household structures can drastically alter your priorities, so make sure you’ve considered things from that angle.

Step Three: Consider your budget. A low-deductible plan will cost you a higher monthly premium, whereas a low-premium plan will come with a higher deductible. You should consider how much you can realistically afford each month, keeping in mind that you might be eligible for a subsidy that helps you cover at least part of your premiums. Consider, too, whether you have upcoming medical expenses, or if you’re unlikely to even meet your annual deductible (although no one can ever know this for sure).

Step Four: Consider other money-saving options. If you do opt for a higher-deductible plan, consider whether a health savings account (HSA) might be a good fit for you. You can save pre-tax dollars for use toward healthcare expenses (like your deductible) and any unused funds in the account can be rolled over to the next year.

A flexible spending account (FSA) allows you to divert pre-tax money into an employer-owned account, to be used for out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. However, you could lose the money if you don’t use it all by the end of the year, or change employers.

Step Five: Investigate plans. In California plans will differ depending upon your county. After you log into the Covered California system, or as you work with an insurance professional who can show you your options, it’s time to to compare the plans in the pricing tier you’ve chosen. Ask questions regarding the priorities you set in step one, so that you can identify the plan that best suits your preferences.

We can help you evaluate your budget, and then match you with a plan that suits your needs. Give us a call, and we’ll get started today. Remember, the deadline for coverage that begins January 1 is December 15. Let’s take care of this before Thanksgiving, so you won’t have to worry about it for the rest of the year.

 

 

 

4 Ways to Cut Your Medicare Expenses

For most of us, healthcare will be one of our largest expenses in retirement. According to Fidelity, the average 65-year-old couple retiring today can expect to spend $285,000 on healthcare over the course of their retirement years. For single retirees, the estimates range from $135,000 (for men) to $150,000 (for women).

It’s no wonder most retirees are eager to learn ways to cut back on their expenses in this area. The following strategies can help you reduce Medicare spending to some degree.

Mark the deadline on your calendar. You can sign up for Medicare beginning three months before your birthday, extending to three months after your birthday month. Usually, if you’ve claimed your Social Security benefits this step will be done for you. But check to be sure; if you miss the sign-up window, you will pay higher premiums due to a late penalty.

Plan retirement income carefully. Taxable income in a higher tax bracket can trigger Medicare premium increases. That’s why many retirees work with financial advisors to establish non-taxable forms of income, such as distributions from a Roth IRA.

Shop around. Depending upon your needs, a Medicare Advantage plan might work better for you than Original Medicare. But the premiums can be equal to Part B premiums, or up to about 100 dollars per month more. Comparing the cost versus benefits can help you decide which plan is right for you. In some cases, a more expensive plan is actually worth it in the long run (but not always).

Don’t stick with the same plan forever. As your healthcare needs change, your Medicare plan should change too. Each fall, during the annual open enrollment period, you have the opportunity to evaluate different types of coverage. If you don’t make any changes, your current plan will renew. But you could miss an opportunity for savings if you allow that to happen.

We can help you compare the costs of different plans, and understand their unique benefit offerings. Give us a call now, so that we can evaluate your needs and help you enroll in the right Medicare plan for you. Remember, the annual open enrollment period for Medicare plans will end on December 7. Let’s get started today.

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