2014 Medicare Part B Premium
Good insurance news for people on Medicare (even though those of us under 65 are not sure what is happening with our insurance). The Medicare Part B premium is staying the same for 2014–$104.90.
2014 Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA)
With the announcement of the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security today, that means retired seniors will really have a raise next year. The COLA for 2014 is 1.5%, just down from the 2013 COLA of 1.7%. If you received the average benefit for a retired worker in 2013 ($1,261 a month), your monthly Social Security benefit should increase by $18.91 in 2014. None of this will need to go towards your Medicare Part B premium. The maximum Social Security retirement benefit for 2014 will increase to $2,642.
With all the talk of the insurance marketplace flying around, remember that if you are on Medicare, you don’t need to listen to any of it—your Medicare is not part of www.healthcare.gov.
Hopefully this is an unnecessary blog post. Hopefully all Medicare beneficiaries already know that the October 1 opening of the Health Insurance Marketplace (aka Healthcare exchanges) established by the Affordable Care Act is NOT for Medicare. Oct. 1 is when people who are not on Medicare can begin to sign up for health insurance that will be effective Jan. 1, 2014. Your family and friends should go to healthcare.gov for more information on how to find the Marketplace for their state.
Medicare’s Open Enrollment remains Oct. 15 to Dec. 7
The regular Medicare Open Enrollment remains Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 as it has been for a few years now. You can review your current health and prescription drug plan/s, compare them to other plans and, if desired, change those plans for 2014. Medicare.gov is where you can go to find out about Medicare plans in your area.
Help reviewing Medicare plans
If you have questions or need help comparing plans, find your State Health Insurance Assistance Program counselors (SHIP) at SHIP website. Remember that this is a free service to help you navigate the Medicare system, including running your specific prescription drugs through the Medicare website plan finder. You can also watch for the Medicare and You publication in the mail or call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). Or in Minnesota, call Senior LinkAge Line (1-800-333-2433) for a copy of Health Care Choices for Minnesotans on Medicare OR to ask for help evaluating your coverage options.
Watch out for misleading information about the Marketplace and Medicare
If you have an insurance agent whom you trust and who represents most of the Medicare insurance plans in your area, that might be a good way to get information on your Medicare options. However, especially since the new Health Insurance Marketplace open enrollment (Oct. 1 to Mar. 31) overlaps the Medicare open enrollment (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7), there could be a lot of confusing or misleading information. It is illegal for someone to sell you a non-Medicare plan if they know you are on Medicare. Do not pay any money or give anyone your information, such as birth date, Social Security or Medicare number if they tell you that you have to sign up for a plan through the Marketplace because of the Affordable Care Act (aka Health Care Reform or Obamacare). Since this is a confusing time, it is a concern that unscrupulous people could try to take advantage of seniors fearing the loss of their Medicare coverage. Don’t let them! Ask questions of reliable sources.
Rules to protect Medicare beneficiaries
Medicare has rules to protect you from pressured sales. No one can come to your house to talk about Medicare plans unless you have invited them. No one can try to sell you Medicare insurance over the phone unless you have initiated the call. If you believe your insurance company is legitimately requesting information from you, call your plan using the customer service phone number you have, and ask if they truly are requesting this information. Do not give out your information freely over the phone. You never have to pay money at the time of enrollment in a Medicare plan. If you experience any of these pressured tactics, contact Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) and let them know.
So ignore Oct. 1, but get ready for Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
Gene Cohen in his book, The Mature Mind, describes the “summing up” developmental phase of our life starting in the late sixties. We want to share our wisdom and find meaning in our lives as we look back. We want to leave a legacy—both of wisdom and impact. Liz Sheahan from the Society of St Andrew has a suggestion for how to leave a legacy of impact:
While many people support non-profits throughout their lives, relatively few are able to make a gift that can truly transform the level of services a charity provides – at least during their lifetime. That’s the beauty of estate gifts – through a simple bequest or a myriad of other planned giving tools, virtually everyone can make a major gift.
Estate Gifts as a Legacy
Estate gifts are a way to leave your legacy – to ensure the organization you’ve supported continues to fulfill their mission long after you’re gone. It’s a way to acknowledge a group that helped you when you needed it, or played a big part in making you the person you are today. Creating a planned gift is a way to show your commitment to a non-profit and to inspire others to support their mission as well.
Will or Beneficiary Gifts
One of the easiest ways is by simply putting a bequest in your will – a statement that a certain dollar amount or a percentage of your estate, will be given to the charity of your choice. Another easy gift can be made by naming a charity as a beneficiary on a retirement plan or life insurance policy.
Tax Planning and Legacy Gifts
There are many other planned giving tools – some that can give you income throughout your lifetime. Giving appreciated stock or securities can help you avoid tax on capital gains. There’s even a way for you to give real estate and still be able to live in it the rest of your life. If you have a financial advisor, they can help you determine the tools that will work best for you. If you don’t have an advisor, give the non-profit you’re interested in supporting a call – ask them if they have an advisor who can work with you (typically that’s done without a fee).
Regardless of the tool you choose, make sure you have the correct legal name of the organization and their EIN (tax ID number), so there’s no question it will go to the correct organization.
Leave your legacy. Make a difference.
Liz Sheahan, BSW, MA is the Director of Transformational Gifts with Society of St. Andrew. Learn more at SoSA website
I hate political/campaign sound bites. They are usually used to get an emotional reaction, not to impart information. Today I took away two informative sound bites from a community meeting on senior services and sequestration. Leaders of social service agencies and federal and state legislators spoke about the impact of sequestration cuts on seniors, but the best sound bites I heard were from 2 seniors themselves. “Senior services serve 3 generations” and “I always wanted to help (not receive help).”
Senior Services Save Government Money (taxes)
Senator Al Franken spoke about cutting senior services through sequestration as being “Penny-wise and pound-foolish.” This because research shows that services like Meals-On-Wheels, respite care and transportation services help keep people in their homes longer, delaying the need for expensive skilled nursing facility/nursing home care. Thus the government can save those Medicaid/Medical Assistance dollars that pay for a lot of costly custodial care at nursing homes by providing these essential services which allow people to “age in place” in their homes, which they and their families usually prefer.
Senior Services Serve 3 Generations
One senior speaker, Jeanne Wiger, emphasized that by receiving help mowing her lawn, doing household chores and providing transportation, DARTS (a Minnesota non-profit to enrich aging) was actually serving 3 generations—herself, her children and her grandchildren. She realized this while participating in a group where most of the other members were in the next younger generation. They were relating how they felt “sandwiched” between the needs to provide for their children (college education, etc.) and their parents (needing increasingly more physical and financial help). By receiving services around the house, Jeanne did not have to ask her children and grandchildren to perform these duties for her. Sometimes adult children feel forced to leave a job in order to provide caregiving for parents. In a recent survey at the Minnesota State Fair, becoming a burden on family was a prevalent concern for people contemplating retirement.
“ I always wanted to help (not receive help).”
Another senior speaker, Lenora Rasmusson, described how it was not easy to accept help because she always thought of herself as giving help, not receiving it. She had volunteered for years with organizations like Meals-On-Wheels. One day someone asked her if she would like to receive that same service, and thus she switched her role from provider to recipient of services. She just had to repeat that she never expected to receive help, but always saw herself as someone who gave help. Now she values that same friendly daily visit that she used to provide to home-bound seniors.
One last comment by Jeanne is worth noting. By receiving needed help around the house, she said she can use her energy to do the things she is still able to do—like writing two books (more on that in a later blog post). Previously as an occupational therapist, I remember that the decision on what to expend energy is the patient/client’s. If someone who has become a quadriplegic decides to have someone else help them dress and get ready for the day, then they are free to use their energy to perform the tasks that have more value to them—maybe scientific pursuits like Stephen Hawking’s. Certainly losing his contributions to the theory of relativity and black holes would be a loss to society as a whole.
Thank goodness for senior services. Hopefully sequestration will not put them on the endangered species list.
Having just returned from villages in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania in Africa, I am contemplating how to simplify my life in retirement. The villagers have so little in material things, but are so joyful and generous. They work hard just to survive, often with no running water or electricity. In the US we often whine if we don’t have the latest technological advance immediately. Since we were visitors to these villages, we did have the luxury of running water (not necessarily hot water when we wanted it or much water pressure) and electricity from 6-10 PM.
In a seminar on using our natural gifts/talents a few years ago, the presenter commented that all of our possessions require an amount of our energy—to maintain, clean, organize, use, etc. If we got rid of a lot of our possessions, we would have more time to devote to what was truly important to us.
Downsizing to gain time and energy
So looking at my life in retirement, I am figuring out how to downsize my possessions or things I need to organize. If they live long enough, our parents reach a time when it is very difficult to figure out what gift to give them for birthdays and holidays. They have everything they need and don’t have many wants, except maybe to spend more time with us. For most of us money and time are our personal scarce resources. Often when our parents want our time, we feel like we don’t have enough of that resource to share. However, if we rid ourselves of those extraneous things (and for me that means lots of documents and books), we regain time and energy that we used to need to maintain things instead of relationships.
Downsizing as a gift to our children
Recently I have had friends who have had to go through parents’ houses or downsize themselves as they moved to smaller townhouses, etc. It was a laborious, painful, but freeing, process. Doing this for our children before they are forced to deal with our years of accumulated possessions and memories is a gift to our children.
In an attempt to look forward to being able to enjoy time with children and grandchildren and pursue what is most meaningful to me (volunteer work, etc.), I am pledging to clean up some of my piles of papers that keep me from feeling free to enjoy my time more. How about you? Please feel free to share how you have simplified your life in retirement (or before).