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Money November 2014

Dollar Sense

Potpourri: Miscellaneous Stuff You Need to Know About Your Benefits, Your Life, Your Money, and How to Make the Most of It All

By Teresa Ambord

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows, it’s no longer true that older drivers are more likely to get into traffic accidents. In fact, safer cars and improved health among seniors shows they are actually less likely now to be involved in a crash than their youngers.

Medicare Open Enrollment Ends December 7th

Medicare states on the website that you should review your choices each year at this time, as your health needs change. This is the only time a Medicare beneficiary can:

  • Make changes to his/her existing plan
  • Enroll in Medicare Advantage (Part C)
  • Or enroll in the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D)

What kinds of changes can you make at this time? You can:

  • Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare, Parts A and B
  • Join Medicare Part D
  • Switch Medicare Part D carriers
  • Drop Medicare Part D

Robert Quinlan is the owner of Quinlan Care (, in New York, as well as an author of books about Baby Boomer healthcare. He was asked by reporters at what you should consider as you make decisions during Open Enrollment. Here is what he suggested:

  • Are your doctors and hospitals still accepting patients under the original Medicare Parts A and B?
  • For Medicare Advantage recipients, similar question. Are your doctors and hospitals still in the carrier’s network of providers?
  • If you have Medicare Part D, are your medications still covered by your current plan?
  • Is it necessary to upgrade your current Part D plan to cover new medications?

To learn more about your options during Open Enrollment, Quinlan recommends going to and clicking on the “plan finder” section. This will display premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare Advantage plans in your area.


If You Need to Register a Complaint with Medicare… Good Luck

Ever notice how when the government improves a process for our benefit, things often get worse? The latest “helpful” change might be the way to contact Medicare if you have a complaint. In August the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) changed the contact numbers for Medicare complaints, making them far more difficult to find. The website is loaded with information, but the numbers to call if you have a complaint are buried deeply.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) review more than 100,000 complaints every year. The number of complaints didn’t surprise me as much as the fact that 100,000 people found their way through the maze to get a complaint registered. And that was before the “helpful” change which made the phone numbers much harder to find. Many of the complaints related to disputed discharges or problems with nursing homes and home health services and hospice programs. And nearly one-third of all the complaints are about Medicare Advantage programs. Suppose your complaint is that a hospital is discharging you before you feel strong enough to go home? Time is of the essence, and while you search for the right number to call, it seems unlikely you’ll get an answer before your discharge occurs.

Paula Span, author of When the Time Comes: Families with Aging parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions, writes the “New Old Age” blog for the New York Times. After battling her way through the maze, she did find the numbers, no thanks to the website. It’s far easier, she says, to go to this state-by-state listing offered by Next Step in Care.

If you have problems lodging your complaint, go to this site, The Medicare Rights Centers is a national, nonprofit consumer service organization which works to protect access and affordable health care for older adults and those with disabilities. You can also call the national telephone helpline at 800-333-4114.


Who Says Older Drivers Are the Worst Drivers?

No matter how old you are, you’ve probably found yourself behind a slow-moving car, where the driver seemed oblivious to the fact he or she was holding up traffic. You might’ve even yelled, “Move it, Grandpa! Get off the road!” But the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows, it’s no longer true that older drivers are more likely to get into traffic accidents. In fact, safer cars and improved health among seniors shows they are actually less likely now to be involved in a crash than their youngers.

It’s easy to assume the crash rate is lower simply because seniors aren’t driving as many miles as younger people. But… not so, according to Anne McCartt, the IIHS senior vice president.

"No matter how we looked at the fatal crash data for this age group — by licensed drivers or miles driven — the fatal crash involvement rates for drivers 70 and older declined, and did so at a faster pace than the rates for drivers ages 35 to 54," she said in a report on the study's results.

"This should help ease fears that aging baby boomers are a safety threat," McCartt added.

Eventually however…the time does come when we all have to give up our car keys, and that can feel like a painful loss of independence, which many seniors will fight. My dear aunt seemed fine behind the wheel, until she started making left turns from the center lane. Years after she was confined to a nursing home she was still claiming that her kids stole her car from her.

If it’s a touchy subject, rather than take the keys away it might be better to get an independent driving evaluation by state inspectors at the DMV, or hire a driving rehabilitation specialist to provide a private evaluation. These specialists evaluate a driver on factors which include medical history, medications, vision, range of motion as it applies to control of a vehicle, strength, and coordination.


December Is the Best Time to Buy…

Reader’s Digest reports every month what items are likely to be on sale, so you can buy ahead.

  • Champagne: Thanks to competition, champagne prices tumble during the holiday. The best price, December.
  • NFL merchandise: Unfortunately, the worse your team is doing in terms of Super Bowl chances, the better the price you’ll get. Of course if your team is looking good, the prices are looking less rosy.
  • Athletic apparel and equipment: Just in time for everyone to make New Year’s resolutions to get in shape, prices will be slashed. May as well get in on it.
  • Wedding dress: It’s off-season for weddings, and that means discounted gowns. Is your granddaughter planning to be a summer bride? Or maybe the lucky girl is you. Buy while the buying is good.

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Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa