NEW Savvy Senior Columns for November 2020

Savvy Senior – November Columns

  1. How Seniors can Save Money on Prescription Eyeglasses
  2. What Happens to Medicare if Obamacare is Overturned?
  3. How to Track Down Old Friends Online
  4. How to Claim Social Security Benefits During the Pandemic

How Seniors can Save Money on Prescription Eyeglasses

Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you recommend for finding affordable prescription eyeglasses? I used to have vision insurance through my work but lost it when I turned 65 and signed up for Medicare.
Need Spectacles

Dear Need,
Unfortunately, in 2020 it’s still true that original Medicare does not cover vision services, which includes routine eye exams and prescription eyeglasses – unless you’ve just had cataract surgery. While there’s no one solution to this common need, here are a few tips that can help you save.

Medicare Advantage
While original Medicare doesn’t cover vision services, there are Medicare Advantage plans that do. Medicare Advantage plans, which are sold through private insurance companies, cover all the same medical and hospital services that original Medicare does, but many of them also provide vision as well as dental, hearing and prescription drugs too.

To locate Advantage plans in your area that provide vision coverage, go to Medicare.gov/plan-compare or call 800-633-4227. But before enrolling in a plan, check the benefit details to ensure the plan’s vision coverage includes routine eye exams, eyeglass frames and lenses.

If you are currently enrolled in original Medicare you can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan each year during the open enrollment period, which is between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7. Or, if you already have an Advantage plan that doesn’t provide adequate vision coverage, you can swap to another plan between Jan. 1 and March 31.

If you don’t want to change your Medicare plan, you can still get coverage by purchasing a vision insurance policy – see eHealthInsurance.com. Vision policies typically start at around $11 to $13 per month for an individual, but before signing up make sure your savings potential is worth the cost of the monthly premiums and required copays.

Discount Stores
Purchasing eyeglasses from discount retailers is another way to save. Costco Optical is one of the best discount stores for good eyewear and low prices. Eyeglasses cost an average of around $184, but to shop there you have to pay a $60 annual membership fee. Some other good retail options for low prices include Sam’s Club Optical and Walmart Vision Centers.

You also need to find out if you are eligible for any discounts. Some retailers provide discounts to membership groups like AARP and AAA. AARP members, for example, can get 30 percent off a pair of glasses (frames and lenses) at LensCrafters and Glasses.com, and you save an additional $10 on a complete pair at Target Optical. AARP also offers $55 comprehensive eye exams (dilation included) at participating eye doctors. See AARPVisionDiscounts.com for more information.

Buy Online
Buying eyeglasses online can also offer huge savings. Stores like ZenniOptical.com and EyeBuyDirect.com sell prescription eyeglasses for as little as $6 and $7. These sites let you upload a photo of your face, so you can see what you’d look like in different frames.

Or, for a snappier choice of frames see WarbyParker.com, which offers single-vision glasses starting at $95. They even offer a free program where you can request up to five pairs to try on at home for five days.

To purchase glasses online, you’ll need a valid prescription from an eye doctor (typically no more than a year old), plus your pupillary distance number, which is the distance, measured in millimeters, between the centers of your pupils in each eye.

Low-Income Assistance
If your income is low, depending on where you live, there may be some local clinics that provide free or discounted eye exams and eyeglasses. Put in a call to your local Lions Club to see what’s available in your area. See Directory.LionsClubs.org for contact information.

You may also be able to get free eyeglasses through New Eyes (New-Eyes.org, 973-376-4903), a nonprofit organization that provides free eyeglasses through a voucher program to people in financial need.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.
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What Happens to Medicare if Obamacare is Overturned?

Dear Savvy Senior,
Will my Medicare benefits be affected if Obamacare is overturned by the Supreme Court?
Concerned Beneficiary

Dear Concerned,

Unfortunately, yes. If the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – also known as Obamacare – gets repealed by the Supreme Court next year, it will weaken Medicare and increase costs for beneficiaries. Here’s what you should know.

Currently, about 60 million people are covered under Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people 65 and older and people of all ages with disabilities. Even though the main aim of the ACA was to overhaul the health insurance markets, most people don’t realize that the law also touches virtually every part of Medicare.

Without the ACA, Medicare beneficiaries will have to pay more for preventive care services, which are now free; they’ll have to pay more toward their prescription drugs; their premiums and deductibles will rise faster; and Medicare will face insolvency much sooner because of lost funding and cost cutting measures. With the help of Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, here is a more detailed breakdown of what happens to Medicare if the court invalidates the law.

Preventive care services will no longer be free: Thanks to the ACA, there’s no copayment or deductible for potentially life-saving screenings for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses. Flu shots and annual wellness visits are also free. Before the ACA, beneficiaries had to pay 20 percent of the cost for most preventive care services, after their deductible was met.

The doughnut hole will return: Since 2011 the ACA has been steadily closing the prescription drug coverage gap, also known as the doughnut hole, in Medicare Part D by requiring drug manufacturers and insurers to pick up more of the cost. The hole was finally closed this year with seniors paying 25 percent of the cost for both generic and brand-name medications and manufacturers picking up 70 percent of the tab, while insurers kick in the remaining 5 percent. Before the ACA, seniors paid 100 percent of Part D prescription drug expenses while in the doughnut hole.

Medicare premiums and deductibles will rise faster: The ACA also curbed Medicare payments to providers to help keep Medicare Part A deductibles and copayments in check. Similarly, Part B premiums and deductibles are much lower than projected before the ACA became law. From 2011 to 2020, Part B premiums increased 23 percent. From 2000 to 2009 – the nine years before the law’s passage – Part B premiums rose almost five times faster, increasing 112 percent over that period.

Medicare Advantage plans will be more expensive: The ACA requires Medicare Advantage plans to spend 85 percent of premium dollars on health care, not profits or overhead. The plans also can’t charge more than traditional Medicare for chemotherapy, renal dialysis, skilled nursing care and other specialized services.

Those restrictions dramatically lowered costs for Medicare Advantage plan enrollees. Since the ACA became law in 2010, the average Medicare Advantage premium has decreased by 43 percent while enrollment has increased 117 percent.

Insolvency accelerates: The ACA extended the solvency of the program’s trust fund by eight years to 2026, mostly by finding new sources of revenue and slowing the growth of payments to all providers. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that reversing those changes would cost the program $700 billion over 10 years, which would make Medicare almost immediate insolvent.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.
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How to Track Down Old Friends Online

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’m interested in tracking down some old friends I’ve lost touch with over the years but could use some help. What websites can you recommend that can help me find them?
Tracking Tom

Dear Tom,
Thanks to the Internet, tracking down long-lost friends from many years ago is relatively easy to do and, in most cases, it won’t cost you a cent. Here are some tips and online tools to help you get started.

Remembering the Details
Before you begin your search, a good first step is to jot down any information you can remember or find out about the people you’re trying to locate. Things like their full name (maiden and married), age or birth date, last known address or phone number, old e-mail address, names of family members, and so forth. Knowing details can help you turn up clues while you search.

Social Media and Search Engines
After you compile your information, a good place to start your search is at social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. And search engines like Google and Yahoo.

When using search engines, type in the name of the person you’re searching for in quotation marks, for example, “John Smith.” You can narrow your search by adding other criteria like their nickname or middle name, the city or state they may live in, or even their occupation.

People Search Sites
If your initial search comes up empty, you can also use people searches like AnyWho.com, Intelius.com or WhitePages.com. These sites will provide a list of potential matches from across the U.S.

Because many people share the same name, these sites will also supply details to help identify the right person, perhaps including their age, prior hometowns, names of relatives, colleges attended or employer.

While these sites are free to use at a basic level, they charge a small fee for providing certain details like the persons contact information. WhitePages, however, sometimes provides home phone numbers for free.

Niche Finding Sites
Here are a few other niche people-finding websites to help you with your search.

To look for old high school classmates, try Classmates.com. This site has contact information only for people who have registered with it. But even if your friend hasn’t registered, it could provide contact info for another classmate who remains in touch with your friend.

Another option is to check out your high school alumni website. Not every school has its own site, but some do, and you can look for it by going to any search engine and typing in the name of the school with the city and state it’s located in. You can also search at AlumniClass.com, a huge hosting site for thousands of high schools across the U.S.

If you’re looking for old college friends, look for an alumni directory on the school’s website. You might be able to access your friend’s contact info by completing an online registration. Or, try calling or emailing your alumni relations department and ask them to pass on your contact info to your friend.

If you’re looking for someone you served with in the military, Military.com offers a free “Buddy Finder” service that has a database of more than 20 million records – visit Military.com/buddy-finder. You can also search for free at GIsearch.com, TogetherWeServed.com and VetFriends.com.

If you can’t find any current information about the person you’re searching for, it could be that he or she is dead. To find out if that’s the case, use obituary databases such as Tributes.com and Legacy.com, which has a newspaper obituary search tool from hundreds of U.S. newspapers.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.
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How to Claim Social Security Benefits During the Pandemic

Dear Savvy Senior,
With my local Social Security offices being closed due to COVID-19, what is the best way to apply for my Social Security retirement benefits?
Approaching 62

Dear Approaching,
Because of the pandemic, all Social Security field offices across the country have been closed since March, so you can’t just walk-in, talk to a counselor and apply for benefits in person right now. But there are other ways to claim your benefits that are much easier and quicker. Here’s what you should know.

How to Apply?
The easiest and most convenient way to apply for your Social Security benefits during the pandemic is to do it yourself online at SocialSecurity.gov. It usually takes around 15 minutes to complete the application, as long as you’ve gathered all of the required information and documentation (more on that at the bottom of the column). You can also save your application as you go, so you can take a break at any time.

If your situation is complicated or you’re uncomfortable using the Internet to apply, you can have a Social Security employee assist with the process via telephone. To make an appointment call 800-772-1213. (If you’re hearing impaired, you can call 800-325-0778.) The phones are monitored Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. At the time of your appointment, the representative will call you.

If you start to complete the online application form but find that it’s too confusing or complicated, call the agency and set up a phone appointment.

Once you have submitted your application, a representative may contact you with updates or questions about your application. You can also check the status of your application by signing in to your “my Social Security” account at SSA.gov/myaccount.

When to Apply?
You should file one or two months before you want benefits to begin, but if you’re the worrying type, you can do it up to three or four months before. It takes a little time to process the paperwork, so by putting in your application a few months early, you can fix any problems that come up without it interfering with your starting date.

It’s also worth noting that if you start receiving your Social Security retirement benefits before age 65, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B, and you’ll receive your Medicare card about three months before your 65th birthday. It will include instructions to return it if you have work coverage that qualifies you for late enrollment.

But if you decide to delay your retirement benefits, you’ll need to sign up just for Medicare at age 65, which you can also do at SocialSecurity.gov or over the phone at 800-772-1213.

Needed Information
In order to apply for Social Security benefits online or over the phone, you’ll need to be able to document some information about your identity and work history. So before applying, have the following information handy:

  • Your Social Security number.
  • Your birth certificate (original or certified).
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States.
  • A copy of your U.S. military service papers if you had military service before 1968.
  • A copy of your W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax return for last year.
  • Your bank information (including your account number and the bank routing number) where you want your benefits direct deposited to.

For a complete checklist of what you’ll need to complete your application, see SSA.gov/hlp/isba/10/isba-checklist.pdf.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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