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Medicare Takes Aim at Medical Identity Theft

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To Your Health

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Family Features) Criminals are increasingly targeting people age 65 or older for personal identity theft. In 2014 alone, there were 2.6 million such incidents among seniors, according to the Department of Justice.

A growing offshoot of identity theft is healthcare fraud, which can result when someone unlawfully uses another person’s Medicare number. Medical identity theft can lead to inaccuracies in medical records, which in turn can result in delayed care, denied services and costly false claims.

That’s why Medicare works with the Department of Justice, taking aim squarely at would-be thieves. In the largest law enforcement action against criminals fraudulently targeting the Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare programs, 412 people around the country, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, were charged in 2017 with bilking U.S. taxpayers out of $1.3 billion.

The next big fraud-fighting push is well underway — and its focus is protecting the personal information of senior citizens by removing their Social Security numbers from Medicare cards.

People with Medicare don’t need to take any action to get a new Medicare card. Beginning in April, 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will mail out newly designed Medicare cards to the 58 million Americans with Medicare. The cards will have a new number that will be unique for each card recipient. This will help protect personal identity and prevent fraud because identity thieves can’t bill Medicare without a valid Medicare number. To help with a seamless transition to the new cards, providers will be able to use secure look up tools that will support quick access to the new card numbers when needed.

Healthcare fraud drives up costs for everyone, but healthcare consumers can be an effective first line of defense against fraud. Follow these tips to help protect yourself:

Do

  • Treat your Medicare number like a credit card.
  • When the new card comes in the mail next year, destroy your old card and make sure you bring your new one to your doctors’ appointments.
  • Be suspicious of anyone offering early bird discounts, limited time offers or encouraging you to act now for the best deal. That’s an indicator of potential fraud because Medicare plans are forbidden from offering incentives.
  • Be skeptical of free gifts, free medical services, discount packages or any offer that sounds too good to be true.
  • Only give your Medicare number to doctors, insurers acting on your behalf or trusted people in the community who work with Medicare, like your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).
  • Report suspected instances of fraud.
  • Check your Medicare statements to make sure the charges are accurate.

Don’t

  • Don’t share your Medicare number or other personal information with anyone who contacts you by telephone, email or approaches you in person, unless you’ve given them permission in advance. Medicare will never contact you uninvited and request your Medicare number or other personal information.
  • Don’t let anyone borrow or pay to use your Medicare number.
  • Don’t allow anyone, except your doctor or other Medicare providers, to review your medical records or recommend services.
  • Don’t let anyone persuade you to see a doctor for care or services you don’t need.
  • Don’t accept medical supplies from a door-to-door salesman.

Learn more about how you can fight Medicare fraud at Medicare.gov/fraud, or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). You can also visit a local SHIP counselor, who can provide free, one-on-one, non-biased Medicare assistance.

With a common sense approach to protecting health information, senior citizens can be effective partners in fighting Medicare fraud.

 

By Seema Verna, CMS Administrator

 

November 8, 2017 |

Making the Most of Medicare Open Enrollment

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(Family Features) Eating well and regular exercise are part of a healthy lifestyle, and so is making sure you have the right health care coverage. Medicare’s annual Open Enrollment period is a good time to review your current coverage and decide if there may be a better fit based on changes to current plans, your budget or health needs.

During Medicare Open Enrollment, which runs Oct. 15-Dec. 7, 2017, you can enroll in or make changes to your Medicare health or prescription drug plan for coverage that begins Jan. 1, 2018. If you miss the deadline, you will likely have to wait a full year before you are able to make changes to your plan.

To make Medicare Open Enrollment part of your healthy lifestyle, follow these five steps:

  1. Review your current plan notice. Read any notices from your Medicare plan about changes for next year, especially your “Annual Notice of Change” letter. Look at your plan’s information to make sure your drugs are still covered and your doctors are still in network.
  2. Think about what matters most to you. Medicare health and drug plans change each year and so can your health needs. Do you need a new primary care doctor? Does your network include the specialist you want for an upcoming surgery? Does your current plan cover your new medication? Does another plan offer the same coverage at a lower cost? Take stock of your health status and determine if you need to make a change.
  3. Find out if you qualify for help paying for Medicare. Learn about programs in your state to help with the costs of Medicare premiums (through Medicare Savings Programs), your Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Medicare Part B (medical insurance) deductibles, coinsurance and copayments, and Medicare prescription drug coverage costs (through Extra Help). Visit Medicare.gov or call your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to learn more.
  4. Shop for plans that meet your needs and fit your budget. Starting each October, you can use Medicare’s Plan Finder tool at Medicare.gov/find-a-plan to see what plans are offered in your area. A new plan may:
  • Cost less
  • Cover your drugs
  • Let you go to the providers you want, like your doctor or pharmacy.

If you find your current coverage still meets your needs, then you’re done. Remember, during Medicare Open Enrollment, you can decide to stay in Original Medicare or join a Medicare Advantage Plan. If you’re already in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can switch back to Original Medicare.

  1. Check your plan’s Star Rating before you enroll. The Medicare Plan Finder is up-to-date with the Star Ratings for Medicare health and prescription drug plans. Plans are given an overall quality rating on a 1-5 star scale, with 1 being the lowest performing and 5 stars representing excellent performance. You can use Star Ratings to compare the quality of health and drug plans being offered.

For more information, visit medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) and say “Agent.” TTY users can call 1-877-486-2048. Help is available 24 hours a day, including weekends. You can also get personalized health insurance counseling at no cost to you from your SHIP by visiting shiptacenter.org.

 

Information provided by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

 

 

 

November 1, 2017 |

7 Steps for a Healthier Home

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(Family Features) As homeowners become increasingly aware of the impact their homes can have on the environment – and on their health – making eco-conscious choices is as important as ever. From controlling the types of materials used within your home to keeping an eye on indoor air quality, these tips can help you create a healthier, more earth-friendly indoor environment.

Use a water filter. Depending on where you live, different contaminants could reside in your tap water. Rather than risk consuming these contaminants or drinking bottled water, which can generate significant waste, consider purchasing a refrigerator with a filtered water option, attaching a water filtration device to your faucet or using a filtered water pitcher.

Ditch plastic food containers. Some plastics are not as high quality as many think and may contain toxic materials, making them potentially harmful – especially when used for storing food. Instead, opt for glass, silicone, cloth or stainless steel storage containers, which are friendlier to the environment and pose fewer toxicity risks. Plus, many of these containers can be placed directly in an oven or microwave to safely reheat food.

Install eco-friendly insulation. Certain materials in your home, such as insulation, can be replaced with sustainable options that also improve indoor air quality. Consider replacing your existing attic insulation with sheep’s wool insulation, such as all-natural options from Havelock Wool. This renewable, high-performing and safe-to-handle material excels at managing moisture while improving indoor air quality through the absorption of formaldehyde, nitrogen oxide and other harmful substances. Learn more at havelockwool.com.

Clean “green.” Cleaning products can be made with ingredients that are harmful to the environment, as well as your family’s health. Make sure you know what is in your household cleaners before using them and, whenever possible, look for cleaners that have been certified as green.

Deal with dust. Even if you don’t struggle with allergies or asthma, over time, dust particles can be unhealthy for you and your family. Vacuum frequently and use a wet mop on floors without carpet to limit the formation of dust bunnies throughout your home. Clean and replace your vacuum’s filter frequently to ensure you’re trapping maximum dust. Also regularly wash towels, linens and other textiles, including window treatments.

Replace air filters. Older, dirty air filters can circulate dust, pollen and other particles throughout your home. They can also cause your air conditioner and heater to run less efficiently, which can result in higher energy consumption. Rather than pushing potentially harmful dust particles into your house and causing your systems to work overtime, inspect your air filter often and change it regularly. You might also want to consider installing a whole-home air purifier or placing portable air purifiers in frequently used rooms.

Reduce energy and natural resource usage. Try installing timers on your lights so they turn on only at specified times. To take it a step further, consider installing lighting with vacancy sensors that automatically shut off the lights when a room isn’t being used. Choose energy-efficient appliances, low-flow toilets and consider adding a rain barrel outside to collect rainwater, which can be used for chores such as watering plants, irrigating the lawn or washing your car.

Although it may not be practical to implement all of these ideas at once, little by little you can make small changes that add up to a big difference.

 

 

October 25, 2017 |

Simple Ways to Live Better

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(Family Features) When it comes to creating a healthy lifestyle, some recommendations are fairly simple, such as exercising regularly and eating right. Many people, however, don’t know how much exercise they should get or which foods are the best choices. They also may not realize there are other ways to take care of your body and mind to promote better overall health.

Start on the path to healthier living with these tips from the wellness experts at Walgreens.

Exercise regularly.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity at least five days a week, and that’s because an active lifestyle can help you achieve far more than muscle mass or weight loss. Regular exercise can also contribute to mental well-being, and even something as simple as a walking break or two at work can provide health benefits.

Eat well.

The keys to a healthy diet are eating the right amount of calories for your activity level and eating a wide range of foods to ensure that you’re receiving all the nutrients your body needs. By prioritizing great taste and ingredient guidelines, such as minimizing hydrogenated oils, trans fats and artificial ingredients, Walgreens Nice! products help take the guesswork out of making healthier choices. In an effort to simplify healthy living, the line’s packaging, products and ingredient standards were updated, and offerings now include organic and gluten-free options in addition to traditional baking goods and other general grocery items.

Get enough sleep.

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being, and can help improve your mental health, physical health and quality of life. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours per night for adults and 9-11 hours for school-aged children. If you find sleep elusive, try implementing a bedtime routine to send signals to your body that it’s time to sleep, avoid screen time immediately before lights out and eliminate caffeine after lunch.

Manage stress.

Between juggling a career, family and other commitments, it’s easy to find things to stress over. Practices such as meditation and yoga can help to better manage stress. Setting aside time for a favorite hobby can also help relieve stress and focus on an activity you enjoy. Aside from mental and emotional impacts, stress can also impact your physical health, so it’s important to identify coping mechanisms that reduce overall stress.

Be social.

Making time to socialize with friends and family is an important part of living a long and healthy life. Even if your schedule is packed, try to block out time at least once a week to spend with family and friends.

Break bad habits.

Whatever their nature, work to break bad habits by first acknowledging the problem then working to replace the negativity with alternatives that make a more positive impact on your life. Even a negative attitude can bring you down.

To discover more ways to make healthy lifestyle choices, visit walgreens.com/nice.

 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

 

 

October 18, 2017 |

Chronic Conditions More Common in African-Americans

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(Family Features) Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke are among the most common causes of illness, disability and death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These chronic conditions and the factors that lead to them can be more common or severe in minorities, including African-Americans.

For example, African-Americans are 40 percent more likely than Caucasians to have high blood pressure, and the rate of diagnosed diabetes is 77 percent higher among African-Americans than Caucasians, according to the CDC. The average life expectancy among African-Americans is also lower, at 75.1 years, compared to 78.9 years for Caucasians.

Services like Chronic Care Management (CCM) can help people living with chronic conditions coordinate care services and lead to better outcomes and higher satisfaction.

If you are a Medicare beneficiary with two or more chronic conditions, ask your doctor about CCM and see if you’re eligible for connected care, including services such as:

  • At least 20 minutes a month of CCM services.
  • Personalized assistance from a dedicated health care professional who will work with you to create a care plan.
  • Coordination of care between your pharmacy, specialists, testing centers, hospitals and more.
  • Phone check-ins between visits to keep you on track.
  • Emergency access to a health care professional 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Expert assistance with setting and meeting your health goals.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Health Resources and Service Administration introduced the “Connected Care” campaign to help raise awareness about the benefits of CCM. The campaign has free resources, including an animated video that can help you learn more.

Talk to your doctor to see if CCM is available to you and visit Medicare.gov to learn more about the benefits of the program.

 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

 

October 11, 2017 |

5 Ways Pups Cans Improve Seniors’ Health

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(Family Features) Furry friends can play a significant role in pet owners’ lives. The old saying goes, “dogs are man’s best friend,” and research shows they may be more than that. In fact, they just might be the key to keeping seniors active.

According to a study conducted by the University of Lincoln and Glasgow Caledonian University in collaboration with Mars Petcare Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, dog owners 65 and older were found to walk over 20 minutes more a day than seniors who did not have canine companions at home.

The study documented three key conclusions:

  1. Dog owners walked further and for longer than non-dog owners.
  2. Dog owners were more likely to reach recommended activity levels.
  3. Dog owners had fewer periods of sitting down.

“Older adult dog owners are more active than those without dogs and are also more likely to meet government recommendations for daily physical activity,” said Nancy Gee, human animal interaction researcher at Waltham. “We are learning more every day about the important roles pets play in our lives, so it’s no surprise that pets are now in more than 84 million households. It’s great to recognize how pets can help improve seniors’ lives.”

Walking with your pup can help both the pet and owner get in shape. Pets can keep older adults active and even help them meet the recommended public health guidelines for weekly physical activity. According to the study, on average, dog owners more often participated in 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity and achieved 2,760 additional steps.

However, the benefits of pet ownership go beyond physical activity. It’s no secret that pets provide companionship. From reducing rates of stress, depression and feelings of social isolation, pets can play a significant role in improving people’s lives, which ultimately can make pet owners happier and healthier.

Not only do pets serve as companions in their own right, studies have shown that dog owners can get to know their neighbors through their pets. Pets can even help facilitate the initial meeting and conversation, which may come as no surprise for many dog owners who have chatted with others while walking their dogs. For older adults who live alone or in a group facility, having a pet is also a great way to build relationships with others.

For more information on the benefits of pet ownership, visit bettercitiesforpets.com.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

October 4, 2017 |

3 Steps Toward Better Sleep

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(Family Features) With overscheduled days full of early-morning conference calls and endless to-do lists, it’s impossible to avoid the stress that comes with working hard. Hand-in-hand with all that pressure, a lack of quality sleep can lead to aches and pains, stiffness, sore muscles, tingling or numbness in your extremities, general fatigue, as well as an increased risk of getting sick.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night. In fact, a survey by Mattress Firm showed a correlation between stress and those who receive less sleep than recommended.

Twice as many stressed people get fewer than five hours of sleep each night compared to those who are not stressed. What’s more, those who are stressed are five times more likely to experience insomnia at least once a month.

The proper amount and quality of sleep can have a dramatic impact on your life. If you’re stressed and experiencing trouble sleeping, these tips from the sleep experts at Mattress Firm can help ensure you’re getting the rest you need to improve your sleep health.

Minimize technology use before you head to bed. The survey found that quality of sleep is negatively impacted because of stress-induced technology use. For example, those who are stressed are 60 percent more likely to watch TV an hour before bed, more than twice as likely to post to social media an hour before bed, twice as likely to check email an hour before bed and more than 40 percent more likely to sleep with their phones next to their beds.

Ensure your body is getting adequate support. What felt comfortable to sleep on eight years ago may not provide the support your body needs today. Your weight, pressure points, ailments, etc. can change over the course of time, so it’s important to check the mattress tag. If it’s more than 8 years old, it is time to replace it. Another way to make sure your body has the proper support and alignment is to figure out your sleep position and select the right pillows to support your body. This can help alleviate tossing and turning, and provide a more comfortable night of sleep.

Avoid nighttime snacking. About 24 percent of extremely stressed people indulge in a snack an hour before bed, according to the survey. There are many food and drink options that encourage a good night’s sleep more than others, such as tryptophan-rich foods like dairy, nuts and seeds, bananas, honey and eggs. Conversely, foods and medications with caffeine and foods with high-fat content should be avoided. The foods you choose are important, but also pay attention to the timing of when you eat and drink. Even fighting stress with an afternoon espresso can affect your ability to sleep hours later when your head hits the pillow.

 

Find more ideas for relaxing and achieving better sleep at dailydoze.com, and follow #WorkHardSleepHarder on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

September 27, 2017 |
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