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Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Why Medicare Advantage Is So Popular

Millions of seniors are choosing Medicare Advantage over traditional Medicare. Lower cost is just one of the reasons. 

Medicare Advantage is becoming increasingly popular. More than 43% of 63 million adults eligible for the Medicare healthcare program in 2022 decided to go with an Advantage plan, administered by private insurers that contract with the federal government. That’s up nearly 9% over last year alone. In August, Senior Spirit explored the pitfalls of Advantage plans, but there’s obviously a flip side to that coin. 

Vision, Hearing, Dental

Most Advantage plans bundle hospital (PartA), outpatient (Part B) and prescription drug (Part D) coverage. Nearly all of these plans offer additional benefits not covered by traditional Medicare. Consider that 99% of Advantage plans come with some coverage for eye exams or glasses, 97% will cover hearing exams and hearing aids, and 94% offer dental benefits.

New Law Delivers Medicare Benefits

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act delivers the biggest change to healthcare coverage since 2010’s Affordable Care Act, and seniors are the big winners. The law limits Medicare expenses for individuals in four ways: 
  • Part D prescription drug costs are capped at $2,000 (previously $7,000) out-of-pocket annually
  • Insulin cost is capped at $35 per month
  • Vaccines are now completely covered, with no co-pays
  • Expansion of the low-income drug subsidy

And at long last Medicare will be granted the authority to negotiate prescription drug prices. Beginning in 2026, Medicare can bargain on the cost of 10 retail drugs, which expands to 20 retail and 20 doctor-administered drugs by 2029, saving an estimated $288 billion over the coming decade.


Then there’s cost. With Medicare Advantage, the average older adult is out less than $3,400 for their insurance per year. Conversely, traditional Medicare costs about $5,000 annually, and a third of enrollees opt for a Medigap (supplemental) plan for up to $3,600 more. The senior with Advantage may pay more in copays and deductibles, but traditional Medicare and Medigap are pricier year in and year out, in good health years and bad. This difference can add up in a 30-year retirement.

Health Outcomes

Furthermore, Advantage enrollees tend to have better outcomes. They get more depression screenings and pneumonia vaccines. They have more visits for preventive care and go to the emergency room fewer times than their peers on traditional Medicare. And for those with complex, chronic conditions, Advantage beneficiaries are a whopping 57% less likely to end up in short-term hospitalization, according to an analysis done by the Better Medicare Alliance. 

What can account for this disparity? Traditional Medicare "has no quality care processes, no quality reports, and no quality standards or expectations at all,” according to George Halvorson, former Kaiser Permanente CEO. In Medicare Advantage, competing private insurers vie to offer the best coverage at the lowest price. Every Advantage plan is rated on a star system that considers overall quality and client satisfaction. In 2022, more than 70 Advantage plans got a coveted five-star rating … four times the number that achieved that status in 2021. 

Additional Benefits

Advantage plans compete with each other to offer perks. Two big ones for 2022 are Telehealth visits (95%) and fitness (97%), which may include a gym membership, cash rewards for healthy food purchases, and more. Most (81%) cover over-the-counter items, 67% offer meal benefits, and 38% come with transportation benefits. A few (8%) include bathroom safety and 10% have in-home support benefits. 

“There have also been additional benefits added to some Medicare Advantage plans for long-term care services,” says Cynthia Pruemm, investment advisor, founder and CEO of SIS Financial Group in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.  “Look for plans that cover adult day care, home safety modifications, meal delivery service, and transportation service, just to name a few.” These benefits often vary quite a bit from plan to plan. For instance, one plan may offer hearing aid coverage up to $2,000, while the limit is $400 with another company. Additionally, most plans mandate the use of the insurance company’s third-party vendor. And you will nearly always pay upfront and wait to get reimbursed. 

Still, these services are worth checking out. For example, Scan Health Plan covers 40 hours of in-home caregiving after a hospital discharge, complete with 28 days’ worth of home-delivered meals including breakfast, lunch and dinner. But read the fine print; some providers will offer different benefits to different enrollees, and all benefits are county and zip code specific. 

How to Find the Right Advantage Plan

Because of Medicare’s complexity and the variability between different plans, it is highly recommended that beneficiaries use a local insurance agent. It’s a great idea to peruse plans yourself at to familiarize yourself with available options first. But an agent who works with all the plans and has no incentive to steer you toward one insurer over another can help you pick the right one for your specific needs. You may want a plan that will allow you to keep the doctor you know, or you may prefer an insurer with many specialists in their network. 

Another option for expert advice is your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) office where you will get “trusted, unbiased, one-on-one counseling and assistance.” It’s free, and the people there know Medicare intimately since it is all they do. Finally, be sure to check out Senior Spirit’s technology article this month, where we look at apps to help you make the most of Medicare.

You’ll also need to review your plan annually to make sure it is still the best bet to fill your needs at the best price. Plans can, and do, change from year to year. However, you may find you save substantial money and receive valuable extra benefits by choosing a Medicare Advantage plan.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, October 24, 2022

Seniors, Ensure Heirs Know Your Passwords

If you died today, would someone you trust be able to access your accounts tomorrow to take care of bills, inheritance, finances, and more?

Older adults can forget how much of their financial (and often, social) life depends on the internet. After all, when their parents died, all they had to do was visit the local bank to take the will out of the safe deposit box, divvy up assets, go forward with a funeral and wrap up the estate. Today’s world is vastly different: if no one knows your passwords, settling your estate will be a nightmare.

Why Share Your Passwords?

Nowadays, one person might use an online-only bank for savings, a local bank to handle cash, and a credit union for its great rates on certificates of deposit. Bills may automatically debit several different accounts, and five or ten credit cards could be racking up points on everything from airlines to groceries. Venmo may pay friends, while the PayPal account could hold a refund from an online purchase. A digital wallet can be sitting on thousands of dollars in digital currency, while stocks and bonds are held in a variety of account types at a brokerage. And that’s just financial institutions. 

You can imagine how stressed and resentful your executor will be if you fail to give him or her the key to handle your affairs: your passwords. First and foremost, never succumb to the temptation to use a single password, or two or three, for all your online accounts. If your 2013 email gets hacked and the code was stored in unencrypted cleartext, thieves have your password. To check if your email is listed as breeched, go to Have I Been Pwned.

Making a List

One way to handle the password problem is to make a list and send it (but never by email!) to your executor or attorney for safekeeping. If you are most comfortable writing out passwords to each of your accounts, that’s perfectly fine. You can also make a spreadsheet or put them on a Word doc, then print it out and send via snail mail. However, you’ll have to update the list as you add new apps and update passwords if they expire.

It’s a good idea to store this list by your will and other sensitive documents. Make sure someone knows where these are. You may have known someone who died unexpectedly, only to leave relatives searching for days to try and find the will. One way to avoid this unfortunate circumstance is to leave these documents with an attorney or financial advisor, letting several trusted contacts know who this person is and how to get in touch.

Password Managers

There are basically three types of password manager: Apple’s iCloud Keychain, hosted password managers, and those that are self-managed. We will concentrate on the first two, which are the most commonly used.

All password managers will automatically suggest password combinations that are random and difficult to compromise. They also allow you to fill in the password of your choice, and they don’t care how long you make it. You may feel more comfortable writing down the password to your brokerage accounts, for example, than having it be random. Having longer, more difficult passwords, different for every account, is the first step in online security.

Apple’s iCloud Keychain

If you use the Safari browser on an Apple computer, you are in luck. Known for privacy and security, Apple doesn’t disappoint on their free iCloud service dubbed Keychain. It automatically stores the user’s account names and passwords, credit card information, and Wi-Fi network passwords across all trusted devices, including your iPhone. 

Give a trusted person the password to your Mac and he or she will be able to access all your accounts on your computer, simply by using Safari and clicking in the user and/or password boxes at any site you use. Banking, social media, brokerages, utilities and more can be accessed this way. 

But is it really safe? As safe as using a hosted password manager? The answer is yes. The data is wrapped in layers of security and stays protected even if your iCloud account is hacked, either by an external attack or if a third party managed to access user accounts. In fact, Apple can’t even read your data — so use Keychain with confidence. See more information on Keychain encryption methods. Another great feature of Keychain is that it can sync with new Apple devices, such as an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch. 

Hosted Password Managers

You can buy a service that will hold your passwords and make it relatively simple for an executor to gain access. 1Password has users create an emergency kit that enables someone else to log into your account. You can print it out or put it on a USB drive and tuck it somewhere safe and known to loved ones to access after your death. Keeper and Dashlane prompt you to set up an emergency contact within the app which grants the contact access after a certain waiting period if you don’t respond. 

Check out some of the best password managers. You’ll note that one, the open source Bitwarden, is available for free. If you’re unhappy with the first service you choose, don’t worry. Most password managers will allow you to export saved data or import it from competitors, so switching is possible.

Self-Managed Password Managers

Self-managed password managers include the popular KeePass. Great for techies who will thrive on keeping their own database safe and synced between devices, the hitch can be emergency access. You may want to build it in to your system, but make sure your trusted contact can identify how to access your database file and decrypt it. It has to work for you in your lifetime, AND be available to someone else when you’re no longer here. 

The bottom line is that we all need to use a password manager to secure our accounts, and we need to be able to pass on access for the day when we are gone. Pick one, set up your accounts, and sleep better knowing that you are protected now and in the future. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

How Much Do Seniors Know About Social Security?

Most (65%) older adults scored a “D” or “F” on this Social Security quiz comprised of 13 true or false questions. How does your knowledge stack up?  

Social Security payments will likely be a big part of most retirement plans. That’s why it was a surprise when MassMutual recently polled 1,500 older adults from age 55 to 65 and most got a failing grade. A mere 1% of respondents got a perfect score. It just goes to show that most of us need to brush up on our knowledge before we make any decisions about when to file for Social Security and the other big government program for our elder years, Medicare.

When Should You File? 

It is possible to calculate the optimal time when you should begin benefits by guesstimating your likely year of death (usually by using the history of close relatives) and then adjusting the benefits calculator with the number of years you will get paid.

While that makes sense if you are looking at Social Security in terms of dollars collected, you might need to reevaluate your frame of reference, according to a recent article in MarketWatch. Author Jim Blankenship argues that Social Security was always meant to function as insurance, more accurately, insurance against living longer than you think you will. That shift may cause you to change when you choose to tap into the program. 

For instance, a high earner may estimate the optimal time to start drawing benefits is at age 66, but it would be a much better move to put that off until later so that his wife, who is a lower earner, can take advantage of bigger payouts when he dies.

Many Americans Start Social Security Early 

It is no secret that inflation is up, increasing costs on everything from gasoline to milk. Amid this backdrop, many Americans (42% in 2022 vs. 36% a year ago) are choosing to put their hands on some cash in the form of Social Security benefits now, while continuing to work, according to a recent survey. They may not realize there are disadvantages to this scheme. 

First, if you claim Social Security at 62, the earliest age possible, you may give up as much as a 30% bigger check down the road. Second, some benefits will likely be held back if you are working before full retirement age. Consider waiting until then to claim Social Security to maximize what you get out of the program.

Most Americans will count on Social Security to provide them with much or all of their retirement income. It is important to do your own research to find out the best option for your particular situation.

“There are definite rules, definite deadlines and definite dates that need to be met,” says David Freitag, a financial planning consultant and Social Security expert at MassMutual. “Or you could discover after the fact that that oversight was very costly, if you’re not careful.”

One of the big questions is whether to file early, when you will be sacrificing the amount of your monthly payment in order to get more of them, or later, when waiting rewards you with a heftier check. A great place to start weighing the differences is on the agency’s My Social Security site, where you’ll find information about your own situation, with sliders so you can estimate payments according to a few different factors. 

Are you ready for that quiz? Here it is, with answers below.

Social Security benefits quiz: True or false?

  1. In most cases, if I take benefits before my full retirement age, they will be reduced for early filing.
  2. If I am receiving benefits before my full retirement age and continue to work, my benefits might be reduced based on how much I make.
  3. If I have a spouse, he or she can receive benefits from my record even if he or she has no individual earnings history.
  4. If I have a spouse and he or she passes away, I will receive both my full benefit and my deceased spouse’s full benefit.
  5. Generally, if I am in a same-sex marriage, there are different eligibility requirements when it comes to Social Security retirement benefits.
  6. The money that comes out of my paycheck for Social Security goes into a specific account for me and remains there, earning interest, until I begin to receive Social Security benefits.
  7. Under current law, Social Security benefits could be reduced by 20% or more for everyone by 2035.
  8. If I file for retirement benefits and have dependent children aged 18 or younger, they also may qualify for Social Security benefits.
  9. If I get divorced, I might be able to collect Social Security benefits based on my ex-spouse’s Social Security earnings history.
  10. Under current Social Security law, full retirement age is 65 no matter when you were born.
  11. If I delay taking Social Security benefits past the age of 70, I will continue to get delayed retirement credit increases each year I wait.
  12. Social Security retirement benefits are subject to income tax just like withdrawals from a traditional individual retirement account.
  13. I must be a US citizen to collect Social Security retirement benefits.


  1. True (89% got this right)
  2. True (82%)
  3. True (72%)
  4. False (68%)
  5. False (65%)
  6. False (62%)
  7. True (60%)
  8. True (58%)
  9. True (57%)
  10. False (56%)
  11. False (49%)
  12. False (42%)
  13. False (24%)

Still have questions? The MassMutual site includes lots of easily digested information to help you out. Start with the video that gives an overview of this potential $1 million benefit, then go on to charts and graphs that are supported by short explanations. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Tools and Apps That Work With Medicare

Choose a plan, share your health information, or even earn some extra money with these online apps for Medicare users.

Open enrollment for Medicare is upon us. It runs from October 15 through December 7, when you can opt to change your plan. New enrollees have seven months — three months before and after their birthday month — to sign up. While many seniors breathe a sigh of relief for attaining eligibility, there are a lot of choices to be made before you pick a plan. For a general overview of Medicare, go here or to the government Medicare site.

To review, Part A is for hospital and nursing home coverage, Part B covers doctors, outpatient costs, and durable equipment, Part C is Medicare Advantage that runs through private insurance companies, and Part D is for prescription drugs. 

If it feels like choosing the right Medicare plan is akin to deciphering the tax code, you are not alone. However, a couple of tools can kick-start the process for you. 

Choosing a Plan

AARP’s Medicare Question and Answer tool helps you navigate the program with input about your own situation. It will help with eligibility and enrollment parameters, and answer questions about plan “options, coverage and costs in an easy-to-understand manner.” It covers the gamut, from breaking down the late-enrollment penalty for Part A to explaining how to report Medicare fraud. AARP does a first-rate job of giving clear answers to a wide range of questions.

You can also try the Medicare government Plan Finder tool. Fill out information about how you usually use the health care system, and it will direct you to plans in your area that would be appropriate. Better yet, like the AARP tool, you can input the drugs you take along with your zip code, and it will recommend an optimal Plan D prescription drug program. That alone makes it worth the effort!

You might want to try an app like the Medicare PlanFinder. It will help you compare your existing employer’s health plan along with traditional Medicare, a Medicare supplement plan that covers some of the gaps in traditional Medicare, and Medicare Advantage options. It has a 4.2 star rating; some users have complained about giving out information like their doctor’s name or what drugs they take, but these determine which plans will work and the information is protected by privacy laws. 

Sharing Your Information

The government has “Blue Button” apps that are privately developed but authorized by Medicare to help with a variety of tasks related to Medicare. These apps not only help you find plans, but can make appointments, contact your doctor, and check your symptoms. You can also use the apps to share your medical information and claims with people that you approve. Lastly, they enable you to connect your claims data with research projects. As of this writing, there are 89 apps to choose from!

Making Money from Fitness

One app that is worth a write-up is Achievement. It is free, and using it can actually help you stay fit and pay you back in cold, hard cash. There are other apps that are similar, but Achievement is easy to use and plays well with other apps, making it a top choice. It has a 4.5 star rating after 3 million downloads.

So, how does it work? Register on the app, then connect the Apple Health app or another fitness app like FitBit. It will track your activity and reward you with points for different forms of exercise, up to 80 points per day. Then, you can earn more points for tracking what you eat, your sleep, weight, meditation, etc. Take advantage of bonus offers, such as 250 points for referring a friend and surveys that pay out extra points when completed. 

You’ll get paid $10 for 10,000 points, either via PayPal or with gift cards. Do the math, and that comes to about $30 a year for exercise alone. Not a jackpot, but it’s a meal out or a movie with popcorn. But you can jack that up to more than $200 by participating in those extra surveys, and that starts getting meaningful. 

Plus, if it gets you to exercise more often, then it’s worth it for the benefit to your overall health alone.

Medicare is complicated. Doing a little research with these apps and tools can help you optimize the program and get the most care for your dollars. It’s worth it to spend a little time now to get the best plan for your needs.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

How to Live Longer Without Exercising

A recent study emphasizes the amazing role of positive thinking on longevity. 

Movie icon Ingrid Bergman once said “getting old is like climbing a mountain; you get a little out of breath, but the view is much better.” Like Bergman, people who think in terms of what they gain as they age have an edge on everyone else, according to a 2022 paper by University Medicine Greifswald’s Susanne Wurm and Leibniz Institute for Resilience Research’s Sarah Schäfer. 

The German scholars found that you can actually have a longer life (and surely a better one!) by thinking about yourself and aging in positive terms. The authors looked at subjective age and views on aging, and what effect they had on lifespan. 

Perceptions are Key

Many of us have internalized negative perceptions of aging that can follow us throughout our lives. We may believe that senior citizens are uniformly grouchy and out of touch with the modern world. We likely even feel that way about ourselves at times. 

Lifestyle Factors Do Affect Lifespan

While it is entirely true that research shows positive thinking affects lifespan on its own, we can’t ignore that lifestyle factors have been shown to extend lifespan by a whopping 12 to 14 years. That’s a lot of time to volunteer at your favorite charity, contribute to the workforce, or guide the grandkids as they grow. So, remember to:
  • Get regular exercise
  • Keep at a healthy weight
  • Eat a diet rich in nutrients
  • Limit alcohol
  • Avoid smoking
The researchers found that it can happen via a series of incidents (“multiple thresholds”). Maybe we are confronted with a tech problem that we can’t figure out on our own, then we struggle at a task that used to be easy, and a month later a light goes out but dang if we can remember where we put the replacement bulb. We begin to think of ourselves as out of step and inept. 

We can turn around these negative perceptions by thinking in terms of gains, not losses. Of course, we all experience loss as we age, and it would be absurd to deny that reality. The trick is to be hopeful, and to expect good outcomes in spite of these losses. In other words, celebrate what we gain, and accept what we lose.

Positive People Live Longer

Wurm and Schäfer looked at a data set obtained from 1996 to 2019 of 2,400 Germans aged 40 to 85 at the beginning of the study. The authors controlled for physical illness, self-rated health, loneliness, life satisfaction, hope, and mood to concentrate on subjective perceptions of aging (SPA). They looked at death data in the group and sought to see what effect SPA had on longevity.

For example, if someone reported that, “Aging means to me that I can still learn new things,” they had a gain mentality. If they said, “For me, getting older means that I am less healthy” then they had a loss outlook. 

The authors concluded that, “In concrete terms, for individuals who perceived aging as less associated with ongoing development, mortality was about twice as high after 20 years compared to individuals with more gain-related SPA." This held true whether they were looking at the study participants who were in middle age or those who were much older. 

Gain Mentality

So how do we get a gain mentality? Think about what your life experience has brought you. You may take a little longer to figure out an issue with your computer, but you know how to work hundreds of other gadgets, cook a book’s worth of recipes, or care for a plethora of plants and trees. You can probably get a baby to sleep and settle an argument with calm wisdom. You have a treasure trove of knowledge and skills to call on, and it’s all due to age. 

A landmark 2019 study echoes the finding of the German paper. It found that positive thinking could result in a lifespan that was 11-15% longer than that of other seniors, even when controlled for gender, age, income, depression, and status of health. Those with positive thinking were more likely to have less stress, improved immunity, and a lower risk of heart disease. 

Those who start with a positive outlook on aging from a young age have a greater chance of living longer, according to research. Seniors can take this as encouragement to model positive attitudes in front of grandchildren and other youth. Learn new skills … especially ones the kids teach you! 

Getting old isn’t always easy. We have all experienced hardship and loss. But counting the years in friends and smiles, as John Lennon suggested, will extend and enrich our lives.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Famous & 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

Find out which celebrities are turning 65 this month!

Image Source: Wikipedia

October 2 - Russell Simmons, record executive

Cofounder of the hip-hop record label Def Jam Recordings, Simmons signed talent including the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Jay Z, and Kanye West. He also created clothing lines Phat Farm, Argyleculture, and Tantris, giving Simmons a net worth of about $340 million back in 2011. 

Simmons has been a vegan for about 20 years and has spent the last five years residing in Bali, a “yoga and vegan Disneyland,” according to him. Simmons has written several books about entrepreneurship and living a healthy lifestyle, including Success Through Stillness and The Happy Vegan. Simmons also coproduced The Nutty Professor starring Eddie Murphy, and co-founded RushCard, a prepaid debit card, in 2003.

Along with his brothers, Simmons created the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation which helps about 3,000 underserved youth annually and maintains a pair of galleries to show their work and that of other emerging artists. Simmons is a strong social activist and is a senior advisor for vegan, meatless burger brand Everything Legendary that closed a $6 million series A round earlier this year.

Image Source: Wikipedia

October 7 - Jayne Torvill, ice dancer

Calling Jayne Torvill an ice dancer is like calling Michael Jordan a basketball player. Along with partner Christopher Dean, Torvill transcended the sport when the pair won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics performing to Ravel’s Bolero. They got 12 perfect 6.0 marks, one of five times when all the judges gave them the top score for artistic impression. 

Torvill fell in love with skating at age eight, and six years later she and then-partner Michael Hutchinson were the British National Pairs Champion. She teamed up with Dean in 1975 and the two took fifth place in the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid. At that, the two gave up their day jobs, she as an insurance clerk and Dean as a policeman, to skate full time.

The pair turned professional after their Olympic triumph and weren’t allowed to compete in the Olympics again. However, the International Skating Committee eased the rules for eligibility in 1993 and Torvill and Dean were once again on the program for the 1994 Olympics, a full decade after their big win. In an extremely physically demanding sport that favors young bodies, the pair managed to bring home a bronze medal. 

Torvill took a break from skating from 1998 to 2005, then began starring with Dean in the show Dancing on Ice. In 2014 the pair returned to Sarajevo for the 30th anniversary of the 1984 Olympics and danced their winning routine (with modifications!) in front of an adoring crowd.

Image Source: Wikipedia

October 21 - Steve Lukather, rock singer

Apart from being lead guitarist for the band Toto, Steve Lukather is one of the most prolific session guitarists of all time. He has played with musicians ranging from Aretha Franklin, Boz Scaggs, and Warren Zevon to contributing on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. You can hear Lukather’s work on more than 1,500 albums across 36 years. Part of his talent is being able to record tracks quickly, often in one take and with little sound processing. 

But fans may know Lukather best for his long tenure with Toto. He met David Paich and brothers Jeff, Steve, and Mike Porcaro in high school; all would become members of the band. Jeff Porcaro, who began playing drums for the band Steely Dan in 1973, helped Lukather to find session work. In 1976, the band Toto was formed. 

Lukather would serve as the band’s lead guitarist the entire time it was in existence, while other members came and went. Three of his five Grammy Awards came via the band, two for his work as an artist and one as a producer. If you want to catch Lukather live, check when side band Nerve Bundle will be playing at The Baked Potato in Studio City, CA. Just don’t expect to hear any Toto hits: no “Africa,” “Rosanna” or “Hold the Line.”


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors