5 ways to become an informed Medicare consumer

Each day, you make important choices about your finances, health, privacy, and more.

During National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), the first week of March, non-profit organizations and government agencies focus on helping you take advantage of your rights and make better-informed choices.

Medicare has 5 things you can do to help you become an informed Medicare consumer:

1.     Know your rights. As a person with Medicare, you have certain rights and protections designed to help protect you and make sure you get the health care services the law says you can get.

2.     Protect your identity. Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information without your consent to commit fraud or other crimes. Keep the following personal information safe:

  • Your name
  • Your Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Your Medicare number (or your membership card if you’re in a Medicare Advantage or other Medicare health plan)
  • Your credit card and bank account numbers

Get more information on how to protect yourself from identity theft.

3.     Help fight Medicare fraud. Medicare fraud takes money from the Medicare program each year, which means higher health care costs for you. Learn how to report fraud.

4.     Get involved with other seniors with the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP). The SMP educates and empowers people with Medicare to take an active role in detecting and preventing health care fraud and abuse.

5.     Make informed Medicare choices. Each year during the fall Open Enrollment Period (October 15–December 7), review your plan to make sure it’s going to meet your needs for the following year. If you’re not satisfied with your current plan, you can switch during the Open Enrollment Period.

Visit NCPW to learn more about the campaign, see which agencies and organizations are able to help you, and to find out if there are any NCPW activities happening in your area.
Also, check out our videos for tips on preventing Medicare fraud and see how seniors are learning to stop, spot, and report fraud.

Medicare helps you with better nutrition

The saying may go “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but that’s not the whole truth. While apples are healthy and delicious, there are many other important factors in having a nutritious diet.

69% of U.S. adults are considered overweight or obese. An unhealthy body weight puts you at a greater risk for many diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. However, a healthy diet and exercise can help you lower these risks and better your overall health. Not sure how to get started? Medicare can help.

Medicare covers 15-minute face-to-face individual behavioral therapy sessions and 30-minute face-to-face group behavioral counseling sessions to help you lose weight if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. Find out if you qualify for this service.

The Million Hearts® Healthy Eating & Lifestyle Resource Center can be a good resource in getting or maintaining a healthy diet. Million Hearts is a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. The resource center was developed in partnership with EatingWell magazine and features calorie-controlled, heart-healthy recipes for you and your family.

Planning and understanding your diet can help you stay on track. The SuperTracker on ChooseMyPlate.gov can help you plan, analyze, and track your diet and physical activity.

Start off National Nutrition Month right by having a nutritious diet and becoming a healthier you.

Saving Dollars Makes Sense, with Medicare

With rising prices on essentials like groceries, you’re not alone if you’re keeping a close eye on your wallet. Many Americans are facing financial challenges today, and health care costs are no exception. Luckily, there are many ways you can save money on your health care costs if you have Medicare.

If you have limited income and resources, you may qualify for Medicaid – a joint federal and state program that helps with Medical costs. Even if you don’t qualify for Medicaid, there are other programs that may help you pay for your Medicare premiums and other costs.

The 4 Medicare Savings Programs are:

  1. Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) Program
  2. Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) Program
  3. Qualifying Individual (QI) Program
  4. Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (QDWI) Program

If you qualify for Medicaid or a Medicare Savings Program, you’ll also get Extra Help paying for your prescription drugs automatically. If you don’t automatically qualify Extra Help, you can apply online at SSA.gov.

It’s important to call or fill out an application if you think you could qualify for savings—even if your income or resources are higher than the amounts listed on Medicare.gov. These amounts change yearly, and there may be another savings program you are eligible for depending on your specific situation. To find out if you are eligible for savings through one of these programs, call your State Medicaid Program.

This Valentine’s Day, give yourself the gift of a healthy heart

Although popular love songs might tell you otherwise, a broken heart can’t kill you – but heart disease can. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, taking 600,000 lives each year.

You might not be able to avoid Cupid’s arrow, but you can take steps to lower your risks and prevent heart disease. Start by scheduling an appointment with your doctor to discuss whether you’re at risk for heart disease.

Medicare will cover a cardiovascular screening at no cost to you every 5 years. The screening includes tests to help detect heart disease early and measures cholesterol, blood fat (lipids), and triglyceride levels.

If you and your doctor discover that you’re at risk for a heart attack or stroke, there are steps you can take to help prevent these conditions. You might be able to make lifestyle changes (like changing your diet and increasing your activity level or exercising more often) to lower your cholesterol and stay healthy.

February is American Heart month, so start it off right by visiting the Million Hearts® Healthy Eating & Lifestyle Resource Center. Million Hearts is a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. The resource center was developed in partnership with EatingWell magazine. It features lower sodium, heart-healthy recipes and family-friendly meal plans to help manage sodium intake, a major contributor to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Check out our video for more information about the Million Hearts initiative.

 

Choosing a dialysis facility just got easier

Are you the kind of shopper who reads reviews or looks at ratings before you make a purchase? Wouldn’t it be helpful to have the same kind of ratings when choosing a dialysis facility?

It can be overwhelming when you’re faced with having to choose a health care provider. Providers and facilities differ in the safety and quality of care they give, and having quality ratings available to compare providers can help you make more informed health care decisions. That’s why we’ve made it easier to use the information on our Dialysis Facility Compare (DFC) site by adding star ratings.

Compare websites are the official source for information about the quality of health care providers, and star ratings are just one of many ways we’re working to make quality information easier to understand and compare. These ratings are based on an established and respected process for developing standards. The DFC rating gives a 1 to 5-star rating based on information about the quality of care and services that a dialysis facility provides. Right now, we do this based on 9 quality measures.

The DFC ratings are just one example of how we’re commited to helping you make informed health care decisions. Our Nursing Home Compare site already uses star ratings to help consumers compare nursing homes and choose one based on quality. Physician Compare has just started to include star ratings in certain situations for physician group practices. We’re planning on adding star ratings to Hospital Compare and Home Health Compare later this year.

Protect yourself – get screened for cervical cancer

Did you know all women are at risk for cervical cancer, and it occurs most often in women over 30? Fortunately, Medicare covers 2 types of screening test – the Pap smear and human papilloma virus (HPV) test – that can help find cancer and other health problems early and improve recovery and survival rates.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Watch our Cervical Health Awareness Month video and visit our cervical & vaginal cancer screenings page to learn what these tests do and how often they’re covered.

Also, visit the National Cervical Cancer Coalition website to find ways you can raise awareness about cervical cancer and how you can make a difference.

Are you at high risk for glaucoma?

Do you have diabetes or a family history of glaucoma? Are you African American and 50 or older, or are you Hispanic American and 65 or older? If so, your risk of getting glaucoma may be higher, but don’t worry – Medicare covers a glaucoma test once every 12 months for people at high risk for glaucoma.

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Find out more about Medicare’s glaucoma screening coverage. Also, visit the Prevent Blindness website to see how you can join the ongoing fight against vision loss.