Coming August 2012 – a new

We’re getting ready to unveil a redesigned that will make it easier and faster for you to get answers to your Medicare questions. With the new website, you’ll find more ways to get to information you need, like costs, covered services and items, and plans that fit your needs. In the meantime, keep visiting – the official online source for your Medicare information.


You’re not alone – caregivers share their stories

Even when it’s a labor of love, caring for an aged, seriously ill or disabled friend or family member can be hard, and you may wonder whether anybody can understand what you’re going through. Actually, many people can relate to your situation—did you know nearly 66 million Americans serve as caregivers? It’s difficult to wrap your mind around a number that large, which is why we created Caregiver Stories.

Meet James Patterson. James became a caregiver to his wife on New Year’s Day 2005, after she was hospitalized with complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As with many others in his situation, he didn’t just wake up that day and choose to become a caregiver. “It’s a very long process, becoming a caregiver, and you never realize you’ve begun until you have a chance to reflect.”

According to James, being a caregiver is a big responsibility, one that can be isolating. “I think men, in particular, tend to think they can handle everything themselves and are not as comfortable asking for help,” he says. “That’s a mistake—it’s important to get help when you need it and have support structures in place.”

James suggests that caregivers take some time for themselves when and if they can. Two or 3 times a week, he has a caregiving helper come and stay with his wife for a few hours.

“These breaks are extremely important because I can get chores or errands done or go play a game of golf,” he explains. “As a caregiver, you can never really get away—you’re always there. But, if you can find time for something else and get away from your daily routine even for a short while, it can be very rejuvenating.”

Although the physical demands are great, he also notes the emotional weight that many caregivers carry. “A struggle I deal with as a caregiver is that you don’t always get a ‘thank you’ for your hard work because it becomes expected and part of the routine, which can sometimes make you frustrated or angry. However, my actions are just part of our way of our life, so ‘thank-yous’ aren’t needed or expected anymore, and when one comes along, it’s a really big deal.”

His “best advice” for new caregivers: “Be patient and be in it for the long haul. Get as much information as possible and know that people are there to support you.” James describes the resources at Ask Medicare and the National Institute on Aging as invaluable. “They cover everything from bathing to hygiene to incontinence. I’m learning something new every day. I can show the materials available to my wife and we can read them together so she can help me help her.”

If James’ story inspired you or gave you food for thought about your caregiver experience, then please consider sharing your best tips and lessons. Write about your experience and send a photo to–we may add your story to our website!

Choosing quality health care every step of the way

It can be a bit intimidating to choose a hospital for surgery or to make plans for when you’re discharged.  Whenever you or a loved one with Medicare moves from one health care setting to another, use Hospital Compare, Home Health Compare and Nursing Home Compare to help you make smooth and safe transitions.

If you need surgery, make sure you and your plan of care team find a provider that meets your needs. Hospital Compare lets you compare up to 3 hospitals in your area to see how they did with different situations, such as giving their surgery patients an antibiotic at the right time to help prevent infection. It will also tell you about patient experience, such as the percentage of patients who reported “yes,” they would definitely recommend the hospital. Next, use our discharge planning checklist to help plan your next steps.

Where will you go once you’ve left the hospital? You might need home health services if your family and friends can’t effectively care for you and you’re not able to leave home without considerable effort. Medicare covers the cost of home health care if you’re eligible and your doctor says you need them.

You can use Home Health Compare to see how often a home health agency used best practices when caring for its patients and whether its patients got better in certain important areas of care. Once you narrow down your choices, our 12-point home health agency checklist can help you choose an agency that meets your needs.

In some cases, you and your plan of care team may decide you need to go to a nursing home instead of getting home health services. Medicare doesn’t cover most nursing home costs. Under certain limited conditions, Medicare will pay some nursing home costs if you need skilled nursing or rehabilitation services. Nursing Home Compare can help you find detailed information about every Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing home in the country. Once you narrow down your choices, use our nursing home checklist to help you judge the places you call or visit.

You and your plan of care team have many important decisions to make whenever you move from a hospital to home health care or to a nursing home. Let our checklists and Hospital Compare, Home Health Compare and Nursing Home Compare help you make informed choices.

Stay healthy when traveling abroad

Got your passport? Check. Change of clothes? Check. Trip insurance? Check. Additional health care coverage? What?

You take time checking into airfare, hotels, and sightseeing adventures, so why not make sure you know what your health care covers when you go on vacation?  This is especially important if you’re traveling outside the U.S.

Original Medicare generally doesn’t cover care you get abroad—however, you are covered if you visit Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, or the Northern Mariana Islands, as they’re considered part of the U.S.

If you take a cruise, you may be covered by Medicare if the ship’s doctor is allowed to provide medical services under certain laws and the ship is closer than 6 hours away from a U.S. port. Medicare won’t cover services you get if your ship is further away than 6 hours from a U.S. port.

In rare cases, Medicare will pay for inpatient hospital services you get in Canada or Mexico. For example, you may be covered if you’re in the U.S. when a medical emergency happens and a Canadian or Mexican hospital is closer than the nearest U.S. hospital that can treat the emergency.

Visit “Medicare Coverage Outside the United States” for more details on what Medicare covers when you’re on a cruise or out of the country.

Also, keep healthy by being aware of local health conditions at your destination. The Centers for Disease Control’s Traveler’s Health Web page has health information for travel to more than 200 international destinations. Bon Voyage!

Spread the Word: Better Health is in Your Hands

Medicare has always covered preventive services to keep you healthy, and you already know how important they are. But did you know that your family and friends can also take advantage of them–even if they don’t have Medicare?

Under the health care law, many insurance companies must cover free preventive health services like yearly wellness visits, immunizations, some cancer screenings, and more. Your loved ones won’t have to pay a copayment or coinsurance, or meet a deductible, as long as they get these services from a provider in their plan’s network.

Taking advantage of these benefits is an easy and important way for your family and friends to stay healthy. Preventive benefits can keep them from getting certain diseases, or can help them find health problems early, when treatment works best.

Better health is in your hands–but not just your health. Talk with your friends and family so they can join the millions of Americans who are already using these benefits. By spreading the word today, you can help keep them healthy for all those tomorrows you want to enjoy.

Need more information?

  •          Review a full listing of covered preventive services for women, adults, and children.
  •          Talk to your doctor to see which preventive services are right for you.