16 October 2009

There's A Million Stories in the Naked City

This morning, I was featured in the Tyler Morning Telegraph's lead story about the fact that Social Security recipients will get no cost-of-living increase next year. Before the morning shadows had regressed more than a few inches, I got a phone call at home from Mrs. Bxxxxxxxx, an 81-year old widow living in a local long-term care facility...(isn't long-term a bit of an oxymoron when you're 81?).

But, never mind that, for the nonce, there's more important issues involved. Mrs. B is a bright, intelligent and well-spoken person with an utterly charming European accent. She is also the sort of person that does not want to "burden" her children but admits that from time-to-time she has considered presenting them a bill for every time she changed one of their diapers.

I write this description so you will know that she is not the sort of old, doddering, foolish and flighty stereotypical "old women in a home" that younger, more crass individuals so often conjure up in their mind. She is a sharp woman, and she is pissed because she's been badly served by the system.

Back when the Medicare prescription plan (Part D) was enacted she got a publication from Medicare that told her that in Texas there were certain insurance companies that would provide her coverage. Since Medicare provided the information, the companies must be legit, right? One wants to assume such, regardless one's age. Well, Mrs. B and her adult children got together and studied the situation and decided that since the premium charged by Humana (around $11.00) was the lowest and their coverages seemed in line with other company's, they would go with Humana.

Yesterday, she received notice from Humana that next year's premium would rise to $41.40 from the $37.30 that it was this year.

"Hold on Shane", you bellow, "we know you're weak on math being a liberal arts major and all, but how did we get from $11.00 to $37.30 in a period of only four years or so?" About a 400% increase isn't it?"

Rather unabashedly, I answer, "Yep, therein is the problem. Humana jacked up her rates as they did every other senior they suckered into their Medicare prescription drug plan". And, just so you know, I do have a dog in this scrap, as the same damned numbers apply to my wife's Humana policy.

Her story gets even uglier. When she retired, her H.R. people told her she would remain on their health insurance plan through Prudential, so she declined Medicare Part B. Yet, when she submitted a claim to Prudential they kicked it back saying it was denied because her coverage terminated when she left active employment. Badly frightened, she called in the big guns, her lawyer son, who leaned on Prudential and got them to pay the claim and extend coverage for one year based on a "misunderstanding."

Medicare, however, doesn't do "misunderstandings". When she went to sign up for Part B, she was penalized 10% for failing to sign up when it was first available to her a couple of years earlier, and that penalty established her Part B rate for the future--it was not a one-time bite or penalty!

Now, since Social Security is her only source of income, that "bite" for Part B, and the Humana premium all come out of that monthly check. Which proves my point in the newspaper story that a one-time boost of $250 or even a COLA adjustment would be welcome, seniors face bigger problems with daily decisions regarding health care costs versus basic necessities such as food and shelter.

The upshot of our conversation was that she wasn't asking for help or sympathy, she just wanted to express gratitude that the Alliance for Retired Americans was fighting on her behalf to change things.

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