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Old Timey Halloween

Wind, rain, snow, flood and fire. It sounds Biblical, doesn't it. And at least 50 dead.

Millions left in the dark and cold for how long no one knows. An unknown number of homes flattened. Entire neighborhoods gone, just gone.

There will be no Halloween this year for thousands and thousands of little kids. For the unaffected others, however, life should go on.

For thee and me, a small respite from the shattering events. From 1952, Donald Duck with Huey, Dewey, Louie and Hazel the witch.

There is a little note for you again today at The Elder Storytelling Place today.

Big Effin' Deal from Jan Adams

UPDATE NO. 3: I've edited or removed several comments urging people to vote for certain items in three or four different states. This blog and this post are not a political billboard. Please, no electioneering.

UPDATE NO. 2: If the video below is missing, it is due to YouTube being intermittently unavailable as a result of Sandy. Check back later.

UPDATE EARLY TUESDAY MORNING: I wrote this post over the weekend to help give me some time off this week but now there is Sandy.

Taking nothing away from California Prop34 and Jan Adams, please feel free to also discuss the mega-storm in the comments below. I'm surely interested in hearing from readers who are affected and I'm sure others are too.

category_bug_politics.gif In case you've been wondering where Time Goes By's Gay and Gray column has been for most of this year, blame it on the writer, Jan Adams, who keeps her own blog at Can It Happen Here?

Jan took on a most important and heavily time-consuming project in 2012 – the effort to repeal the death penalty in California, and it's making astonishing progress.

Just last week, the endeavor got great notices at Hullabaloo and Talking Points Memo on the same day.

TPM reported that polling on Proposition 34 was at a statistical dead heat. Here, from Jan's blog, is the best video about it:

In case you missed any of the points, here they are in writing:

The death penalty is no BLEEPING laughing matter. But when you learn that the death penalty will cost California tax payers $1 billion dollars over the next 5 years, it costs a lot less to keep someone in jail for life than it is to put them on death row, it does not deter crime and make our communities safer and the US has sentenced 140 innocent people to death since 1973, it can be viewed as a joke!

VOTE YES on Prop 34 to replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole in California.

Hey, Californians, please do that. If Prop 34 passes, to a great extent it will be due to Jan's hard work all year and as such things often happen, it could be the beginning of a death penalty rollback in other states.

There is another little note for you at The Elder Storytelling Place today.

Autumn Slide Show

category_bug_journal2.gif Most of my weekend was lost to setting up a new computer and I consider that an excellent reason to slow down for a few days. Even with better tools for transferring data than last time I did this almost seven years ago, a lot of it is frustrating and it still takes forever to tame the new machine.

The old one has been wonky for several months so I'm no longer nervous about a shutdown or crash or fried hard disc now. Still, some time away from it is warranted.

I haven't decided when I'll make a full-fledged return, but it will be in time for a lead-up to election day and I've prepared a few little things to fill in for me while I step back this week.

Today it's a little slide show of some snaps I've taken over the past couple of weeks.

Every now and then, a perfect weather day comes along. This was one of them: blue sky, a feathery trail of white cloud, brilliant, bust-out yellow against the green.

Yellow Tree

When the pathway to the mailbox is this colorful, you wish they delivered twice a day like long ago:

Sometimes I've missed the more exuberant fall color there is in the east. Most of the trees in the northwest are evergreen, so there's not the riot of color as in New England. But in my third fall here now, I think each kind of autumn has its charms.


When it rains a lot and the temperature is not too low, mushrooms pop up all around here. I wish I knew if these were edible.


Maybe you recall that I've mentioned my new project, the history of old age. I've been collecting books and other materials I need which I finally pulled together in one place so they're not scattered in several rooms where I was losing track of what I wanted.

History of Aging

Now it's time to play Where's Waldo. Well, not quite. This is Where's Ollie the Cat? Can you find him?


Here's the old dear being almost cooperative for a photo.


There is a little note for you at The Elder Storytelling Place today.

ELDER MUSIC: Top 10 Albums

PeterTibbles75x75This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

category_bug_eldermusic These aren’t really my top 10 albums, otherwise Bob Dylan, The Band and Van Morrison would more than overflow this category. I’ll restrict myself to a single representative album from each person (or band) so we’ll have 10 different artists.

I’m also excluding “Best of” box sets, “Greatest Hits” and the like; this is just for albums as they were originally released. It is also the non-classical, non-jazz, non-blues version. For those, you’ll have to wait another day.

Everyone’s choices will be different. These are mine.

The Band Album Covers

THE BAND produced the best popular music album ever, simply called “The Band.” They also produced the second best with “Stage Fright” as well as another that’s in the running, “Northern Lights, Southern Cross.”

I’ve featured several songs from these albums (and others) from The Band. You can find them here. Therefore, I’ll choose a different one from the ones in that column. This is When You Awake from the album “The Band.”

♫ The Band - When You Awake

Van Morrison Albums

VAN MORRISON is represented by three great albums in a row: “Astral Weeks,” “Moondance” and “His Band and Street Choir.” Any of these would give The Band a run for their money in the best album stakes.

Van first came to international prominence as the singer for the R&B band Them from Belfast, Northern Ireland. After Them, he recorded a solo album that produced “Brown Eyed Girl.” His contract was bought by Warner Brothers and he was allowed three sessions to produce the album “Astral Weeks.”

It just goes to show you don’t need months to produce one of the finest albums ever recorded. Quite a lot of talented musicians helps though. I’m not going with that album; it’s the next one. Here is Van with And It Stoned Me from “Moondance.”

♫ Van Morrison - And It Stoned Me

Bob Dylan Five Covers

Take your pick of BOB DYLAN. There’s “Bringing it All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Blonde on Blonde,” “Blood on the Tracks” and, just to annoy hard-core Bob fans, “New Morning.”

There are also the last several albums he’s made that really deserve consideration as well, just when we thought there were no more great albums left in him.

I’m going for something from the first of those mentioned, the song She Belongs to Me. Apparently this was written about Nico who sang a couple of songs on the Velvet Underground’s debut album but wasn’t part of that group – this was at Andy Warhol’s insistence.

♫ Bob Dylan - She Belongs To Me

The Dillards - Wheatstraw Suite

There’s always some contention about who invented country rock (as if we care). Was it The Byrds or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band? Another contender would be Rick Nelson whose backing band went on to back Linda Ronstadt. From there they went out on their own as The Eagles.

I think there was someone before all of them - THE DILLARDS. They started out as a straight blue grass band and then went electric before this was common. Hell, they were the first to do so, okay, the first blue grass band to do so.

They produced an album that should be any serious collector’s top ten ever, called “Wheatstraw Suite.” If you can find it, that is. It was released for sale as a CD for about a minute and a half. This is a track from that album, Lemon Chimes.

♫ The Dillards - Lemon Chimes

Jimmy Cliff - The Harder They Come

JIMMY CLIFF starred in a rather good film called The Harder They Come, the first from Jamaica that made an impact on the outside world. He, along with several other reggae artists, recorded the sound track album for this. You can hear several other tracks from the album here.

Jimmy made an impression on the outside world (and in Jamaica) some time before Bob Marley. After nearly 50 years in the business, Jimmy is still recording, touring and singing. You Can Get It If You Really Want.

♫ Jimmy Cliff - You Can Get It If You Really Want

The Byrds - Sweetheart of the Rodeo

Now to the album that’s generally credited with inventing country rock, even if, as mentioned earlier, perhaps it didn’t. This came about when THE BYRDS recruited the great, tragic Gram Parsons. Gram set about transforming the group in his own image.

Original group member Chris Hillman probably rather liked the idea as he started his career as a country mandolin picker. He also went on to form The Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram to extend what they had done with The Byrds.

The Byrds’ album I’m referring to is “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.”  Gram sang lead on quite a number of the tracks on the album but later McGuinn stripped his vocals from most of them and re-recorded them himself.

Fortunately, the reissued CD and the box set of The Byrds also contained the original versions by Gram. This song isn’t one of those but it demonstrates the characteristic harmony singing for which The Byrds were renowned, One Hundred Years from Now.

♫ The Byrds - One Hundred Years from Now

Judy Collins - In My Life

JUDY COLLINS started her musical life as a classical pianist and she made an appearance playing Mozart at age 13. Later she became enchanted by folk music and switched instruments to the guitar.

She recorded several albums of folk tunes and songs by then up-coming singer/songwriters. However, Judy was not one to stand still musically, as was evident early in her musical life.

She started recording what are called art songs, as well as other types, such as classical songs. This started in her album “In My Life,” named after the Lennon/McCartney song featured on the disk. Judy reverts to folk singing mode with this song from England, Liverpool Lullaby.

♫ Judy Collins - Liverpool Lullaby

Tom Rush - Take a Little Walk With Me

Even before Bob Dylan had done it, the quintessential folkie, TOM RUSH, went electric with his album “Take a Little Walk With Me.” The album had Tom covering old rock & roll songs on one side (plus one of his own) and regular folk-style songs, backed by the incomparable Bruce Langhorne on guitar, on the other.

Rather than one of the full-tilt rock & roll tunes, I’ll go for something on the “other side,” Joshua Gone Barbados, a song written by Eric Von Schmidt. Tom’s album “The Circle Game” deserves a mention in the Top 10 as well.

♫ Tom Rush - Joshua Gone Barbados

The Grateful Dead - American Beauty

Like many mentioned already, the GRATEFUL DEAD came up with three fine albums in a row. They were “Live Dead,” “Workingman’s Dead” and the pick of the bunch “American Beauty.”

The Dead were best known for their live shows and their records generally left a lot to be desired apart from these three.

To quote from their song today, okay - paraphrase it, the Dead went on the longest, strangest trip in popular music with the most dedicated fan base of anyone.

They became stars through persistence and hard work, not an attribute usually ascribed to hippie bands. They treated their fans with respect, something a lot of other performers could learn from. Anyway, this is Truckin’.

♫ The Grateful Dead - Truckin'

Willie Nelson - Red Headed Stranger

Back in 1975, WILLIE NELSON recorded a gem of an album, a masterpiece. This was short but perfectly formed. The bigwigs at Columbia Records didn’t want to release it; they couldn’t imagine that anyone would buy the thing. However, it went on to sell millions and opened Willie up to the vast rock audience who took him into their collective hearts.

Most of the album is just Willie singing and playing his distinctive acoustic guitar accompanied by his sister Bobbie on piano. Now and then other instruments appear briefly. As I mentioned, the album is short. Most of the tracks are as well. Here are two of them, Denver and O'er the Waves. Really just a single tune.

♫ Willie Nelson - Denver and O'er The Waves

Honorable mentions: Guy Clark “Dublin Blues” and “South Coast of Texas." Ian Tyson “Cowboyography.” Maria Muldaur “Maria Muldaur.” Tom Russell “Cowboy Real.” Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On.” Jackson Browne “Late for the Sky.”

INTERESTING STUFF: 27 October 2012

We have featured videos of Henri the depressive cat here in the past and since then, he has released some more. Here is one in which Henri ruminates on politics:

I read that Henri's producer William Braden is a professional videographer who now supports himself fully with Henri-related ventures. I'm sure we'll be seeing more videos.

Director Ruairi Robinson who made this commercial for French television says cheese and monsters are two of his favorite things. Me too now.

More videos from Ruairi are here.

TGB's own musicologist, Peter Tibbles, sent along the results of a 21-nation survey on preferences in the U.S. presidential election. Obama runs away with it - 20 countries on his side of the ledger:

”Overall, an average of 50 per cent would prefer to see Obama elected, compared to only 9 per cent who prefer Romney. The rest express no preference between the two.”

Here's the chart:

Countries for Obama

Peter wants it noted which two “civilized countries” top the chart for Obama. You can read more here.

San Franciscans seem to have a penchant for sending messages via thousands of people aligned on the beach in exactly the right places. I've seen them do this before although I don't remember what they were telling us that time. (Hat tip to Nikkie Lindquist of From Where I Sit)

Everyone knows what smilies (sometimes called emoticons) are, right? Those little icons made of keyboard symbols that express emotions. :-) or :-O and so on.

You may think they're new. I did. But they go back as far as 1881. This from the letterpress department of Puck magazine via the Retronaut website.

1881 Smilies

In a campaign led by Daily Show warmup comedian, Kevin Bartini, Commnity Board No. 9 in New York City has approved renaming a portion of West 121st Street in Manhattan George Carlin Way.

Carlin died in 2008 and I especially miss him when we are deep into political campaigns. Which is a good excuse to run one of his old but still oh-so-contemporary riffs.

This was recorded in 1992; it could have been yesterday.

You can read more about naming George Carlin Way here.

Last week, the second annual Tompkins Square Dog Halloween Parade was held in Manhattan with a whole slew of dogs dressed in their owners' fantasies. Here's a chihuahua dressed as a Thanksgiving turkey. (Photo credit: John Moore – Getty Images)

Chihuahua as turkey

You can see a series of doggies in costumes here.

Kitchen Confidential, which includes almost as much about sex, drugs and rock & roll as food, is still the best, funniest, most outrageous book about restaurants ever written.

For the tenth anniversary edition due out soon, author Anthony Bourdain sat down for a chat with his editor, Dan Halpern:

The second half of the short interview is here.

A tiny (well, that's relative) elephant falls into a pit in Kenya and can't get out. Humans to the rescue:

The rescue was done by the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, an organization that "aims to ensure the long-term conservation and welfare of Africa's elephants in the context of human needs and pressures through scientific research, training, community outreach, public awareness and advocacy."

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.

The Women's Vote

category_bug_politics.gif For the past couple of days, as at least half a dozen TGB readers have let me know (what would I do without you all?), this video, endorsed by 60's phenom, Lesley Gore, has been on fire around the web:


Right on!

Sing it, sisters!

A few days ago, during a long telephone conversation with an old friend, I went off the rails in a rant against certain male, right-wing politicians – you know, those freaks who, in the name of feverish religiosity, want to outlaw abortion, contraception and to forcibly shove things up women's vaginas.

As my rage built, I was aware, but only vaguely, that I was speaking with a rational man who loathes these ignorant louts as much as I do. But I couldn't stop myself. My wrath had taken control of my mouth.

When I finally wound down, there was silence on the telephone line. Silence from a man who never met a subject about which he has no opinion. He must have been stunned by my ferocity and I could feel the adrenaline still racing through my body. (Good thing I wasn't driving.)

According to the media, the female swing vote (whatever that is) for choice of president is in flux and the two campaigns are battling for it.

Really? There are women left in the United States who think it is a good idea to let men (and they are all men) delirious with the glory of their god (a deity who never said anything about abortion or contraception or poking unwanted things in women's vaginas) decide what they, women, can do with their bodies?


The latest troglodyte to take up cudgels against women's right to control our own bodies is one Richard Mourdock who is running for a U.S. Senate seat from the state of Indiana. Trying to separate himself from his two opponents who also oppose abortion, Mourdock said this at a debate Tuesday evening [emphasis added]:

"I've struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from god. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

Now how would anyone know what god intends? Someone has got to say this: these are crackpot crazy people. There was a time they raved on street corners. Now we elect them to Congress.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recorded a political ad supporting Mourdock, an endorsement that is still airing in Indiana. Senator John McCain supported him too – until Mourdock appointed himself god's stand-in this week. As reported at TPM, McCain told CNN:

“'It depends on what he does. I think it depends on what he does,' McCain said. 'If he apologizes and says he misspoke and he was wrong and he asks the people to forgive him,' the Arizona Senator would get behind him again.”

Misspoke? Apologize? That's what you do when you accuse someone of something they didn't do. No one “misspeaks” about religious conviction and you can't apologize for a belief, particularly for one you “struggled with” for a long time.

[UPDATE: Since I wrote that, Mourdock issued this "apology" as quoted in The Atlantic:

"'If there was any interpretation other than what I intended, I really regret that,' Mourdock said in an midday press conference in the Hoosier State. He added: 'Anyone who goes to the video tape and views that understands fully what I meant.'"

That's horseshit and anyone who looks at the video knows it.

But that doesn't bother Senator McCain who now supports Mourdock again. A pox on both of them. Like I said, it's not possible to apologize for a religious belief.]

Although the shiny, brand-new, moderate Mitt Romney is trying to slip-slide his way to making voters believe he would not work to overturn Roe v. Wade, he has in the past stated unequivocally that he would support the law's repeal.

Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, has said repeatedly in the past that rape and incest are not excuses for abortion. Lately he has been toeing Romney's new line of allowing abortion in those cases and the health of the mother. Anyone who believes either man's late-campaign conversion undoubtedly believes in the Easter bunny too.

Here is what our president, Barack Obama, told Tonight Show host Jay Leno on Wednesday night:

“I don’t know how these guys come up with these ideas. Let me make a very simple proposition. Rape is rape. It is a crime. And so these various distinctions about rape don’t make too much sense to me — don’t make any sense to me.

“The second thing this underscores, though, is this is exactly why you don’t want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, making decisions about women’s health care decisions.”


Right on!

Sing it, Mr. President!

I have plenty of beefs with President Obama but I believe that if he is not re-elected and particularly if Congress is aligned with a Republican White House, women will lose what we – our generation of elders – fought so hard to achieve in the 1960s.

Roe v. Wade is no less an achievement for women than suffrage was for our grandmothers. We cannot allow it to be overturned.

Let's listen to Lesley Gore's song again:

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: Colorblind

Good, Humane News From Medicare

category_bug_journal2.gif Yeah, yeah, I know you feel like you've had more than enough from me about Medicare over the past ten days.

But this is big-deal, good news you need to know.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced a proposed settlement agreement that would make it easier for people with disabilities and chronic conditions to qualify for home care.

Until now, Medicare beneficiaries have been required to show they were likely to improve (the “improvement standard”) for Medicare to cover skilled nursing care and therapy services at home.

Weirdly, this has never been a medicare regulation. Reporter Robert Pear in The New York Times explained:

”Neither the Medicare law nor regulations require beneficiaries to show a likelihood of improvement. But some provisions of the Medicare manual and guidelines used by Medicare contractors establish more restrictive standards, which suggest coverage should be denied or terminated if a patient reaches a plateau or is not improving or is stable.

“In most cases, the contractors’ decisions denying coverage become the final decisions of the federal government.

Now, however, as an editorial in The New York Times noted:

”Medicare will pay for the services if they are needed to maintain the patient’s current condition or to prevent or slow further deterioration — regardless of whether the patient is expected to improve medically or in ability to function.”

This agreement came about due to a class action lawsuit brought by the Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA) and Vermont Legal Aid against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Here is a good video explanation from Judith Stein, the founder of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, about why the lawsuit is important:

The proposed settlement, which you can read here [pdf], will affect both traditional Medicare and Advantage plans and will bring relief to tens of thousands of beneficiaries with such conditions as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), cerebral palsy, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, heart disease and stroke.

It will also be a help for families and caregivers - including some Time Goes By readers I know - who are often stretched to the financial and emotional limit due to full-time caregiving.

Experts are saying this will add a huge burden of new costs to Medicare. But it will also save a lot of money in nursing home care so there is no way to know yet how all that will balance out.

At The Elder Storytelliing Place today, Judith Cooper Eton: Properly or Improperly in Love

TGB Elders and the 2012 Election

category_bug_politics.gif Did you watch the third and last debate Monday evening between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney?

I thought assigning foreign policy as the topic was a bad idea. More so than in elections past when the nation had not been going through such hard economic times, what voters most care about now are pocketbook and social issues.

The two candidates apparently agreed as they veered into domestic policy no matter what questions moderator Bob Sheiffer asked. For us – elders – what has most been missing from the debates was a good and thorough discussion of Social Security and Medicare and I'm ticked off about that.

My favorite moment of the Boca Raton debate took place when, after Romney suggested he had been out somewhere counting Navy ships and found the total, in his estimation, to be wanting, Obama schooled him in how the modern military works:

“We also have fewer horses and bayonets,” said Obama, “because the nature of our military’s changed…the question is not a game of Battleship.”

Without question that was more snark than is presidential, but I liked it anyway.

There are only 13 days until the official election day, 6 November. Of course, millions have already voted, me included. Oregon, as it has done for more than 20 years, votes entirely by postal mail.

Although Mr. Romney has been trying to make himself appear more moderate, I don't think his flip-flopping on issues helps him in that regard; it just makes us even more aware that we can't believe him about anything, especially when he straight out lies about what everyone saw him say earlier on video tape.

Kinda makes you want to repeatedly bang your head on the television screen when he does that.

Mr. Obama seems to have found his mojo again but I agree with someone who recently noted that voting for Obama this time doesn't give voters the same thrill of being part of history as electing the first black president in 2008.

That worries me. It worries me that people who would never vote for Mr. Romney might stay home from voting for Obama because he has turned out to be a flawed human being instead of Superman.

It worries me that there are way too many people in the United States who will vote for Romney not because they believe he would be a better president but because they hate black people. (Ooooh, we're not supposed to say that out loud, are we.)

It worries me that Romney and his running mate are so tuned in, to and with the rabid right on their intention to control women's bodies and that the media has stopped talking about those outrages in these final days of the campaign.

What worries me most about a possible Romney/Ryan victory is the appointment of Supreme Court justices of whom there will definitely be one and possibly two in the next four years.

Such appointment(s) have the potential to make the U.S. into a vastly different country from what it is now – and not one I look forward to or would be good for 99 percent.

And so on and so forth. Those are a few of my more publicly acceptable ruminations on this endless campaign.

I would like to say that I will be so happy on 7 November when this is all over, but I recall that on the morning of 4 November 2008, one of the first things I heard on the news was a discussion of who would run against Obama in 2012. And already, for the past month or two, there has been speculation about whether Hillary Clinton will run for president.

So, I'm sure that on Wednesday after the election, the 2014 mid-term campaign will begin while others will start positioning themselves for the 2016 presidential race.

Aside from a game-changing revelation about one candidate or the other – which I doubt is forthcoming – I think the campaign is all over but the vote counting. So today, I'm wondering about your thoughts on the campaign and what the results may or may not bode the future of our nation and of elders within it.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Memories of Qingdao

Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 5 – Where to Get Help

category_bug_journal2.gif This is the last part of the TGB Medicare Enrollment Information series. I had no idea when I committed myself to breaking down Medicare enrollment rules into simple, understandable language how difficult it would be – what a long learning curve it was.

I actually believed I would be able supply what most people need in one medium-sized post. (Can you hear me laughing maniacally?)

There is an update/correction to Part 4 about Medicare Advantage plans – specifically in the section about switching from an Advantage plan back to traditional Medicare.

I could repeat all the details, but the Medicare Rights Center has a clear, online, one-page explanation about it [pdf].

However, it does not explain the actual steps involved to disenroll from an Advantage plan. The clearest explanation of those I've found is from the California Health Advocates. Scroll down to the section titled, Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period (MADP).

Please, please read these carefully and I would urge you to call Medicare (800.MEDICARE) to be sure you understand what to do.

Here, then, is what today's post is for:

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of places online offering help and information with understanding Medicare. When looking for answers, I urge you to be careful of the sources. I found a lot of wrong information while I was researching this series.

It is good to stick with organizations you trust and whose reputations rely on supplying good and accurate information for elders. Also, because some rules and details for Medicare change every year, do not trust any website that does not date its pages.

In Person Medicare Help
SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistant Program) is a national service with free, one-on-one counseling to Medicare enrollees and their families.

SHIP is paid for by a grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and some other sources. Trained counselors are local and the services exist in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

SHIP will not tell you which plan to buy, but they will explain your options and tell you what is the best value for your dollar.

Some states provide additional funding and those SHIPS may go by different names such as SHIBA, HICAP, SHINE, etc. You can locate SHIP counselors in your state and county at the SHIP website.

MEDICARE is, of course, the mother ship. For personal information about anything related to your Medicare needs, you can telephone 1-800-MEDICARE (TTY: 877-486-2048) and a real, live person will handle your questions.

It is my experience that Medicare telephone customer service representatives are well-trained, knowledgeable and patient. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When you call, be sure to have your Medicare cards (Medicare, drug, Advantage, Medigap) with you as you will be asked for those numbers along with your name, birthdate and, sometimes, the start date of your Medicare coverage (on your Medicare card).

If you are required to wait for your turn with a customer service representative, recorded voices will incessantly yack at you with a variety of messages. They never shut up. If your wait is longer than a couple of minutes, it can be deeply irritating so bring your patience with you.

INDIVIDUAL COVERAGE PROVIDERS for Part D, Advantage and Supplemental (Medigap) policies are usually patient, helpful and well-informed.

I know it sounds odd to go to an insurance company for information, but when you have honed your options for the private coverage sections of Medicare to two or three, they can clarify questions that are puzzling you.

When I was trying to figure out Medigap policies six years ago, I was deeply confused with all those lettered options (A, B, C, D, F, G, etc.) After narrowing my choices as best I could, I telephoned one company and threw myself on the representative's mercy: “This is my first time at this,” I said. “And I am totally lost as to how to choose a Medigap plan.”

The woman walked me through each and every one. She was not doing a sales job on me; she just patiently explained the differences among each lettered choice and as I recall, we spent 30 or 40 minutes together. When we finished, I told her I wanted to think it over and she did not pressure me to buy.

I called a second provider and was treated equally well but by then, I understood my options and didn't need more explanation. The first one had the best price and given that the rep was so helpful to this newbie, I gave them my business.

So, whether it is general information on a privately-insured part of Medicare or an explanation of that particular provider's coverage, they can be extremely helpful.

LOCAL INSURANCE AGENCIES can be an in-person help for the private Supplemental (Medigap) coverage. Keep in mind, however, that they don't make money without selling insurance.

You can find lists of local agents who specialize in Supplemental coverage state-by-state at the American Association for Medicare Supplement Insurance website.

Some LOCAL SENIOR CENTERS hold free educational Medicare enrollment seminars with SHIP counselors or other experts who will explain details and answer personal questions. Check to see if any in your area have scheduled these meetings.

Other Medicare Information and Help
Considering the vast amount of information it needs to cover, the MEDICARE website is remarkably easy to use (and gets better each year). The navigation bar at the top of the main page can quickly get you to a section you need - Sign Up, Your Medicare Costs, What Medicare Covers, Claims and Appeals and more with dropdown menus for more detailed choices.

It is also my experience that the site search functions better than on most websites.

By giving the website some personal information, you can sign up for Medicare for the first time, find out what your current coverage is, use the physician compare tool and much, much more.

It is well worth spending some time to become comfortable with the Medicare website. Given how complicated the program is, the web designers have done a fantastic job of building a useful website.

MEDICARE AND YOU 2013 is the annual official Medicare handbook that you should have received via postal mail a month or more ago. If not, you can find it online here [pdf].

Right up front you will find all the new stuff and what's changed for next year followed by sections explaining a lot of what you need to know. The back pages (of the print edition) list the prescription drug plans available in your state.

If you believe Medicare has wrongly denied payment or is remiss in some other manner, try The MEDICARE RIGHTS CENTER, an independent, nonprofit consumer rights organization based in New York. It offers information and free legal help on Medicare issues (including Part D appeals) to Medicare beneficiaries throughout the country.

Visit the website or call its toll-free consumer hot line at 800-333-4114.

I trust the KAISER FAMILY FOUNDATION MEDICARE website that is packed with accurate, up-to-date information you can use for the annual enrollment period.

In addition to the hard data and details we need to make informed choices of coverage for next year, there are reports and research on public policy, politics and surveys of attitudes related to Medicare.

Kaiser sells private coverage but not at this website. Check it out here.

Undoubtedly there are other good online websites for Medicare information, but the ones I've listed, along with the in-person resources should cover most of what you want to know.

Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 1 - The Basics
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 2 - Medigap
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 3 - Prescription Drugs
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 4 - Advantage Plans

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ross Middleton: Whose Backbone?

Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 4 - Advantage Plans

category_bug_journal2.gif Medicare Advantage plans are even more complex than Part D (prescription drug) plans. There are many more possibilities, contingencies and convoluted requirements and if you are not careful, it will make you cry.

That said, it is not all that difficult (aside from choosing the best plan for your needs) to purchase an Advantage plan the first time. But if your plan shuts down (they do that from time to time) or you want to switch to a different Advantage plan or go back to traditional Medicare, it will be painful and you will need to be careful.

When you change anything in Advantage plans, there are pitfalls everywhere that can lead to losing coverage or paying more than you should. I cannot possibly cover everything and this post is intended to be an overview that will help the largest number of people.

Even so, it is way, way, way too long. It must be the longest post I've ever written (and I'm not proud of that). I've used as many bold headers as makes sense and my advice is to skip around to the parts you really want or need to know.

Like the drug plan with traditional Medicare, Advantage plans can and do change in large and small ways every year. Costs can increase, drugs may be added and removed, rules changed.

So if you have an Advantage plan now, it is critical that you find out from your provider how it has changed for 2013, and look for a new plan if need be.

Medicare Advantage (also called Part C) is private health coverage that replaces traditional Medicare – that is, Parts A and B, Supplemental (Medigap) and – typically but not always - Part D (prescription drugs).

Advantage plans are available in most of the country, but not quite everywhere.

The plans are approved by Medicare and come in several flavors: Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO), Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO), Private Fee For Service plans (PFFS).

(There are a couple of others including Special Needs Plans (SNP) that cover certain severe or disabling conditions. You can find out more about those here.)

There are important differences among HMO, PPO and the less common PFFS Advantage plans. (In all cases, restrictions on choice of physicians, hospitals and other health care professionals do not apply in emergency situations.)

These three types of plans are quite different in the details. Read this section to learn how each handles physician and hospital choices, costs outside of the network, approvals, referrals, etc.

In the case of PPOs, there is an important caveat from

”Remember, if you join a PPO Plan that doesn't offer prescription drug coverage, you can't join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D).”

PPO and PFFS plans are not the same as traditional Medicare; the plan, not Medicare, sets the amount of your payment share. Be certain you know the rules of your Advantage plan or you may be required to pay more for services.

Advantage plans are required to cover everything covered by traditional Medicare Parts A and B except hospice which is covered by Medicare even if you are in an Advantage plan. Plus, most Advantage plans cover prescription drugs.

Some Advantage plans may cover extras not available with traditional Medicare such as vision, dental and hearing care. And sometimes they throw in such add-ons as gym membership, over-the-counter drugs, alternative medical services (e.g. acupuncture) and wellness programs.

You must pay traditional Medicare Part B premium although some Advantage plans will pay part or all of the Part B premium for you.

There may or may not be a premium for Advantage plans. When there is a premium, it will vary from state-to-state and even county-to-county within states. For nationally available Advantage plans, the average 2013 premium is $60.09. The average 2013 premium when plans with a zero premium are excluded is $88.

There may also be deductibles and copayments. These costs can differ dramatically from plan to plan but are often lower than traditional Medicare.

Plus, thanks to Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, Advantage plans must set their annual maximum out-of-pocket costs at $6,700 or lower. (There is no limit with traditional Medicare.) The average of Medicare Advantage plans' out-of-pocket limit for 2013 is $4516.

With some exceptions for Special Needs Plans, anyone who already has traditional Medicare Parts A and B and lives in an Advantage plan's coverage area is eligible for Medicare Advantage.

You cannot be denied Advantage plan coverage for any pre-existing condition except end-stage renal disease which has special requirements. Find out more here.

There are several periods of time when you can join a Medicare Advantage program:

  • When you first become eligible for Medicare - there is a seven month window from three months before you turn 65 through three months following that birthday month
  • During the annual enrollment period – this year between 15 October and 7 December. Coverage will begin on 1 January 2013 if your request is made to the provider by 7 December 2012

In most cases, you must remain enrolled in an Advantage plan for a full year from the date your coverage begins. But there are some exceptions. You may join, switch or drop an Advantage plan during a “Special Enrollment Period” if:

  • You move out of your plan's service area
  • You have Medicaid
  • You qualify for Extra Help (Contact Medicare if you believe you are eligible)
  • You live in a nursing home or certain other institutions

Contact your provider to make changes under these circumstances.

When you purchase an Advantage plan the first time, you also have those 12 months to change your mind for any reason and return to traditional Medicare. You may be able to get back the same Medigap policy you had before joining an Advantage plan if it is still available.

However, the Medigap policy you purchase under this circumstance may not have a prescription drug plan even if you had it before but you can purchase a Part D plan.

(Dear god, can you stand all this? It is Byzantine and it is so unfair to elders.)

IMPORTANT: If you have retiree health care coverage from an employer, check with your plan administrator before signing up for any Medicare Advantage plan because it may affect your eligibility for your retiree benefits.

Five Star Enrollment Period
Each fall, Medicare rates Advantage programs with one to five stars – five being the epitome of excellence. As with Part D (prescription drug coverage) you may switch to a five-star program if one is available in your area.

You may do this one time only between 8 December 2012 and 30 November 2013.

IMPORTANT: Be aware that if the five-star Advantage program you switch to does not provide prescription drug coverage (and your previous coverage did), you will lose your drug coverage and will be required to wait until the next open enrollment period to purchase drug coverage.

Switching Back From Medicare Advantage to Traditional Medicare
If you want to switch from a Medicare Advantage program to traditional Medicare, you are allowed to do so between 1 January and 14 February, the Advantage Dis-enrollment period.

You will also have until 14 February to purchase a Part D (prescription drug) plan. Coverage of both will begin on the first day of the month after the provider receives your enrollment request.

You can also purchase a supplemental (Medigap) policy at this time.

This switch is more complicated that I indicated above and you should instead read this Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period brochure [pdf] from the Medicare Rights Center. It will thoroughly explain what you must do to leave an Advantage plan and return to traditional Medicare.

Here is what you cannot do during the 1 January to 14 February period:

• Cannot switch from traditional Medicare to an Advantage plan
• Cannot switch to a different Advantage plan
• Cannot switch from one Part D program to another

Sorting out Medicare enrollment periods and what you can do when can be confusing. The 12-page Understanding Medicare Enrollment Periods [pdf] can help.

No two Advantage plans are alike and in addition to different coverage, premiums, copays and deductibles, they have different rules that must be followed for payments to be made. Know the rules before you purchase.

Remember too that Advantage plans take the place of traditional Medicare: Parts A, B, D and supplemental (Medigap). Medigap plans work only with traditional Medicare. You cannot have both a traditional Medicare and an Advantage plan.

As with Part D (prescription drug) plans, the easiest (harumph!) way to find a Medicare Advantage plan to join is with the Medicare Plan Finder. Have your current plan details available along with a list of your drugs and dosages. A pad of paper and pen are good too.

Fill in your Zip Code and other information on the first few screens. The final screen – weirdly – will not list “Advantage” plans. Instead you have three choices:

Prescription Drug Plans (with Original Medicare)
Medicare Health Plans with drug coverage
Medicare Health Plans without drug coverage

Tick the box next to the second or third choice – whichever you want – and click the “Continue to Plan Results” button. In my case, there are 23 Advantage plans with drug coverage and 8 without.

The resulting chart will tell you the plans' names, premium price, deductibles, additional benefits (e.g. vision, hearing), estimated annual drug costs (if you selected a plan with drug coverage), and more.

Click the name of the plan for another page with more extensive information about benefits, costs, out-of-pocket limits and more along with telephone numbers to call the provider.

There are many details to be considered before purchasing an Advantage plan so visit the websites of the plans you are interested in and read all you can find about the coverage.

Call the companies and ask them to send the details of the plans you want to know more about. Ask questions. Keep notes of what you learn.

Advantage plans usually provide benefits that are not available with traditional Medicare – particularly dental, hearing and vision. Monthly premiums are often low and some may charge no monthly premium.

It may be easier for some people to have all their healthcare needs in one place rather than scattered among Medicare and private insurers for drugs and Medigap.

Sometimes Medicare Advantage plans are too good to be true. Here are some of the issues Advantage members have reported over the years:

  • Depending on deductibles and co-pays, care can cost more than it would under original Medicare
  • Advantage plans are not stable and may suddenly cease coverage
  • Because plans cover only certain doctors, the continuity of care can be broken when the plan drops a provider
  • Members are restricted in their choices of doctors, hospitals and other providers
  • It can be difficult to get care away from home
  • The extra benefits offered sometimes turn out to be less than promised.

This list is adapted from a report by the Medicare Rights Center. [pdf]

I strongly urge you to be extremely careful when purchasing an Advantage plan. Also, this time of year, your snailmail box will be stuffed with brochures from Advantage plan providers promising you the moon for zero cost. Take that for what it's worth and do your homework.

Tomorrow, one last post in this series will be so much easier. A list of links to places where you can get online and in-person help with all your Medicare needs and questions.

Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 1 - The Basics
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 2 - Medigap
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 3 - Prescription Drugs
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 5 - Where to Get Help

At The Elder Storytelling Place today: Marcy Belson: Memories of the Superdome


PeterTibbles75x75This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

category_bug_eldermusic Trios come in all shapes, sizes and genres. Well, not sizes, I guess; there are always only three of them.

Anyway, pressing on, in the classical field there are many pieces for trios of various types – piano trios, string trios, woodwind trios and many others. Haydn, Mozart and Schubert especially liked the form but pretty much every composer did something, particularly the piano trio.

That makes my job harder rather than easier as there’s so much to consider. I’ll start with my main man JOSEPH HAYDN.

Joseph Haydn7

His contribution today is a baryton trio. Jo must have really liked the baryton as he wrote hundreds of compositions for the instrument. Actually, it was because his patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, really liked to play the thing and old Nik was loaded and liked to indulge himself.

If you’re wondering, this is a baryton. Indeed, it’s old Nik’s actual instrument somewhat restored (so we’re in George Washington’s axe territory here).


I’ve chosen the second movement of the Baryton Trio No. 12 in A.

♫ Haydn - Baryton Trio No. 12 (2)

I haven’t played anything from CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS before, so here he is for the first time.

Camille Saint-Saëns

Camille’s best known works usually involve the organ in some way or another but not today.

He was born in Paris and his father died not long after Camille was born. His aunt moved in to help his mother and she gave the young lad piano lessons. He was playing on a small instrument by the time he was three years old and gave his first public performance when he was five. Lordy.

But wait, there’s more. At age 10, he could play any or all of the Beethoven piano sonatas from memory. Yikes. He later had formal training at Conservatoire de Paris and went on to do - well, lots of stuff.

This is the first movement from his Piano Trio No. 1 in F major, Op. 18.

♫ Saint-Saëns - Piano Trio No. 1 (1)

Anyone who knows me could predict that WOLFGANG MOZART was going to be present.


Wolfie’s contribution is called the Kegelstatt Trio. According to Dr Google this refers to a bowling alley. Wolfie wrote a number of duos and other works while he was playing skittles and although the trio was written only days after those, there’s no evidence that it was also composed in the bowling alley.

Thoughts of music never really left his mind even when indulging in frivolous pastimes. Perhaps even more so at such times. However, it was his publisher who gave it the name; Wolfie called it a Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano. This is the second movement and it’s K498.

♫ Mozart - Clarinet Trio K. 498 (2)

In rock & roll, there are two towering trios: the really loud Cream and the even louder Jimi Hendrix Experience. While we’re talking loud trios, there’s also Nirvana and Blue Cheer. None of those will be played today you’ll be happy to know.

There’s also STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN AND DOUBLE TROUBLE and while they were pretty loud themselves, on the basis of their records they were more melodic and varied in their music. Double Trouble are Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon.

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble

Stevie Ray played in various groups, mostly around Austin, Texas, for much of the seventies. When the group played in Montreux in 1982, they were noticed by David Bowie who asked him to play on his next album.

Also there was Jackson Browne who let them record in his studio for free. Their first album was a success and they were about the biggest thing in blues for a few years. Unfortunately, Stevie Ray was killed in a helicopter accident after one of their gigs.

The track I’ve selected, Stang’s Swang, has definite jazz elements to it.

♫ Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble - Stang's Swang

A case could be made for The BEE GEES. After all, it was as a trio that they began in Australia. By the time they had their first big hits in this country, they’d added a lead guitarist and a drummer. It was with this lineup that they went to England in the sixties.

A bit later the British authorities decided one of the new members had overstayed his visa and had to go. Not too long after that, they were back to a trio and then Robin spat the dummy and left the group and they were down to a duo.

They reconciled and for the rest of the seventies and eighties, they were officially a trio (but always had a bunch of musicians backing them. Alas, these days, they are a mono.

Bee Gees

Barry and Robin Gibb wrote the song, To Love Somebody for Otis Redding. The recording session was arranged. As we know, Otis didn’t live to sing it. Hearing the Bee Gees’ version, I can imagine what a great job Otis would have done.

♫ Bee Gees - To Love Somebody

There aren’t too many famous jazz trios. There are usually more members in jazz groups, however, there are a couple I want to feature and regular readers will know immediately the first of these. Yes, the NAT KING COLE TRIO. Nat’s never far from one of my columns.

Na King Cole Trio

They started out as a quartet but when the drummer left, they didn’t replace him. It’s an interesting combination of piano, guitar and bass and what great music they created. This is an amusing track called, Don't Shove, I'm Leaving. The words sound as if they came from a blues song.

♫ Nat King Cole Trio - Don't Shove, I'm Leaving

KEITH JARRETT is mostly thought of as a solo performer. He’s equally proficient playing jazz or classical music. He’s renowned as a great improviser, but tends to polarize opinions. However, he also gets together with GARY PEACOCK and JACK DEJOHNETTE.

Keith Jarrett, Jack Dejohnette and Gary Peacock

The trio is mostly known for their interpretations of standards and they are really good at that as you will hear with It Never Entered My Mind.

♫ Keith Jarrett, Jack Dejohnette and Gary Peacock - It Never Entered My Mind

Johnny Cash started his recording career as JOHNNY CASH AND THE TENNESSEE TWO. The other members of the trio were Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant.

Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two

The group began as the Tennessee Four but one of the members got nervous when they went in to record their first song and they became the Tennessee Three.

Sam Phillips at Sun Records, for that is where they were recording, suggested the new moniker with Johnny’s name prominent. Sam was always a great spotter of talent. Here they are with Guess Things Happen That Way.

♫ Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three - Guess Things Happen That Way

Folk music is loaded with trios. There were The Cumberland Three, The Journeymen, New Lost City Ramblers, The Chad Mitchell Trio and many others. Most notably there was PETER PAUL AND MARY.

Peter, Paul and Mary

They were often denigrated by the folkier than thou types, but they were fine musicians and introduced to the world the songs of then unknown songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver and others.

Here they sing Gordie’s Early Mornin' Rain. I notice they changed the words slightly from his version but I can live with that as long as they don’t make a habit of doing it.

♫ Peter, Paul and Mary - Early Mornin' Rain

With all due respect to The Weavers, and Pete Seeger in particular, I think this next song did more than anything else to usher in the folk boom of the early sixties. You'll know what I'm talking about when I mention THE KINGSTON TRIO.

Kingston Trio

The Kingstons were Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds. Dave and Bob met at school in Hawaii and went off to California to Stanford where they met Nick.

The three worked together with a bunch of others in a rather free-floating arrangement. The others tended to drift away after a while leaving the core group.

Their big break came when Phyllis Diller canceled a scheduled show in San Francisco and they were tapped on the shoulder to fill in. That led to other gigs and eventually a recording deal.

The album they made sold moderately until a deejay started playing one of the tracks extensively on his show. That song went ballistic and it's the one we have today, Tom Dooley.

♫ Kingston Trio - Tom Dooley

INTERESTING STUFF: 21 October 2012

On Thursday, the odious Defense of Marriage Act took another hit when a second federal appeals court ruled against the law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

"The new case was brought on behalf of Edith Windsor of New York City, who married her longtime partner, Thea Clara Spyer, in 2007 in Canada,” reports The New York Times. “When Ms. Spyer died in 2009, Ms. Windsor inherited her property.

“Because the Internal Revenue Service was not allowed, under the Defense of Marriage Act, to consider her a surviving spouse, she faced a tax bill of $363,053 that she would not have had to pay if the marriage had been recognized.”

Here is Ms. Windsor, age 87, responding to an earlier victory in her case a few months ago:

This may become the case that finally takes the question to the U.S. Supreme Court. You can read more about Windsor v. United States here.

Okay, now I get it. Click the image to see what I mean and a hat tip to Darlene Costner, the first of several readers to send this.

According to the science journal, Nature, a team of researchers at Tufts University have developed “flexible electronic components" that dissolve in the body and in water:

”The components could be used to make smart devices that disintegrate once they are no longer useful, helping to alleviate electronic waste and enabling the development of medical implants that don’t need to be surgically removed.

“So far, the team has designed an imaging system that monitors tissue from within a mouse, a thermal patch that prevents infection after a surgical site is closed up, solar cells and strain and temperature sensors.

Take a look at this short video (there is no audio):

You can read more here.

This poor schnook. I'll bet no one will ever let him forget this. Might not be safe for work and small children.

Undoubtedly you heard about Republican vice-presidential candidate, Paul Ryan's visit to a Youngstown, Ohio, soup kitchen where he was caught washing already-clean dishes for a photo-op.

Bad move for the Ryan campaign which did not ask permission, and worse for the charity that is meant to be a non-partisan organization because, as a result of Ryan's boorishness, some donors are pulling their money out.

”Brian J. Antal, [the non-salaried] president of the Mahoning County St. Vincent De Paul Society, confirmed that donors have begun an exodus in protest over Ryan's embarrassment.

“The monetary losses have been big. 'It appears to be a substantial amount,' Antal said. 'You can rest assured there has been a substantial backlash.'"

You can read more here.

In that other debate earlier this month, The Daily Show's Jon Stewart versus Fox News anchor, Bill O'Reilly, Mr. O'Reilly took umbrage at the “fact” that taxpayers must pay for Bill Moyers broadcasts on, he said, NPR.

Oops. As pretty much anyone – except O'Reilly, apparently – knows, NPR is a radio network on which Moyers does not appear. Nor does Moyers take any federal money for his television program. Watch Moyers eviscerate O'Reilly for his ignorant attack.

No, I'm not talking about those popular books and movies. This is about the power that leaks into electronic appliances that are left plugged in all the time.

My local energy provider, Portland General Electric, made this informative little video about the amazing amount of money these “always on” items cost us and how much we can save by being more diligent about unplugging some of those vampire appliances.

You can read more here.

Marketing maven, Chuck Nyren, who blogs at Advertising for Baby Boomers, sent along a link to a beautiful Pinterist section called Aging the Grace with a collection of photographs of old people. Here are two of my favorites:

Man helping woman


There are hundreds more photos of old people although further into the display, there are a lot of celebrities which are not nearly as interesting as the anonymous elders. But there is plenty to enjoy here.

A pool. A sunny day. A human to throw some balls. What more could a dog ask for. And we get to watch it in slo-mo. (I think it's a lot more interesting without the music, but that's up to you.)

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.

Social Security, the 2013 COLA and the Campaign

category_bug_politics.gif In Wednesday's presidential debate there was no discussion of Social Security. Nothing. Zero. Nada.

Both candidates and the moderator, who selected the questions from the audience, ignored the program that provides 90 percent of total income to more than one-third of Social Security beneficiaries, a program that is under constant threat from one of our two major political parties.

Apparently, we elders – who are the most reliable and largest voting demographic in the land - are of no interest to our presidential candidates. And because the next debate is entirely focused on foreign affairs, it is unlikely we will hear a major statement from either man about Social Security before election day.

On the morning of debate day, Tuesday 16 October, the 2013 cost-of-living (COLA) increase was announced by the Social Security Administration. It is of crucial importance to elders battered by increased food and energy costs along with relentlessly rising health care costs that far outpace inflation.

The COLA came in at 1.7 percent which amounts to a rise of about $21 per month for the average Social Security benefit of around $1261 per month. Don't spend it all in one place.

(You can find out other facts and figures about Social Security for 2013 here.)

Although Mitt Romney slithers hither and thither on what he would do with Social Security if elected, with his choice of Paul Ryan as running mate he is legitimately tethered to the Ryan economic plan which seeks to privatize Social Security - as Republicans have never stopped trying to do since President Franklin Roosevelt signed the legislation in 1935.

The most recent version of Ryan's plan would allow younger workers to invest a third of their Social Security withholding in private investment accounts - which begs the question, does Ryan not know what happened to the stock market in 2008?

Of course he does, but never mind that. The Ryan goal in privatizing Social Security is the same as it has always been with Republicans: to turn over billions of dollars in fees to already-rich Wall Street bankers.

As disastrous an idea as that is, there may be a more immediate danger to Social Security than the election of Romney/Ryan.

Whoever wins on 6 November, President Obama and Congress will be dealing with the “fiscal cliff” before the new year.

It's probably not as dire as a real cliff, but it refers to a whole bunch of tax cuts expiring at the end of December along with cuts to many federal programs all of which Congress enacted a year ago to avoid such a cliff then.

The election campaign is sucking up so much oxygen in the country that there is little talk of what Congress will or won't do about the cliff and whether it involves another possible “grand bargain” - remember that?

Although President Obama has repeated that he will never “slash” Social Security benefits, he has waffled around less drastic measures with the program including changing the method by which COLAs are calculated to the “chained CPI.”

Listen to Social Security's best, most fierce advocate in Washington, Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, on the subject of the chained CPI:

"Let's be clear: for millions of senior citizens and disabled veterans living on fixed incomes, the chained CPI is not the minor ‘tweak' that some say it is. It is a significant benefit cut that will make it harder for the elderly and veterans to make ends meet."

Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) made reference to the chained CPI when he commented on the tiny 2013 COLA increase:

”...the truth is replacing the current COLA formula with the chained CPI will mean the typical 65 year-old, who filed for benefits at 62, would lose about $130 per year in benefits. By the time that senior reaches 95, the annual benefit cut will be almost $1,400, which is a 9.2 percent cut.”

Both Senator Sanders and the NCPSSM (not to mention moi) support another method of calculating cost of living increases: the CPI-E which more accurately takes into account the different spending habits of elders and the greater percentage of income elders spend on health care than younger people do.

Whether changes to Social Security are tackled by Congress and the president in connection with the fiscal cliff at the end of this year or next year after the inauguration, I know I'd rather fight against the chained CPI than go through a privatization battle again as we did in 2005 with President George W. Bush.

Because it is always a good idea to be reminded of the actual workings and fiscal health of Social Security, take a look at this excellent video about the program from the folks at Strengthen Social Security.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Deb Greant: Off to Buy Vitamins

Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 3 – Prescription Drugs

EDITORIAL NOTE: As with all these Medicare posts, it is crucial to be correct. If you find errors, please email me (as opposed to posting corrections in the comments) so I can incorporate them into the body of post where more people will see them.

Part D, the Medicare prescription drug program, was created in 2006 to help elders, who use more drugs than younger people, pay for those drugs. It is private insurance for which you pay a monthly premium separate from your Medicare Part B and supplemental (Medigap) premiums.

People enrolled in traditional Medicare – that is, Parts A and B – can purchase a Part D plan. Advantage Plan enrollees cannot.

Prescription drug coverage cannot be denied to you for any reason including health, the number of drugs you take or your income. No physical examination is required. All you need to do is find a plan and sign up.

If you are joining Medicare now, this is the best time to choose a drug plan. There is a seven-month window for doing this beginning three months before your 65th birthday, the birthday month and three months following.

With a few exceptions, if you join a Part D plan after that period, you will be required to pay a premium penalty that will last for as long as you are in the program.

You can hold off joining a Part D plan without incurring a penalty if you have drug coverage better than Medicare's from a current or former employer.

Everyone already enrolled in Part D can change their plan each year during the annual open enrollment period which we are now in until 7 December.

If you currently have a Part D plan you are happy with, you don't need to do anything during the enrollment period and your coverage will continue through 2013 as it is now. It's tempting, but that could be a costly choice:

IMPORTANT: Drug plans change year to year, sometimes dramatically. Premiums may increase along with copays and/or deductibles. Some drugs that are covered may be dropped, others may be added and prices can change.

In some cases, the price of a the same drug can vary from plan to plan by as much as $100 or more for a 30-day supply. So with all that, it behooves you to check how your plan may have changed for 2013 and if you are dissatisfied, to look for a new plan.

Each insurance provider negotiates its own prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers for each drug. Depending on discounts negotiated, co-pays can vary widely. Additionally, providers divide drugs into “tiers” which affects price.

Given the thousands of drugs, 50 individual states, dozens of individual plans from nearly as many insurance companies each with differing deductibles, copays, tiers, etc., the possible price permutations may not be astronomical but I think it comes damned close.

So I cannot stress enough the importance of comparing plans to save money. Premiums for 2013 range from $15 to $165 per month. Most cost about $30 to $40.

The Donut Hole
Anyone who uses several drugs or expensive drugs knows about the infamous donut hole in Part D during which the insured must pay the entire cost of drugs.

Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, changed that. The donut hole is gradually shrinking each year until the full discount of 75 percent is reached in 2020.

For next year, 2013, the donut hole begins when the total cost of drugs (including your payments and the insurance company's share) exceeds $2,970.

You then pay the full cost until your spending reaches $4,700 when Part D kicks in again with “catastrophic coverage” and usually pays 95 percent of your drug costs for the rest of the year.

During your stay in the donut hole in 2013, you will pay 47.5 percent of brand-name drugs and 79 percent of generic drugs. However, the full retail cost applies to your time in the donut hole.

Extra Financial Help
There is extra help to pay Part D premiums for low-income beneficiaries. You can find out about that at this Social Security webpage.

Given where we are in the presidential election cycle, it's useful to know that if Mitt Romney is elected and he follows through on his declaration to repeal Obamacare, the donut hole will expand to its original size when the legislation is signed.

Oh, I'm so sorry you asked. You would think it should cover all drugs, but of course it is not that simple.

Certain types of drugs are excluded altogether, among them: over-the-counter drugs, drugs used for cosmetic reasons or weight loss, fertility drugs and drugs for erectile dysfunction.

Each Part D provider publishes an annual “formulary” which lists its “preferred” drugs and the companies must provide at least two drugs in each class of drugs that treat the same condition.

There is much more complexity to this than I am even hinting at so I'm going to stop now. If you really care about more than which individual drugs a given insurance company provides, you're on your own.

What If I Don't Take any Prescription Drugs
Ah, with apologies to Matt Taibbi, this is the giant vampire squid of Medicare Part D: since no one can predict what drugs they might need in the future, there is no possibility of choosing a plan that will definitely cover the ones that might become necessary.

(This is, obviously, also true of people who know their current drug needs, but could require unknown others in the future.)

I'm sitting here, apparently in good health until I'm not and have no way to know what will go wrong or when. So what kind of vampire squid inflicts such a no-choice plan on elders? Well, let's just say it's the pharmaceutical companies who wrote the Part D legislation.

But right now, with the 2013 enrollment period at hand, we are stuck with this potentially dangerous and expensive hardship.

What some who don't currently use any prescription drugs do is purchase the cheapest policy available and hope for the best. That's what I do and should I need drugs between now and the next enrollment period, I've resigned myself to the fact if my plan does not cover those drugs, I'll just need to figure out how to pay until I can enroll in a new program that meets my needs.

Last year's least expensive plan cost $15.10 per month with a $300-plus deductible. For 2013, the company raised the price to $18.50 - not all that much but the increase still ticked me off so I have switched to this year's cheapest plan, a new one at $15 per month from AARP, also with a $300-plus deductible.

There are so many Part D plans with so many variables that the only reasonable way I know to compare them is Medicare's Plan Finder Tool. Be sure to have the name and details of your current plan handy along with a list of your drugs and dosages. A pad and pen are helpful too.

There are a couple of pages of simple questions, another page to list your drugs and dosages and when you have finished you will land on a results page with a list of the plans available in your state that cover your drugs. Each plan on the chart will show premiums, estimated costs for the year for your drugs including deductible and copays for the year.

If it is easier for you, you can telephone Medicare 800-633-4227, ask a customer service representative to do the search and give you results via email or postal mail. It has been my experience that Medicare customer service people are well-trained, helpful and patient in answering questions.

When you have made your choice of drug plan, you can click on the “enroll” button in the chart area of your plan on the Medicare Plan Finder Tool and enroll entirely online.

Or, in the same tool, click the name of the plan you have chosen and you'll be taken to a page with telephone numbers for the insurance company.

Each drug plan on Medicare's Plan Finder Tool has a rating of one to five stars. These are granted each fall (and can change year to year) based on member satisfaction surveys and other criteria. Five stars is the highest rating of excellence.

You are allowed to switch to a five-star prescription drug plan one time between 8 December 2012 and 30 November 2013.

Good god. You wouldn't think there is so much to say about a simple little drug add-on program. Believe me, I have omitted many times more information than what I've told you here. It shouldn't be this hard. (I could write volumes about why this is such a convoluted, miserable, difficult program and how angry that makes me, but I'll spare you today.)

I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted from all our Medicare talk this week and I need a break. But we still have Advantage Plans to cover and a list of helpful contacts. I'll do that early next week and have something easier for all of us tomorrow, Friday.

Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 1 - The Basics
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 2 - Medigap
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 4 - Advantage Plans
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 5 - Where to Get Help

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Chocolate

Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 2 – Medigap

IMPORTANT EDITORIAL NOTE: In the comments, please keep to the topic of the day's post. Advantage plans don't belong here today nor drug plans. Off-topic comments will be removed to help keep the series understandable for general and new-to-Medicare readers.

With anything Medicare, it is easy to make mistakes. If you spot any, please advise me via email so I can investigate and correct wrong information within the story. If it is only in comments, many people will not see it.

This series is intended to be a useful and understandable overview (though far from complete) of the individual Medicare parts and how to navigate them based on the K.I.S.S. principle.

UNRELATED ANNOUNCEMENT: Yesterday, the Social Security Administration announced that the cost-of-living (COLA) increase for 2013 Social Security benefits will be 1.7 percent. I'll have a post about that, Social Security's political vulnerability and the election for us to discuss next week.

category_bug_journal2.gif Medigap – or supplemental – Medicare plans are private insurance that apples only to people with traditional Medicare. That is, Part A (hospital) and Part B (medical), not Advantage plans.

Traditional Medicare covers only about 80 percent of costs. Therefore, many people purchase additional coverage, a Medigap plan because those 20 percent costs can add up to thousands of dollars.

Among those costs are Part A and B deductibles, outpatient services and medical supplies, hospitalization after 60 days, skilled nursing after 20 days and the first three pints of blood.

Supplemental plans allow you to see any doctor you choose but you may be required to do the claim paperwork for physicians who do not accept Medicare.

Here are some things Medigap policies do not cover:

  • Long-term care to help you bathe, dress, eat or use the bathroom
  • Vision care, eyeglasses, hearing aids or dental care
  • Private-duty nursing
  • Prescription drugs, or any out-of-pocket costs for Part D plans

(Other ways the gap in traditional Medicare can be covered, depending on personal circumstances, are: employer or union insurance, COBRA, TRICARE for military families, Veterans benefits, Tribal health benefits and Medicaid.)

Anyone who has Medicare Parts A and B is eligible to purchase a Medigap policy with certain restrictions.

The best time to purchase a Medigap policy is when you are 65 AND are signed up for Medicare Part B. This is the six-month “open enrollment period” for Medigap counted from the date when you first join Medicare.

If you wait beyond this six-month period, you can be required to fill out a medical questionnaire, allow the insurance company to speak with your physician and/or submit to a medical examination.

This leads us to confusion over Medigap coverage and pre-existing conditions. In some cases, an insurer can refuse to issue Medigap coverage for up to six months if a customer had a prior health problem before the start date of the policy. This is called a pre-existing condition waiting period.

If, however, you have had at least six months of "credible" coverage, you cannot be dinged for the six-month waiting period. Of course, that "credible" part is the catch but there are specific federal rules and restrictions on how that is applied. If you have had credible coverage for less than six months, the wait period can be pro-rated.

All Medigap policies are guaranteed renewable. As long as you pay the premium (and continue paying the Medicare Part B premium) your policy cannot be canceled.

(Medigap policies have been standardized since 1992; however, prices can vary widely among companies and states for the same plan. Plus, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin are “waiver states” that have different but comparable policies. Residents of those three states should contact their state insurance departments for local Medigap information.)

For those of us in the other 47 states, there are 11 standard Medigap policies designated by these letters: A, B, C, D, F, G, K, L, M and N.

E, H, I and J are still in existence but are no longer sold.

Plan F has a second, high-deductible choice.

There are basic Medigap benefits that each of these plans must cover. They are:

  • Medicare Part A coinsurance and hospital costs up to an additional 365 days after Medicare benefits are used up
  • Medicare Part B coinsurance or copayment
  • Blood – first three pints
  • Part A hospice care coinsurance or copayment

Beyond that, any Medigap plan identified with the same letter must offer the same benefits regardless of the insurance company selling it. However, the price – that is, the premium – can vary.

And don't forget that you must continue to pay your Medicare Part B premium to maintain your Medigap policy.

Here is a chart of benefits of each of the 11 Medigap plans. Click the chart to see a larger version.

There is one additional kind of Medigap policy called Medicare SELECT. They can be any one of the standard plans and they are generally cheaper because except in emergencies, you are required to use network hospitals and in some cases, network physicians to get full benefits.

There are many rules and complications if you want to switch Medigap plans - too many to cover in this series. I mention it only because it may be easier to switch plans with SELECT but there are restrictions so as with all Medigap policies, check carefully before changing.

Premiums vary greatly for the same plans among insurance companies and can be affected by your age and by location (rural or urban). Some companies may offer discounts for non-smokers, couples or women.

And premiums can be higher if you delay purchase past your initial six-month enrollment period.

Regarding age, companies have three ways they charge so when you are shopping for a Medigap policy, check or ask each company which of these three methods they use to help you determine which is a good policy for you:

  1. "No-age-related (or community-related)" means everyone is charged the same premium no matter what their age
  2. "Issue-age-related" means policies are priced by your age when you first purchase the policy. The cost does not go up automatically as you get older, but may increase due to inflation
  3. "Attained-age-related" means premiums are based on your age each year and go up as you get older. After age 70 or 75, they can cost more that other policies.

In addition, all Medigap policies can increase in price due to inflation and rising health care costs.

Purchasing a Medigap policy is an important decision for which Medicare lists four steps. They seems obvious, but they helped me focus six years ago, while I was learning so much new stuff, when I bought mine:

  1. Decide which plan (A-N) is best for you
  2. Locate companies selling that Medigap plan in your state
  3. Call the companies and compare costs
  4. Buy the Medigap policy

Once you have a Medigap policy, it cannot be canceled for any reason as long as you pay the premiums.

If you are looking for a Medigap policy at this time, here is the overview page for Medigap policies. You can compare plans side-by-side similar to the chart above.

There are also links to plans for each of the “waiver states” - Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin - and for everyone else, a link to the choices in your state.

Don't forget: It is your right to purchase a Medigap policy; you cannot be rejected. It must cover all pre-existing conditions and you cannot be charged more for them.

Tomorrow we will cover Part D, the Medicare prescription drug plan.

Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 1 - The Basics
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 3 - Prescription Drugs
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 4 - Advantage Plans
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 5 - Where to Get Help

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: Revisiting the Past

Live Elder Commentary Tonight During Second Presidential Debate

I am moderating a discussion with several other elders during the presidential debate tonight. To watch the ABC News/Yahoo! News Elders Response Hangout live at YouTube or to view the archived video later when you have time later, click this link.

You can also watch right here:

category_bug_politics.gif From Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, tonight President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney have a second go at explaining themselves to the American voter.

The moderator is CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley and the debate, in the format of a town hall meeting, will cover both foreign and domestic issues. Questions will come from audience members:

"There are strict time limits and rules," explains The New York Times. "After the audience member asks a question, his or her microphone will be immediately shut off.

"The candidate will have two minutes to answer. The other candidate is then given two minutes to respond. Then the moderator will be able to pose a follow-up question of her choosing, with each candidate allowed one minute to respond.”

That audience will consist of 80 people/questioners selected by the Gallup Organization from residents who live near Hofstra on Long Island – all of them to be undecided voters.

Undecided voters. Much has been made of them during recent weeks of this presidential campaign. In fact, some say they are the only ones who count which is why millions in partisan dollars are being spent in the so-called swing states.

But as much as these voters are courted, they are also much maligned and I admit that I am of the second camp. What more does anyone need to know?

It's not like there isn't a vast difference in the candidates' world views. And it's not as if there is any other news being reported in the U.S. these days (to the shame of the media).

Given that and the information overload environment we inhabit, it's damned hard to be a low-information and/or undecided voter unless perhaps you are living off the grid entirely and I don't believe there are enough of those to make a difference in the election outcome.

Here is the Saturday Night Live take on undecided voters:

It will be fun to see if any of those will be questioning the candidates tonight.

Also fun, at least to me, is that I, along with several other elders, will be commenting online during the debate.

Last week, ABC-TV asked me to participate in and moderate a conversation with elders during tonight's debate in a live, video presentation. It will be available online, if you care to watch, although you'll need a TV nearby to also see/hear the debate itself.

Four or five minutes after the debate begins, at 9PM eastern time, 6PM Pacific, I will post a link at the top of this story to the YouTube site where you can view the elder discussion and I will also embed the live video stream here. I'm giving you two choices because live streams, as we know, can sometimes be a bit dodgy.

So if you're interested in the reaction of a bunch of old folks to tonight's debate, please join us. Among some others and me, elderblogger Frank Paynter, who some of you may know, will participate.

If you arrive here tonight and don't see the video or the link, give it a couple of minutes because the internet address and video are not generated until we go live and it will take me a minute or two to get them posted.

The Medicare series begun on Monday will resume tomorrow, Wednesday.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary Hertslet: A Twice-Written Memoir

Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 1 – The Basics

category_bug_journal2.gif Today is the first day of Medicare's annual open enrollment period during which those who are eligible may make changes to their traditional Medicare, prescription drug (Part D) or Medicare Advantage plan for the calendar year 2013.

The enrollment period lasts until 7 December and if you do not make changes during these nine weeks, you must wait until next year's enrollment period. As I promised last week, this series will fill you in on many facts and other kinds of information that will help you make your choices this year. And I will try to keep it as easy to understand as possible.

Inevitably, that means I will not answer every question individuals have. Medicare is a vast program with uncounted numbers of possibilities so I cannot cover every contingency. Medicaid is even more complicated and I will not cover that at all. But I will do what I think will be useful for widest group of TGB readers.

At the end of the series, I will give you links to good additional resources along with a list of places where you can find people (real people) to help with your particular situation.

Because it appears there are a good number of readers who are just recently or soon to be eligible for Medicare, today we will cover the basics.

Medicare is a health insurance program for people age 65 and older. Created during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson in 1965, it is the closest thing to a universal coverage/single payer system the U.S has.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), administers Medicare. The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines eligibility for Medicare.

In general, anyone age 65 and older who is a U.S. citizen or a legal resident for at least five years is eligible for Medicare. There are certain work requirements to qualify for Part A (see below) and if they are not met, a premium is charged.

There are circumstances under which younger people are eligible but because this is a blog about aging, I will not address those.

Anyone already receiving Social Security benefits will receive his or her Medicare card three months before their 65th birthday. The benefits begin on the first day of the month in which you turn 65.

Those not receiving Social Security checks on their 65th birthday must enroll on their own. You should do this three months before your 65th birthday so benefits will begin on time.

What is called the “initial enrollment period” begins three months before the month in which a person's 65th birthday occurs and continues through three months following the birthday month.

To enroll, you can telephone SSA (800) 772-1213 or visit the web site or apply at your local Social Security office.

Medicare is divided into four sections which cover different aspects of health care. Here is an overview of each:

Medicare Part A
Part A is hospital coverage: in-patient hospital stays including a semi-private room, food and tests. In certain circumstances, it also covers rehabilitation in skilled nursing facilities, hospice and home care.

Most enrollees pay no premium for Part A. Those with too few working quarters to qualify pay premiums ranging (in 2012) from $248 to $451 per month.

Medicare Part B
Part B covers doctors, outpatient care, lab and diagnostic tests, x-rays, blood transfusions and more. It typically pays 80 percent of the cost; patients are responsible for the remainder.

Part B is optional and can be deferred if a Medicare enrollee or spouse is still working at age 65 AND has group coverage with his/her employer.

Without that private coverage, if you do not enroll in Part B before the end of the initial enrollment period and decide to enroll later, there is a lifetime penalty added to the premium of 10 percent for each year delayed.

For most people, the 2012 premium for Part B has been $99.90 (those with high income pay more) and it is usually deducted from people's Social Security benefit.

Medicare Part C
Part C, also called Medicare Advantage, is private Medicare insurance including HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) and PPOs (Preferred Provider Organizations). It replaces Parts A and B (referred to as traditional Medicare) and sometimes Part D, and will be explained thoroughly later in the week.

Medicare Part D
Part D, Medicare's prescription drug plan, went into effect on 1 January 2006. It is private coverage open to any traditional Medicare beneficiary. Beneficiaries may enroll in a plan or change plans during the annual open enrollment period.

In the beginning of Part D, there was the now-infamous and expensive “donut hole” wherein, after a period of coverage, beneficiaries were required to pay the entire cost of their drugs until a certain amount was met when catastrophic coverage would kick in.

Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) is changing that. The donut hole is gradually being reduced year-by-year until it will be eliminated entirely in 2020.

You should enroll in a drug plan when you first join traditional Medicare and do not have other coverage. If you do not and join later, you may be required to pay a late enrollment penalty with your monthly premium.

There is a wide variety of Part D plans and it can be difficult to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each to choose what is best for you. There will be a more complete explanation later this week.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan that includes drug coverage and you join a Part D prescription drug program, you will be dis-enrolled from your Advantage Plan and returned to traditional Medicare. (I don't know why anyone would do that but apparently it happens, so now you know.)

Medicare Supplemental (Medigap) Plans
This is the reason I noted the (or Five Parts of Medicare) above. Supplemental policies, which are optional, are private insurance that helps fill the gaps in traditional Medicare such as the 20 percent not covered in Part B along with some copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.

Generally, Medigap policies cannot cover gaps in Medicare Advantage and Part D plans nor private employer plans, Veterans Administration or Medicaid.

Medigap policies must follow state laws so even from the same insurance company, policies may not match state to state. When I moved to Oregon from Maine two years ago, I was required to purchase a new Medigap policy within a month or so of making the move.

In most states, only Medicare-standardized Medigap policies can be sold. Different levels of coverage are identified with letters A through N. The best time to buy a Medigap policy is during the six-month Medigap enrollment period which begins in the month you turn 65. You must also be enrolled in Medicare Part B to purchase a Medigap policy.

If you miss that open enrollment period, if you have a pre-existing condition, you can be denied Medigap coverage. I will expand on Medigap policies later this week.

If you have veterans benefits and Medicare, you can use either program but not at the same time. You must choose one or the other each time you see a physician or other health care professional. And, to have the Veterans Administration pay for your services, they must be administered in a VA facility or a VA-authorized outside facility.

There are other restrictions and this is a good, basic, two-page explanation [pdf] from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Whew! Did you make it this far?

I know that some of you have been Medicare beneficiaries for years and today's post is probably redundant for you. But Medicare is hard to understand, especially for newbies, and before diving into more details I want us all to be on the same page. Sorry for the boring parts.

I've read all your questions from last week's post and will incorporate many of them in this series which will continue on Wednesday.

I am skipping tomorrow, Tuesday, due to the second presidential debate and I will be moderating a Google+ "hangout" of several other elders as we watch the debate and comment throughout. So tomorrow's post will have some pre-debate commentary.

The next installment on Medicare, Supplement (Medigap) policies, will appear here on Wednesday.

Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 2 - Medigap
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 3 - Prescription Drugs
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 4 - Advantage Plans
Medicare Enrollment Information: Part 5 - Where to Get Help

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: October Rains

ELDER MUSIC: Still Livin’ On

PeterTibbles75x75This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

category_bug_eldermusic Today’s column was suggested by Norma, the Assistant Musicologist. It concerns a couple of songs by ERIC BIBB and the contents thereof. I’m not surprised at this as Eric is a particular favorite of the A.M.’s.

I must admit he does put on a fine concert. Not surprisingly, for something suggested by the A.M., this is a column of blues, old and new.

Eric Bibb

Eric came to music naturally – his father, Leon Bibb, was a trained singer but he was most notable as being part of the New York folk scene in the early sixties.

Eric’s uncle is the great jazz pianist and composer John Lewis, one of the Modern Jazz Quartet. His god-father was Paul Robeson. Whew. The Bibb household was regularly visited by musicians such as Odetta, Pete Seeger, Josh White, Bob Dylan and many others.

Eric made his TV debut when his father asked him to perform on his talent program. It wasn’t nepotism, even then Eric had talent, it seems. He has also recorded a couple of duet albums with his father.

From the early seventies Eric has lived in Paris, Stockholm and other cities in Europe. These days he is based in London and performs extensively around Europe and America and even comes here to Australia now and then.

Eric Bibb

Eric often pays tribute to his predecessors. In the first of the songs today, he names a number of artists who have influenced him and his music. Not just him. The guitarists today are among the most influential in rock, blues and any other music that employs guitars.

We’ll play the song, Still Livin’ On, and then some from those mentioned in it.

♫ Eric Bibb - Still Livin' On

MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT is mentioned by many guitarists as an influence on their playing.

Mississippi John Hurt

John taught himself to play the guitar when he was very young and developed his distinctive finger picking style because he thought that was the way a guitar should sound. Many later guitarists have agreed with him.

Eric isn’t the only one who sang about him. Tom Paxton, who played with him in the early sixties, wrote a song called Did you Hear John Hurt? that he still plays to this day. Here is John with Big Leg Blues.

♫ Mississippi John Hurt - Big Leg Blues

Not only is ELIZABETH COTTON mentioned but a song of hers is there as well. That song is Freight Train. I remember a version of this on the hit parade when I was in knee britches (or something, I didn’t ever wear such a garment). That was by Rusty Draper.

I don’t have Elizabeth’s version in my collection and neither does the A.M. However, I discovered this wonderful clip of her on YouTube performing the song.

Here is GARY DAVIS. He’s mostly referred to as the “reverend” Gary Davis, but I’m not one for titles either earned or unearned.

Reverend Gary Davis

Gary was from South Carolina and was partially blind from birth. He lost the rest of his eyesight while still a child.

He taught himself to play guitar and developed a sophisticated style of playing that has influenced many guitarists since. He started recording in the thirties and continued until he died in 1972. Here he plays a live version of If I Had My Way (Samson And Delilah).

♫ Reverend Gary Davis - If I Had My Way (Samson And Delilah)

SON HOUSE sounds like a made up name as were a lot of blues singers’ monikers, but it isn’t, Well, not completely. His folks named him Eddie House after his father, and he was the son so...

Son House

He was around so long that he influenced Robert Johnson’s guitar style, but contemporary enough to do the same for Bonnie Raitt, John Hammond, Jack White and Al Wilson amongst many others.

He was first recorded by Alan Lomax in the thirties but lived long enough to make records with several of those folks mentioned.

Son was yet another blues musician from Clarksdale, Mississippi - well, from Riverton, two miles away. Close enough. This is Death Letter Blues.

♫ Son House - Death Letter Blues

SAM CHARTERS isn’t a musician; he’s a musicologist, a real one. I think he has done just about everything around the blues.

He spent years searching out the old blues musicians, filmed and recorded those he found still alive, was producer and A&R man for a number of record labels, wrote books. The list goes on.

Sam Charters

Sam started listening in the days of 78 rpm records. In his own words, “I spent most of my after-school hours in Sacramento in the much battered booths of a tiny shop that an older friend, Russ Solomon, had opened in the back room of his father’s drug store. The name of Russ’s first little counter operation was Tower Records.”

And we all know where that led. Many’s the time I’ve haunted the branch on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco. Alas, no more.

By the 1950s, Sam was out recording the old musicians. One of those who had died before Sam managed to track him down was BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON. Sam described him as a singing preacher, rather than a bluesman, but several blues guitarists cite his playing, in particular on this song.

Eric has recorded a version, but today we’ll go back to Willie’s version of Nobody’s Fault But Mine.

♫ Blind Willie Johnson - Nobody's Fault But Mine

Sam did find LIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS or indeed, after a few years of enquiries, Lightnin’ found him. As Sam pulled up at red light in Houston, the driver of the next car asked, “You lookin’ for me?” Yes, it was Lightnin’, and it’s a good excuse to play a track.


Lightnin’ recorded prolifically, generally when he wanted some money but producers and engineers found him difficult to work with. He didn’t play to order; they just had to record whatever he felt like playing on the day.

On this day, everything went well, so we’ll hear Lightnin’s Special. This is just him having a bit of a boogie.

♫ Lightnin' Hopkins - Lightnin's Special

POPS STAPLES, Roebuck to his family, was the patriarch of the Staple Singers (and father to Mavis Staples).

The Staples Singers

The Staple Singers was a fine gospel group who also recorded pop songs. They were particularly good when they were on Stax Records and among their backing musicians were Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn.

The song I’ve chosen may sound rather familiar. The Rolling Stones recorded a song that’s attributed to Jagger/Richards but I think they may have heard this song before they wrote their version.

Here are the Staple Singers, with Pops out in front playing the guitar and singing, with This May Be the Last Time.

♫ The Staple Singers - This May Be the Last Time

Eric Bibb

We are now up to the second of Eric’s songs. This only mentions one person, but that’s okay, we’ll have enough music. The guitar in question did indeed once belong to Booker White (or Bukka – Booker was his birth name but some unscrupulous record company dubbed him Bukka), and now Eric plays this song on it and about it. The song is Booker's Guitar.

♫ Eric Bibb - Booker's Guitar

BUKKA WHITE’s song is a train song and you can’t go wrong with a train song.

Bukka White

Booker was a second cousin to B.B. King but his guitar style is quite different. He liked to play a steel guitar using a slide with open tuning which is apparent in the song, Special Stream Line.

In an earlier column I’ve featured Tom Rush performing a really fine version of this song (Panama Limited), or perhaps an interpretation would be a closer description.

♫ Bukka White - Special Stream Line

Eric Bibb

We’ll end with another song from Eric that has no other musician is mentioned in it at all. But it is about the life of a touring musician which seems an appropriate way to close today. The song is Diamond Days.

♫ Eric Bibb - Diamond Days

INTERESTING STUFF: 13 October 2012

She is an (un)acquired taste for many but whether you love her or hate her, there is no question that Barbra Streisand is an icon of our generation. What's amazing is that in all these years Barbra, who is now 70 years old, has never performed in her native borough, Brooklyn.

She did so finally on Wednesday at the new Barclays Center and she will be there in concert again tonight, Saturday. Here is some background and footage of the diva I found on the web this week.

Remember that old Dove soap television commercial about cleaning all “2000 parts” of our bodies? Well, The Guardian has been working on a series for a year or two, reporting on parts of our “wonderful body” one piece at a time.

I know this because I recently discovered the paper's story on the temple:

”the pterion...Roughly corresponding to what we all know as the temple, this the junction of four separate skull bones, the frontal, parietal, temporal and sphenoid. Sometimes referred to in neurosurgical circles as 'God's little joke,' the bony pterion is not just a hazard zone because it is so thin, but also on account of a big artery, the middle meningeal, which runs immediately beneath it.”

You can read more about the temple here and see a list of all the stories in the series here.

Columbus Circle sits at the southwest corner of Central Part in New York City. I am deeply familiar with the Gaetano Russo statue of Columbus because several jobs I held over a couple of decades were within a block of the monument.

Recently, Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi was allowed to build a penthouse room surrounding the statue which is open to the public for free via an elevator. Here is a video from inside the room:

When Nishi's installation is finished in mid-November, the statue, which was completed in 1892, will undergo a major conservation. There is a slide show at The New York Times with some different views of the room.

As long as we're talking about statuary, the Retronaut website I've told you about published a whole bunch of old photographs of the construction of the Lincoln Memorial that took eight years from 1914 to 1922 in Washington, D.C.

Lincoln Memorial Construction

There are many more photos at Retronaut and all sorts of obscure facts and information about the Memorial are at Wikipedia.

Nancy Leitz, who contributes many terrific stories to The Elder Storytelling Place, was the first person to send me this video – Steve Martin thumping for Bob Kerrey who is running for the Senate from Nebraska.

Kerrey is far from being my kind of Democrat so I do not mean this item to be an endorsement. I just think it's terrific to see Martin – which is rare these days – being Martin.

Mobile devices, tablet computers, apps and electronic records. Medicine is going through many changes as technology brings enhancements and questions about their use in treatment.

Here's a good video report about it all and an accompanying print story at The New York Times.

CVS is the second-largest pharmacy chain in the U.S. Some of their pharmacists have been be refilling prescriptions and submitting insurance claims without patient approval according to internal emails.

CVS denies that this is company policy - nothing more, it says, than the act of an overzealous pharmacy manager.

”Virginia Herold, executive officer of the California Board of Pharmacy, which licenses pharmacies and pharmacists, said she would have 'grave concerns' if claims were being submitted to insurers in this state without patients' knowledge...

“Herold said the practice described in the CVS emails could be considered insurance fraud — at least in California — because CVS sought reimbursements for drugs that patients never ordered.”

There is so damned much waste and fraud involved in all aspects of health care, I am dumbfounded at it all every time a read of another medical scam, as this one, uncovered by The Los Angeles Times, may or may not be. You can read more here.

Most new technologies start out big and are slowly miniaturized until they are more comfortable and easier to use. Sometimes I forget what it was like in the beginning so it was fun to see this Radio Shack commercial for a 1989 cell phone:

They were not babies, these ducks. They were fully grown, having been rescued by the Woodstock Sanctuary from a home where they had been penned up without access to adequate water and food.

When they had recovered, it was time to introduce the ducks to their natural swimming environment - something that was far from the slam dunk you might expect. Take a look:

You can read more about the ducks at the Woodstock Sanctuary website.

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.

TGB's First Friday Cat Video

Hundreds – well, probably thousands of websites and blogs post only cat photos and videos on one day of the week. I do enough of that intermixed with a lot of other kinds of items on Saturday's Interesting Stuff post.

But this has a been and continues to be a busy and fraught week not the least of which was the migration of email subscriptions for both blogs from one service to another.

I am sure I had customer service at Feedblitz (the new service) rolling their eyes in frustration with all my questions but they had it well planned and the transfer seems to have happened easily and correctly - there have been no complaints yet.

Most of all, however, I need several days to put together the Medicare annual enrollment post I promised for Monday which may slop over to Tuesday to be as complete as possible.

So I want something fast and easy to post today so that I have as much extra time as possible. And thanks to TGB reader Bev Carney, I've got just the thing.

See, there's this movie that opens today with a bunch of big stars like Colin Ferrell, Zeljko Ivanek (a personal favorite), Sam Rockwell, Tom Waits, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken and some others. It's about a dog-napping and it's called Seven Psychopaths. Here is the trailer:

There was a small bit of colorful language in that trailer and there is a whole lot more in the “restricted” version. The video is pretty much the same but with liberal use of the f-word. There is also a website for the movie which is here.

Okay, that's background. Now to the reason I made you watch it. (It is a pre-requisite to the next video so if you skipped it, go back and look at it.)

Someone whose name(s) I cannot find (although I'm 99.9 percent certain it is the film production company itself) is a wonderful person because he, she or they made a parody of the The Seven Psychopaths trailer titled, The Seven PsychoCats and I love it.

There is even, like the real movie trailer, a restricted version. This is the safe one:

There now, wasn't that fun? And no, my purpose is not to publicize the film. I have no idea if it's any good, but the parody cat trailer sure is.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: The Hipster