Are You Ready for Medicare Open Enrollment?

Are You Ready for Medicare Open Enrollment?

It’s Open Enrollment season for Medicare. This is the time to examine your benefits and make sure your plan is working for you.

Did you know that there is a free, unbiased service that can help people walk through the Medicare process?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) helps fund and support a nationwide network of State Health Insurance Programs (SHIPs) that help beneficiaries understand their Medicare and Medicaid benefits, get answers to questions and help trouble shoot problems. These programs may go by different names in different states (Michigan’s program is called the Michigan Medicare Medicaid Assistance Program or MMAP), but they all offer a cadre of highly trained, certified, volunteer counselors that have been trained in health care benefits counseling. This includes Medicare, Medicaid and other Medicare insurance products. SHIP counselors are completely unbiased, are not connected with any insurance company and they are not licensed to sell insurance. Counselors are available year-round to guide and assist beneficiaries but are especially busy during the annual Medicare Part D Open Enrollment, which runs October 15 through December 7. Many SHIP programs offer special assistance to help people review and assess their Medicare Part D choices during this enrollment period.

Reviewing Your Plan Annually is Important

The Open Enrollment Period is the one time of year most Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their Medicare Part D prescription benefits. During Open Enrollment you can:
• Switch Medicare Part D Prescription Drug plans.
• Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan
• Switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another Medicare Advantage Plan

Any changes in coverage that you make will take effect on January 1, 2019.

I recommend that everyone review their plan options and choices once a year. Even if you’ve been happy with your current plan it is important to check that all your medications are still covered and that the price point is still affordable for you.

Be sure to understand that your health needs and how you like to access services are unique to you. You do not need to get the same policy as your friend or your spouse, even if they claim theirs is “the best!” Everyone is different. For example, if you only take one medication and your friend takes 5, they may have the best policy for them. You may end up spending significantly more money than necessary if you choose the same plan base on their recommendation. A SHIP counselor can compare plans with you to help make that determination.

How Much Does Medicare Cost?

Medicare can be quite expensive depending on the plans chosen. Each plan is different. Premiums, deductibles and co-pays vary; the medications you take might change from year to year, both in terms of what you take, and what is on the plan formulary; the policies and prices can change from year to year, and, if you have a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan, the services may vary. Your local SHIP counselor can review all of this with you. And, if you are having difficulty paying for Medicare or your prescription drugs, SHIP counselors can also determine if you might qualify for assistance to help pay for any or all of your Medicare costs based on your income or assets, and they can also assist with the application process.

What Are My Medicare Options?

People who are new to Medicare can select Original Medicare, which is Part A for Hospitalization and Part B for outpatient services, or a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) which functions more like an HMO or PPO. Most Medicare Advantage plans cover prescription drugs. But, if you select Original Medicare you will most likely also need a Part D, prescription drug plan and a Medigap (or Supplemental Plan) to cover certain costs under Original Medicare.

When Can I Enroll?

There is a seven month period for people just turning 65 to enroll in Medicare (3 months before your 65th birthday, the month of your birthday, and 3 months after). Timely enrollment is essential as there are financial penalties for late enrollment that can follow you throughout your lifetime. For those who already have Medicare, Open Enrollment provides you with an opportunity to make changes to your plans.

If you want a Medigap policy you have a six month period starting the first day of the month you turn 65 or older and are enrolled in Part B to purchase a policy with a “guaranteed right of issue,” meaning that you cannot be medically underwritten. After that period costs may go up based on your age, health or medical conditions.

If you are still working, have a retirement health plan or are covered by your spouse’s health plan, you may not need to enroll in certain parts of Medicare. It is best to check with your employer Plan Administrator to get more specifics. This may prevent costly penalties or unnecessary duplication of coverage.

Prevention and Wellness Coverage

If you are new to Medicare, you are entitled to a comprehensive “Welcome to Medicare” visit during your first year and yearly preventive visits thereafter. Medicare also offers many preventive and wellness services such as vaccinations, mammograms, prostate cancer and obesity screenings, smoking cessation counseling and more. You are also entitled to a yearly “Wellness Visit” to develop or update your personal care plan. All of this is detailed the Medicare and You book that is mailed out every year to Medicare beneficiaries. Additionally, the phone number for your local SHIP will be listed on the back.

Protect Your Identity

You have probably heard that Medicare is issuing new cards this year. You may already have received yours. The new cards have removed the Social Security numbers. There is now a Unique Alpha-Numeric Medicare Number with no personal identifiers attached. Gender information and the signature line have also been removed. This is to provide protection against Identity Theft that has become all too common in our society. Medicare started issuing new cards in April of 2018 and the roll-out is set to continue until April of 2019. Don’t worry if you haven’t received your card yet. The old cards can be used until December 31, 2019. Your new cards will be mailed automatically to you, but you may not receive your card at the same time as your neighbors or friends. It is important to note that you don’t have to do anything to receive your card. Scammers are contacting people insisting that they give their Social Security numbers or other information to get their new cards. A good rule of thumb is to never give out personal information over the phone unless you are dealing with a trusted contact. And, anyone who asks you to send or do something to get your card is not a trusted contact.

How Can I Learn More?

There are many resources available to you to learn more about Medicare or to help you make decisions. As mentioned earlier, Medicare and You provides fairly comprehensive information on Medicare and the services it covers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid has a user-friendly web-site, which also provides good information.

And, your local SHIP program has certified volunteers who have been trained to provide personalized one-on-one counseling to Medicare beneficiaries. We can help you understand your health care options, compare or enroll in Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage, review your supplemental insurance needs, apply for additional assistance, identify and report fraud or scams, and more. To find your local SHIP, go to and type your state in the box or look on the back of your Medicare and You book. We are here to help.

Shari Wenokur Smith holds a Master’s in International Development from the American University in Washington, D.C., and a Master’s of Public Health from the University of Michigan.  She also is a Certified Senior Advisor.  She is currently the Regional Coordinator for the MMAP Program with the Area Agency on Aging 1-B in Southfield, Michigan, when she works with a team of 147 certified volunteers providing Medicare counseling throughout most of Southeast Michigan.


How to Make Sense of the Open Enrollment Alphabet

How to Make Sense of the Open Enrollment Alphabet

It’s open-enrollment season again, and at some companies, employees will need to choose whether they would like to sign up for a Health Savings Account (HSA), a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), or a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA). While it sounds like alphabet soup, it’s important to understand the differences. If you don’t, you could be leaving money on the table next year. 

Here’s a quick breakdown on the three types of accounts, along with a few tips to find out whether they’re right for you:

Health Savings Account (HSA)

Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs, must be combined with a qualified high-deductible health insurance plan. This tax-advantaged account can be used to help pay your deductible, and any funds left in your savings account earn tax-deferred interest. Your contributions to your HSA are tax deductible, and withdrawals to pay for your qualified medical expenses are tax free. But here’s the best part:  The money in your account is yours to keep – you don’t have to “use it or lose it” by the end of the year.

How it Works

  • You decide how much to contribute, as long as the amount doesn’t exceed the maximum allowed by the government. (In 2017, for example, the limit is $3,400 for an individual and $6,750 for a family.)
  • Depending on your plan, you may receive either checks or a debit card for your HSA account to use for qualified medical expenses, including your deductible, any co-pays or co-insurance, or qualified medical expenses that your plan does not cover.
  • There are no deadlines for spending the money in your account.
  • Your HSA rolls over each year, unlike an FSA, which we’ll discuss later. If you reach the age of 65 and are on Medicare, you can still use your account to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses, but you’ll no longer be allowed to contribute money to your account.
  • Once a year you may rollover the balance in your HSA account from your employer account to another, lower cost, better diversified HSA, and select and manage those investment options yourself.
  • If you change jobs, you can take your HSA with you.
  • You can also have an HSA if you are self-employed.

What to Check  

  • Be sure to compare the coverage and the cost of your current plan with your high-deductible plan option to see which is less. (Richard Thaler of the New York Times has a great article on how to evaluate your health plans.)
  • Since you can invest your HSA funds in mutual funds, stocks, or other types of investments, make sure your HSA offers low-cost funds that are reputable. Some companies require you to have a minimum balance in your account before you can invest (to ensure you’ll have the funds you need for a qualified medical expense). However, if you don’t anticipate needing the funds right away, it could be beneficial to look for an HSA that will let you invest right away, without a minimum.
  • Some employers contribute to their workers’ HSA accounts, so if yours does, a high-deductible insurance plan with an HSA could make better sense than a regular insurance plan.

Flexible Spending Account (FSA)

Also known as a Flexible Spending Arrangement, Flexible Spending Accounts may be offered by an employer in lieu of, or in addition to, a health insurance policy. As with an HSA, FSAs are funded pre-tax, by payroll deduction, which can lower the employee’s taxable income for the year. Employers set the contribution limits for FSAs, while the specified limit for dependent care accounts is $5,000 per year. Unlike HSAs, however, FSA funds need to be used by the end of their run-out period, which is usually three months after the end of the year. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, employees who didn’t use the funds in their account wound up forfeiting those funds to their employers. Be sure to review your plan’s specific carry over allowance.

How It Works

  • Employers fund the entire amount of an employee’s contribution at the beginning of the year, so the individual has funds to use for medical expenses. The employee then pays back the amount through payroll deductions.
  • At the end of the year, you may lose any remaining funds you haven’t spent.
  • As with an HSA, you may receive a debit card to pay for small medical expenses, such as co-pays, prescriptions and other fees.
  • FSAs can be used to purchase certain non-prescription drugs, unlike other types of plans.
  • FSAs stay with the employer. They cannot move with you to another job.
  • Stand-alone FSAs (those without a major medical insurance plan) can only provide limited dental and vision benefits, and in certain cases may be used in conjunction with an HSA.

 What to Check

  • If you choose to use FSA funds to pay for childcare, you could lose your child tax credit when you file your taxes. Check with your tax preparer before making your decision.
  • Be sure you understand how your company’s FSA may be integrated with its HSA plan.

Health Reimbursement Account (HRA)

Many types of Health Reimbursement Accounts (also called Health Reimbursement Arrangements) exist, but we’ll focus on those that are linked with high-deductible health insurance plans. Employers may offer an HRA to employees and their families who enroll in the company’s group health insurance plan. An HRA differs from an HSA and FSA in that the employer is the only one who contributes, and, like an FSA, the employer owns the account.

How It Works

  • An employer determines how much to contribute to an HRA per employee.
  • The funds could be used to cover co-pays, deductibles, or insurance premiums.
  • Funds are available from the first day of coverage.
  • Unlike FSAs and HSAs, HRA funds do not accrue in a separate account. Employers reimburse employees after they have incurred an expense. Some HRAs are set up to pay only after an employee reaches his or her deductible. Reimbursements are tax deductible.
  • Once the employer’s contribution is used up, employees must pay the balance of any expenses they incur. Depending on how the employer sets up the plan, someone who doesn’t spend the entire benefit may be able to roll the funds over to the next year.
  • HRAs stay with the employer.
  • Business owners are usually not eligible to participate in HRAs; however, employees (including spouses who are legitimate employees) can participate as long as they are receiving regular paychecks.

What to Check

  • Since HRAs can vary by employer, talk to your human resources department to learn more details about your company’s plan.

During this open enrollment period, take the time to study all of your options. In addition to protecting your health, you may also be able to improve your tax position and take advantage of funds contributed by your employer.


Before Wayne Titus founded AMDG Financial and AMDG Tax and Accounting in 2002, he spent fifteen years at two large accounting firms, working with Fortune 50 clients. He dove into entrepreneurship to make a bigger impact on people’s lives. Titus is a fee-only fiduciary adviser, meaning he owes loyalty to his clients and places their interests ahead of his own or those of his firms. With assets of more than $150 million, AMDG Financial integrates tax, financial and investment strategies to help clients make financial and life transitions successful on purpose. The company’s credo is, “From financial wisdom, better stewardship.”

To learn more about Wayne Titus, visit


Self-Care Comes First: 100 Years of Health and Wealth

Self-Care Comes First: 100 Years of Health and Wealth

I’m so excited to be sharing this month’s e-zine with you!  For the last 30 years, I have been teaching women that prosperity is more than money; it includes health, wealth, and happiness.  You need all three to be truly prosperous.  With more women taking on leadership roles, running companies, running for office, and leading the charge for equal rights and equal pay, it’s so important to put ourselves first on that “To Do” list. 

Most of us are still maintaining traditional roles as the caregiver for children, grandchildren, parents, and even aging spouses, while volunteering in the community and taking care of our homes.  It can be very overwhelming, and as we heard from Maddy Dychtwald last month, it can take a huge toll on our finances.

According to the Merrill Lynch/Age Wave study, the combination of the wage gender gap and time off work to care for family can cost women over $1,000,000 in earnings during their careers.

We also learned from the study that women are outliving men, 2-1 by age 80, and that most centenarians are women.  This means that as women, we must save more than men, and we must take care of our health so we can enjoy our longer lives.

This month, I am so thrilled to be interviewing Florine Mark, President and CEO of The Weight Watchers Group, Inc, and Dr. Keesha Ewers, the Founder and Medical Director of the Academy for Integrative Medicine Coach Certification Program.  These women both walk their talk, and I’m thrilled they are sharing their wisdom with us on Smart Women Talk Radio!

Don’t miss Harvard-trained physician, Dr. Susan Sklar’s quiz and free e-book, The Hormone Solution:  Natural Methods to Reclaim Your Health, in our self-care tip of the month.  Dr. Sklar is brilliant and working on cutting-edge anti-aging, brain health, and longevity research in California.

I hope you enjoy this issue and share it with the other women in your life!

Katana Abbott, CFP® practitioner, is a Wealth Coach™, host of the Smart Women Talk Radio™, founder of the Smart Women Companies with over 1 million subscribers globally, inspirational speaker and author of several books.

She began her financial planning career in 1987 and became a Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner. In 2003, Katana created Smart Women’s Coaching® to offer financial coaching and educational workshops for women in transition who are dealing with caregiving, death of a loved one, divorce, retirement or looking to create or grow a business.  She founded Smart Women’s Empowerment in 2008 to bring free financial empowerment resources and programs to women around the world through her team of Contributing Experts. To learn more about Katana Abbott visit

Stop Acting Your Age

Stop Acting Your Age

People are always asking, “Florine, what’s your secret?”

They want to know how I still feel and act younger than my years.  I am still as active and feel just as energetic as I did 20-30 years ago.  And it’s because I exercise regularly, eat healthy, and most of all – I maintain a positive attitude and outlook on life.

You can make the same choice. Imagine what we could accomplish if it didn’t matter how old we were. Take a look in the mirror and decide the age you want to be — then think, act, dress and, most of all, live your chosen age with real excitement!

We hit these milestones — 30, 50, 70 and older — and we think: “Oh my God! I thought by this age I’d have a lot of money, a huge home, be retired, living in Florida, or driving a certain kind of car.”

We even start to tell ourselves: “I’m too old to exercise. I’m too old to do new and exciting things. I’m too old to start dating again and keep the romance flowing in my relationship. I’m too old to care about how I look. I’m too old to create new dreams and pursue them.

Well, don’t fall into the age trap. You can do anything you want to do – no matter how old you are – but ONLY if you want to do it bad enough.

People never say: “Happy Birth Year!” They say: “Happy Birthday because life is about living in the present.  One of the most damaging phrases in the English language is “act your age.” I DECIDE THE AGE I’M GOING TO ACT, AND YOU CAN DO THE SAME!

Your life shouldn’t be about your age. That doesn’t matter. What matters most is how you feel about yourself, how you take care of your mind and body, and what you do with your life.

If you eat right, have good energy, a positive attitude, forgive and forget, and are a kind and charitable person, you’re going to have a good, long life. You’re going to be like me — 43 every year of your life. And I intend to live to be 110.

What I’m saying is don’t wake up at 40, 50 or even 80 years old – and say: “If Only.” Start now. It’s never too late. You can do anything you want to do if you want to do it bad enough.


Florine Mark is the President and CEO of The Weight Watchers Group, Inc., based in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Florine, has used her knowledge, influence, energy and resources to help people help themselves.

Florine serves as an advisor, advocate and board member on approximately 35 committees and civic organizations. She has also serves as a member of the Seeds of Peace and was the chair of the Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.  In addition, Florine serves on The Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy’s School of Government where she works to globally advance women in leadership and public policy.

To find out more about Florine Mark, visit

The Song of Silence

The Song of Silence

In snow country, winter brings a season of soft, deep and wonder-filled silence. The snow absorbs sounds, creating silence that feels juicy, thick and almost “holy”. Think to the Christmas carol, Silent Night.

Yet, many find comfort with constant noise. The TV endlessly talks. Lawn mowers, traffic and more… continually add noise. We are used to constant sound-chatter. Do we escape silence to avoid feeling alone or vulnerable? Do we hide from our feelings and innermost thoughts? To a screaming mind, silence is unbearable, but silence has gifts for us to explore.

A Hindu Master, Sri Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swamiji, reflects that in silence there are no quarrels. Silence lies beyond the realm of judgment. Silence is peace. True silence occurs when the mind is still. In silence there are no questions. Creativity begins with silence. True friends communicate best in silence. (more…)

The Harmonious Holiday Recipe

The Harmonious Holiday Recipe

Buying just the right present… How to cook that turkey… Get those Christmas cookies made…. When are we getting the tree up? Who will I be with this Christmas? I can’t afford this… Stress! Stress! Stress!

These familiar feelings make a sharp contrast with the significance of holidays – peace on Earth, goodwill, joy and celebration! So how do we reconcile the hustle and bustle and holiday exhaustion – with the deep presence of peace and goodwill? (more…)

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