Navigating the Medicare Maze

Those of you who live in a country that believes ensuring adequate healthcare for all of its citizens is the right thing to do, may find this post puzzling. Feel free to gloat.

Recently, my husband became eligible for Medicare. After 64 years of being either covered by his parents’ healthcare plan or the one provided by his employer, his upcoming 65th birthday presented him with a dizzying array of healthcare plans and options – often with similar descriptions and letter designations – that he needed to choose from. Adding to his stress was the knowledge that he had a limited time window, a wrong decision now could be costly in the future, and, since my healthcare coverage is tied to his through his work until I turn 65, his choice directly affected me.

Even though my husband had officially retired from his company over six years ago, he continued to receive our healthcare coverage through them. With his impending birthday, he had to decide whether to switch to the company’s over 65 retiree medical plan or opt-out and dive into the Medicare pool on his own. There were pluses and minuses with both options, but, once we realized that leaving his company’s plan would force me to find coverage on the costly open market, we decided to stay.

Despite remaining under his company’s program, he still had to decide which plan they offered was best for us. I won’t go into all the details but, again, each option carried with it a set of consequences, and it wasn’t always apparent what those might be. We found ourselves trying to predict the future, including aliments, health challenges, and even if and where we might move at some point. This is one of many instances when navigating the Medicare maze, a crystal ball would have come in handy.

And, we are among the lucky ones.

We have healthcare coverage that we can afford and that is fairly robust. We are currently in good health, and we have the mental acuity – with a lot of research and careful reading – to understand the options offered and the possible ramifications of each choice.

We also know that can change.

The company or the government can – and most likely will over time – tweak the plans, and probably not to our benefit. We will most likely face health challenges as we age and our capacity to read and understand complex subjects and make sound decisions will probably fade over time. All of these likely progressions will impact our experience accessing Medicare.

It has been a month since he officially became a card-carrying member of Medicare. We are confident hopeful that we have made the right decisions for our situation. The financial penalties for non- or delayed-decisions (and there are a few so be careful) have been avoided. And, we have set things up so that we can make desired adjustments once I reach 65.

If you, or a loved one, turns 65 soon, I encourage you to start doing your homework now. There are many decisions to make and missing certain deadlines can be costly. If you haven’t already, soon you will find yourself flooded with mailings from various insurance companies and organizations that offer guidance (some better than others). You might feel overwhelmed and/or confused enough to want to just ignore it all together. Don’t.

Attend a few seminars if you can. Talk to your friends, family members, and colleagues. Ask how they made their decision and if they’ve found any helpful resources. One company you might want to check out is Boomer Benefits. They have a great website that contains a lot of information, answers to common questions, videos, and webinars. Most areas also have local Medicare insurance advisers who might be able to help you sort through the various options (at no cost to you).

Good luck and stay as healthy as you can. The best healthcare plan is the one you don’t have to use.

GratiTuesday: Translation tools for lazy bones

Although my husband and I made attempts to improve our Spanish language skills on our recent trip to San Miguel de Allende, we fell pretty short of the mark. Fortunately and unfortunately, many of the Mexicans we met spoke at least some English. It was fortunate for obvious reasons, but unfortunate because, rather than practice our Spanish (and hopefully learn more), it was often easier to revert to English for expediency sake.

We came home a little disappointed in ourselves, and we wondered if our struggle to learn Spanish was worth it. First of all, we are old… and lazy… but also, with so many great translation tools available, is it really necessary? Beyond the basic words and phrases everyone should know when they visit a foreign country (please, thank you, how much is this, where is the bathroom, etc.), more complicated translations are now only as far away as your smartphone. A quick search on the googles will get you a list of the best translation apps available and Siri is always ready, willing, and able to come to the rescue in a pinch (she even has a pretty good accent).

Some things don’t require a literal translation to understand the message.
Another message that was pretty easy to translate without a tool (El Grito means “The Scream,” “The Shout,” or “The Cry”… any of which works).

Most apps support multiple languages, and many allow you to either speak the words or type the text you want to translate. Interested in having a conversation but neither party speaks the other’s language? When each person talks into the phone, their words are translated (more-or-less) perfectly. Having trouble reading a sign? Just type in the text and it will be translated at least well enough to get the general idea.

Of course, any translation tool is useless if you can’t read the words you want to translate… I got as far as “‘Life is like a cup of coffee’ It’s all in how…” I have no idea what those last two words are.

One of the easiest – and free – apps we used is Google Translate. In addition to translating multiple languages (multiple meaning over 100) by spoken word or by typing, we used our phones’ camera to “read” text. It isn’t perfect, but it helped us read menus, labels, and signs without having to type the unfamiliar words on the smartphone keypad.

Label on plate in Spanish.
Using Google Translate, my phone’s camera did a pretty good job translating the label.

I imagine that sometime in the future, we could have a chip installed in our brain which would instantly translate all the languages of the world. While that would certainly be convenient, I think much would be lost. Instead of hearing the beauty of different languages, all we would hear are the words in our own language instantly translated as the other person is speaking.

Even though I still believe it is best to at least try to speak the language of the country where you are traveling, I know that is not always possible. For those of us who struggle (and maybe are a little lazy), I am pleased that there are tools available. Although not perfect, if translation apps can help bridge the divides and help us better understand each other, I’m grateful for the assistance.

Housesitting and the Importance of Saying Yes

It all started with an invitation… and we weren’t even the ones being invited. My brother and sister-in-law had dinner with friends who suggested they visit San Miguel de Allende, a colonial town in the center of Mexico. These friends manage vacation rental property in San Miguel and they thought B & SIL would enjoy the beautiful city.

Convinced, B & SIL decided to book a 2-week stay beginning July 1 and asked if we’d like to join them. We, of course, said “yes!”

San Miguel de Allende

Then, at my book club meeting, I happened to mention our upcoming trip. One of the members said that she knew someone who lived in San Miguel and when her friend traveled, she often needed a house- and pet-sitter. Would I like to be connected? Ummm… “yes!”

After exchanging a few emails, this friend asked if we’d like to stay in her home the month of June while she was housesitting for someone else in another part of Mexico. Even though we weren’t planning on going to San Miguel until July 1, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up, so we said “yes!”

Once we committed to a 7-week stay in San Miguel – 4 weeks housesitting and 3 weeks in an Airbnb – we contacted good friends of ours who often housesit for us while we are away. Their enthusiastic “yes!” assured us that our house would be well cared for… while we were caring for another person’s house and cat… while that person cared for the house and the dog of another.

Our home away from home.

I follow several blogs written by full- and part-time housesitters and that lifestyle has always intrigued me. Although it can be fun to travel from place to place, slow travel – staying in one location for an extended period – is especially appealing to us. Housesitting makes slow travel extremely affordable because there is seldom any monetary compensation involved. The homeowner knows that their home and, if they have one, their pet will be well taken care of, and the sitter enjoys the comforts and convenience of staying in a home for little or no cost.

I’m pretty sure that this won’t be the last time we will housesit when we travel. I’ve already checked out a few of the housesitting websites for opportunities (there are tons) and the homeowner (and now our friend) in San Miguel has assured us that we are welcome to sit for her again when she travels.

There are lots of lodging alternatives when traveling today. In addition to traditional hotels, we have other options such as Airbnb, home exchanges, and housesitting. Each has their pluses and minuses, benefits, and trade-offs. The important thing is to research the various alternatives, consider your personal preferences, and, most important, choose to say “yes!”

Doing Time in Spam Prison

It started off innocently enough… I was minding my own business, reading the blogs that I follow and making my usual clever, pithy, and well-reasoned comments. Suddenly I noticed that my nuggets of brilliance were disappearing. I’d hit Post Comment and *POOF* they were gone. After trying over and over and watching my comments evaporate each time, I gave up and began to search for a solution.

At first, I thought that some of my comments were waiting moderation, but it was happening even on the blogs that I comment on regularly without trouble. Since it occurred on my iPad as well as my desktop PC, I was pretty sure my usual nemesis, Microsoft, wasn’t to blame. Now, here is where I start missing the perks of work: an IT department, and, if not that, at least having access to a team of internet savvy co-workers. Since retiring, I am my IT department.

I searched the googles with no luck. I explored the WordPress forums to no avail. Finally, I reached out to WordPress’s “Happiness Engineers,” hoping they could live up to the promise contained in their title. Fortunately, Chrissie, Happiness Engineer extraordinaire, came to my rescue and determined that, for some reason, my comments were being marked as spam. Why? she didn’t know, but now that I knew what was happening, hopefully, I could find a fix.

My next step, according to my new best friend Chrissie, was to contact Akismet, plead my case, and have them break me out of spam prison.

What is Akismet, do you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked…

Akismet, according to their website, is a service used by millions of websites. It filters out “hundreds of millions of spam comments from the web every day.”

That’s hundreds of millions of spam comments… and at least 20 of my non-spam comments.

After running a few tests and submitting my DNA, the court of Akismet finally determined that I was wrongly convicted and released me, albeit with a warning:

“Sometimes commenting quickly can mimic the behavior of a spambot, which leads to your comments being marked as spam. To help avoid this happening in the future, you may want to slow down the rate at which you are submitting comments.”

How I, a three-fingered typist at best, could have exceeded the comment speed limit, I have no idea, but I’ve paid my dues to society and have learned my lesson. Now that I’ve tasted freedom, I have no desire to return to spam prison.

By the way, lurking among the various Viagra ads, scammer come-ons, and nonsensical word salads in your spam folder may be one of my innocent comments waiting to be set free.

And, let my experience act as a warning: don’t exceed the comment speed limit least you find yourself thrown in the can.

GratiTuesday: Hug a Librarian Day

I’ve always been a big fan of libraries and, since my retirement, my library card has gotten quite a workout. So, I was thrilled to learn that this week, April 8 – 14, is the 60th annual celebration of National Library Week. Sponsored by the American Library Association, National Library Week was created to recognize the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and promote library use and support.

The theme for this year’s National Library Week is “Libraries Lead”

 

Although most libraries will have their own locally-tailored events, the national celebration has identified four areas of focus for the week:

  • On Monday, the list of 2017’s Top Ten Most Challenged Books (compiled by the Office for Intellectual Freedom), was released. Of course, these ten books represent just a few of the many, many documented book challenges. If you click on over, you will probably be shocked at the books listed. You may also be surprised and saddened by the reasons given for their attempted – and sometimes successful – censorship.
  • Today is National Library Workers Day, a day to recognize the valuable contributions made by all library workers.
  • Wednesday is National Bookmobile Day. This day recognizes the contributions of our nation’s bookmobiles and the dedicated professionals who make quality bookmobile outreach possible in their communities.
  • Thursday is Take Action for Libraries Day which is a national library advocacy effort observed for the first time in 2017 in response to proposed cuts to federal funds for libraries.
I love my neighborhood library

I’m thrilled that today is National Library Workers Day. I don’t know about your library, but mine is staffed by the nicest people. They certainly deserve a hug or, maybe better, a big tin of cookies or some other treat to tell them how much they are appreciated.

Today, this week, always, I am grateful for our libraries. I don’t think there has ever been a time when the important work they do has been as threatened. They deserve our heartfelt appreciation and, even more, our active support.

Playing with Fire

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you probably know that I’m all about having experiences instead of acquiring stuff. At this point in my life, I certainly don’t need many more things to make me happy. Of course, if an experience happens to result in a beautiful item I can brag about  show off  display, that would be OK too.

Over the Christmas holidays, my husband and I were treated to a glassblowing session given by an artist whose studio is in the beautiful Northern California town of Benicia. My brother and sister-in-law – the givers of the gifts – joined us for this extraordinary opportunity to play with fire that was raging inside a furnace operating at temperatures around 2,000 °F (1,090 °C).

I’ve always admired art glass and have acquired a few small pieces over the years, but I never thought I could actually be part of the creative process. Although David, the studio owner and master glassblower, was with me every step of the way, I came away feeling that the glass ornament was truly my creation. I got to pick and apply the colors, I manipulated the molten glass, and I blew into the pipe to expand the bulb to the correct diameter.

The four of us had such a great time. Our individual lessons not only resulted in four beautiful ornaments but gave us a deeper appreciation of the art of glassblowing. I don’t think any of us is destined to become a professional glassblower, but who knows? Retirement is supposed to be a time of discovery and we all had fun discovering a new way to express our creative selves.

Desert Meet-Up

Sometimes the universe lines everything up just right. Calendars coincide, schedules align, and the weather gods exhale balmy temperatures and paint picture-perfect skies. That’s what happened last week when four bloggers got together in Palm Desert, California to enjoy each other’s company, break bread, and talk about blogging.

Donna, Janis, Kathy, Terri

Donna (Retirement Reflections) and her husband were in Palm Desert for a month-long home exchange. Kathy (SMART Living 365) didn’t have to drive too far as she lives in a community just a few miles away. Terri (Second Wind Leisure) had traveled from Sacramento to San Diego to visit friends and family over the long Veterans Day weekend. I live in San Diego and, along with Terri, was more than happy to make the 2 1/2 hour trip to the desert to participate in a meet-up with blogger friends.

When the idea for the meet-up started to form several months ago, I was enthusiastically all-in. I have had the pleasure of meeting all three women individually over the last several years so having the opportunity to interact with them at the same time was something I couldn’t pass up. I was confident that our gathering would be full of stimulating conversation, a rich source of insightful information… and a whole lot of fun.

With Donna acting as the host, we came together to learn from each other and share our love of blogging. From each of our unique experiences, opinions, concerns, and outlooks, we shared openly and honestly about a wide range of blogging-related topics, such as:

  • How do we attract active followers and encourage more comments?
  • The role social media does – or doesn’t – play in the promotion of our blogs.
  • How do we stay motivated and find new and interesting topics to write about?
  • What are our individual niches, and is it important to always stay within them?
  • How do we manage our schedules – are we spending too much screen time?

Our time together was uplifting, encouraging, inspiring… and it ended too soon. Before we parted ways, we talked about arranging a similar meet-up next year when Donna and her husband return for another home exchange. We also discussed the possibility of opening it up to other interested bloggers.

All four of us have published posts today about the meet-up from our unique perspectives. I encourage you to check each of them out and leave a comment (we all agreed that the interaction with our readers was one of the best parts of blogging).

Retirement Reflections

SMART Living 365

Second Wind Leisure

A fifth blog, Roaming About, is worth checking out too.  Although Liesbet couldn’t join this gathering, she had the opportunity to meet with Donna and Kathy a few weeks prior and she has written about her experience. (Lucky for me, Liesbet is currently house and pet sitting in San Diego, so I will get to have multiple meet-ups with her over the next few months.)

Look for more posts about the ideas and inspirations that came out of the meet-up. It was truly a special experience and one that I hope we can repeat – and build on – into the future.