College and Medicare and My Superpowers

Hey, look at this. WordPress is loading on my Mac again. It hadn’t been for a while. I kept meaning to check into why, the same way I mean to check on why my mom’s phone doesn’t work sometimes. Somehow it always starts operating again, so I cling to hope that I’ll never actually have to invest time in finding a solution.

Batgirl giving me an encouraging smile.

November and December this past year were full not only of holiday busyness, but also with helping two kids through the process of researching, deciding on and applying to college. The older kid is transferring from community college. The younger one will (we hope*) graduate from high school in May and start college in the fall.

Also, my mother was forced to change prescription drug plans with Medicare. New plans had to be sussed and matched with her medications list and area pharmacies. All of the deadlines hit at once.

And there was a trip to visit the in-laws in Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, followed by a week with a bad cold. Right at deadline time.

My kids, who can be a little, shall we say haughty, at times about their online knowledge versus that of middle-aged adults, had no cause to crow as I was the one who demonstrated the ability to detect links to things such as “transcript requests” and “enrollment requirements.” I might let them live it down some day. In the far distant future. Possibly when I’m old and disabled and dependent on them for my care.

Speaking of which, Medicare. Due to having no assets and barely a handful of pennies in Social Security income, my mother qualifies for extra help on her prescription drug plan. She pays $0 for her premium and close to that for a copay on medicines. It’s a helpful benefit and I’m grateful. But. Every year they make her switch drug plans.

They send a letter saying to go online or call to compare plans and switch. Every year I experience amnesia about the fact that the phone number gets me nowhere. I call it and a computerized system offers a bevy of choices, none of which sounds like what I need. It’s voice-activated, and eerily similar to a badly constructed philosophy lesson. Basically a whole litany of if-thens. “If you want abc, then say xyz.” But changing plans was never a listed option. I tried saying it anyway, which reset the whole process back to the beginning. I also tried, “Speak to a human” with similar results. So I went online and hoped I wasn’t screwing things up too badly.

The only easy part of it was that my mom remains unaware. With the whole college thing, I not only had to deal with my own anxiety and confusion and time drain, but also my kids’ elevated stress levels. My mom has no idea about how her stuff gets paid for and I don’t worry her with it.

As the new year settles in, the status stands thus: My firstborn, who will continue to live with us for now, begins classes for a Fisheries and Wildlife degree at the University of Missouri this month. My other child has been accepted a couple of places, including Missouri S&T in Rolla. That’s Missouri University of Science and Technology, or as we affectionately call it, Geek School. He’s interested in computer programming. We have a visit scheduled for next month, after which a decision will be made. And my mom’s new prescription drug card arrived in the mail, with a letter stating her premium remains at zero.

All of this achieved while simultaneously battling my arch-nemesis, Perimenopause. I can only conclude I have superpowers.


*Two words that lead to a whole story in themselves, but I’ll save it for another time.


Extra Medicare Help for Low Income Seniors

Well, it’s happened. My mom has reached the end of her money. Her Medicaid application is in process. I’ve also discovered that low-income seniors can get extra help with Medicare prescription drug premiums. It’s easy to apply on-line. I wish I’d realized sooner that she qualified.

The hard part comes when the Social Security office double checks with the bank and gets inaccurate information. When my mom moved to town, one of the first things I did was open a checking account for her at the bank I already use. My name is on her account, as well, because I take care of her bills.

My name is on five accounts at this particular bank, in fact: a joint checking account with my husband, a joint savings account with my husband, my daughter’s savings account, my son’s savings account and my mom’s checking account. Despite the number of accounts, it doesn’t add up to all that much somehow. But enough to disqualify my mom from help with her premiums when the bank erroneously reports the sum total to Social Security as *all* belonging to my mother. Hello. Her name is on exactly one account, the tiniest one. Her account is not even tied to the others; it’s not like I can transfer money back and forth.

I think I have it straightened out now and have her application moving forward again. Nothing’s ever simple, I tell you.

If at First You Don’t Succeed…Calling Medicare

I have no poignant anecdotes to include in this blog post. Only a piece of advice about dealing with Medicare over the phone.

If at first you don’t succeed, then try calling again to speak with a different representative. This is the lesson I’ve learned as I’ve been on the phone with Medicare a few times on my mom’s behalf. Long story short on my most recent issue, I was simply trying to make sure her prescription drug coverage didn’t lapse.

Nobody seems to have a whole picture of what’s going on. Sometimes I call and the person says they can only speak to her and not to me, even though I did both mail and fax a form she signed giving me permission. Other folks, as long as I can supply her Social Security number, place of birth, etc., they’re good with it. Doesn’t mean they can tell me what I need to know, but they will try. I’ve gotten transferred a lot. I think everything’s good now. She has her new prescription drug cards.

And I figured out something. If the representative I’ve reached seems unable or unwilling to help, I shouldn’t accept that answer as the end of the matter. I simply say, “Thanks for your time. Goodbye.” Then I hang and up and immediately redial. The person with whom I was just speaking has moved on to a different call, and I get someone new. Possibly someone who knows more or is more willing to work with me. This strategy has solved my problem more than once. And, magically, they never seem to realize I have already called and talked to someone else who told me they couldn’t help. I’d assumed they would put a not in the record, a note the next person would see, but apparently not.

So if you’re getting the run-around with Medicare, just keep calling back. It works for me.

Chutes and Ladders

Dealing with Social Security and Medicare is like playing Chutes and Ladders, except with extra chutes and no ladders. You move along the spaces thinking you’re getting somewhere and then you land on the chute that takes you back to the beginning.

After many spins of the spinner when my mom first moved to town, we were told verbally that her address had been changed with Social Security. I assumed this was true because her checks starting showing up in the bank account I opened for her here. But then I discovered Mom’s Medicare statements were still being mailed to my sister in Ohio, where my mom had lived previously. Not only that, but Medicare is changing her prescription drug plan and it’s based on her Ohio address.

After working through several layers of sub-menus and many minutes on hold, I managed to talk to a live person at Medicare who required me to answer about a dozen questions before she was authorized to tell me she could do nothing for me. They get all changes of address from Social Security and they’ve never received one for my mom. Also, she couldn’t tell me what prescription drug plans are available in Missouri. I’ll have to call back between October 15 and November 15 for that information.

So I called Social Security and found out that, nope, they have no record of an address change, after the same sub-menus/dozen questions journey. But they do have it changed now. The guy promised me.

We’ll see if I hit the top of another chute on October 15.

Did I mention my mom got a jury summons? This actually made me laugh. The fun never ends.

In Which I Miss Something Important

In the seven months since my mom arrived in town, it never occurred to me to wonder if I should be receiving Medicare statements. I’ve been getting statements from her supplemental insurance.

Then I received an email from my oldest sister, with whom Mom lived before we brought her here. She’s been receiving the statements. And now they’re changing the prescription drug part of it. She said she’s not sure if the new insurance provider is based on mom’s old Ohio address or her current Missouri one. She’d mail everything to me in one big envelope.

Well. Hm.

The envelope arrived today. I’ll open it tomorrow. I couldn’t face it this afternoon. I thought we’d got her address change registered with Social Security and everyone. Her checks are being deposited to the correct bank account, at least.

So I have a project for next week. It’s always something. But I supposed if it weren’t always something, then it would nothing. And who wants that?