Our Blog

Avoiding COVID-19 Vaccination Scams

Guest blog by Charles Clarkson, Esq., Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

On March 13, 2020, a national health emergency was declared due to the coronavirus pandemic. After many years of running the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP), I knew it was only a matter of time before we starting seeing SCAMS related to the health emergency. Fraudsters are always looking for ways to scam people, and the COVID-19 public health emergency has been no exception. Initially, fraudsters promoted false cures, sold phony personal protective equipment, given people illegitimate COVID tests and billed Medicare for sham tests and treatments. Now, they are targeting vaccines.

The goals of the fraudsters are very simple: to obtain your information, which they can use to steal your personal and/or medical identity, or to outright steal your money. The SMP has seen a number of vaccine scams. The more you know about these scams the more likely it is you will not fall victim to them.

Head-of-the-line Vaccine Scams

Scammers call and say you can get your vaccine early by providing your Medicare number or other personal information. They may ask for payment upfront and/or insurance information in order to be placed on a priority waiting list for a vaccine you may never receive.

Don’t fall for it. You cannot pay to get in line for a vaccine.

Survey Vaccine Scams

You have gotten your vaccine. You then get an email asking you to complete a health survey. It looks legitimate and has logos and telephone numbers that appear to be genuine. You want to be helpful because you are grateful you were able to get the vaccine. Some of these surveys are also offering money or other incentives to entice you to participate in the survey. The messages may also claim to be urgent, giving a timeframe of expiration to get you to click on their deceptive link to gain personal information.

Don’t fall for it. A vaccine survey offering you an incentive or stating a sense of urgency to complete is a red flag. You should double-check logos and phone numbers and hover over links to see if they are long and suspicious. Don’t click on them.

Vaccine Trial Scams

There are numerous clinical research trials in the race to develop additional COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and cures. Legitimate clinical trials may offer payments to participants under well-defined legal guidelines. However, career criminals know the offer of a paid clinical trial is also an opportunity for financial identity theft.

Don’t fall for it. Be wary of unsolicited emails, calls, or personal contacts requesting personal information. The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning in October 2020 with helpful hints to determine whether a trial is legitimate.

Vaccines-for-Sale Scams

Scammers are setting up fake websites offering to sell vaccines or vaccine kits. Some are imitating legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers. In some cases, scammers were asking for payment for vaccines and/or kits via a credit card and sending payment to a specific credit union.

Don’t fall for it. You can’t buy a vaccine.

For More Information About Vaccine Scams Affecting Older Adults

If you think you have been a victim of Medicare fraud, errors, or abuse, contact the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 1-732-777-1940 or call our hotline at 1-877-SMP-4359 [1-877-767-4395]. You can also visit our website.

Find Help in Your State

If you live in a state other than NJ, you can find help by visiting the SMP Resource Center.

If you have questions related to Medicare billing for COVID-19 vaccines, call 1-800-Medicare [1-800-633-4227] or visit Medicare.

Charles Clarkson, Esq., has been the Project Director of the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey, under the auspices of the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, since 2005. The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey is a federally funded program of the U.S. Administration for Community Living and part of the national Senior Medicare Patrol project. There is a Senior Medicare Patrol in every state, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgins Islands. The SMP of New Jersey is responsible for teaching Medicare recipients in the state to become better healthcare consumers. As part of this effort, seniors are provided with information to prevent them from becoming victims of fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare program. The SMP program also assists beneficiaries in reviewing suspected Medicare fraud and can act as an advocate to assist beneficiaries in fighting Medicare fraud, waste and abuse.

Clarkson is a New York attorney who for many years was Vice President, Deputy Counsel and Corporate Secretary of TLC Beatrice International Holdings, Inc., a multi-billion, international food company.

“2020 Vision for Successful Aging”

aging elders seniorsNJ Foundation for Aging is honored that the North Jersey Alliance of Age-Friendly Communities, a partner organization, wrote about their impressions of our 22nd annual conference and shared them with us as a guest blog.


Mornings on the golf course. Weekends with the grandkids. Vacations to dreamed-of destinations.

These are the visions of “successful aging” in many people’s minds, reflections of the one-dimensional view of growing old that is all too pervasive in our culture.

Not that those pretty images of retirement life aren’t experiences that people should desire. But without taking a deeper look at all the potential challenges and opportunities of growing older, many individuals will fail to anticipate later-in-life needs and desires.

In its advocacy work, the New Jersey Foundation for Aging routinely seeks to widen the lens that society trains on the lives and livelihoods of older adults, and the organization’s annual conference this year succeeded in doing just that.

Titled “2020 Vision for Successful Aging,” the conference, held virtually on Aug. 13 and 14, featured presentations on how aging intersects with a range of other policy issues from climate change to LGBTQ rights to immigration policies.

The conference also sought to open attendees’ eyes to the ways in which ageism is so widely normalized and internalized that it can often lead to us making uninformed individual and societal decisions that limit older adults’ choices in later years.

LONGEVITY COSTS

In a keynote address, Cynthia Hutchins, director of financial gerontology for Bank of America Merrill, said people shouldn’t avoid thinking about uncomfortable questions such as how long they might live and whether they will need some form of caregiving at some point.

“Longevity has changed the way we plan for our health and our health-care needs,” Hutchins said.

prolonged health care

Previous generations didn’t envision living decades in retirement, but Baby Boomers and the generations that come after them will need to have a better understanding of such things as the limits of Medicare, the different options for long-term care, and how the financial and lifestyle choices they make early on can affect future health and happiness, Hutchins said.

In her presentation, Hutchins pointed out that, although one’s future health might be an unknown, there are useful projections individuals need to be aware of, such as that out-of-pocket health care costs between the ages of 65 and 80 can equal $114,000, and then grow to $247,000 by age 90 and $458,000 by age 100.

Figures like these might seem unbelievable to the average individual, but failing to adequately discuss and plan for future scenarios is what often leads to individuals having inadequate plans, and our government institutions having inadequate policies for the aging of the population.

At the root of our society’s unpreparedness for aging is often ageism, which includes the “prejudice against our future selves” that many of us possess.

Ageism was a focus of several workshops at the two-day conference, some of which examined how it can evolve into elder abuse or translate into a lack of advocacy on key issues that older adults and their advocates should be speaking about more often.

CLIMATE CHANGE + AGING

Climate change is foremost among those issues. Often portrayed as an issue of more concern to younger people worried about the future, what’s often overlooked is the fact that older people are the ones who tend to suffer the most harm from the severe storms and climbing temperatures that are already the result of our warming planet.

climate change and agingJeanne Herb of the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center at Rutgers University shared data showing that older people are at more risk of heat-related hospitalizations and more likely to have chronic conditions exacerbated by severe weather and the power outages and service interruptions that can result from them.

Similarly, older adults and their advocates need to be aware of how immigrants and people in the LGBTQ community are subject to more discrimination and barriers to housing and supportive services as they age, other panelists at the conference argued.

AGEISM/STEREOTYPES

In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has brought to light the way ageism, and bias toward disenfranchised groups, can lead to alarming disparities in disease exposure and treatment outcomes and to the many gaps and weaknesses in New Jersey’s long-term care systems, many speakers pointed out.

Organizers of the conference hoped that it would serve as a call to action, and ideas were shared on how to combat ageism with intergenerational programming and through the arts.

Katie York, director of Lifelong Montclair and the township’s senior services department, described the results of a study she helped guide on how performing arts programs can help lessen age stereotypes among young and old.

ageism, age-friendly communitiesThe study entailed recruiting 72 individuals – ranging in age from 20 to 82 – to perform in skits that reflected age stereotypes. Afterward, participants were surveyed on whether the performances had altered their perceptions of aging and generational differences.

As director of Lifelong Montclair, a now-five-year-old age-friendly community initiative, York said she has come to “recognize the need for culture change as a foundational element of age-friendly efforts.

“As more people understand the scope and value of our work on culture change, I believe our work will be that much more significant, and those battles we face along the way will be that much easier,” York said.

Julia Stoumbos, director of aging-in-place programs for The Henry & Marilyn Taub Foundation, said the NJFA conference provided many useful insights into how the leaders of age-friendly communities can help change views of aging, and also the steps that community leaders take to support the goal of aging in comfort, dignity, and safety.

“Often, the approach that communities take in addressing the needs of older adults is compartmentalized. There’s a big emphasis on leisure and recreation – planning Zumba classes and bus trips to Atlantic City.  There’s also a tendency to medicalize old age, with programs focused on how to combat it or treat it like a disease.” ~ Julia Stoumbos, director of aging-in-place programs for The Henry & Marilyn Taub Foundation

“Often, the approach that communities take in addressing the needs of older adults is compartmentalized,” Stoumbos said. “There’s a big emphasis on leisure and recreation – planning Zumba classes and bus trips to Atlantic City.  There’s also a tendency to medicalize old age, with programs focused on how to combat it or treat it like a disease.

“Those narrow approaches can sometimes lead to older adults being treated as if they are separate from the rest of the community, as if they are less invested in issues that affect all people at all ages,” Stoumbos said.

“Older adults have no less of a stake in the major issues of the day. They need to be empowered to stay engaged on these subjects, and communities need to make sure they are bringing the generations together in conversations about the weighty issues that affect quality-of-life for all.”


The age-friendly movement was first envisioned by the World Health Organization in 2005 as a way to find local strategies to prepare for the global challenges and opportunities of an aging population. The North Jersey Alliance of Age-Friendly Communities is supported by The Henry & Marilyn Taub Foundation and the Grotta Fund for Senior Care. Together those foundations are funding age-friendly initiatives in 16 communities in five counties – Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic and Union – which together have a population of more than a half-million people. The alliance also works in partnership with NJFA, AARP New Jersey, New Jersey Future and Rutgers University.

Testimony given by NJFA Executive Director Melissa Chalker to the inaugural meeting of the Assembly Senior Services Committee, 1/27/2020

 

The New Jersey Foundation for Aging’s Executive Director, Melissa Chalker, was invited to testify at the inaugural meeting of the Assembly Senior Services Committee on January 27, 2020. The committee includes Chair Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Vice-Chair Shanique Speight and members BettyLou DeCroce, DiAnne C. Gove, Angela V. McKnight and P. Christopher Tully. This was Melissa’s testimony. To read more about the meeting, see the NJ Spotlight coverage here.

“Good afternoon, Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle and members of the Assembly Senior Services Committee. Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today. I am Melissa Chalker and I’m the Executive Director of the nonprofit New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA).

NJFA was founded in 1998 by four County Office on Aging Directors. They wanted to create a statewide organization that would address public policy issues related to the changing and diverse needs of our growing aging population. Since then, we have worked with a wide variety of partner organizations, as well as state government officials, to enable older adults to live with independence and dignity in their communities.

Today, I would like to tell you about NJFA’s advocacy priorities and present some current data related to older adults.

FINANCIAL INSECURITIES

NJFA developed the state’s first Elder Index Report — a cost-of-living table — in 2009. In 2015, the NJ State Legislature passed a bill that mandated the use and updating of the report by the Dept. of Human Services — specifically the Div. of Aging Services, which I am sure my friends from the Division can tell you more about.

From the first report in 2009, through the national database update that was unveiled last week, this Elder Index data allows us to look at the cost of living for seniors in NJ, determine how many fall below the Elder Index Benchmark ($29,616 a year for a single elder renter) and focus on how they can be supported by public benefits and other programs to fill the gap.

Because of the Elder Index research, we know that 8% of New Jersey’s older adults live at or below the federal poverty level. Those seniors are among our most vulnerable — both financially and medically.

Additionally, Social Security is the only source of income for 30% of older adults in New Jersey. The average annual Social Security benefit for a retired elder in NJ is $18,065. We know that number is even lower for women, plus there are many other seniors who receive far less than the average benefit. We have received calls and letters from older adults seeking help, stating that they are trying to get by on their monthly Social Security benefit of $700. After paying their rent and health care premiums, they are often left with $100 or less for groceries, co-pays and other expenses.

In addition to those seniors living below the federal poverty level, there are older adults who may be above that benchmark, but still struggling to meet all their basic needs. In fact, the most recent NJ Elder Economic Security Index indicates that more than half (54%) of New Jersey’s seniors do not have the annual income needed to provide for their basic needs. This is what is referred to as New Jersey’s statewide Elder Economic Insecurity Rate (EEIR). These are the older adults that we refer to as being “in the gap.” That gap is having income too high to qualify for government programs, but too low to adequately cover basic expenses.

The Elder Index statistics influence much of NJFA’s advocacy work, including, but not limited to, affordable and accessible homes, nutrition and food security, and access to quality healthcare. However, this data should serve as a reminder that the state must also consider older adults when discussing tax relief programs — including property taxes — and review the structure of retirement income taxes, compared to that of neighboring states.

HOUSING INSECURITIES

Ensuring that New Jersey’s aging population has safe and affordable housing is also imperative. Two years ago, we convened a stakeholder group, which developed a policy recommendation report. I have provided a copy for each of you to review [see the report here].

In the 10 recommendations listed, you will see that we are suggesting increases in vouchers and units for older adults within existing housing programs. We also identified ways to streamline the process and implement incentives to provide more housing to older adults that is safe, affordable and accessible.

When we consider the housing needs of seniors, we must consider every senior — there is no one-size-fits-all for older adults. When implementing policies and programs, we need to recognize seniors with chronic health conditions and those who are facing economic insecurity.

Additionally, there are middle-income seniors who struggle to find appropriate, accessible places to live in their communities of choice, and worry about being able to afford all their retirement expenses — including the potential need for long-term care services, which can add up to $50,000 a year to their costs depending on the level of care. Along with our partners, we’re engaged in discourse about age-friendly communities, particularly how social and wellness services can better be incorporated.

FOOD INSECURITIES

Much like anyone in any age category, the nutritional needs of seniors are a priority. Protecting the SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] program from Federal cuts would ensure that those who rely on the program will still be able to access healthy foods. What we have learned from partners doing outreach with seniors is that often an older adult on SNAP is better able to follow a doctor’s dietary guidelines because of this benefit.

One area of need, though, is finding and educating seniors who do not know about the SNAP program, or those who fear the stigma of public benefits and the stories about the difficulty in applying for the program. My friends at the Division of Aging Services can confirm that there has been under enrollment of seniors in SNAP for quite some time.

An improvement to SNAP program would be a Standardized Medical Deduction for seniors applying for SNAP, which would make it easier for seniors to take advantage of the medical deduction provision. Having one max deduction amount that all seniors could utilize would make it easier for them to apply for, and receive, SNAP.

FAMILY CAREGIVERS

The issues and struggles surrounding informal, unpaid family caregivers have been well documented. Family members provide most of the care for older adults and individuals with disabilities here in NJ. Our healthcare system will need to respond to the continued growth of the 65+ demographic over the next decade. Relying on family caregivers to fulfill all facets of care is unrealistic; but we know that it will become a necessity for many. Therefore, we need to not only look at policy changes to the healthcare system, but also the support of caregivers.

There is an urgent need to bring greater public awareness to this issue and to advocate for caregivers. Expanding access to home-based, long-term care services for NJ’s older adults would provide some relief in that area. The state has done a great job increasing the number of people who receive home- and community-based services through the state’s MLTSS [Managed Long Term Services and Supports] program.

Therefore, NJFA continues to participate in dialogue around the need for a policy or program to address those who fall in the gap between eligibility for Medicaid and the ability to pay privately for care.

In conclusion, there is no single answer to “how do we better serve older adults in NJ,” because there isn’t just one issue. Across our nation (and even the world), longevity is increasing, which is good news. However, that means that society’s ageist views, which place barriers on the road to aging well, need to be dismantled now. Investing dollars into housing, nutrition and healthcare services (including those that benefit caregivers) will ensure that everyone in NJ has the opportunity to live a long and healthy life.

Thank you for your time.”

Medicare Fraud. How We Can Fight it.

Today we bring you a blog post from guest blogger and NJFA friend Charles Clarkson, Project Director of the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey.


By Charles Clarkson, Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of NJ

 

Medicare fraud is estimated to cost American taxpayers $60 billion a year, monies that are siphoned off and are not available for legitimate Medicare services. At the Senior Medicare Patrol of NJ (SMP), which is a federally funded program, we want to educate Medicare beneficiaries so they do not become victims of Medicare fraud. There are steps Medicare beneficiaries can take to fight this fraud. The most important step is to protect your Medicare number. Even though Medicare issued new Medicare cards to all beneficiaries with randomly generated numbers and letters and removed the social security number from the cards, the Medicare number (now known as the Medicare Beneficiary Identifier) is still very valuable to fraudsters who can use it to bill Medicare. Beneficiaries should not give out their Medicare numbers to anyone they don’t trust. This is especially true for the many beneficiaries who receive robo calls on a constant basis. The rule of thumb is to never pick up the phone if you do not recognize the telephone number on your message machine. Let the message machine screen all of your calls and then you can decide to return the call or not. Most beneficiaries will find that no message is left and they can then ignore the call.

The next step is to always read your Medicare Summary Notice (MSN), the document a beneficiary receives from Medicare usually 3 months after seeing a Medicare provider. It is important for beneficiaries to review their MSN, not just because of fraud but because mistakes can also happen.

Step three is to keep a personal health care journal or calendar. Record every time you see a medical provider, take a test or have other services provided. When you get your MSN compare it with your journal or calendar. Make sure you are not being scammed. If you are not sure something is fraud or you have a question about the billing, call your provider and ask for an explanation.

Step four is to report any suspected fraud or error. This step is vitally important. Failure to report will translate into the provider getting away with any fraud or errors. Remember, this is your money. You pay Medicare premiums, co-pays, co-insurance, deductibles and other charges. If you need assistance in fighting Medicare fraud, as you were unable to resolve it yourself, call the SMP. Our telephone number is 732-777-1940 and our hot-line number if 877-SMP-4359. A beneficiary can also use our web-site to report a fraud on the form provided. Visit seniormedicarepatrolnj.org

Even if you are not sure if it is fraud but need questions answered, call us. We are a free service and we are here to help. Every beneficiary should feel empowered to help fight Medicare fraud. At the SMP we want to keep Medicare as a viable program that is there for every beneficiary.


Charles Clarkson is Project Director of the Senior Medicare Patrol of NJ

Important Updates to Medicare: The New Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

By Guest Blogger Charles Clarkson, Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period Ending.

Beneficiaries in a Medicare Advantage plan previously had a Disenrollment Period from January 1 – February 14 every year. This disenrollment period ended on December 31, 2018. It has been replaced with a new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period. This new period was effective starting January 1, 2019.

The old Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period had permitted beneficiaries to drop their Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare (Part A and Part B). It also allowed a beneficiary to sign up for a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan.

The New Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

Starting January 1, 2019, a new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period will run from January 1 – March 31 every year. If you are already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you will have a one-time opportunity to:

  • Switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Drop your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare, Part A and Part B.
  • Sign up for a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan (if you return to Original Medicare). Most Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage already. Usually you cannot enroll in a stand-alone Medicare Prescription Drug plan if you already have a Medicare Advantage plan.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment: why would I want to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan?

  • Medicare Advantage plans can change every year. Premiums, co-pays and deductibles may change and a beneficiary may find and switch to a plan more suited to his/her needs.
  • If a beneficiary is not happy with the Medicare Advantage plan’s network (doctors and hospitals who participate in the plan) or a beneficiary discovers that their doctor has dropped out of the plan’s network and no longer accepts the plan, he/she may want to switch to a plan that their doctor participates in.
  • Medicare Advantage plans are required to provide beneficiaries with similar coverage as Original Medicare. Many of them also include coverage beyond Original Medicare (Part A and Part B). For example, most plans include prescription drug coverage, and some include routine vision services, some dental and hearing services or other benefits such as Silver Sneakers program. With new changes in Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans may soon offer other services such as adult day care services, home and bathroom safety devices, transportation and home meals. Of course a beneficiary should review the plan documents carefully to understand these services and their limitations.
  • These extra benefits (beyond Part A and Part B) can change year to year. For example, suppose you take certain medications and you have a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan. Your plan might cover your prescriptions. But sometimes a plan changes its formulary (list of covered medications). If your drugs are no longer being covered, you should seriously consider changing Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Medicare Advantage plans may change premiums, deductible and co-pays every year. You might even be able to find a Medicare Advantage plan with a zero premium that was not available in 2018.
  • Some Medicare Advantage plans can provide better service than others and can be rated higher or lower than other plans. Medicare has a star rating system that rates Medicare Advantage plans from 1 to 5 stars. Many beneficiaries may feel uncomfortable staying in a lower rated plan.

 

Every fall, your plan will send you an Annual Notice of Change. Pay attention to this, because it lists any changes to your benefits or plan rules. A plan formulary may change at any time. You will receive notice from your plan when necessary.


Charles Clarkson, Esq. is the Project Director for Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey.

 

 

The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP) is a federally funded program of the Administration for Community Living. The grant for this program has been awarded to the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, 32 Ford Avenue, Milltown, New Jersey 08850, telephone number 732-777-1940. Its mission is to assist Medicare beneficiaries in fighting health care fraud, waste and abuse. SMP also seeks to educate Medicare beneficiaries about Medicare so they will not become victims of fraud, waste and abuse.

It’s That Time of the Year‚ÄîMedicare Open Enrollment

This week’s guest blog is provided by Charles Clarkson, Esq. This article, originally posted in issue #21 of the New Jersey Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) newsletter¬†Advocate, will cover Medicare Open Enrollment, your options, and information about Medicare scams.


By Charles Clarkson, Esq.

Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County

Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

 

 

Every year between October 15 and December 7, a period known as “Open Enrollment,” Medicare beneficiaries can make changes in their Medicare coverage. The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP), a Federally funded program of the U.S. Administration for Community Living, believes that if you know your options you can avoid being scammed and make the right choices, giving you the best coverage at the least cost.

 

Why make a change?  Whether you have Original Medicare (Part A and/or B), Part D (prescription drug plan), or a Part C (Medicare Advantage Plan,) your plan can change. Premiums, deductibles  and coverages can all change.  Even if they remain the same, your health or finances may have changed. SMP encourages all beneficiaries to re-visit their coverage and decide whether or not to change during Open Enrollment.

Beneficiaries have these choices:

  1. If you are enrolled in Original Medicare, you can change to a Medicare Advantage plan with or without drug coverage. These plans are private companies approved by Medicare and give you the services of Original Medicare. If you join a Medicare Advantage plan, you do not need (and are not permitted) to have a Medicare supplement insurance plan (also known as a Medigap policy) and if your Medicare Advantage plan has drug coverage, you will not need a Part D plan.
  2. If you are in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can switch to another Medicare Advantage plan or drop your Medicare Advantage Plan. If you decide to drop a plan and not switch to another plan, you will be enrolled in Original Medicare. You should then consider enrolling in a Medicare supplement insurance plan to cover the costs that Original Medicare does not pay for and enroll in a Part D plan for drug coverage.
  1. If you are in Original Medicare with a Part D plan, you can stay in Original Medicare and switch your Part D plan. Medicare has a Plan Finder on Medicare.gov which allows beneficiaries to compare plans for next year. The new Part D plans should be announced in late September or early October.
  1. If you are in Original Medicare and do not have a Part D plan, you can enroll in a Part D plan. If you join a Part D plan because you did not do so when you were first eligible for Part D and you did not have other coverage that was, on average, at least as good as standard Medicare drug coverage (known as creditable coverage), your premium cost will be penalized 1% for every month that you did not enroll in Part D. You will have to pay this penalty for as long as you have a drug plan. The penalty is based on the national average of monthly premiums multiplied by the number of months you are without coverage and this amount can increase every year. If you qualify for extra help (low income subsidy), you won’t be charged a penalty.

 

Why change Part D plans?

Beneficiaries may want to change Part D prescription drug plans (PDPs) for a number of reasons: (i) the PDP has notified the beneficiary that it plans to drop one or more of their drugs from their formulary (list of available medications); (ii) the beneficiary is reaching the coverage gap (donut hole) sooner than anticipated and may want to purchase a PDP with coverage through the coverage gap, if one is available; (iii) the PDP has notified the beneficiary that it will no longer participate in the Medicare Part D program; (iv) the PDP will increase its premium or co-pays higher than the beneficiary wants to pay and a less expensive plan may be available and (v) a beneficiary is not happy with the PDP’s quality of service or the plan has received low rankings for a number of years. For 2019 beneficiaries in New Jersey can expect to choose from a number of PDPs.

 

Compare plans each year.

Beneficiaries should remember that PDPs change every year and it is recommended that beneficiaries compare plans to insure that they are in the plan that best suits their needs. When comparing plans, keep in mind to look at the “estimated annual drug costs,” i.e. what it will cost you out of pocket for the entire year, from January 1 through December 31 of each year. Plans can be compared at the Medicare web site:  www.medicare.gov. If you do not have access to a computer, call Medicare at 1-800-Medicare to assist in researching and enrolling in a new plan. Medicare can enroll a beneficiary over the telephone.  When you call, make sure you have a list of all your medications, including dosages. Another resource for Medicare beneficiaries is the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (known as SHIP), telephone 1-800-792-8820. SHIP is federally funded and can provide beneficiaries with unbiased advice.  Call SHIP to make an appointment with a counselor. You do not need to use a broker or agent who may not be looking out for your best interest. Brokers and agents are usually being paid to enroll you in certain plans. Beneficiaries can also call the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 732-777-1940.

 

Medicare Open Enrollment can also be a time of fraudulent schemes that can cost you money. The SMP wants you to be on the alert for scams. A word of advice:

When you realize that a scammer is calling. Just hang up. Do not be polite and just hang up. Also, let your answering machine do all the work. Never answer any call unless you recognize the number. If no message is left, you know the call is probably a scam or an unwanted solicitation. For any questions about Medicare and to report any Medicare scams, call the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 732-777-1940.

Recent Developments in D.C. To Combat Financial Abuse of the Elderly

Recent Developments in D.C. To Combat Financial Abuse of the Elderly

by Robert M. Jaworski, Esq.

Financial abuse of the elderly is getting some attention in Washington these days, and, some say, it’s about time.  On February 22, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and law enforcement partners announced[1] the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history.  In addition, it was reported[2] on March 13, 2018, that an elder fraud bill sponsored by Senate Aging Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) was recently folded into the banking regulation bill (S. 2155) that is expected to be approved by the Senate in the near future.  Details concerning both of these developments are set forth below.

Nationwide Elder Fraud Sweep Coordinated by the Department of Justice

The cases, which include criminal, civil and forfeiture actions, involve more than 250 defendants from around the globe. They are charged with victimizing more than a million Americans, most of whom are elderly.  Of the defendants, more than 200 have been charged criminally.

The actions charged a variety of fraud schemes, including large scale mass mailing, telemarketing and investment frauds, as well as individual instances of identity theft and theft by guardians.  One case alone concerned a scheme that operated from 14 foreign countries and resulted in losses to American victims totaling more than $30 million.

Mass mailing schemes.  In each of the mass mailing schemes, fraudsters sent direct-mail letters to individuals falsely promising them that they had won cash or other valuable prizes.  All they had to do to claim their prizes was to send back a payment for what was represented as processing fees or taxes. The letters appeared to come from legitimate sources, typically on official-looking letterhead, and to have been personally addressed to each recipient. When an individual took the bait and sent the requested fee, the fraudsters simply kept the money.  No victim ever received a promised prize.  Worse yet, when people showed a susceptibility to these scams, the fraudsters repeatedly targeted and victimized them with other scams.

Other Schemes.  Other examples of elder financial exploitation schemes prosecuted by the Department of Justice include:

  • ‚ÄúLottery phone scams,‚Äù in which callers convince seniors that a large fee or taxes must be paid before one can receive lottery winnings;
  • ‚ÄúGrandparent scams,‚Äù which convince seniors that their grandchildren have been arrested and need bail money;
  • ‚ÄúRomance scams,‚Äù which lull victims to believe that their online paramour needs funds for a U.S. visit or some other purpose;
  • ‚ÄúIRS imposter schemes,‚Äù which defraud victims by posing as IRS agents and claiming that victims owe back taxes; and
  • ‚ÄúGuardianship schemes,‚Äù which siphon seniors‚Äô financial resources into the bank accounts of deceitful relatives or guardians;

The Department of Justice indicates that it has partnered with Senior Corps to educate seniors about these types of scams and prevent further victimization.  Senior Corps is a national service program administered by an independent federal agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).  You can access information on Senior Corps’ efforts to reduce elder fraud by clicking here.  If you suspect that you are a victim of a scam, you can file a report with the Federal Trade Commission by clicking here.  Finally, remember that the best way to avoid becoming a victim of a scam is to be skeptical of anything that sounds too good to be true.  It probably is too good to be true!  Check it out first.

Senator Collins Elder Fraud Bill

This bill, Senate Bill S-223[3], which is called the “Senior$afe Act of 2017,” strives to prevent elder financial abuse by encouraging financial institutions (including credit unions, insurance agencies, banks, investment advisers, and broker-dealers) and their employees to sound an alarm bell whenever they suspect that an elderly person is being financially exploited.  The bill seeks to accomplish this objective by immunizing these institutions and employees from potential liability in any civil or administrative proceeding for disclosing such suspicions.

This immunity, however, is subject to the following conditions:

  • The disclosure is made only to a State or Federal banking or securities regulator, a State insurance regulator, a law enforcement agency, and/or a State or local adult protective services agency.
  • The disclosing employee must be a supervisor or compliance officer employed by the financial institution at the time of the disclosure and have made the disclosure in good faith and with reasonable care.
  • The disclosing employee must have previously received training from the financial institution, appropriate to the employee‚Äôs job responsibilities, concerning (1) how to identify and report suspected exploitation of a senior citizen internally and, as appropriate, to government officials or law enforcement authorities, including common signs that indicate the financial exploitation of a senior citizen, and (2) the need to protect the privacy and respect the integrity of each individual customer of the financial institution.

Interestingly, New Jersey already has a similar law on the books, which dates back to 1998.  The New Jersey Foundation for Aging helped to educate concerned individuals and agencies about that law following its enactment.

 

Mr. Jaworski is a member of the NJFA Board of Trustees and an attorney with the law firm Reed Smith, LLP.  He specializes in providing banks and other financial institutions with advice and assistance concerning their responsibilities to comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations, including, in particular, consumer protection laws and regulations.

 

 

 

MEDICARE OPEN ENROLLMENT

MEDICARE OPEN ENROLLMENT

ARE YOU AWARE OF YOUR CHOICES?

Charles Clarkson, Esq. Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, Project Director/VP, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

 

Every year between October 15 and December 7, during a period known as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìOpen Enrollment,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Medicare beneficiaries can make changes in their Medicare coverage. The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP), a Federally funded program of the U.S. Administration for Aging, believes that if you know your options you can avoid being scammed and make the right choices giving you the best coverage at the least cost.

Why make a change?  Whether you have Original Medicare (Part A and/or B), Part D (prescription drug plan), or a Part C Medicare Advantage Plan, your plan can change.  Premiums, deductibles  and coverages can all change.  Even if they remain the same, your health or finances may have changed. SMP encourages all beneficiaries to re-visit their coverage and decide whether or not to change during Open Enrollment.

Beneficiaries have these choices:

  1. If you are enrolled in Original Medicare, you can change to a Medicare Advantage plan with or without drug coverage. These plans are private companies approved by Medicare and give you the services of Original Medicare. If you join a Medicare Advantage plan, you do not need (and are not permitted) to have a Medicare supplement insurance plan (also known as a Medigap policy) and if your Medicare Advantage plan has drug coverage, you will not need a Part D plan.

 

  1. If you are in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can switch to another Medicare Advantage plan or drop your Medicare Advantage Plan.  If you decide to drop a plan and not switch to another plan, you will be enrolled in Original Medicare.  You should then consider enrolling in a Medicare supplement insurance plan to cover the costs that Original Medicare does not pay for and enroll in a Part D plan for drug coverage.

 

  1. If you are in Original Medicare with a Part D plan, you can stay in Original Medicare and switch your Part D plan.

 

  1. If you are in Original Medicare and do not have a Part D plan, you can enroll in a Part D plan.¬† If you join a Part D plan because you did not do so when you were first eligible for Part D and you did not have other coverage that was, on average, at least as good as standard Medicare drug coverage (known as creditable coverage), your premium cost will be penalized 1% for every month that you did not enroll in Part D.¬† You will have to pay this penalty for as long as you have a drug plan.¬† The penalty is based on the national average of monthly premiums multiplied by the number of months you are without coverage and this amount can increase every year.¬† If you qualify for extra help (low income subsidy), you won’t be charged a penalty.

Why change Part D plans?

Beneficiaries may want to change Part D prescription drug plans (PDPs) for a number of reasons:¬† (i) the PDP has notified the beneficiary that it plans to drop one or more of their drugs from their formulary (list of available medications); (ii) the beneficiary is reaching the coverage gap (donut hole) sooner than anticipated and may want to purchase a PDP with coverage through the coverage gap, if one is available; (iii) the PDP has notified the beneficiary that it will no longer participate in the Medicare Part D program;¬† (iv) the PDP will increase its premium or co-pays higher than the beneficiary wants to pay and a less expensive plan may be available and (v) a beneficiary is not happy with the PDP’s quality of service or the plan has received low rankings for a number of years.¬† For 2018 beneficiaries in New Jersey can expect to choose from a number of¬† PDPs. The plans are announced in late September or early October, 2017.

Compare plans each year.

Beneficiaries should remember that PDPs change every year and it is recommended that beneficiaries compare plans to insure that they are in the plan that best suits their needs.  When comparing plans, keep in mind to look at the estimated annual drug costs, i.e. what it will cost you out of pocket for the entire year, from January 1 through December 31 of each year.  Plans can be compared at the Medicare web site:  www.medicare.gov.  If you do not have access to a computer, call Medicare at 1-800-Medicare to assist in researching and enrolling in a new plan. Medicare can enroll a beneficiary over the telephone.  When you call, make sure you have a list of all your medications, including dosages.  Another resource for Medicare beneficiaries is the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (known as SHIP), telephone 1-800-792-8820.  SHIP is federally funded and can provide beneficiaries with unbiased advice.  Call SHIP to make an appointment with a counselor. You do not need to use a broker or agent who may not be looking out for your best interest. Brokers and agents are usually being paid to enroll you in certain plans.  Beneficiaries can also call the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 732-777-1940.

Medicare Open Enrollment can also be a time of fraudulent schemes that can cost you money. The SMP wants you to be on the alert for scams involving new Medicare cards.¬† Back in the spring of 2015, Congress passed the “Doc Fix”¬ù bill which mainly dealt with the long standing problem of the Physician Fee Schedule.¬† At the same time, Congress sought to remedy the problem caused by having Social Security numbers on the red, white and blue Medicare ID cards.

 

The new cards will be rolled out starting in April of ?Ǭ†2018.?Ǭ† Since it will take a period of time to mail new Medicare cards to all Medicare beneficiaries, there will be a transition period through December 31, 2018 when beneficiaries will be able to use either card.¬† All cards should be issued by April of 2019.?Ǭ† You should start using the new Medicare card once you receive it.¬† Make sure that the Social Security Administration and Medicare have your current address to insure that you get your new card.

 

This card change is both a blessing and a curse for Medicare beneficiaries.¬† By removing Social Security numbers, the change greatly decreases the financial havoc that a stolen Medicare card can cause, but it opens the door to scammers¬† presenting a golden opportunity to take advantage of Medicare beneficiaries.¬† Remember, there is never a charge for the new Medicare card.¬† Scammers already are calling¬† and scaring seniors into paying $300 or more for a new Medicare card and asking for their checking account information to pay for the new card’s fee.

What do you do when you realize that a scammer is calling?  Just hang up.  Do not be polite and just hang up.  Also, do not open any emails about the new Medicare cards even if they appear to be coming from a legitimate source, such as Medicare.  They are most likely scams.  Any questions about the new Medicare cards, call the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 732-777-1940.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Income Taxes and Your Social Security Benefits

Income Taxes and Your Social Security Benefits

David Vinokurov, District Manager, Trenton, NJ, Social Security Administration

With tax season upon us, many of you have asked about Income Taxes And Your Social Security Benefits. Some people have to pay federal income taxes on their Social Security benefits. This usually happens only if you have other substantial income (such as wages, self-employment, interest, dividends and other taxable income that must be reported on your tax return) in addition to your benefits.

Note: No one pays federal income tax on more than 85 percent of his or her Social Security benefits based on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. If you:

  • file a federal tax return as an “individual” and your combined income* is
  • between $25,000 and $34,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits.
  • more than $34,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable.
  • file a joint return, and you and your spouse have a combined income* that is
  • between $32,000 and $44,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits
  • more than $44,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable.
  • are married and file a separate tax return, you probably will pay taxes on your benefits.

 

How can I get a form SSA-1099/1042S, Social Security Benefit Statement?

An SSA-1099 is a tax form we mail each year in January to people who receive Social Security benefits. It shows the total amount of benefits you received from Social Security in the previous year so you know how much Social Security income to report to IRS on your tax return.

If you are a noncitizen who lives outside of the United States and you received or repaid Social Security benefits last year, we will send you form SSA-1042S instead.

Note: The forms SSA-1099 and SSA-1042S are not available for people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

If you currently live in the United States and you need a replacement form SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S, we have a new way for you to get an instant replacement quickly and easily beginning February 1st by:

Withholding Income Tax From Your Social Security Benefits

 

You can ask us to withhold federal taxes from your Social Security when you apply for benefits.

If you are already receiving benefits or if you want to change or stop your withholding, you’ll need a form W-4V from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

You can download the form, or call the IRS toll-free number 1-800-829-3676 and ask for Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. (If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call the IRS TTY number, 1-800-829-4059.)

When you complete the form, you will need to select the percentage of your monthly benefit amount you want withheld. You can have 7%, 10%, 15% or 25% of your monthly benefit withheld for taxes.

Note: Only these percentages can be withheld. Flat dollar amounts are not accepted.

 

Sign the form and return it to your local Social Security office by mail or in person.

If you need more information

If you need more information about tax withholding, read IRS Publication 554, Tax Guide for Seniors, and Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.

If you have questions about your tax liability or want to request a Form W-4V, you can also call the IRS at 1-800-829-3676 (TTY 1-800-829-4059).

 

The New Medicare Cards

The New Medicare Cards

By Charles Clarkson, Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

In 2015, Congress passed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. This law requires the removal of the social security numbers from all Medicare cards by April 2019. This new initiative is referred to as the Social Security Number Removal Initiative (SSNRI.) A new randomly generated Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) will replace the social security number. When the initiative gets underway all Medicare beneficiaries will be assigned a new MBI and be sent a new Medicare card.

The primary goal of the initiative is to decrease Medicare beneficiaries’ vulnerability to identity theft by removing the social security number from their Medicare cards and replacing it with a new Medicare MBI which does not contain any other personal information.

The new MBI will have the following characteristics:

i. The same number of characters as the current Medicare number, but will be visibly distinguishable from the Medicare number

ii. Contain uppercase alphabetic and numeric characters throughout the new MBI

iii. For providers, the new MBI will occupy the same field as the Medicare number on transactions

iv. Be unique to each beneficiary (e.g. husband and wife will have their own MBI)

v. Be easy to read and limit the possibility of letters being interpreted as numbers (e.g. alphabetic characters are upper case only and will exclude S, L, O, I, B, Z)

vi. Not contain any embedded intelligence or special characters

vii. Not contain inappropriate combinations of numbers or strings that may be offensive

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that oversees Medicare, has established a transition period during which the Medicare number or MBI will be accepted from providers, beneficiaries, plans, and others. CMS expects the transition period to run from April 2018 through December 31, 2019. After the transition period only the MBI will be used.

Starting around April 2018, CMS will start mailing new Medicare cards. There are approximately 60 million beneficiaries in Medicare. So, CMS will probably mail the cards in phases over a period of time. Remember, as a beneficiary you can still use your current Medicare number during the transition period if it takes awhile to receive your new Medicare card. If a beneficiary is new to Medicare after April 2018 and Medicare has started issuing the new cards, the beneficiary will receive the new MBI. Therefore, healthcare providers must be able accept the new MBIs by April 2018.

Fraud and the new Medicare cards.

The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP) wants all Medicare beneficiaries to be aware of possible fraud and scams relating to the new Medicare cards. Remember, CMS and Medicare will never contact you by phone or email to ask for personal information relating to the issuance of the new Medicare cards. Any such contact is a scam. Don’t be taken in. Also, there will be no charge for the issuance of the new Medicare cards. Anyone seeking to have a beneficiary pay money for the new card is a scammer. Be especially careful of anyone seeking to have access to your checking account to pay any fee for the new card. Beneficiaries are especially vulnerable if they are isolated, frail or may have cognitive loss. Caregivers should be on the alert for these kinds of scams. The SMP is currently educating beneficiaries at its outreach events of the issuance of the new Medicare cards. CMS will also be conducting intensive education and outreach to beneficiaries to help them prepare for this change.

The issuance of the new Medicare card is a significant change. If a beneficiary or caregiver has any questions about the SSNRI, please don’t hesitate to call the SMP at 1-877-SMP-4359 (1-877-767-4359) or 732-777-1940. A beneficiary or caregiver can also email me at charlesc@jfsmiddlesex.org.

Contact Us