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A Special Section Highlighting Senior Lifestyles This month’s focus: Medicare and Long-term Care

Making sense of Medicare options can be daunting Local volunteers and organizations are there to help

Mary Bofferding enjoys spending time at the Humana Guidance Center in Crystal. She is pictured here with a craft she made during one of the Center’s enrichment workshops held on Aug. 1, 2012.

BY EMILY HEDGES CONTRIBUTING WRITER Making sense of all the various Medicare plan options can be daunting for seniors. That’s why many current and future Medicare recipients turn to local resources for the information they need. From seminars offered through non-profit organizations such as Senior Community Services (SCS) to workshops from for-profit providers like Humana, local seniors have a variety of ways to prepare to make Medicare work for them. “With over 50 choices available to Minnesota Medicare beneficiaries, to have the opportunity to talk to an unbiased volunteer about those options is a wonderful opportunity. We have 20 sites around Hennepin and Wright counties someone can go to for a face-to-face counseling appointment,” said Kimberlee Bluhm, program director for SCS.

One of SCS’s counselors is Darwin Klockers. When the retired attorney began to look at Medicare coverage for him-

self, he saw an opportunity with SCS to accomplish two goals at once: learn about Medicare and volunteer to help others.

Seven years later, Klockers is still volunteering his time. He OPTIONS: TO PAGE 3

2 Mature Lifestyles – Thursday, October 18, 2012

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Options FROM PAGE 1

Telephone Equipment Distribution (TED) Program

may be found in Brooklyn Center the second Wednesday of every month answering questions about Medicare and supplemental plans. He also makes presentations for groups all around the area. “The most enjoyable part is when you’re talking to someone who is confused and you explain it to them in a way that they get it,” said Klockers. “A lot of them would like for you to make decisions for them. We can’t do that, but we give them information. When the light bulb goes off, it’s the most gratifying.” Klockers believes that every Medicare plan has its advantages and disadvantages, and finding out if an Advantage Plan or a supplement with Original Medicare is best is a matter of asking the right questions. “If it meets your needs, then that’s what’s best for you. We try

Thursday, October 18, 2012– Mature Lifestyles 3

to ask the right questions to find out which side of the fence you’re on.” Mary Bofferding of Crystal is a senior who came down on the side of an Advantage Plan. When she entered the Medicare system at 65, almost immediately she heard from all sides about the need for a supplemental policy, something she didn’t fully understand. Her daughter suggested she come to the hotel where she worked and sit in on a Medicare seminar offered by a Humana representative. Although she didn’t follow everything said that day, she had found a resource to get her the information she needed. “We had the man come to the house and give us the information one-on-one to better understand it. That was four years ago, and it’s been wonderful,” said Bofferding who ended up purchasing an Advantage Plan from Humana. “I had heart surgery and everything was paid for. I am so glad I got it.” A Medicare Advantage Plan is a type of Medicare health plan offered by a private company that

Do you have trouble using the telephone due to hearing loss, speech or physical disability? The TED Program provides assistive telephone equipment at NO COST to those who qualify. Please contact us for an application or for more information at 1-800-657-3663 email: Let us know you saw this ad in Sun Newspapers The Telephone Equipment Distribution Program is funded through the Department of Commerce Telecommunications Access Minnesota (TAM) and administered by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

contracts with Medicare to provide Part A and Part B benefits. If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, Medicare services are covered through the plan and aren’t paid for under Original Medicare. Most Medicare Advantage Plans offer prescription drug coverage. The 2013 Medicare Annual Election Period began on Oct. 15 and will run through Dec. 7. During that time, Medicare beneficiaries can join a new 2013 Medicare prescription drug plan or Medicare Advantage plan, drop their Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage, return back to Original Medicare from their Medicare Advantage plan, or change their existing Medicare Part D prescription drug or Medicare Advantage plan coverage. “We understand that choosing the best, most appropriate Medicare option can be a confusing process,” said Janice Burrows, president of Humana’s Central North Medicare region. “At Humana, we take pride in making

the decision easier for Medicareeligibles, by keeping our plans affordable and simple to understand.” Bofferding will tell you that perhaps the best thing Humana did was make her aware of the Humana Guidance Center located near her home in Crystal. The facility, which is free and open to all seniors whether or not they are Humana customers, has become like a second home to the senior who lives on a fixed income. “Getting out and having this place to go to is wonderful. It’s so calming,” said Bofferding. “I hadn’t known of a place like this, and I couldn’t afford to go to clubs. It’s nice to get to know people with the same problems and cares as you.” For a list of seminars and Medicare counseling opportunities offered by SCS, go to For more information, call (952) 5411019 ext. 307. For more information about the Humana Guidance Center, 227 Willow Bend in Crystal, call (763) 533-6668.

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Apple Valley resident Roger Gehrke works the phones at the DFL Coordinated Campaign Office in Eagan. He recently attended the Democratic Convention in Charlotte as a delegate.

Sen. Ted Daley is among the Dakota County Republicans volunteers are trying to get elected this fall. (Photo by T.W. Budig – ECM Publishers)

Seniors help man the phones at campaign offices Many issues in 2012 will affect senior citizens BY EMILY HEDGES CONTRIBUTING WRITER With so many critical issues affecting older Americans tied to the upcoming election, many seniors like DFL volunteer Roger Gehrke and GOP volunteer Mary Engstrom are working the phones and hitting the pavement trying to make a lastminute impact for their candidates. Gehrke, an avid gardener and owner of a licensed therapy dog that visits hospitals and nursing homes in the area, knows he won’t have time for much else besides politics until after the election. The Apple Valley resident currently holds three director positions with the Minnesota DFL Senior Caucus, Congressional District 2, and Senate District 57. He also serves as a precinct chair in Precinct 5, Senate District 57, attending as a national delegate to the

Democratic Convention in Charlotte. “I thought the convention was one of greatest things I’ve done in recent years. The association with the delegates from all over country was wonderful,” said Gehrke. “I enjoyed the great caucus meetings more than anything else, probably unparalleled by any meetings I’ve attended.” Gehrke returned from Charlotte to his twice-a-week shift with the DFL Coordinated Campaign Office in Eagan making phone calls. He also door knocks for candidates in Senate District 57. The issues that mean the most to Gehrke are health care, education, and human rights. “Medicare is part of my motivation and I’m a believer in Medicare for all. Since I’m a senior, Medicare is an important part of my life. My wife had two knee surgeries and the coverage was excellent. I don’t know how the Republican’s voucher program would have worked. There isn’t enough information on how the voucher would be applied. The question marks are out there,” he said. Like Gehrke, Engstrom is a senior who

believes that everyone should do their part when it comes to participating in the election process. The 67-year-old donates her time regularly in the Republican Party of Minnesota Victory Office in Burnsville. She decided to volunteer after encouraging her son to do the same thing. “I had told my son, who was supporting the Republicans in school, that you’re doing so much talking, you should get involved. He did. He became head of the College Republicans on his campus. I realized I needed to take my own advice,” she said. This is the third election in which Engstrom has volunteered with the phone bank, mostly doing surveys. As a retired administrative assistant, she finds the work easy, enjoyable, and more important than ever before. “Medicare, social security, religious rights, that’s what has gotten me going the most,” she said. “With Medicare, I don’t know. I hope the money is there. I don’t know what to think. It’s kind of scary.” Although Gehrke and Engstrom come from different political philosophies, they

both agree that participating in the political process is important for all Americans. “For Republicans as well as Democrats, we are working for society. We are working for the privilege to exercise the right to vote,” said Gehrke. So Engstrom makes the drive to the GOP office in Burnsville to do her part after her morning walk around the Mall of America. If you ask her who her favorite president is, she says she can’t help being influenced by the man who stands next to her during every shift. “There’s a life-size figure of Ronald Reagan I see all the time. I guess I’d have to say Reagan was the best,” she said. For Gehrke, it’s FDR, Harry Truman and maybe Lyndon Johnson. “Johnson because he signed the Medicare bill,” he said. “That ranks high on my ladder.” For more information about volunteer opportunities with the DFL Coordinated Campaign Office in Eagan, call 218-2347320. To volunteer in the Republican Party of Minnesota Victory Office in Burnsville, call 952-808-2270.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012– Mature Lifestyles 5

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Fridley man shares his knowledge of Medicare options John Ward is a volunteer with Senior Linkage Line BY EMILY HEDGES CONTRIBUTING WRITER John Ward has the sort of voice people want to listen to. Whether it’s volunteer reading for State Services for the Blind’s Radio Talking Book series, or speaking at a local community center on available Medicare options, Ward has found that using his voice is the best way to help others. Ward, a Fridley resident, began researching Medicare about a year before he went on the program. He saw an ad in AARP Magazine looking for Medicare counselors, and thought it was a perfect opportunity to gain the information he needed, and to help others at the same time. “I signed up and went to a five-day training, and became a certified counselor. It evolved from there,” said Ward.

In his seventh year working through the Senior Linkage Line, part of the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, he counsels monthly at the Fridley, Columbia Heights and St. Anthony senior centers. “I do it because I enjoy it, and I see results with people. You don’t always have the solution, but they know more after they’ve spent time in a session,” said Ward. “My doctor tells me that being involved in counseling people helps to avoid the onset of Alzheimer’s.” Wendy Webster, director of Community Services and Communications for St. AnthonyNew Brighton School District has watched Ward help seniors in her community for a number of years. “St. Anthony Community Services has served as a health insurance counseling site for Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers for several years,” said Webster. “We are fortunate to have John onsite each month. He is an outstanding volunteer who is professional, courteous, and respectful to each individual he meets.”

Ward helps anyone with general to specific questions about the types of Medicare supplements to choose from. Ward believes the most important thing seniors need to remember is that although original Medicare A (hospitalization piece) and B (doctors, clinics and outpatient piece) may offer excellent health insurance, they have options for additional or supplemental insurance. They should also look at a Medicare D prescription drug plan, even if they are healthy, or they might end up paying a penalty if they come back later and want it. “Medicare A and B pays 80 percent. A person would pay 20 percent unless they have a Medicare supplement. My job is to help them through the process of getting the information they need,” said Ward. Ward feels that not enough people know that Social Security can help with part or all of your Medicare D prescription drug costs if you qualify. “I run into people right on the edge of being eligible for assistance. They may not qualify with the medical

piece but they would with the drug plans,” said Ward. He frequently encounters people who live on the edge of choosing between prescription drugs and food. “I’ve seen the desperation in people. I’ve had clients crying because of a situation. It’s not easy for a lot of people. Some say you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, but these are people who have worked all their life, people who are widowed,” said Ward. He thinks that for most of these people, the system is working, especially with some of the recent changes made to the healthcare system. “More tests are covered now than ever before. I see that trend in healthcare as absolutely necessary. Not only for those on Medicare, but based on my personal experience, for younger people without health insurance. For more information on Medicare options, visit To learn more about Senior Linkage Line, part of the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, go to


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St. Louis Park woman becomes expert in Medicare supplement options UCare program offers Medicare Advantage Plan BY EMILY HEDGES CONTRIBUTING WRITER Knitting needles move quickly and efficiently in the hands of Pat Levine. At times, it may appear that she’s concentrating more on the scarf forming in her lap from the skein of yarn sitting next to her than to a discussion of Medicare offerings for seniors, but don’t be fooled. When the members of UCare’s Senior Member Advisory Committee are asked for their opinion, the St. Louis Park resident is sure to have one. “It’s hard to just sit and listen. I can always have my hands busy when I knit,” said Levine. “I defi-

nitely feel they listen to each one of us very well. What we say makes a difference.” Levine began looking into her Medicare options a couple of years before she was eligible at 67 years old. She had experience with UCare years earlier when she had Community University Health Care and at that time served on UCare’s Member Advisory Committee. “I looked at all the Advantage Plans and UCare made the most sense to me,” said Levine. “They seemed the most people oriented, easiest to work with and there wasn’t a lot of paperwork. That was important to me.” When she signed on for UCare’s Medicare Advantage Plan, she asked if an advisory committee existed. An invitation to join quickly followed. SUPPLEMENTS: TO PAGE 8

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Supplements FROM PAGE 6 The Senior Member Advisory Committee meets once every three months, serving as a sort of focus group for UCare. “They bring new literature and new ideas,” said Levine. “When they went to a new computer program, they had us look at it and let them know what we thought about it.” “We’ve worked hard to design a Medicare plan that offers our members peace of mind coverage and opportunities to remain as healthy and independent as possible. Listening to our members is extremely important to us. Suggestions from advisory committee participants like Pat help us provide health plan options that best meet our members’ needs,” said Ghita Worcester, senior vice president of public affairs and marketing. Levine believes that listening and asking the right questions about Medicare, well in advance of having to make decisions, is the key

for seniors. “I advise people to start before they need to make a decision, at least a year before, talk to people with different plans, go to community workshops, and make an informed decision,” said Levine. B e f o r e s e l e c t i n g UCare, Levine attended seminars and visited websites, and had personal one-on-one meetings. “UCare personal representatives were very available to answer any questions,” said Levine. Levine will tell you that her experience with a UCare Advantage Plan took the worry out of Medicare, leaving her time to do the things she really enjoys, like making Scarves by Pat, swimming, dancing, working with seniors with

Alzheimer’s, and supporting her grandson’s Hopkins High School football team. A Medicare Advantage Plan is a type of M e d i c a r e health plan offered by a private company that contracts with Medicare to provide you with all your Part A and Part B benefits. If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage -PAT LEVINE Plan, Medicare services are c o v e r e d through the plan and aren’t paid for under Original Medicare. Most Medicare Advantage Plans offer prescription drug coverage. The 2013 Medicare Open Enrollment Period began on Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7. During that time, Medicare beneficiaries can join a new 2013 Medicare prescription drug plan or Medicare

‘I looked at all the Advantage Plans and UCare made the most sense to me.... They seemed the most people oriented, easiest to work with and there wasn’t a lot of paperwork. That was important to me.’

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Thursday, October 18, 2012– Mature Lifestyles 9

Medicare questions and answers Volunteers help counsel seniors with Medicare and related issues BY EMILY HEDGES – SUN NEWSPAPERS Medicare may be a confusing subject for many seniors, but those who live in Hennepin and Wright counties have Senior Community Services (SCS) to turn to for help. For more than 20 years, the organization has provided Medicare counseling for beneficiaries through volunteers like Ann, a retired attorney from Edina. “When I retired, I was looking for something to do that had substance and served the community. This is a very interesting area, ever changing and cutting edge,” she said. Ann spends her volunteer time making presentations wherever needed and visiting local senior centers. There, she sits down with people who have specific Medicare issues, billing issues, or questions about various health care plans. “This service is so valuable because we provide unbiased information about various Medicare questions, supplements, Medicare Advantage plans as well as Part D Plans,” said Kimberlee Bluhm, program director for SCS. “For most people, they have never had to think about their insurance coverage, but have always been told by employers what their coverage would be.” Bluhm points out that with over 50 different Medicare health plans to choose from, seniors can find themselves overwhelmed. To help, Ann says that a list of all of the supplementary plans available to residents in Minnesota is provided at all of their presentations. “To have the ability to talk to a volunteer about those options is a wonderful opportunity,” said Bluhm. “We have 20 sites around Hennepin and Wright Counties

SCS Medicare counselor Ann P. of Edina gives a presentation and answers Medicare questions on Oct. 2 at the Richfield Community Center. someone can go to for a face-to-face counseling appointment.” According to Bluhm, more than two thirds of SCS’s Medicare counselors have been volunteering for over five years. “They are highly trained and extremely dedicated to providing Medicare counseling services to members of the community. Many of the volunteers also help with medical bill organization as well as appeals,” said Bluhm. The piece of advice that Ann offers most often to seniors is to start their investigation early. “Get an idea of what’s out there. Take time to make your decision. Don’t wait until the last minute,” she said. The 2013 Medicare Annual

Election Period began on Oct. 15 and will run through Dec. 7. During that time, Medicare beneficiaries can join a new 2013 Medicare prescription drug plan or Medicare Advantage plan, drop their Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage, return back to Original Medicare from their Medicare Advantage plan, or change their existing Medicare Part D prescription drug or Medicare Advantage plan coverage. A Medicare Advantage Plan is a type of Medicare health plan offered by a private company that contracts with Medicare to provide Part A and Part B benefits. If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, Medicare services are covered through the plan and aren’t paid for

under Original Medicare. Most Medicare Advantage Plans offer prescription drug coverage. Since its establishment in 1950, SCS has worked to meet the needs of seniors and caregivers. SCS offers services, including professional care coordination, caregiver support groups, Eldercare Partners caregiver coaching and counseling, Senior Partners Care, CareNextion caregiver websites, Medicare and health insurance counseling, homemaking, home maintenance and chore services, meals on wheels and programming at six senior centers. For a list of seminars and Medicare counseling opportunities offered by SCS, go to For more information, call (952) 541-1019 ext. 307.

10 Mature Lifestyles – Thursday, October 18, 2012

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Minnesotans urged to ‘Own Your Future’ Initiative encourages planning for needs in older years Minnesota’s “Own Your Future” campaign officially got underway this month – a state-federal partnership urging Minnesotans to plan for the services they will need as they grow old. The initiative addresses the growing importance of long-term care planning. Own Your Future recognizes the dramatic increase in Minnesotans who will be 65 and older by 2030 and the corresponding increase in the number of people who will need help with personal care and household tasks because of their age or disability. Own Your Future focuses on the need for people to have plan so that they can enjoy their later years the way they want. “Planning for long-term care helps to ensure choice, control and peace of mind for the individual,” said Lt. Gov.

Yvonne Prettner Solon. “The sense of security and comfort that comes with having a plan is something all Minnesotans should enjoy.” In that effort, Gov. Dayton, Lt. Gov. Solon, and multiple state agencies are working together to raise public awareness in the first phase of the Own Your Future initiative. The Minnesota effort continues and builds on a federally funded Own Your Future effort implemented by 26 states between 2005 and 2009. Letters and internet ads will direct individuals between the ages of 40 and 65 to the Own Your Future website where Minnesotans can find information on how to create a plan and find products and approaches that will allow them to prepare, save, invest and pay for long-term care services. Because employers are regarded as a trusted source of information on the topic, the Own Your Future website includes a toolkit of information employers can share with their employees. The One Stop Shop for

Minnesota Seniors, 1-800-333-2433, is also available for individuals who want to talk to experts in long-term care planning and a variety of other needs. “Over the years, the State of Minnesota has planned for the surge of baby boomers by supporting family caregivers, providing affordable supports to older people in their communities and redesigning Medical Assistance to be as effective and efficient as possible,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. “The Own Your Future initiative is an important step in helping Minnesotans plan for and realize the best quality of life in their later years.” Objectives of the first phase of the Own Your Future initiative are to make Minnesotans aware of the importance of planning now to identify personal and financial options to meet their future long-term needs and to increase the number of Minnesotans who have taken action

to address and provide for their future long-term needs. Later phases of the initiative will include: Development of more affordable long-term care products for use by individuals who do not qualify for public programs but are not wealthy enough to self-fund their long-term care. Evaluation of possible changes to Medicaid to better align with and encourage private payment for longterm care. An advisory panel began working in June 2012 to help guide the public awareness effort, including development of the website and other materials for use by Minnesota employers, grassroots organizations and community groups from the launch this fall through 2013. Results of the public awareness effort will be measured by website visit and post-initiative survey results. Visit the website at:

What you need to know about your retirement plan During challenging economic times, it can be tempting to forego contributions to your retirement account, or even to pull money out of an existing account to cover other expenses. Some plans allow you to withdraw money for certain hardship reasons (to prevent eviction or foreclosure, for instance), but the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority are reminding people there can be some tough financial consequences for tapping into your retirement plan. “There are certainly times of hardship where people have no choice but to draw against their retirement funds,” said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “We simply feel it’s important to understand all aspects of transactions of this nature.”

The FINRA Investor Education Foundation offers the following good reasons to keep your retirement savings intact (note these rules are regarding U.S. laws): Tax Liability – Unless you’re over the age of 59 and a half, you will not only have to pay income taxes on the amount you withdraw, but you will also be subject to a 10% tax penalty. In most cases, your employer will withhold 20% in federal taxes, so the amount you receive will be significantly lower than the amount you requested. Opportunity Costs – The repercussions of withdrawing funds from your 401(k) could be enormous in terms of lost growth opportunity. For example, let’s assume you are 30 years old, and have a 401(k) balance of $20,000. If you leave that money alone, and your account averages a 6% rate of return over the next 32 years, your balance at retirement will be $129,068

when you’re 62 — even if you do not make any additional contributions during that time. If you take it out, you’ll have nothing. Even if you have a shorter time horizon, you will forgo significant savings opportunities by taking money out of your 401(k). For a 45-year-old, that $20,000 will grow to $53,855 in 17 years. Opening Assets to Creditors Under the Bankruptcy Abuse Protection and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, your creditors cannot touch your 401(k) balance or similar retirement savings account - even if, as a last resort, you file for bankruptcy protection. Balances in traditional and Roth IRAs are also protected up to a limit of $1 million. But if you take money out of your retirement plan through a loan or a hardship or regular withdrawal, your creditors can go after that sum. Another warning: Watch out for products that allow you to withdraw

your retirement funds and reinvest them elsewhere. FINRA warns that 72(t) withdrawals from an IRA and 401(k) debit cards can deplete your retirement savings and damage your retirement security. It’s best to look at other ways to save or borrow – tightening your belt on expenses, taking advantage of employer match programs to keep funding your IRA or 401(k), contributing pre-tax dollars to a retirement plan, etc. You may also be able to borrow from your 401(k) without actually taking a withdrawal; this would reduce your tax burden and would likely come with a lower interest rate than a bank loan. Check with your plan administrator on whether or not this option is available. For more information on this and other financial topics, check out For more consumer tips you can trust, visit

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Thursday, October 18, 2012– Mature Lifestyles 11

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