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Fairbanks Daily News-Miner


Insurance a key part of meeting retirement needs

Submitted by Contributing Community Author

Arva Chiu, M.D. Internal Medicine Alaska Medicine & Endoscopy, LLC (907) 452-2637


CDC: Colorectal cancer screening has reduced colon cancer incidence and death rates

Our thanks to Dr. Arva Chiu for contributing this informative column. The article is intended to be strictly informational


Colorectal Cancer (CRC) is almost American Indian/Alaska Native Mortality Rate, Colorectal entirely preventable, and in most Cancer, by Region, Both Sexes, 1999-2003 cases, curable if caught early. A recent government study showed that All Indian Health Service Regions incidence of CRC decreased 13% and mortality decreased 12% from 2003 to 2007, a decline of about 66,000 cases and 32,000 deaths compared with 2002. About half of this decline is attributed to increased screening, and the other half attributed to healthier lifestyles (i.e. smoking cessation and diet changes) and improved CRC treatment. Unfortunately, approximately 50,000 people will still die each year from CRC. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 22 million U.S. residents aged 50-75 years have never been screened for CRC. CRC is almost an entirely preventable disease. In its early stages it causes no or few symptoms and that’s why screening is so important. Screening should start after age 50 for all men and women without symptoms, or earlier if at higher risk. Using any of the three screening regimens is recommended by the CDC: annual fecal occult blood testing (FOBT), sigmoidoscopy every 5 years with FOBT every 3 years, or colonoscopy every 10 years. The greatest benefit of colonoscopy is removing polyps that are discovered during screening, thereby decreasing the risk later of developing cancer. In 2009, the CDC established the Colorectal Cancer Control Program which currently funds 25 states and 4 tribal organizations to improve population screening. Three of the tribal organizations receiving grants are in Alaska, and I am privileged to be part of the one in Barrow, Alaska. Alaska Natives have the highest CRC rate in the country (double the average rate in the U.S.). Among Indian Health Service regions, Alaska has been the most proactive toward screening, and since 2000 Alaska has increased its CRC screening rate by more than 50%. Under the Affordable Care Act, screening colonoscopies are now fully covered by Medicare and by many private insurers. Patients will still be responsible for co-pays, or some out-of-pocket costs if the colonoscopy is diagnostic (if there are symptoms or a polyp is found) rather than screening (no symptoms). Patients may also be responsible for costs related to anesthesia. You should check with your insurance company. Personally, you may have family or friends who have been affected by this disease. These are some famous people who were diagnosed with CRC: Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, Pope John Paul II, Sharon Osbourne, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Elizabeth Montgomery, Vince Lombardi, and Charles Schulz. CRC does not discriminate. If you have not been screened and you’re over the age of 50, or have a close family member with CRC, please get checked.

No two people’s retirement is quite the same, and neither are their insurance needs. There are many options, plans, coverage and deadlines that dictate the cost and quality of health care for seniors. With all those options, navigating Medicare plans and supplemental insurance can be a tricky and confusing ordeal, one with lifelong consequences for the quality of a senior’s health. But there are plenty of people and organizations ready to help. The state’s Medicare Information Office, a program within the Department of Health and Social Services’ Senior and Disabilities Services division, is a statewide resource that specializes in making sure seniors, and their family members, find the right information for their specific needs. And that’s important, says Deputy Director Jeanné Larson, because employment, existing conditions and even a spouse’s employment can affect which parts of Medicare and what supplemental insurance, known as Medigap, a senior should sign up for. “It’s important to contact someone because everybody’s situation is different,” she said. “Each person’s scenario is very different, so the best thing that they can do is contact someone. That’s where my office and my counselors come into play.” The Medicare Information Office runs a statewide telephone hotline with offices in Anchorage. To get in-person help, seniors and their family can contact Access Alaska’s Fairbanks office, where counselors specialize in navigating the Medicare system. Art Delaune, Access Alaska services supervisor, said there are some general guidelines for seniors as they approach

INFO Medicare Information Office Toll-free: (800) 478-6065 Access Alaska Fairbanks 526 Gaffney Road, Suite 100 Local: 479-7940 Toll Free: (800) 770-7940

“These decisions are going to affect your health insurance for the rest of your life, and if you miss a deadline, it could be very costly.” — Art Delaune, Access Alaska

their 65th birthday, the age of eligibility. He said most seniors should start thinking about Medicare months before they turn 65. That’s because there’s a seven-month eligibility period around a senior’s 65th birthday; people can sign up three months before their birthday month or three months after. Seniors can sign up after that period but could be charged penalties for the rest of their lives for missing the sign-up period. With some plans, Delaune said, each month missed could incur a 1 percent increase in cost and Please see iNSURANCE, Page 10

Health and Wellness - Spring 2012  
Health and Wellness - Spring 2012  

A guide to staying healthy in Interior Alaska, geared toward Alaska's growing elderly population.