COLUMN: Travel and preventative services for seniors

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While we all want the COVID-19 virus to disappear, unfortunately it still very much with us.

Some New York counties remain in the high transmission category where wearing a mask in indoor settings is still recommended, but not mandatory.

The best protection against severe illness, hospitalization and even death from COVID-19 remains being fully vaccinated and boosted.

If you are in a closed situation where you do not know the vaccination status of those around you, please consider wearing a mask.

More on Resuming Travel. Last month the focus of this article was on resuming travel. And, as noted, probably the last thing we consider when planning to travel is our Medicare coverage.

Here is some additional Medicare travel related information:

Supplemental Insurance or Medigap Plan Coverage. According to information on the Medicare.gov website, if you are covered by a Medigap Plan C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, M or N your plan should cover foreign travel emergency care if your illness begins during the first 60 days of your trip and if Medicare doesn’t otherwise cover the care.

Plans will pay 80% of the billed charges for certain medically necessary emergencies outside the U.S. after you meet a $250 deductible for the year. Foreign travel emergency coverage under Medigap policies has a lifetime benefit limit of $50,000. Before you leave the country be sure to confirm with your plan or insurance agent that you are in fact covered. Some plans may require an additional yearly premium for this coverage. 

Travel to the U.S. Territories. When you read information on the Medicare.gov website about coverage for foreign travel they will always use the phrase “Outside the United States.” This phrase means that with Original Medicare you are covered in all 50 states of the U.S., as well as the District of Columbia (DC), Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

If you have a Medicare Advantage plan and travel to DC or one of the five U.S. territories check with your plan before traveling as the rules will vary. For example, while Plan Finder lists 26 Medicare Advantage Plans that serve DC, no Advantage Plans are available in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

What about Prescription Drug or Part D coverage? If you get your drugs from a retail pharmacy, you will need to go a pharmacy that is part of your Part D plan’s pharmacy network. Some plans offer national coverage and you can go to their in-network pharmacies in other parts of the United States. If you want to choose a plan that offers national coverage, go to the Plan Finder tool and look for plans that use a blue “N” icon. This “N” icon means that the plan offers national coverage. If you are already enrolled in a national plan, call your carriers customer service number for the most up-to-date information.

Most drug plans offer a mail order refill option. If you spend several months out of state, for example in Florida, you can use this option to refill your prescriptions. Most plans do not specify that your prescriptions must always be shipped to your home address.

Preventive Services Covered by Medicare Part B. Every fall all Medicare beneficiaries receive, either by mail or e-mail link, the publication entitled Medicare and You. I have always recommended to readers that they read this from cover-to-cover one time. Once you become familiar with the publication, you can check for changes and new information each year. Here are just two of the examples of benefits that you may not be familiar with.

Acupuncture. Medicare covers up to 12 acupuncture visits in 90 days for chronic lower back pain. If you show improvement, Medicare will cover an additional 8 sessions.

Cognitive Assessment & Care Plan Services. During your annual “Wellness visit” with your health care provider you will be assessed for any sign of cognitive impairment. If there are indications of possible impairment, Medicare will now cover a second visit to your provider or a specialist for a full review of your cognitive function. You can bring a spouse, friend or caregiver with you to this visit. This consultation may result in visits to other specialists. These visits will also be covered by Medicare Part B.

Next month we will look at the range of preventive services now covered under Medicare Part B.

HIICAP in Oneida County. HIICAP counselors from the Oneida County Office for Aging/Continuing Care are available to assist you in providing more information about Medicare and all insurance related questions:

The Oneida County HIICAP Office is continuing to provide counseling services and in-person scheduling by phone as they have throughout the pandemic. If you would like to do a HIICAP counseling session over the phone or schedule an appointment at one of the two in-person locations call 315-798-5456 and select No. 2 from the choice list. In most cases you will be asked to leave your contact information on a voice mail and a staff member will return your call within 72 hours (three business days).

Copper City Community Connection, 305 E. Locust St., Rome will offer assistance on Thursday afternoons. The HIICAP program will also be scheduling at Copper City.

North Utica Senior Citizens Center, 50 Riverside Drive, Utica has hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. on Friday only. Sessions are expected to run 45 minutes. Call the HIICAP office to schedule an appointment.

Contacting HIICAP Programs in Other Counties. Here is the contact information for HIICAP programs in several counties that border Oneida County. To reach the Madison County HIICAP program call 315-697-5700 and ask to speak to a HIICAP counselor. For Herkimer County, call Catholic Charities of Herkimer County at 315-894-9917. For Lewis County call 315-376-5013 and select No. 2 from the choice list.

Dr. William Lane is the owner of William Lane Associates, a gerontological consulting firm located in Homer, N.Y. He writes a monthly column on HIICAP related issues for the OFA. Dr. Lane does not sell insurance, work for any insurance company or recommend any insurance products.

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