Guide to Medicare Mental Health Coverage

Mental illnesses, even though you can’t always see them, are just as real and treatable as physical diseases. Depression and anxiety can affect you physically in the same way that an illness can. In fact, depression IS an illness.

It can cause extreme fatigue and lethargy to the point where getting out of bed seems impossible. It can also lead to oversleeping or insomnia, as well as overeating or starving. It’s important to take care of your mental health just as you would your physical health.

Does Medicare Cover Mental Health?

Therapy Appointment | Medicare Plan Finder
Therapy Appointment | Medicare Plan Finder

Seniors and Medicare eligibles may have an increased risk of developing depression for both physical and mental reasons. Weakened immune systems and other ailments make the brain more susceptible to mental illnesses, which are most often the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.

The anti-socialization that retirement can bring can easily affect one’s mood and lead to depression. Managing your mental health can relieve stress, improve memory, help you sleep better, and boost your overall mood.

With those circumstances in mind, you may wonder, “Does Medicare cover mental health?” Yes, but only under certain conditions.

Medicare Mental Health Benefits for Inpatient Care

Medicare Part A covers mental health services that you receive in an inpatient hospital setting. The out-of-pocket costs are the same regardless if you receive treatment in a general or psychiatric hospital.

You can only receive coverage in a psychiatric hospital for 190 days per your lifetime. If you are already hospitalized when you enroll in Medicare, you can be reimbursed for up to 150 hospital days.

Part A hospital coverage is broken into 60-day periods. First, you must pay your deductible, which is $1,408 in 2020, but after this is met, your first 60 days are completely covered.

If you are still in the hospital after 60 days, you will need to pay $352/day for days 61-90, and $704/day for days 91-150. Your Part A coverage will end after this time. However, once you have been out of the hospital for 60 days, your “day count” resets to 0 and this cycle can start over.

2020 Medicare Part A Copayments
2020 Medicare Part A Copayments

Medicare Outpatient Mental Health Coverage

Medicare Part B covers all doctor visits related to mental health. That means any psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, therapists, and addiction center visits are covered by your Medicare.

Counseling or therapy sessions are slightly more limited because they are only covered under Medicare if you see a doctor who accepts Medicare assignment. More specifically, this includes:

  • Individual and group therapy
  • Substance use disorder treatment
  • Occupational therapy
  • Active therapy (art, dance, music therapy)
  • Family counseling
  • Lab tests
  • Annual depression screening
  • Prescription drugs you cannot administer yourself

Original Medicare will cover these services at 80% of the Medicare-approved amount. This means you will likely pay 20% coinsurance after you meet your Part B deductible. However, keep in mind that your provider must take Medicare assignment, otherwise, Medicare will not pay for the services.

How to Find a Medicare Therapist

Psychology Today has a tool that can help you find a local therapist who takes Medicare. To get started, click here. Then enter your zip code. We used 37209, which is the zip code for our corporate offices in Nashville, Tennessee.

How to Find a Medicare Therapist Step 1 | Medicare Plan Finder
How to Find a Medicare Therapist Step 1 | Medicare Plan Finder

That will lead you to a page that lists the therapists in your area. From there, you can further filter your search results by therapist specialties and the qualities that matter most to you, such as gender, age, and faith.

 How to Find a Medicare Therapist Step 2a | Medicare Plan Finder
How to Find a Medicare Therapist Step 2a | Medicare Plan Finder
How to Find a Medicare Therapist Step 2b | Medicare Plan Finder
How to Find a Medicare Therapist Step 2b | Medicare Plan Finder

Medicare Mental Health Costs

Medicare mental health costs will vary based on your unique situation and personal needs. Treatment can range as low as $1,000 or as high as $9,000. Thankfully, Part D, Medicare Supplements, and Medicare Advantage plans can help lower your out-of-pocket costs.

Mental Health and Part D

Original Medicare does not cover prescription drugs. A Part D prescription drug plan is a great alternative to help cover the costs of any antidepressants or other health-related drugs.

Part D plans have an annual deductible of $435 for 2020. This means that every year, you will need to spend $435 before your coverage starts. Since Part D plans are sold by private insurance companies, each plan may be a little different. Some plans may waive, reduce, or charge the deductible up front.

Once you’ve reached your Part D deductible, you will enter the initial coverage phase. You’ll stay in this phase until you spend $3,820 in 2019. During this time, you will need to pay a copay for every prescription based on the plan’s drug formulary (list of drugs that are covered).

Drug formularies are organized by tiers according to co-payments. For example, a generic, tier-one antidepressant may only cost you $32, whereas a tier three, brand-name antidepressant can cost you $133.

Any drug labeled as “preferred” will be cheaper. Plus, you may be eligible for extra prescription drug cost savings through Medicare Extra Help. To learn more, or to schedule an appointment to discuss the best Part D plans in your area, fill out this form, or give us a call at 833-438-3676.

Part D Checklist | Medicare Plan Finder
Part D Checklist | Medicare Plan Finder

Mental Health and Medicare Supplements

Medicare Supplement plans can add financial benefits and help you save in the long run on mental health coverage and other health-related costs. These plans help pay for things like copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles.

There are ten different plan types (A, B, C, D, F, G, K, L, M, N) and each plan offers different coverage and pricing. Your best bet is to speak with a licensed agent. If you’re interested in arranging a no-cost, no-obligation appointment, fill out this form or give us a call at 833-438-3676.

Medicare Supplements Plan Finder | Medicare Plan Finder
Medicare Supplements Plan Finder | Medicare Plan Finder

Mental Health and Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage plans must cover, at a minimum, the same as Original Medicare. However, they generally often several more benefits such as prescription drug coverage, hearing, dental, or vision coverage, OTC pharmacy allowance, non-emergency transportation, and group fitness classes like SilverSneakers®.

A licensed agent can help you find the best plan at the best rate that is specific to your needs and budget. Fill out this form or give us a call at 833-438-3676 to get in contact with a licensed agent.

Find Medicare Advantage Plans | Medicare Plan Finder
Find Medicare Advantage Plans | Medicare Plan Finder

Improving Your Mental Health With Medicare

Did you know that stress and depression can weaken your immune system? Your mental health affects you physically as well as emotionally. Thankfully, Medicare provides benefits that can serve as “mood boosters” to help keep you both physically and emotionally healthy. Learn how emotions affect the body and how you can stay healthy.

Depression is all-too-common among seniors and Medicare eligibles, and it can often come from the stress of aging or physical health conditions. The feeling of stress is triggered by the release of the hormone cortisol, which slows down motivation and metabolism.

This means that stress can cause you to not only lose the motivation to eat healthily and exercise, but also lose the metabolism to break down fatty foods, ultimately leading to unhealthy weight gain. Aside from weight gain, the influx of cortisol can inflame the immune system, weakening it and making it easier for you to catch infections and get sick.

On the same side of the token, a positive mood will allow you to heal more quickly. If you take a positive attitude with your illness or injury, your immune system will stay stronger and you’ll have less cortisol holding you down.

Medicare Mood Boosters

Fitness Class | Medicare Plan Finder
Fitness Class | Medicare Plan Finder

What makes you happy? All the little small things that you enjoy can help you heal emotionally and physically, as the two are connected. Consider starting with your senses – do you have a scent that makes you happy? Light a candle or spray a fragrance. Do you have a sound that makes you happy? Play some music.

A lot of people find that physical activity is a great mood booster. Medicare’s SilverSneakers® program promotes healthy social and physical behaviors for people like you. The program revolves around group exercise programs hosted within gyms and YMCAs including activities like strength, flexibility, walking, and yoga classes.

The group setting gives you an opportunity to socialize with other seniors in your area, and the activities will help strengthen your physical health.

If SilverSneakers® is a benefit included in your Medicare plan, you should receive a list of participating facilities. Then, all you’ll need to do is bring your SilverSneakers® card with its 16-digit member number to the facility.

Get Medicare Mental Health Benefits

To enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan or to find answers to any questions you have about your mental health coverage, click here or call 833-438-3676.

Contact Us | Medicare Plan Finder
Contact Us | Medicare Plan Finder

This blog was originally published on May 18, 2017, by Anastasia Iliou, and was updated on August 9, 2019, by Troy Frink.

5 Common Types of Mental Illness In The Elderly

Most of today’s senior citizens grew up in a time when mental illness was almost never discussed in public. Over the years though, the stigma around mental health has largely eroded and conversations about mental health often dominate the national discourse. 

As mental illness becomes less taboo, its far-reaching impact on society is coming more into focus. For example, the effects of mental illness in seniors are studied much more closely than ever before.

Common Types of Mental Illness In Seniors

With this more extensive research, it’s easier to see what mental health issues are common in the elderly population. The most prominent issues in senior mental health are:

1. Depression

Depression is often cited as the most endemic mental illness in the elderly population today. Many older adults may shrug depression symptoms off as simply “feeling down,” meaning it often goes undiagnosed and may be even more pervasive than the research suggests. 

There are many risk factors that specifically contribute to depression in the elderly. Retiring from work can cause strong feelings of boredom or listlessness, and the death or illness of a spouse can leave many stressed and sorrowful. 

Not only can depression exacerbate the symptoms of other chronic health issues, it is also noted as a symptom of more severe mental disorders like dementia. This means seniors and their loved ones must be vigilant in watching for these depression symptoms:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness
  • Lack of motivation or interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Trouble concentrating and decision making
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm

2. Anxiety

Anxiety disorders can take many different forms, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder. These are usually characterized by intense fear or nervousness over issues most would consider normal, routine aspects of everyday life – locking doors or finding a parking spot, for example.

Like depression, anxiety in older adults is extraordinarily common and is often underdiagnosed. Older adults are especially prone to ignoring this illness, perhaps because the conventional medical wisdom of previous decades downplayed psychiatric symptoms if no physical issues existed.

It is important to note however, that some physical symptoms such as restlessness or fatigue may accompany anxiety, further confusing a potential diagnosis. Be on the lookout for these symptoms of anxiety in the elderly:

  • Irrational, obsessive, or catastrophic thoughts
  • Isolating behavior and withdrawal from others
  • Irritability or agitated moods
  • Fatigue and muscle soreness

3. Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is usually diagnosed in younger people, whose moods can swing quickly from elation to depression. If this diagnosis is made when the person is an older adult, it is referred to as late onset bipolar disorder and it is more likely to manifest as agitation.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder in seniors is made even more difficult by the misinterpretation of symptoms. Many of the warning signs of late onset bipolar disorder might be dismissed as simply the natural effects of aging. Furthermore, some symptoms may resemble the side effects of certain medications, like antidepressants and corticosteroids.

As the population steadily increases, the number of cases of late onset bipolar disorder is expected to rise along with it. Professional help should thus be sought if you or those close to you observe any of these bipolar symptoms in adults:

  • Agitation and irritability
  • Hyperactivity or distractibility
  • Loss of memory, judgment, or perception

4. Schizophrenia

Similar to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia is a condition usually diagnosed in younger individuals. Late onset schizophrenia is the terminology used when this disorder is observed in patients over the age of 45. 

Schizophrenia is characterized by a broad range of symptoms, from the so-called “negative” symptoms, like loss of interest or enthusiasm in activities, all the way to delusions and hallucinations. While late onset schizophrenia is less common than the early onset variety, older sufferers are more likely to experience these severe symptoms.

Currently, doctors are unsure what causes late onset schizophrenia and why it is different from its other forms. Some have theorized that it is a subtype of the disorder which is triggered by life events. Regardless, it is vitally important that seniors and their loved ones keep an eye out for these late onset schizophrenia symptoms:

  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech or behavior
  • “Negative” symptoms (absence or lack of interest in normal behaviors)

5. Dementia

Though it is classified separately from mental illnesses by the medical community, dementia is still a disorder that severely affects mental health. There are many different stages and forms of dementia but the most common incarnation is Alzheimer’s disease, which affects around 3 million people over age 65. 

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can develop from the natural cognitive decline that happens as we age, drawing a startling link between aging and mental health. All demographics should make mental health a priority but seniors especially should watch for these dementia symptoms:

  • Disorientation or confusion (forgetting dates, years etc.)
  • Decrease in memory
  • Decline in ability to communicate 
  • Mood swings and emotional issues

Treatment & Medication

Mental illness treatment can involve inpatient or outpatient care.

Mental illness treatment can be a tricky process and it begins with a proper diagnosis of the condition’s type and cause. To do this, your doctor may administer several different types of tests, from cognitive and psychiatric evaluations to brain scans and lab tests. 

Several different mental conditions have symptoms that overlap and make them difficult to diagnose without extensive medical experience. Once the condition is properly diagnosed, a doctor may suggest one of these common forms of mental illness treatment.

Outpatient Care

The most common forms of outpatient mental illness treatment are based around medication or psychotherapy, often used in conjunction. The efficacy of these treatments varies from person to person and sometimes multiple treatment options must be attempted before an effective one is found.

For depression and anxiety disorders, pharmacological methods of treatment usually utilize antidepressants. These can be prescribed in addition or as an alternative to psychotherapeutic approaches like “talk therapy.” The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) also suggests regular exercise and a balanced diet as ways of staving off these common mental illnesses, stressing the link between brain and gut health.

The primary medications used in treating bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in seniors are classified as antipsychotics, usually prescribed at a lower dosage than people diagnosed at a younger age. For non-drug treatments of more severe cases, inpatient care is often required for proper rehabilitation. 

For the treatment of dementia in the elderly, no cure is currently known. But the symptoms can be managed and the Alzheimer’s Association recommends a non-drug approach before attempting medication. These can begin with something as simple as changing the environment of those with dementia to remove obstacles and promote a general ease of mind. 

If these non-drug approaches are not effective, certain types of medications like cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine may be prescribed to temporarily relieve some symptoms. Other approaches may include the use of antidepressants or anxiolytics, depending on the specific behaviors and symptoms that manifest.

Inpatient Care

With the more serious mental illnesses widely seen among seniors, outpatient care may not be an option. Those suffering from bipolar disorder or dementia may not be able to maintain their daily functions on their own and must turn to medical services that can attend to their needs 24 hours a day. 

For example, the most common form of therapy for conditions like schizophrenia is a psychosocial approach, where a team of doctors, nurses, social workers and other professionals work in close contact with the patient to monitor their symptoms, both mental and physical, and help them maintain social skills and daily activities.

In these severe cases of mental illness, the accessibility of quality inpatient care has been shown to be a determining factor in recovery. The psychosocial interactions common in inpatient care are now considered to play a necessary role in a comprehensive intervention plan, as isolation can intensify many of the symptoms of these conditions.

What mental health services does Medicare cover?

Medicare can help pay for your mental health care.

When faced with one of these potentially life-changing illnesses, it is important to know what exactly is covered by your health insurance. Depending on the condition and its severity, some patients may need an extended stay in a hospital, which can quickly skyrocket the cost of care. Fortunately, Medicare covers many mental health services.

Medicare Part A Coverage

The types of mental health coverage offered differ depending on which elements of Medicare you are covered by. Medicare Part A covers inpatient care, or the medical services you receive while staying in a hospital. The out-of-pocket costs not covered are the same regardless of the type of hospital, general or psychiatric.

Medicare measures your use of hospital facilities using benefit periods. These benefit periods are tallied in increments of 60 days, beginning on the day you’re admitted to a hospital and ending when you haven’t used any hospital services for 60 consecutive days.

If your stay is in a general hospital, there is no limit to the amount of benefit periods Medicare will cover. In a specialized psychiatric facility though, Part A will only pay for up to 190 days of inpatient care during your lifetime.

For further information on how the co-payments break down, check out this handy graphic or see our more in-depth article here.

2020 Medicare Part A Copayments
2020 Medicare Part A Copayments

Medicare Part B Coverage

Medicare Part B will cover most of the cost associated with outpatient mental healthcare. This primarily includes any doctor visits that may relate to your mental health, including appointments with psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and social workers. 

Therapy and counseling may or may not be covered depending on if the doctor accepts Medicare assignment. Finding a therapist who takes Medicare is now easier than ever, using tailored search tools like the one developed by Psychology Today, available here.

After you meet your Part B deductible, Medicare will cover 80% of their approved amount to the doctor or therapist. This leaves a 20% copay that will have to be paid out-of-pocket. For some, this may still be too expensive and that’s where Medicare Advantage, Supplement, and Part D plans can help!

Medicare Advantage, Supplement & Part D Coverage

There are several types of supplemental coverage that can help pay for Medicare mental health benefits. 

Part D plans, for example, offer coverage for prescription drugs which are not covered by original Medicare. For the year of 2020, these plans will have an annual deductible of $435 but, since they are provided by private insurance, there is some variation in the deductible, which may be waived, reduced, or charged upfront.

Medicare Advantage plans, also referred to as Part C, can offer far more benefits than parts A and B alone, including prescription drugs, dental and vision coverage, and group fitness classes tailored to seniors. 

Medicare Advantage | Medicare Plan Finder
Medicare Advantage | Medicare Plan Finder

Alternately, you may choose to apply for a Medicare Supplement plan, which provides additional financial benefits to help with mental health-related costs like copayments and deductibles. There are up to ten distinct types of Medicare Supplement plans (designated alphabetically from A – N). Each plan may differ in coverage and price. 

Medicare Supplements | Medicare Plan Finder
Medicare Supplements | Medicare Plan Finder

Whatever supplemental coverage you are looking for, it is best to seek the help of a licensed agent who can fully explain the details of each plan and find one that works best for you or your loved one. To contact one of these professionals directly for free, no-strings-attached information, fill out this form or give us a call at 844-431-1832 and get covered today!

Is UnitedHealthcare Dropping SilverSneakers in 2020?

Last year, UnitedHealthcare (UHC), the largest insurance carrier in the United States, announced that SilverSneakers ® would no longer be a plan benefit in 2019. The change would affect the entire UnitedHealthcare® family of products including the plans endorsed by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

What Areas Are Affected?

As of January 1, 2019, UHC no longer offers SilverSneakers® with Medicare Advantage plans in 11 states: 

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina 
  • Utah 

Along with Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans in nine states:

  • Arizona 
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Utah 
  • Wisconsin

Why Did UHC and SilverSneakers® Part Ways?

According to Sam Warner, who leads UHC’s Medicare Advantage product team, the company’s move away from SilverSneakers® is to “reach a broader portion of our membership” with a “wider variety of fitness resources.” Warner noted that “over 90 percent of policyholders who are eligible for SilverSneakers® “never step foot in a gym.” 

Will UnitedHealthcare offer any fitness benefit in 2020?

Fitness Benefit | Medicare Plan Finder
Fitness Benefit | Medicare Plan Finder

Yes. Starting in 2020, UHC will offer new fitness benefits* with some plans. As plans can vary in every zip code, ask your licensed agent whether or not this benefit can apply to you! 

Medicare beneficiaries with certain UHC Medigap plans may feature a fitness benefit that includes gym membership discounts and phone access to wellness coaches along with other health resources.

Medicare Advantage policyholders may be able to join a program called Renew Active™, which will replace SilverSneakers® in January 2020. The Renew Active™ benefit may include access to fitness centers, classes, and group activities along with tools to exercise your brain health.

*Always check with your doctor before starting any fitness program to make sure the program suits your individual needs.

How Does Renew Active™ Work?

The new Renew Active™ program includes a gym membership, an online “brain health program,” and access to local events. You can use the Renew Active™ website to find a facility close to you that participates in the program. Renew Active™ works with popular gym chains and local gyms. It may include some Planet Fitness locations, YMCAs, and more.

At no additional cost, Renew Active™ also comes with a personalized fitness plan. You’ll get an introductory one-on-one personal training session to set your initial goals and then you’ll be able to meet with your trainer at least yearly.

You’ll be able to work on strength, aquatic exercises, cardio, mind & body, and other specialty activities (like self-defense or Zumba®).

Renew Active™ can also coordinate with your Fitbit as well as your AARP® Staying Sharp program.

You can get Renew Active ™ if your UHC/AARP ™ Medicare plan supports it.

When Can I Enroll in a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement Plan?

The Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) is from October 15 – December 7, which is the time of year many Medicare beneficiaries can enroll in new plans or make changes to existing ones. 

Some members qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). Depending on your eligibility, you may have a lifelong SEP, which allows you to make one change per quarter for the first three quarters of the year — instead of only during AEP. Some people may only be eligible for a temporary SEP due to a life change, like moving to a new service area.

If you have just become eligible for Medicare for the first time, you can enroll in Medicare Advantage during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)

When You Can Enroll in Medicare Supplement Plans

You can enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan at any time during the year as long as you meet the requirements for Original Medicare (Part A and Part B).

Note: Don’t wait too long to enroll in Original Medicare because once you’re out of your IEP you may require underwriting, because insurance carriers aren’t required to honor your “Guaranteed Issue Rights”.

Tennessee YMCA Locations Breaks Partnership With SilverSneakers ®

In related news, the Tennessee State Alliance of YMCAs decided to leave the SilverSneakers® network. The change is effective January 1, 2020.

The two organizations parting ways means that you must find different coverage if you want to continue exercising at Tennessee YMCA locations.

Tennessee YMCA locations still accept Silver & Fit®, and you may be able to use Renew Fit.

Other Supplemental Benefits With Medicare Advantage Plans

Along with fitness benefits, some Medicare Advantage plans can offer coverage for vision, dental, and hearing services. Other supplemental benefits include meal delivery, non-emergency medical transportation, and drug coverage (prescription and over-the-counter). 

Find Medicare Plans With a Fitness Benefit

If you want a Medicare plan with a fitness benefit or any other supplemental benefit, one of our licensed agents may be able to help. Our agents are highly trained and they can help you sort through the plans available in your location. To set up a no-cost, no-obligation appointment, call 844-431-1832 or contact us here today!

Contact Us | Medicare Plan Finder

This blog was originally published on October 1, 2019. The latest update was on November 26, 2019.

7 Best Teas for Healthy Seniors

The health benefits of tea are seemingly endless. Teas are usually full of antioxidants and important nutrients that can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, assist with weight loss, protect your bones, soothe your digestive system, keep you hydrated, and more. 

Different types of tea can provide different benefits. Today, we’ll share the seven teas that you should keep in your pantry to help relieve different symptoms.

#1 – Green Tea: Best Tea for Energy and Focus

Even though green tea has about half the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee, it has been proven to improve energy and focus as well as improve sleep quality. Plus, a Japanese study proved that L-theanine, which is found in green teas, can improve focus and reduce anxiety.

Aging can bring a natural decrease in energy, and coffee might not be the best way to supplement it. While coffee can provide energy by keeping you alert, green tea can provide a more calming energy and keep you relaxed throughout the day.

Plus, green tea contains about 30% polyphenols, substances that can protect your cells from damage, reducing the risk of certain diseases, and the effects of aging.

Best Green Tea for Energy

While all green teas should be made the same way, some are more processed than others. The best green tea for energy and focus will be natural and fresh. 

It’s also best to use loose leaves instead of tea bags. Even though tea bags may be easier to use, they also typically contain broken, low-quality tea leaves and are more likely to gather dust. 

Lose leaves will often have a stronger, fresher flavor and are less likely to have lost nutrients during production. 

Check your local organic or healthy food store for fresh green tea leaves.

Green Tea for Seniors
Green Tea | Medicare Plan Finder

#2 – Peppermint Tea: Best Tea for a Cold

There’s a reason why cough drops are commonly peppermint flavored, and why you might feel clean and refreshed after enjoying a peppermint candy or gum: menthol. Menthol is an alcohol naturally derived from peppermint or mint oils. It creates a peppermint flavor, but it also is a counterirritant for skin and mucous membranes. 

Menthol also creates a local anesthetic effect. That’s why while enjoying a cough drop (and for the moments after), you might notice that you can’t feel the irritation in the back of your throat anymore. 

Peppermint tea can have a similar effect to a menthol cough drop when you have a cold. It can help break up any mucus in your throat that is causing a cough or itchiness. 

At the same time, peppermint itself has antibacterial properties that can fight off disease and boost your immunity – making peppermint tea a great option for when you’re fighting off a cold.

Peppermint Tea for Caffeine

Like other herbal teas, natural peppermint tea does not contain any caffeine! That means peppermint tea is also a great option for those who are actively trying to avoid caffeine. 

Peppermint Tea for Nausea

Though ginger may be what people more commonly reach for when it comes to nausea and digestion solutions, peppermint tea can work wonders for that as well. Peppermint can relax the stomach muscles and make it easier for bile to break down fats. 

Peppermint Tea for Seniors
Peppermint Tea | Medicare Plan Finder

#3 – Chamomile Tea: Best Herbal Tea for Sore Throats

Chamomile tea has natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and astringent properties. Similar to peppermint tea, drinking chamomile tea when you have a cold can help soothe a sore throat! 

The main difference in whether you choose chamomile or peppermint (other than flavor) is what kind of illness you are trying to cure. If you have a lot of phlegm build up in your throat, peppermint tea might do a better job of breaking that up. However, if you have strep throat or another condition that leaves you with an itchy, dry throat, chamomile might be the better option. 

Another great option available at grocery stores is a product called “Throat Coat.” Throat Coat has a distinct licorice taste that some people love, and some people hate. Throat Coat, produced by Traditional Medicinals, is known for being a useful tool for vocalists who have a scratchy throat but have a performance coming up. The product can cause major temporary relief from an itchy or scratchy throat! It includes organic ingredients such as licorice root, slippery elm bark, marshmallow root, and traces of cherry bark, fennel fruit, cinnamon bark, and orange peel.

Cinnamon Tea: Best Tea for Weight Loss

While cinnamon tea has not been directly tied for weight loss, cinnamon itself does have certain properties that can contribute to weight loss. 

For starters, cinnamon is loaded with fiber, which can make you feel full and prevent you from overeating. Additionally, cinnamon has been said to boost your metabolism due to the amount of energy it takes your body to process the spice. 

Similarly, cinnamon can reduce bloating – which doubles as a remedy for indigestion!

Cinnamon Tea for Diabetes

Cinnamon tea is also “said to increase insulin sensitivity and decrease blood sugar,” which can help control type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes but is also the most preventable and treatable. People with type 2 diabetes frequently begin with “prediabetes.” If you’re prediabetic, that likely means you have high blood sugar and your body is starting to reject insulin. Healthy eating, exercise, and weight loss can help prevent your prediabetes from turning into type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon tea and other cinnamon products may help you keep your blood sugar down (but that doesn’t mean you can eat all the sugary cinnamon rolls you want)!

Cinnamon Tea for Seniors
Cinnamon Tea | Medicare Plan Finder

#5 – Ginger Tea: Best Tea for Nausea

You probably already know that ginger ale can be a fantastic remedy for an upset stomach, but ginger ale products can be loaded with sugar! Ginger tea is a healthier option for curing nausea. 

Healthline.com recommends drinking about four cups of ginger tea to reduce nausea. If you don’t have ginger tea, you can use freshly grated (or store-bought grated) ginger by steeping it in hot water the same way you would tea leaves. Be sure to sip your ginger tea slowly if you already have an upset stomach! 

If your ginger tea is too bitter, try sweetening it with natural honey before turning to granulated sugar.

Ginger Tea Health Benefits

Other than relieving nausea and an upset stomach, ginger tea has other health benefits as well. Ginger is naturally anti-inflammatory, so regular ginger tea drinking can be a home remedy for muscle and joint aches (soaking in ginger can have the same effect).

Ginger can also improve your blood circulation, relieve menstrual discomfort, relieve stress, strengthen your immune system, and fight respiratory problems. 

Ginger Tea Side Effects

Like anything else, ginger is only good in moderation! Some people may experience diarrhea or abdominal discomfort after drinking too much ginger tea or consuming too much ginger. Some people also experience heartburn and lightheadedness. 

If you notice strong side effects or sudden discomfort after drinking ginger tea, stop use, and call your doctor if symptoms worsen. 

#6 – Jasmine Tea: Best Tea for Stress

Jasmine tea is a combination of tea leaves and jasmine blossoms. Jasmine’s aroma has been called a stress reducer for years, with a variety of perfumes, lotions, and candles carrying the jasmine scent. The scent triggers a “parasympathetic” response, which releases chemicals that allow you to relax.

Like everything else, stress can become more dangerous as you age, so it’s important to stay on top of it. Dr. Michelle Dossett from the Institute for Mind Body Medicine says, “Our cells are aging. Heart fitness and lung capacity decline, especially if you’re sedentary.” When your heart fitness and lung capacity decline, your body’s natural stress response can sort of take over more than it did in the past. 

If your stress gets particularly bad, it may be time to speak to a counselor. Make yourself some jasmine tea and find a counselor near you. Stress, anxiety, and depression are nothing to wait on: get help now!

#7 – Lemon Verbena: Best Tea for Inflammation

A lot of different teas have anti-inflammatory properties, but lemon verbena tea has been used for centuries to treat colds, fevers, anxiety, indigestion, spasms, insomnia, immunity, weight loss, etc. Lemon verbena is all around a great tea to keep in your house. 

In regards to inflammation, lemon verbena is a plant with natural anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is not always obvious. When you think of inflammation, you probably think of your skin turning red, blotchy, or even bumpy, like in the case of an allergic reaction. While that’s certainly one type of inflammation, inflammation can also occur in your muscles and joints. It can be the result of an infection or a physical injury. Inflammation can be the result of a large number of illnesses, so an anti-inflammatory product like lemon verbena tea is certainly multi-use. 

Lemon Verbena Tea for Seniors
Lemon Verbena Tea | Medicare Plan Finder

Electric Tea Kettles for Seniors

Ready to give some of these tea suggestions a try? How will you try them at home?

Whether you have arthritis, weak muscles, or dementia…or you’re just a little bit worried, there are safe tea kettle options out there designed with seniors in mind. When you’re choosing a tea kettle for yourself or a senior relative, you should keep the following six factors in mind:

Weight: Weak or arthritic hands will find a heavy tea kettle cumbersome. Dropping a steaming hot tea kettle can be a disaster! Look for tea kettles that are small to begin with so that they aren’t incredibly heavy when full of water.

Automatic shut-off: Regardless of how old you are, it’s easy to pour your tea but forget to turn off the kettle. Forgetful seniors will benefit from an electric kettle that automatically turns off when the water is boiling. 

Cool handle: Make sure the kettle you purchase has a cool handle, so you don’t have to worry about remembering to wear your oven mitts! The same goes for other heating elements. Sometimes you’ll notice in toasters and other devices that certain elements turn red when they heat up. Those are exposed heating elements and can be a burn hazard. 

BPA-free: Read the packaging to look for BPA-free kettles. BPA is a chemical found in plastic that can be harmful if ingested. 

Cordless: A cordless kettle reduces tripping hazards and is easier to carry.

5 Ways to Boost Brain Health for Seniors

It’s perfectly natural to lose some mental “processing speed” as we age. This process is called cognitive aging and usually starts as soon as we reach adulthood. While certain brain functions like vocabulary might even improve as we get older, others will gradually decline. A common list of cognitive changes in elderly people typically includes slower problem solving, diminished spatial awareness, and a decline in perceptual speed and memory.

 Most of these aging brain symptoms are entirely normal but the rate of this decline may increase, leading to MCI (mild cognitive impairment) or even dementia. However, scientific research has uncovered several methods proven to help maintain elderly brain health and most of them are simple things you can do in your day-to-day life!

Staying Active At Any Age

The connection between exercise and brain health for seniors has long been established. But new studies are suggesting that staying active may be the best way to prevent memory loss in old age! While it might be most effective before severe memory loss begins, it also appears to benefit those with advanced conditions like Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia. 

Seniors who exercise regularly can experience reduced inflammation, improved blood flow, and even increased growth of new blood vessels in the brain. An active lifestyle can also improve the quality of sleep, which we will see later is another crucial factor in maintaining brain health. In fact, sustaining a moderate regimen of low impact exercises from six months to a year has even been associated with increased volume in the prefrontal and medial temporal cortices, the parts of the brain responsible for memory and critical thinking!

Medicare Fitness Programs

Unfortunately, the research also indicates that exercise must be a regular commitment in order to see some of these amazing benefits. But dedicating at least three hours a week can be difficult for seniors who don’t have access to a gym. This is where Medicare plans that include fitness programs can help. Plans can include Medicare fitness programs Programs like SilverSneakers® and Silver&Fit® that are designed specifically for seniors and can provide access to fitness and exercise centers. Some may supply their less mobile members with home fitness kits.

Medicare Fitness Programs
Click to get fit!

Food For Thought: Brain Healthy Foods For Seniors

Many of us probably remember our mothers extolling the virtues of “brain food.” Turns out she was right! A diet consisting of mostly fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and fish has been closely linked to brain health and a lower risk of dementia. This “Mediterranean diet” is also often touted for its positive effects on heart health and cardiovascular risk factors, which can indirectly influence the health of the brain.

Senior Healthy Eating Grocery List
Healthy Living Grocery List

Best Memory Supplements For Seniors

In addition to a more healthy diet, many seniors take supplements to get a higher dose of these crucial ingredients than can be found in the foods themselves. Some of the most popular include fish oils like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants such as resveratrol, as well as creatine and even caffeine.

Companies have begun producing memory supplements targeted at seniors. Some of these include:

  • Brainol (includes 19 ingredients for improved cognition, like B-Vitamins, Huperzine A, L-Theanine, and DMAE.
  • Neurofuse (includes B-Vitamins, L-Theanine, DMAE Bitartrate, and Huperzine A.)
  • True Focus (includes Horse Chestnut, Butcher’s Broom, Hesperidin, etc.)
  • Irwin Naturals Brain Awake (includes Vitamin B6 and L-Theanine)
  • BriteSmart (includes Huperzine A)

While memory supplements are not typically covered by Medicare, some Medicare Advantage plans might have an OTC (over the counter) allowance benefit which would allow you to purchase supplements. Click here to read more about OTC benefits in Medicare.

Free Prescription Discount Card
Free Prescription Discount Card

Training An Aging Brain

One of the easiest methods for seniors to maintain mental acuity is daily brain training. This interactive practice can take on many forms, from crossword puzzles to arts and crafts. And now more than ever, there are services and applications specifically designed to give you your daily dose of critical thinking.

Activities for Alzheimer’s Patients at Home

There are countless ways for seniors to get their brains engaged on a daily basis. Many are things you might already enjoy, including puzzles or card games. In the technological age, of course, many of these activities can be done on a computer or smartphone.

In addition to these traditional games, there are many apps that are designed specifically as activities for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Apps like Lumosity are great for challenging your brain on a daily basis and some, such as Mindmate, even include exercise and nutrition tips. A cursory Google search may also help you find other free brain games for seniors.

Medicare Crossword and Word Search
Free Medicare Crossword and Word Search

Seniors Staying Social

Some doctors suggest that one of the best ways to retain memory and cognitive functioning is to remain engaged with a social group. Many seniors use social media to stay in touch with family and friends and there are even apps like Timeless that are designed to help people with dementia or Alzheimer’s stay social.

Clear Your Mind (And The Rest Will Follow)

The importance of everyday factors like stress and sleep on brain health for seniors shouldn’t be overlooked, especially for the elderly. A good night’s sleep will clear the brain of toxins that accumulate throughout the day like beta-amyloid, a protein which is also commonly found in Alzheimer’s patients. Stress can also play a huge role in how the brain functions by introducing high levels of cortisol and even possibly reducing the size of the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that governs memory and learning.

Meditation and Aging

Meditation has been shown to increase the thickness of the hippocampus and decrease the volume of the amygdala, which is responsible for stress and anxiety. Research into mindfulness meditation has even indicated an effect on the process of aging itself. A 2017 UCLA study showed that the brains of people who meditate regularly actually declined at a slower rate than those who did not.

Natural Sleep Remedies For The Elderly

We know that sleep is essential for overall brain health for seniors, but many older adults experience trouble sleeping. Some practices for getting better sleep include turning off screens and lights, regular exercise, reducing sugar intake, and keeping a consistent sleep schedule with naps no longer than 20 minutes. If something more serious is causing you to lose sleep, you might need to consult a physician to test for sleep apnea or to evaluate any medications you might be taking.

Medicare Annual Wellness Visit

If the decline in cognitive functions persists or accelerates, you may need to seek professional help as a preventive measure. As part of your Medicare benefits, you may be entitled to a paid Annual Wellness Visit with your primary care provider to develop a personalized prevention plan that takes into account your lifestyle and risk factors.

In addition to checking physical factors like height, weight, and blood pressure, they can perform a cognitive assessment and screen for various forms of dementia or cognitive impairment. Additionally, a Special Needs Plan might be used to supplement your Medicare benefits. These plans are Medicare Advantage products specifically focused on providing care and coverage for patients with dementia.

Prescription Drug Plans for Alzheimer’s

If your condition or that of a loved one develops into Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, Medicare Part D may cover the cost of prescription drugs to treat the symptoms. These medications include brands like Aricept and Exelon. Though they are not cures for the disease itself, they are effective at temporarily improving common symptoms of dementia, such as confusion or aggression.

Memory Care Through Medicare

Some severe cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s can make it nearly impossible to handle all the daily duties that come with living alone. In these cases, Medicare may help pay for nursing home care for a period of up to 100 days but will not cover such a solution in the long-term. However, some Medicare Part C plans may help cover the high costs of a nursing home or memory care facility.

For help enrolling in a Medicare plan that covers memory care and other brain health services, call us at 833-438-3676 or click here.

28-Day Healthy Living Challenge

Welcome to the Medicare Plan Finder Healthy Living Challenge. As you age, it can become easier and easier to form unhealthy habits. We’re here to help you break those habits and live your best life!

In this 28 day health challenge, you can turn your life around and start a new healthy lifestyle. Making healthy choices should not be one-time decisions. Start by making small changes (like following this calendar), then look for other ways to live healthier.

Before you read on, consider downloading this 28 day health challenge. You’ll also receive a printable grocery list and a calendar to follow along with.

The Challenge

Healthy Living Challenge Calendar
28-Day Healthy Living Challenge | Calendar | MedicarePlanFinder.com
  1. Set your health goals 
  2. Cut out a bad habit
  3. Invest in a reusable water bottle
  4. Join a gym or create a workout space in your home
  5. Eat a healthy breakfast
  6. Pick an inspiring book to read
  7. Develop a healthy eating shopping list
  8. Try a new healthy recipe 
  9. Invest in a multivitamin
  10. Schedule your annual wellness visit
  11. Go for a walk
  12. Try something new
  13. Practice good posture
  14. Get screened for genetic health conditions
  15. Work on your morning routine
  16. Get out of the house
  17. Start journaling to reduce stress
  18. Drink only water
  19. Practice deep breathing and meditation
  20. Start cutting out caffeine
  21. Splurge on a spa day or massage
  22. Read the labels on the food in your pantry
  23. Declutter and deep clean your home
  24. Brush your teeth for a full two minutes, and make it a habit
  25. Wash your hands for a full 20 seconds, and make it a habit
  26. Spend time outside, but don’t forget the sunscreen
  27. Schedule your regular dental and vision appointments
  28. Reflect on the Healthy Living Challenge and assess your health goal progress

Day One: Set Realistic Health Goals

Start the Healthy Living Challenge by talking to your doctor or taking the time to sit and think about your health. What can you improve on? What needs to change? Think about your weight, your diet, your blood test results, your daily habits, etc. 

Remember that to start a new healthy lifestyle is to do more than eat your vegetables and exercise – you also have to keep a rounded diet, exercise safely, engage in social activities, reduce stress, drink plenty of water, and more. Set goals like getting your cholesterol back to a healthy level, losing a few pounds, or drinking eight glasses of water per day. 

SMART Goals
S.M.A.R.T stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

Day Two: Cut out a bad Habit

On the second day, think about your daily routine, and cut out a bad habit. It can take a full 28 days to break a habit, so it’s a good idea to think about this early.

The habit could be anything from sitting on the couch for too long to overworking yourself. Or, it could be something like eating too much sugar or staying up too late.

Cutting out your bad habit can be one of your S.M.A.R.T health goals. Take day two of this Healthy Living Challenge to really focus in on that one bad habit and think about how you can put an end to it.

Day Three: Buy a Reusable Water Bottle

Find a reusable water bottle that you like, and carry it with you wherever you go. It is recommended that you drink at least eight 8oz glasses of water per day. If you purchase a 32oz reusable water bottle, all you have to do is drink two bottles per day! 

Everyone’s water needs can be different, so be sure to check with your doctor before taking our medical advice. The amount of water you need each day can depend on your individual healthcare needs.

Day Four: Join a gym or Create a Home Exercise Space

Creating a home exercise space can be as simple as buying a yoga mat and a few ten-pound weights, or as complicated as investing in equipment such as a treadmill. Alternatively, join a gym! If you have a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement plan, you may be eligible for a Medicare fitness program, such as SilverSneakers® or Silver and Fit®.

Medicare Fitness Programs

Day Five: Cook a Healthy Breakfast

Too many of us eat unhealthy breakfasts or skip the meal altogether. It’s easy to eat unhealthy, especially in the morning, when you’re tired and rushing to get on with your day. However, sometimes preparing a healthy meal is just as easy as pouring a bowl of sugary cereal. 

Consider focusing on superfoods in the morning, like a handful of blueberries coupled with a kale and tomato omelet. Or, start by making small changes like reaching for less sugary cereals in the grocery aisle and replacing your white bread toast with whole wheat.

Day Six: Pick an Inspiring Book to Read

Sometimes all that you need to take charge and start a new healthy lifestyle is a motivating book. We found the following healthy aging books available on Amazon:

Day Seven: Develop a Reusable Grocery List

Build a grocery list that you can take with you every time you visit the grocery store. This grocery list can help you stay on track and prevent you from grabbing unnecessary items like sugary desserts. Add items like 2% milk instead of whole milk, lean chicken breasts instead of fatty steaks, and wheat bread instead of white bread.

Click to download the list that we’ve started for you. Use the blank spaces to fill in the other items that you need.

Printable Grocery List

Day Eight: Try a new Healthy Recipe

Now that you have a start to your grocery list, take a look at some healthy recipes that you can make with your healthy ingredients (you may need to add a few items to your list). We found these cookbooks on Amazon:

Low Sodium Cookbook: Delicious, Simple, and Healthy Low-Salt Recipes” – by Shasta Press

Healthy Living Challenge

Day Nine: Find the right Multivitamin for you

If you’ve had a blood test recently, talk to your doctor about your results and find out if you lack any crucial vitamins. Then, ask your doctor if you should be taking any supplements or multivitamins. You can usually get multivitamins over the counter at any pharmacy or grocery store. Taking a multivitamin is an easy positive step you can take towards better health.

Day Ten: Schedule Your Annual Wellness Visit

Have you been attending your annual wellness visits with your doctor? Medicare covers an annual wellness visit for all beneficiaries. This visit is your chance to ask your doctor about any possible health concerns you have, and to request tests and screenings for various illnesses that you’re worried about. Remember, it’s always best to get ahead of your health and start healing before your symptoms worsen.

Day Eleven: Go for a Walk

Getting your daily exercise does not necessarily have to mean an intense cardio workout. Especially as you’re getting older, you have to be careful about over-exerting yourself and getting hurt. Today, go for a walk around your neighborhood or at a local park. Even a one-mile leisurely walk can lift your spirits and boost your metabolism. Consider taking your grandkids to the park for even more fun!

Day 11: Go for a walk!

Day Twelve: Try Something new!

Trying something new, no matter what it is, can positively alter your mood and motivate you to make the most of your days. While there is certainly value in having a daily routine, think about new things that you’ve always wanted to try. It can be a physical, mental, emotional, or social task! Consider trying yoga for the first time, taking yourself out to a new restaurant, or taking a painting class.

Day Thirteen: Practice Good Posture Today

You could be hurting your back every day without even knowing it. Pay extra attention today to the way you sit, stand, and bend over to pick things up. Practice always bending with your knees instead of your whole back, and practice straightening your shoulders as you sit and stand.

If you notice pain or discomfort, consider visiting a chiropractor. Medicare covers spinal manipulation when necessary, and some Medicare Advantage plans may cover other chiropractic services.

Day Fourteen: Get Screened for Genetic Health Conditions

If you didn’t already talk to your doctor about this, think about getting some genetic tests for familial health conditions. About one in every three people develop some form of cancer, and some of those cases are hereditary. The best way to beat cancer is to stop it before it develops and spreads.

A genetic test is the first step in determining whether or not you might need to prepare. The new myPath melanoma test is a popular one that your Medicare plan may cover.

Day Fifteen: Work on your Morning Routine

While it may seem small, your morning routine can impact your entire day. If you’re someone who has “bad” morning habits like sleeping in too late or skipping breakfast, use today to come up with a plan to adjust your routine and develop healthy habits. Try things like starting a morning workout regimen or opening the blinds before you go to bed so that the sun gets you out of bed earlier.

Morning Routine | Healthy Living Challenge
Day 15: Work on Your Morning Routine

Day Sixteen: Get out of the House Today – Go Shopping or see a Friend

A lot of adults can get into the habit of getting home from work and sitting on the couch for hours. Retired adults sometimes go a full day or longer without even leaving the house!

If that sounds like you, make an extra effort today to leave your house and do something. Your effort can be as small as going to the grocery store and running errands, or as large as spending all day with a friend. Figure out what works for you and make it happen today.

Day Seventeen: Start Journaling to Reduce Stress

If you’ve been feeling stressed or depressed lately, one great way to lift your spirits is to start journaling regularly. If you don’t have one, buy a journal or a notebook today and jot down notes about how you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, and what you’re going to do to try to fix it. Some people find happiness in just writing about what they did throughout the day! 

If journaling is not helping or if you have a more serious mental health issue, please know that you CAN get the care you need. If you have Medicare, many of your treatments and appointments may be covered.

If this is an emergency, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Journaling | Healthy Living Challenge
Day 17: Start journaling

Day Eighteen: Drink Only Water Today

Did you buy that water bottle on day three? Today, focus not only on drinking at least eight glasses of water but also not drinking anything else. 
That means no juices, no alcoholic beverages, no coffee – none of it.

If you’re worried about cutting out caffeine, you may be surprised to find that the effects of drinking all that water can eliminate your caffeine withdrawal. Sticking to only water can also help you lose weight, reduce your appetite, and even increase your focus.

Day Nineteen: Practice Deep Breathing and Meditation

In this crazy world, it’s easy to get caught up in the stressful moments and forget to sit back and breathe. Spend some time today sitting and reflecting. Turn off your phone and the TV, find a comfortable place in your home, and allow yourself to reflect on whatever is stressing you out.

Practice deep breathing exercises and meditation. If you don’t care for yourself emotionally, you run the risk of your health declining physically.

Day Twenty: Start Cutting out Caffeine

Whether coffee, tea, soda, or something else is your caffeinated guilty pleasure, it might be time to cut back. Coffee and tea are healthy in small doses, but too much can lead to anxiety, insomnia, digestive problems, and high blood pressure.

If you drink more than one cup of a caffeinated beverage per day, or even if you only drink one but want to cut back, make today your first step. Drink one cup instead of two, or switch to decaf in the afternoon.

Healthy Living Challenge | Medicare Plan Finder
Click to download the challenge!

Day Twenty-one: Splurge on a spa day or a Massage

You may have learned from day 13 that posture is incredibly important, and you might not even realize that you hurt your posture. Use day 21 of this Healthy Living Challenge as an excuse to treat yourself to a nice massage or a day at the spa. Alternatively, schedule an appointment with your chiropractor!

Day Twenty-two: Read the Labels on the Food in Your Pantry

Common pantry items like canned soup and vegetables and pastas are often diet staples, but they could be doing more harm than you think. Canned soups are a great example. On the basic level, they are healthy…but they contain more sodium than you could even imagine! Use today to read the labels on the food items in your pantry and recognize what you could be putting into your body. You may decide to think twice the next time you’re shopping for those items!

Day Twenty-three: Declutter and Deep Clean Your Home

Whether you’re too busy, too tired, or just don’t feel like doing it, chances are there is at least one room in your home that could use some tidying. You probably haven’t thought of cleaning as a health-conscious activity, but decluttering and cleaning can prevent trips and falls, can improve the air quality in your home, and might even uncover some items you can sell for extra cash. If you can’t do it yourself, ask family for help or pay a cleaning service to come in and help you out.

Cleaning | Healthy Living Challenge
Day 23: Deep Clean Your Home

Day Twenty-four: Brush your Teeth for a Full two Minutes

Dentists recommend that you brush your teeth for a full two minutes, twice per day. How long do you brush your teeth, and are you reaching every tooth? Some electric toothbrushes come with built-in timers, or you can put a kitchen timer in your bathroom to keep yourself honest. Healthy teeth lead to improved overall health, so this is crucial.

Day Twenty-five: Practice Really Washing your Hands for a Full 20 Seconds

People make the same mistake with hand washing as with teeth brushing. Every time you wash your hands – whether it’s after using the bathroom or before you eat – the CDC recommends that you wash thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to lather every part of your hands with antibacterial soap before you rinse.

Hand Washing | Healthy Living Challenge
Day 25: Wash your hands for 20 seconds

Day Twenty-six: Spend Time Outside Today – Don’t forget the Sunscreen!

Spending time outside increases your Vitamin D intake, elevates your mood, improves your concentration, and can even help you sleep at night. However, even if it’s winter and you don’t feel the sun, you are still exposed to it and should wear sunscreen. Wearing sunscreen isn’t only about protection from burns; it also protects you from general sun exposure that leads to wrinkles and discoloration.

Plus, sunburn does more than just make your skin red and itchy – it can lead to skin cancer! Protecting your skin from the sun is more than just a good idea, it’s necessary for your health. Be sure to apply sunscreen every time you expect to be outside for more than a few minutes.

Day Twenty-seven: Schedule your Dental and Vision Appointments

Dental and vision appointments tend to feel less important than general doctor visits, because you may not notice that you are developing cavities or that your eyesight is worsening. Be sure to keep up with your annual (or bi-annual) dental and vision appointments.

Day Twenty-eight: Reflect on the Healthy Living Challenge and Assess your Goal Progress

Congratulations! You’ve made it through our 28-day Healthy Living Challenge. Moving forward, your goal should be to turn everything you did this past month into long-term habits. Drink eight glasses of water every day, get outside as much as possible, go for walks, and eat healthily. Find creative ways to reduce stress, declutter, and socialize with your friends, family, and neighbors. 

For day 28, think about the S.M.A.R.T goals that you started with. Did you meet your goals, or at least make progress? What do you need to do next? If you need to follow up with a doctor, but you don’t have the coverage you need, maybe your next step needs to be reaching out to an insurance agent. 

Do you qualify for Medicare? You can try to get a Medicare plan by yourself, but it doesn’t cost anything to meet with an agent, and there is never any obligation to buy. Your agent can help you assess your needs and pick the plan that works best out of all your available options. Just call 833-438-3676 to schedule your appointment

This is only the beginning. Congrats on starting the path to a healthier you!

Healthy Living Challenge | Medicare Plan Finder
Click to download the challenge!

Husky Health (CT Medicaid)

HUSKY Health, the CT Medicaid Program

The Medicaid program is both federally and state regulated. This means that while the federal program does require certain standards across all 50 states, each state is permitted to add additional benefits and set its own eligibility standards. In Connecticut, the Medicaid program is called “Husky Health.”

HUSKY A is for parents and caregivers, some kids, and pregnant women. HUSKY B is for children, HUSKY C is for the disabled and elderly, and HUSKY D is for adults without kids.

Click to read more about:

HUSKY Health Benefits

All HUSKY Health members have access to the following benefits:

  • Ambulatory surgery and emergency care
  • Audiology and hearing aids
  • Behavioral health
  • Dialysis
  • Doctor’s visits and hospital stays
  • Durable medical equipment (including orthotic and prosthetic devices)
  • Home health services
  • Hospice
  • Lab tests, X-rays, and radiology
  • Physical rehab
  • Physical, occupational, and speech therapy
  • Prescription drugs
  • Preventative health
  • Vision and dental
  • Women’s healthcare (including maternity and family planning)

Members of HUSKY A, C, and D can also get access to non-emergency medical transportation, smoking cessation, and EPSDT (early and periodic screening, diagnosis, and treatment).

CT Medicaid Formulary

Most* drugs will be covered completely for HUSKY health members. HUSKY B members may owe copays for prescriptions. In most cases, doctors are required to prescribe the generic versions of the prescriptions you need. If a brand-name drug is required, your doctor will need to receive approval from Connecticut Medicaid. Additionally, your doctor will need to select drugs from the HUSKY Health “preferred drug list” and will need permission to go away from the list. In most cases, you will not be able to access a medication refill until you have used at least 93% of your prescription. Your doctor may be able to get you your prescription sooner if you have a reasonable excuse for needing it sooner.

*CT Medicaid will not cover drugs for cosmetic conditions, sexual dysfunction, obesity, fertility, any drug deemed ineffective, or experimental drugs.

Free Prescription Discount Card | Medicare Plan Finder

Behavioral Health

The following behavioral health benefits are covered under HUSKY Health. HUSKY B members may owe copays for non-preventative services.  

  • Ambulatory detoxification
  • Autism services
  • Case management for 19 and under
  • Crisis stabilization bed
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
  • Extended day treatment
  • Group homes
  • Home-based services
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Methadone maintenance
  • Observation
  • Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitalization
  • Psychiatric treatment facilities
  • Psychological testing

Dental Coverage

The Connecticut Medicaid program works with the Connecticut Dental Health Partnership (CTDHP) to provide high-quality but low-cost dental care to over 850,000 Connecticut residents. HUSKY B beneficiaries may need to pay a small copay for dental services, but the following services are covered for most CT Medicaid recipients at no charge*:

  • Cleanings
  • Dentures
  • Extractions and root canals
  • Fillings and crowns
  • Oral exams and surgeries
  • Orthodontics under age 21 (when medically necessary)
  • X-rays

*You must see an in-network dentist to receive full coverage.Back to Top

HUSKY Health Plus

The HUSKY Plus program provides additional coverage for HUSKY B members who need more services. Added services include (with no premiums, deductibles, or copayments):

  • Case management
  • Durable medical equipment, including motorized wheelchairs every five years and orthotic supplies
  • Hearing aids (every two years, $1,000 allowance)
  • Home health
  • Long-term rehab and weekly physical, occupational, and speech therapy
  • Medical and surgical supplies

Compare Plans from All Carriers in 1 Minute!

CT Medicaid Costs

Connecticut Medicaid costs vary based on which plan you have. Most people won’t have to pay anything, but HUSKY B members will have to pay small copays (which can be as low as $1) for some services. Additionally, HUSKY B level two beneficiaries will have to pay monthly premiums of $30 for one child and $50 for two or more children.Back to Top

Connecticut Medicaid Eligibility

Each HUSKY plan has different eligibility requirements. The chart below demonstrates the general income requirements for Connecticut Medicaid, but pay attention to which program you fall into:

HUSKY A & B

A & B are for Connecticut children and their parents or relative caregivers and pregnant women who have qualifying income. HUSKY B has two levels. Level one does not require any premiums, but level two is for those with higher incomes and requires a premium of up to $50 per month.

HUSKY C (MED-Connect)

C is for those aged 65 or older and for those who are blind or disabled. Income requirements are different based on where you live. In Southwestern CT, a single person cannot earn more than $633.49 per month, and married couples cannot earn more than $805.09 per month. In all other regions, a single person cannot earn more than $532.38 per month, and a married couple cannot earn more than $696.41 per month. Institutionalized people cannot earn more than $2,250 and cannot have more than $1,600 in assets (or $2,400 if married).

Those who are disabled and working can earn up to $75,000 per year and keep their Medicaid coverage.

HUSKY D

D is for those between the ages of 19 and 65 who do not have dependent children and do not qualify for HUSKY A, are not pregnant, and do not have Medicare.

Click to enlarge: 

Connecticut Medicaid Eligibility | Medicare Plan Finder

Completing Your Connecticut Medicaid Application

You can apply for Connecticut Medicaid online through “Access Health CT,” over the phone (1-855-805-4325), in person at a Department of Social Services office, or by mail with application AH3. Call the Medicaid number for access to the physical application.

Having Both Medicare and Medicaid in Connecticut

If you meet the eligibility requirements for both programs, you can benefit from both Medicare and Medicaid in Connecticut. To qualify for Medicare, you must be either above the age of 65, diagnosed with ALS or ESRD, or a SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) beneficiary for at least 25 months. If you do qualify for both programs, you can enroll in a Dual-Eligible Special Needs Plan, or DSNP. A DSNP is a form of Medicare Advantage, which means it provides even more benefits than what Original Medicare provides. Your DSNP plan comes with very few out-of-pocket costs. Questions? Send us a message or click here to get started.

Turning 65 Checklist | Medicare Plan Finder

Mother’s Day Health Tips to Share with Your Senior Mother

Your mother has dedicated her life to caring for you, and as she ages, it’s time for the roles to reverse. The best gift any mother could ask for is for her children to be wonderful, caring adults! As you plan to celebrate this Mother’s Day with your mother, consider giving the gift of your support throughout the rest of her life.

Healthy Ways to Celebrate Mother’s Day

Whether your mom is at home, in a living facility, or a hospital, you can still enjoy a beautiful Mother’s Day with her. If the weather is nice and she is able, take her for a walk! Sunshine strengthens the bones and the immune system and reduces stress while inducing feelings of happiness. You can also take her to a healthy brunch. Skip the sugary, syrupy pancakes and take your mom to a place where she can enjoy some fresh fruit with oatmeal or yogurt or opt for eggs and toast.

Top Women’s Health Concerns

Even if you don’t want to think about your mother’s aging and her health on Mother’s Day, think about selecting a day to discuss these topics with her. The top concerns that aging women face are:

Look for symptoms of these ailments in your mother, and educate her on what to look out for. Certain things, like breast swelling, brittle bones, muscle pain, and memory loss can be easy to spot. Depression is one of the ailments that is hardest to notice, especially when you don’t see a person often. Some people are really good at hiding their depression symptoms. When you don’t see your mother for a few weeks or even months, she might act like her normal self around you and then go home and sleep all day because she’s mentally exhausted. Keep your mother’s spirits up and help her fight depression by ensuring that she is engaging in hobbies and activities, keeping some sort of a social life, and keeping some sort of responsibility, like keeping a garden or a pet, or even just keeping the house clean.

Top Aging Women’s Health Tips

The best things your mother can do (and you, too!) as she ages are:

  • Eat healthy
  • Stay smart about medications
  • Manage existing health conditions
  • Get screened
  • Stay active

Eating healthy is always easier said than done as we are tempted by the snack aisle in the grocery store and the beautiful pastry display at Starbucks. Remind your mother to enjoy everything in moderation and keep superfoods like leafy greens, berries, and avocados in her diet.

Pay close attention to her doctor’s or pharmacist’s instructions regarding medications. Help your mother avoid being one of the statistics for senior opioid abuse. On the same token, make sure your mother is taking her medications and properly managing her preexisting health conditions. Help her out by purchasing vitamins and supplements that she can take, making sure she is comfortable at home, and watching her sugar intake.

Seniors are likely to avoid trips to the doctor because they don’t have an easy way to get there or they simply forget to book their yearly appointment. Some don’t want to pay for it – but guess what? Medicare covers one yearly wellness exam at no cost to the patient. This is a good time for your mother to ask questions and a good time for her doctor to perform or schedule screenings for common ailments. Those screenings are usually covered, too, so there’s no excuse!

Lastly, make sure your mother is regularly taking walks and engaging in household chores to stay active.

Get Support While you Take Care of Mom

Providing care for a loved one is no easy task, but you are not alone. Caregiver support groups throughout the country can answer your questions, give you advice, and allow you to interact with other caregivers just like you. Consider reaching out to the Family Caregiver Alliance, a group that has worked since the late ’70s to support people like you. You can also reach out to the Caregiver Action Network. They are located in D.C. and spend a lot of time advocating for caregiver rights and laws.

We’ve put together information on caregiver networks and some of our own advice for taking care of your loved ones, here. We specialize in Medicare plans, so if your mother or someone else you know needs help finding a plan, don’t hesitate to reach out to Medicare Plan Finder. We work with all of the major plans so there is no bias and you are never obligated to buy. If you are the “Power of Attorney” for your mother, we can speak directly to you about her healthcare plans.

We hope you enjoy a beautiful Mother’s Day this year and we hope to speak with you soon regarding your or your mother’s care.

Contact Us | Medicare Plan Finder

Medicare Advantage Supplemental Benefits

Did you know Medicare Advantage plans have tripled in enrollment since 2003? This means more than one-third of beneficiaries are enrolled in an MA plan in 2019! The increase in enrollment has lead to new benefits like telehealth, non-emergency transportation, and gym memberships like SilverSneakers®. Research shows that the top three Medicare Advantage supplemental benefits that cause beneficiaries to switch to an MA plan are vision coverage, OTC allowances, and healthy behavior rewards.

Medicare Vision Coverage

Nearly 90% of people over the age of 65 wear glasses. Plus, one in three older adults suffers from some form of vision-reducting eye disease like glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, or diabetic retinopathy. Fortunately, Medicare Advantage plans may include vision coverage and help you cut back on out-of-pocket costs.

What eye care does Medicare cover?

Generally, Medicare does not cover eye exams or glasses. This means that if you are only enrolled in Original Medicare (Part A and B) you will have to pay 100% of your costs, including the fees to have your frames fitted. However, if you had cataract surgery to insert an intraocular lens, Medicare Part B may pay for corrective lenses. This can include a pair of glasses or contacts, but you must get them through a Medicare supplier.

Medicare will cover the corrective lenses even if you had the cataract surgery before enrolling in Medicare. Plus, both lenses may be covered if you only had cataract surgery on one eye. If your situation applies, you will pay 20% of the Medicare-approved costs after reaching your Part B deductible. If you want upgraded frames, you will be required to cover the additional cost.

Are you looking for more coverage? Medicare Advantage plans can add additional benefits like routine eye checkups, eye exams, glasses, and contacts. To learn more about how to get vision coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan, click here.

Medicare OTC Pharmacy Allowance

The average American makes 26 trips per year to buy over-the-counter (OTC) products. What if we told you that some of the expenses from these trips could be covered? Well, great news! Some Medicare Advantage plans offer a monthly OTC pharmacy allowance.

What is a Medicare Advantage OTC card?

A Medicare Advantage OTC card can be used to purchase most OTC products and medications. The average allowance is $50-$100/month for most providers. Once you exceed this balance, your card is no longer valid until it is reloaded the next month. If you do not spend the monthly balance in its entirety, you may lose any remaining allowance.

Eligible products and medications may vary through your plan provider, but common eligible items include acne aids, cough, cold, and flu medications, antibiotic creams, denture products, bandages, digestive aids, ear care, first-aid kits, orthopedic support, sleep aids, and wart removal. However, chapstick, soaps, deodorant, dietary supplements, mouthwash, perfume, and teeth whitening products are generally not covered.

To learn more about how to get OTC pharmacy allowance through a Medicare Advantage plan, click here.

Healthy Behavior Rewards

Original Medicare does not incentivize healthy behavior, but some Medicare Advantage plans will! Research shows that 93% of people will change their behavior if they are rewarded. This is a win-win for everyone involved.

Healthy behaviors can include utilizing your annual wellness visit, losing weight, and smoking cessation. Incentives can include sweepstakes or direct rewards like gift cards and discount coupons. Some plans may utilize a “point” system that can be claimed at a later date for rewards.

Get Medicare Advantage Supplemental Benefits

Vision coverage, OTC allowances, and healthy behavior rewards are just a few of several Medicare Advantage supplemental benefits. Are you interested in joining the 20.4 million beneficiaries who are enrolled in MA? Our agents can contract with nearly every carrier in your state! This means that you can enroll in the MA plan that best fits your needs and budget. Call us at 833-438-3676 or fill out this form to arrange a no-cost, no-obligation appointment with an agent in your area.

Health Benefits of Pets for Seniors

Health Benefits of Pets for Seniors

Most people can’t help but smile when a fluffy dog comes running over. Did you know that pets (especially dogs and cats) have been proven to provide both mental and physical health benefits? Your health and well-being may just be the best excuse yet for you to adopt a furry friend.

Health Benefits of Pets:

They boost your immune system.

Pets who live outdoors or are frequently outside can easily bring bacteria into your home. In most cases, that bacteria won’t be enough to get you sick, but it will expose your body to the specific bacteria and prepare your immune system.

Pets reduce stress

There’s a reason why so many people have registered Emotional Support Animals. They can help prevent breakdowns and emotional outbursts in stressful situations just by their adorable presence. Pets for seniors also notoriously provide unconditional love, giving their owners confidence and helping to reduce feelings of loneliness and self-doubt. Whether they are registered as Emotional Support Animals or not, pets are great for those with high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression as well as those who just need a friend.

They get you outside and moving.

All animals (but especially dogs) will force you to get outside and moving. Even just taking a walk around the block with your dog is enough to lift your spirit. Plus, the extra exercise and vitamin D is great for your body.

Companion Dogs

By definition, a companion dog is not actually a working dog. You can register a companion dog as an emotional support animal, but it would still technically not be a a service animal. Companion dogs can become certified companions by passing a series of basic obedience tests. All that a companion certification does for you is that when you list your dog’s name on a document, you can follow it with “CD,” for “companion dog.” This tells whoever is reading your paperwork that your dog is certifiably obedient.

While companion dog certification is great for those who are in great health but are looking for a companion, seniors with disabilities may want to look into their service dog eligibility.

Companion Cats for Seniors

Technically, any cat can be a companion cat in the same way that any dog can be a companion dog. However, you can not train and register your companion cat in the same way that you can a dog. If you truly need your cat for emotional support, you can register it as an emotional support animal instead.

There is no question that cats can be just as beneficial as dogs for emotional support. More specifically, Persian, Ragdoll, Abyssinian, Burmese, Maine Coon, and Exotic Shorthair cats have a tendency to be very loving and social cats (but other breeds can be emotional support animals as well). To officially certify your cat, you’ll need to see a licensed specialist. Most online emotional service animal registrations are scams, so please see a real specialist.

Assistance Dogs of America

ADAI, or Assistance Dogs of America, Inc. helps disabled people of all ages find a trained service dog to assist with their daily needs. Even if you yourself can’t have a service animal for any reason, ADAI places therapy dogs in nursing homes, hospice facilities, and even jails.

Assistance dogs can be trained as guide dogs, hearing aid dogs, service dogs, and for help controlling conditions like seizures, PTSD, and severe stress. They can provide tasks even as detailed as opening doors/refrigerators/washing machines, flipping switches, dressing assistance, carrying items, picking up dropped items, helping you stand up from a fall, helping you climb stairs, etc.

If you do not adopt your service dog from Assistance Dogs of America or another certified service dog adoption service, you will need to register your service dog yourself. Dogs can be registered for seizure response, medication reminders, psychiatric disabilities, and seeing eye services. Registering your service dog means that you will be legally allowed to bring your dog anywhere (including rental housing). We recommend that you adopt your service dog from a certified provider (like Assistance Dogs of America) for the most legitimate certification that should not give you any sort of problem at any public facility.

America’s VetDogs

Based out of Smithtown, NY, America’s VetDogs trains service dogs specifically for veterans who suffer from physical injuries, hearing and vision loss, seizures, and PTSD. America’s VetDogs requires that you have served in the U.S. Armed Forces or are a first responder who has become disabled. You must participate in a two-week training program to learn how to care for and work with your service dog, and you must be able to afford at least $100 per month (for food, vet bills, etc.) and be able to care for your dog. Your transportation to the facility is free and there are no adoption fees!

Seniors for Seniors pet Adoption

Seniors for Seniors pet adoption programs are becoming more and more common. There just may be one in a shelter near you! Seniors for Seniors means that a shelter can help senior humans find a senior pet to care for! Puppies are a lot more work and have a lot more energy than senior dogs and cats, and you may find comfort in helping another living thing live his best senior life.

Whether you want to adopt an older pet or not, hundreds of shelters around the world have programs for seniors that include waived adoption fees! One foundation, Pets For The Elderly, can even pay adoption fees for you – just check out their list of participating shelters and see if there’s one near you. However, remember that even if your adoption fee is waived, you’ll still have other pet costs to consider (food, toys, vet bills, etc.).

Pet Therapy for the Elderly

Pet Therapy can mean a lot of different things. Most people first think of emotional therapy and emotional support animals, but pet therapy can provide physical benefits as well! Pet therapy for the elderly is designed to allow seniors to feel less lonely, use less medication, recover more quickly, have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, handle stress better, and even visit the doctor less often.

Seniors have been proven to have better communication, improved memory, and even improved motor skills thanks to pet therapy. Some of this is due to occasional visits from therapy dogs, but a lot of it is due to dog or cat ownership. Seniors who have dogs or cats at home generally get more exercise from walking and playing, work their muscles more from petting, walking, bathing, and brushing, and reduce their stress and depression from the love that pets for seniors provide! Plus, the mental stimulation from the love of a pet can improve memory and social skills!

If you can’t afford a pet or are unable to care for an animal for any reason, check out your local senior center or ask if your health plan knows of a pet therapy center in your area. You can also try volunteering at a local animal shelter!

Dogs in Nursing Homes

Some shelters and pet therapy centers work with nursing homes and other care facilities to bring in dogs to play with seniors! The animals could use the love and affection as much as the seniors can, so everyone wins! Sometimes these will be adoptable shelter dogs, and other times nursing homes may work with actual pet therapy centers that have trained companion dogs for you to spend time with.

Affordable Pet Insurance

If you haven’t adopted a pet yet because you’re worried about vet bills, did you know you can buy health insurance for your pet? While there isn’t really a Medicare for dogs, there are good coverage options out there for animals. You can choose an affordable pet insurance plan based on how much coverage you want and how much you want to pay each month. In most cases, you can use any licensed vet and then get reimbursed by your plan later (unlike health insurance, where you have a distinct doctor network).

Pet insurance generally covers expenses for illnesses and accidents that your furry friends get into. It can really come in handy if your curious kitty eats something she shouldn’t have or if your dog develops a hereditary tumor.

Service Dog Financial Assistance

If you have a qualifying disability and have a service dog helping you around, you may qualify for service dog financial assistance! This will help tremendously with your vet bills, pet food costs, and training expenses. Some veterinarians (but not all) will even provide discounted services for service animals, so make sure your vet is aware if your animal is a registered service animal. Additionally, landlords are required to waive any pet fees for you and your service animal as long as you meet their conditions.

A few examples of organizations that provide other service dog financial assistance are:

  • The Assistance Dog Special Allowance (ADSA) Program (monthly payments of $50)
  • PETCO Foundation (mainly donation-based)
  • The Seeing Eye (low-cost seeing eye dog program)
  • Planet Dog Foundation (provides service dog grants)
  • Assistance Dog United Campaign (grants, donations, and vouchers)

Medicare for Dogs

We wish we could provide Medicare for your dog, but that doesn’t exist (yet). The least we can do is help you find a plan that will help you afford to take care of your pets! Click here to request a call and find out if you can save more money on healthcare.

*This post was originally published on 3/29/18, updated on 9/18/18.

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