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Congressional support for Medicare Advantage pivotal

Medicare Advantage for 2018. This decision is expected by the end of March.

Congressman Charlie Dent showed his support for Medicare Advantage by recently signing on to a bipartisan House letter asking to “protect and preserve” funding for Medicare Advantage.

Last year I turned 65. I spent many hours studying and understanding the pros and cons of health care coverage under Medicare, Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplemental. For my situation, Medicare Advantage was far and away the best coverage for the best value.

I certainly recommend Medicare Advantage but the bottom line is having the choice. Seniors should have options for health care so they can select the plan that works best for their situation.

I’m glad our Congressman Dent joined his colleagues in underscoring the many upsides of Medicare Advantage. This support means the program and the choices it offers seniors will continue to thrive.


A too-early call tips recipient to a Medicare hustle

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rebecca Rodriguez of Albuquerque knew the supposed government employee calling her at 7 a.m. was trying to perpetrate a scam, and she wasted no time in telling him so.

“You’re too early to be calling from the government,” she told him. “I know the government isn’t up this time of day.”

The 88-year-old woman has a point. It’s also true that the government won’t call – at any time of the day – to ask you to recite your Medicare number over the phone. In Rodriguez’s case, the caller said he just wanted to make sure the card was updated.

Expect more of these kinds of Medicare-related scams as the agency gets ready to send out new cards starting April 1. The new cards will no longer list Social Security numbers – a change ordered by Congress to protect people against identity theft.

The new cards will also no longer show gender or a signature. Instead, they will include a computer-generated “Medicare beneficiary identifier” made up of 11 numbers and letters. It will be used for billing, to verify eligibility for services and to check the status of a claim. Medicare members have until Dec. 31, 2019, to begin using the new ID. Both the new and current cards will be valid until then.

“These changes will make it considerably harder for criminals to steal your identity,” according to AARP.

In the meantime, though, scammers are trying to cash in by targeting the 58 million people slated to get the new cards, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Among the reported scams:

• You’re asked for your Social Security number and bank information in order to get the new card. This will never happen with the real Medicare agency.

• You’re asked to pay for your new card. Don’t do it. The new card is free.

• You’re told you’ll lose your Medicare benefits if you don’t provide money and personal information. Not true. The free card will be sent automatically, and there will be no associated change in your benefits.


Make a note: Rex Tillerson is not going to contact you with a special offer for an ATM card worth $1.85 million.

In case you didn’t know, Tillerson is the secretary of state. Of the United States. Someone claiming to be him has been sending emails telling people they are owed the money, and that he knows this because the FBI and CIA told him.

To get the ATM card, the fake Tillerson says, you have to send in $320 along with some information about yourself, according to the the Federal Trade Commission.

“… it’s not the Secretary of State emailing, nobody owes you $1.85 million dollars (just guessing), and no government agency will ever tell you to pay a fee to collect funds owed to you,” the FTC says.


The Better Business Bureau is warning that those quizzes that circulate on Facebook – everything from personality tests to trivia contest – can be a front for stealing private information.

“These quizzes may seem like harmless fun – and some are – but many of them are designed to gather personal information about you,” the BBB says.

A tip-off can be when a quiz requires that you grant a third-party access to your Facebook profile. For example, a pop-up might appear reading something like, “Allowing (whatever the quiz name is) access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends’ info, and other content that it requires to work.”

Complying can allow access to any data you share, which can include photos, workplace details and your location.


A spot of good news happened last week when the feds went after an identity theft group whose motto was “In Fraud We Trust.”

The group, the Infraud Organization, was known as a “one-stop shop for cybercriminals” that sold stolen credit card information on the dark web, targeting more than 4.3 million credit cards, debit cards and bank accounts worldwide, U.S. prosecutors alleged.

Thirty-six people were indicted in connection with the international identity theft group.

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam.


Trump budget seeks cuts to domestic programs, Medicare, favors military and wall

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump proposed a budget on Monday that calls for cuts in domestic spending and social programs such as Medicare and seeks a sharp increase in military spending and funding for a wall on the Mexican border.

While running for president in 2016, Trump pledged to leave popular benefit programs such as Medicare and Social Security untouched, but his new budget proposal would reduce Medicare spending by $236 billion over the next 10 years.

The White House argued, however, that the reduced spending would come through reforms to the government health insurance program for the elderly, not benefit cuts.

There is little chance of those cuts becoming real, as presidential budgets are rarely enacted by the U.S. Congress, which controls federal purse strings. Instead, the budget allows the White House to lay out its priorities for the year.

Still, the proposed cuts drew a rebuke from the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Budget Committee, John Yarmuth.

”These cuts to critical federal investments are so extreme they can only reflect a disdain for working families and a total lack of vision for a stronger society,” Yarmuth said in a statement.

Beyond social programs, the plan calls for deep cuts in non-military spending that the White House said would lower the federal budget deficit by more than $3 trillion over 10 years.

It calls for spending $57 billion less in fiscal year 2019 than mandated in a two-year budget deal passed last week by Congress that raised spending limits on both military and domestic programs by $300 billion.

That bipartisan agreement means Congress has already locked in its own spending priorities and that Trump’s proposals are unlikely to be taken on.

The Trump administration says, however, that Congress need not spend all of the money called for under the deal, particularly with regard to domestic spending.

U.S. Government Publishing Office employees BethAnn Telford, left, and Bernie Morrison unpack new copies of President Donald Trump’s Budget for the U.S. Government for the Fiscal Year 2019 at the U.S. Government Publishing Office in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

“The message is really simple: You don’t have to spend it,” said Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director.

Trump’s budget proposal forecasts annual economic growth of at least 3 percent over the next three years, an aggressive target that is crucial to help cover the cost of $1.5 trillion in tax cuts passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in December.

Even given those optimistic projections, the swelling of the federal debt following the tax bill and the two-year budget agreement means that Trump’s proposal notably abandons the objective of eliminating the federal budget deficit after 10 years, a long-standing goal of fiscal conservatives.


Trump’s $4.4 trillion budget proposal provides for $716 billion in spending on military programs and for maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal,

It also includes $200 billion for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, and an outlay of $23 billion for border security – most of it for the building of a wall on the border with Mexico to stop illegal immigration.

The wall is a key item for Trump’s political base of supporters but is opposed by Democrats. The issue has become a sticking point in talks to keep alive a federal program to spare from deportation the “Dreamers” – people brought to the country illegally as children.

Trump’s budget calls for $571 million in additional funding to hire 2,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and agents. It also requests funding for more judges and attorneys to handle cases of illegal immigration.

In keeping with another Trump campaign promise, the budget provides for $200 billion in federal funds intended to spur $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments with state, local and private partners over the next 10 years – an ambitious program that will have to be approved by Congress.

The budget also seeks some $13 billion in new funding over the next two years to combat the opioid epidemic.

The proposal increases U.S. contributions to the United Nations, an organization that Trump has repeatedly criticized, by 4.5 percent. The budget explains the increase as supporting American interests, including “drug control, crime and terrorism prevention, and trade promotion.”

Reporting by Ginger Gibson and James Oliphant; Additional reporting by David Morgan and Katanga Johnson; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney


Medicare can help protect your eyesight

Are you at risk for glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes loss of vision—usually side vision—by damaging the optic nerve, which sends information from your eyes to your brain. Some forms of glaucoma don’t have any symptoms, so you may have it even if you don’t have trouble seeing or feel any pain.

That’s why glaucoma is often called “the sneak thief of sight.”

Fortunately, you can prevent vision loss by finding and treating problems early. Medicare covers a glaucoma test once every 12 months for people at high risk for glaucoma, including people who answer “yes” to one or more of these questions:

Do you have a family history of glaucoma?

Are you African American and 50 or older?

Are you Hispanic American and 65 or older?

Glaucoma tests are covered under Medicare Part B (medical insurance). An eye doctor who’s legally allowed to do this test in your state must do or supervise the screening.

How much will the test cost you? You pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount, and the Part B deductible ($183 this year) applies. If the test is done in a hospital outpatient setting, you also pay a copayment.

To find out how much your specific test will cost, talk to your doctor or other health care provider. The specific amount you’ll owe may depend on several things, such as:

• Other insurance you may have.

• How much your doctor charges.

• Whether your doctor accepts Medicare payment as full payment.

• The type of facility where you’re tested.

• The location where you’re tested.

• There is no cure for glaucoma. Vision lost from the disease cannot be restored.

Without treatment, people with glaucoma will slowly lose their peripheral (side) vision. If glaucoma remains untreated, people may miss objects to the side and out of the corner of their eye. They seem to be looking through a tunnel. Over time, straight-ahead (central) vision may decrease until no vision remains.

Immediate treatment for early-stage, open-angle glaucoma can delay progression of the disease. That’s why early diagnosis is very important.

Glaucoma treatments include medicines, laser trabeculoplasty, conventional surgery, or a combination of these. While these treatments may save remaining vision, they do not improve sight already lost from glaucoma.

Glaucoma is detected through a comprehensive dilated eye exam that includes the following:

Visual acuity test. This eye-chart test measures how well you see at various distances.

Visual field test. This test measures your peripheral vision. It helps your eye care professional tell if you have lost peripheral vision, a sign of glaucoma.

Dilated eye exam. In this exam, drops are placed in your eyes to widen, or dilate, the pupils. Your eye care professional uses a special magnifying lens to examine your retina and optic nerve for signs of damage and other eye problems. After the exam, your close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.

Tonometry measures pressure inside the eye by using an instrument called a tonometer. A tonometer can detect glaucoma. Numbing drops may be applied to your eye for this test.

Pachymetry is the measurement of the thickness of your cornea. Your eye care professional applies a numbing drop to your eye and uses an ultrasonic wave instrument to measure the thickness of your cornea.