rChance Blog

Several weeks ago, in one day, I received my Medicare Supplement Insurance updates for 2016. In the 2 ½ inches of paper there were changes in just about all areas of coverage. The results were roughly:

• In the monthly base amount – up $10.
• In changes to co-pays – down to zero within the network
• In changes to prescription costs to customer – they are inching upward in general
• In changes to prescription providers – they will need to be in ‘network’ for 2016, I did check with my current drug providers and they are in the ‘network’
• In changes to what Medicare pays for – they pay for less now, note that is Medicare, not the Medicare Supplement provider…
• In changes to Fitness/Exercise charges – down, this is free now
• In Dental coverage – this is remaining the same, with 2 free checkups and a bite-wing xray at no extra charge

I feel pretty fortunate, even though there are many details to check, and I am not totally clear on what the bottom line will be, but am hopeful anyway. The only way to tell is to wait until the end of 2016, and calculate the medical expenses for both years. And in my case, since I had the second cataract surgery done in 2015, some charges for those one-time meds needed for that surgery changed the amount I paid in this year
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So where are the differences?

Prescriptions: More requirements like In-Network providers, who may not be the current providers that I use. After checking, all three providers that I use - they are all in the network, this is great for me.

• Tier Changes for Drugs: Every month I get a report from the Medical Supplement provider, showing my prescriptions and the costs I have paid for them. Also on the report is a list of tier changes for various drugs, which are changing to a higher cost. If my meds are changed to a higher cost, it could make a big difference in the amount of money going from me to a drug company.

• The charges for Chemotherapy are scary and I know people who have had to pay them – or try to pay them. Also, I have been told by a provider of bankruptcy services that medical costs are the largest reason for declaring bankruptcy.
• I still use the Goodrx.com website. When I recently was bitten by a Lymes tick, asked the doctor to use her screen and check the Goodrx.com site for doxycycline providers, we discovered that there were big differences between providers for this drug – like $50., so check it out for yourself.

If you or someone dear to you is on Medicare, rChance recommends you review the renewal information packet you received in the mail. During the Open Enrollment period (Oct 15, 2015 through Dec 7, 2015), you can make changes to your health and prescription plans. It might be a good time to talk to an insurance broker especially if you notice a rise in your projected out-of-pocket expenses to 2016. If you decide to make changes, remember to do it before December 7, 2015. That is the deadline for changes to 2016 charges.

If you have any thoughts about your Medicare please share. I’m sure other rChance readers would appreciate reading them.

Remember, it’s rChance to Thrive, Every Day and in Every Way

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Do you want to possibly save money on your Medicare insurance costs? Do you have a phone? Do you have fifteen minutes to call your insurance guy or gal? If you answered “yes” to those questions, you are strongly recommended to do so before December 7, 2015. If you don’t call, you’ll have to wait another year for the next Medicare Open Enrollment period to make changes.

Let me tell you my story. Before I do, allow me to preface my story with a few facts and definitions.

• Medicare Part A – Primarily hospital care
• Medicare Part B – Primarily doctor’s care and tests. Generally pays 80% of the costs. You are responsible for the remaining 20%.
• Medicare Part D – Prescription Drug Plan
• Medicare Part C (Advantage Plan) – Like an HMO or PPO. Your health care options (Parts A, B and D) are managed by your Advantage Plan insurer.
• Medigap Plan – Supplemental Insurance that generally covers the 20% not paid by Medicare Part B
www.medicare.gov – The Medicare website that can answer most of your questions.
• Medicare Open Enrollment – The one time of year when ALL people with Medicare can make changes to their health and prescription drug plans. The Open Enrollment period is October 15, 2015 through December 7, 2015. Changes made during the 2015 Open Enrollment timeframe will go into effect no later than January 1, 2016.

Now on with my story. Nanook (my wife) and I each have a Medigap plan. In fact we have had them since we first went onto Medicare. This year I called my intrepid insurance broker Ed to see if he could find policies that maintained the same level of coverage at a cheaper cost. He did. He found us plans offered by our insurance company that reduced our combined monthly premiums by $60. Needless to say I told Ed to go for it. He did. And now we are saving money.

While I was on the phone with Ed, I asked him if he could do the same for our Part D Prescription Plan. Guess what. Ed came through again. He found two new policies that will save us about $40 a month combined. Let me tell you we jumped on that horse too.

So to wrap-up this communique, one fifteen minute call (no, Ed is not Geico) saved us about $100 a month. Not bad eh? Just to be clear, rChance is not an agent. rChance does recommend using an insurance broker, one that can shop the insurance market for you. Prices do vary between insurance companies, even policies that offer the same benefits.
rChance does recommend you check-out the Medicare website for everything Medicare and call your insurance broker, agent, or company to see if they can save you some money. Just remember to do it before December 7, 2015. That is the deadline for changes to 2016 charges.

If you have any thoughts about your Medicare please share. I’m sure other rChance readers would appreciate reading them.

Remember, it’s rChance to Thrive, Every Day and in Every Way.

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If you use your laptop or PC to do your daily computer tasks you may have heard about Windows 10. Windows 10 is Microsoft’s new operating system for users currently running on Window 7 or Windows 8. This blog will hopefully answer some questions regarding the update and some update tips should you decide to take the plunge.

Your first concern maybe how solid is Windows 10? So far reviews have been mostly positive. Personally I updated to Windows 10 and I have not encountered any problems.

You next question may be why update if I’m happy with Windows 7 or 8? Good question. If you are satisfied with either there is really no good reason to update. I see one exception. Someday, a few years down the road, Microsoft will stop supporting Windows 7 and 8 like they did with Windows XP. Keeping current reduces the risk of evil doers hacking your system. Also it will keep you current with all the latest whiz-bang techy applications.

You may have heard that Microsoft is rolling-out Windows 10 in stages. Is that true? Yes, the reason for that is Microsoft doesn’t want to overload their servers trying to do mass updates.

When will my turn come? Microsoft will notify you by placing the Get Windows 10 app icon in the notification tray at the bottom-right corner of your screen. Right-click the icon and select “Check your update status.” Then in the screen that is displayed, click the icon with three horizontal lines in the upper-left corner. A menu drops-down; click “Check your PC.” Your computer is then checked for compatibility. You will get a message indicating whether or not your computer is compatible. Let’s assume it is and continue.

Now you have to wait, not minutes but days or weeks until you get to the front of the download queue. Remember the update stages. I waited about ten days for my turn. Keep watching your notification tray for the Windows 10 update icon appears. When it does appear and you have about two hours reserved, you are ready to jump in.

Personal tip one: Power-down your PC before launching the update. This allows for any software updates to be applied to your current version of Windows. When that task is done, power-up your PC.

Before you launch the update be aware that it’s a three-step process. The first step in the process checks your machine for a while. You’ll see the rotating circle of dots on your screen. When that is done, you get to accept or decline the “legalese.” When you accept, the update process kicks-in. From that point on you will be led by the electronic hand. Windows 10 software gets downloaded and then applied. While that is going on you will be able to follow the process on your screen. You may have to from time-to-time do some occasional keyboard actions. Just follow the instructions and you should do just fine.

Personal tip two: My laptop got stuck on the rotating dots on step one. So after my patience was stretched to the limit (after about two hours), I killed it. What did I do now you ask? I looked inside the Windows Update folder located inside the Control Panel folder. Inside the Windows Update folder look for the Windows 10 Update icon, click it and the three-step launch-and-load process will take-off.

After I successfully updated to Windows 10 I ran into two issues. One issue, and it may be a big one, Windows Media Center (not to be confused with Windows Media Player) will not work. You will have to load a third-party package to watch and record TV. There are free packages you can download and use. The second issue was my external speakers did not work. I had to go into the Control Panel, find my speakers and reload the driver. Once I did that, everything worked!

Personal tip three: I would recommend NOT updating if any of these tasks sound too daunting. You’ll probably not be faced with an urgent need for about five years, and by that time, you’ll probably be in the market for a new PC which will be already loaded with the latest and greatest version of Windows.

Finally, you decide if your needs require you to update. The choice is yours. We would love to read about your Windows 10 (or not) experiences and we believe rChance readers would too.

Remember, it’s rChance to Thrive, Every Day and in Every Way.

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If you are on Medicare or have a loved one on Medicare, you should read this. If not, thanks for checking-in.

Medicare has a new (at least it was new to me) program called the “Annual Wellness Visit” (AWV). If your medical provider offers this option, it is 100% covered by Medicare, so there is no copay or supplemental payment involved. So it won’t cost you a thing except about an hour of your time at your doctor’s office. However; be aware if you schedule an AWV appointment, and then use the appointment for a medical issue in addition to an AWV, you will be charged for a medical visit.

The AWV is designed to help Medicare recipients achieve health care goals. The visit improves the quality of information providers have documented about your medical background. Most of the visit is spent being interviewed by a health professional (an RN in my case). Part of the visit will be checking your vital signs such as height, weight, blood pressure, vision, etc. The goals to the AWV are:
• Update the accuracy of your medical information. Examples include family history, medications, allergies, etc.
• Evaluate and provide patient information regarding: High risk or inappropriate living conditions. Also end-of-life planning such as wills and medical power of attorney.
• Provide appropriate referrals for any issue found including fall risk, unsafe living conditions or support for hearing and vision deficits.
• Address preventative/chronic disease management gaps. Includes review of immunizations, depression screening, collecting vital signs, tobacco and alcohol usage, etc.

There is another item concerning the AWV you should be aware. If you are in the first year of Medicare coverage and you want an AWV, you will first have a one-time Initial Preventative Physical Examination (IPPE). It is also known as the “Welcome to Medicare Preventative Visit.” Medicare pays 100% for the visit. It is a once in a lifetime visit. Subsequent annual visits will be the AWV. If you have been on Medicare for over one year, you will not be eligible for the IPPE rather you can begin with the AWV. If you need more information you can go on-line at www.cms.gov/site-search/search-results.html?q=annual%20wellness%20visit.

This program is relatively new and designed to improve the prevention aspects of health care of Medicare recipients. Do not be surprised if your primary care physician is not equipped to provide this service at this time. Please encourage your doctor to get on-board, if they do not offer this already.

Early results have shown success with this program in that it improves the health and well-being, while reducing health care expenses, of Medicare users. You can’t argue with the price – free.

If you have any thoughts about what is written here please share them. I’m sure other rChance readers would appreciate reading them.

Remember, it’s rChance to Thrive, Every Day and in Every Way.

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What happened to you in 1961?  Was it memorable? Good memories or not so good.  My 1961 was memorable but upon reflection, the memories are not pleasant.  In fact I tend to put 1961 on the back burner of life.  And then I read this book.

It’s a remarkable and thought provoking book written by William Kent Krueger entitled Ordinary Grace.  Krueger writes mysteries set in northern Minnesota.  This book is a departure from that theme.  This story is set in a small town in southern Minnesota in 1961.  The narrator is thirteen, the son of a Methodist minister.  The story centers on how he and his family deal with a number of unfortunate deaths during the summer of 1961.  That’s the plot synopsis.

What struck me about the book was how it hit home.  1961 was not a good year for me.  I had just come through my freshman year at college where I vastly overreached in my classes (which was reflected in my grades).  I deluded myself into thinking I could be an engineer rather than follow my passions – history and political science.  My erstwhile engineering journey included physics and math.  Big mistake.  It ended, for all intents and purposes, my college career.  In 1961 there was this thing called the “draft” which meant goodbye college, hello military service.  Then just before the end of the school year, we found out my mother had stomach cancer.  She was diagnosed in May and died in July 1961.  She was forty.  My sister was just fourteen; the age where she really needed her mom.  I think for any teenage son or daughter to travel the adolescent minefield without a parent places an unfair challenge on that son or daughter. She came through it OK, but I think the experience left her lacking in the self-confidence to really fulfill her potential.  My wife and friends tell me that one of the most important roles in a teenage girl’s life is to have a Mom to support her during these important teen years.

My life took a different turn, in October I joined the Navy.  The Navy provided structure in my life and a much needed release from the difficult events of the first nine months of the year.  My time in military service gave me time to adjust to the new ‘rules of the game’ in my life, and start a different path, while being in a structured setting that did not allow me to mess up too badly.

As you can tell 1961 pretty much sucked for me.  Because it sucked, I don’t get caught up in nostalgic fervor when thinking about it.  It’s pretty much a black hole emotionally.  However, Ordinary Grace dragged me back to that year and forced me to think again of those events.  And you know what?  It was bad at the time, but not as bad as I thought.  All of my little family (mom, dad, and sister) have passed on.  But their spirits are still with me, and they fill me with contentment.  I believe they are together waiting for me to join them when my time on earth is finished.

What was your 1961 all about?  I would love to read about your reflections of that year and I believe rChance readers would too.

Remember, it’s rChance to Thrive, Every Day and in Every Way. 

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I was in eighth grade the first time I heard Bill Haley and the Comets perform Rock Around the Clock.  I loved it.  Shortly after that came Elvis singing Heartbreak Hotel, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and on and on.  The thing is, rock ‘n roll was our music, not the music of our parents.  Rock had many flavors in the beginning, instrumental, rockabilly, novelty, blues, and soul.  Blues and soul had to sneak onto rock ‘n roll radio playlists because they were performed by “colored” artists. One of the reasons our parents were up in arms over “that” kind of music was the sexual innuendoes that just wasn’t proper in a polite society.  Remember Ray Charles’ What’d I Say (both parts 1 and 2). But just as America evolved racially, so did the music.   

My taste in music embraced the soulful sounds of the aforementioned Ray Charles, along with Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin,…..What made their sounds so special was to a large degree, the performances of the back-up singers.  Remember the Raylettes of Ray Charles?  So what was the life of a back-up singer like?  Where did they learn that close harmony? Where did the vocal power and passion come from?  What must it have been like to be heard on the radio yet no one knowing your name except as The Blossoms, The Ikettes, The Chrystals, The Ronettes.  Well I got an answer for you.  Get your hands onthe movie 20 Feet From Stardom.

20 Feet From Stardomwon this year’s Oscar as the “Best Documentary.”  It is available on Netflix.  It’s a look into the lives of a half-dozen prominent back-up singers.  Remember Darlene Love and her annual Christmas performance on David Letterman?  At one time she was cleaning houses while her music played on the radio.  Then there is the story of Merry Clayton who was called just before she went to bed for the night by a band called The Rolling Thunders or something like that to join a recording session because the band needed a soulful female voice.  The band was The Rolling Stones and the song was Gimme Shelter.  Lisa Fischer made it from singing back-up to many a rocker and jazz performer when in 1989 she was asked to join The Rolling Stones.  And of course the film has lots of terrific music.

Before I sign-off for this entry, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a band I first heard on NPR a week or so ago.  The band is “St. Paul & The Broken Bones.”  It is currently my favorite band.  It’s a soul band out of Alabama sounding a lot like the James Brown band, including a horn section.  You have to check-out the front man Paul Janeway.  His voice will remind you of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, with some James Brown thrown-in for good measure.  Don’t let first appearances dissuade you.  Once you see them you’ll know what I mean.  I suggest you go to YouTube, search for St. Paul & The Broken Bones, and play one the many videos, try Pocket Change and Broken Bones.

What about you?  Anything you want to share? rChance readers want to know!

Remember, it’s rChance to Thrive, Every Day and in Every Way. 

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I suffer from “sleep apnea.”  Fortunately I’ve treated it successfully for the last seven years with a CPAP.  What is sleep apnea?  It is a sleep disorder that shuts down breathing while you sleep.  Because the body doesn’t like that, it goes into rescue mode by waking you up.  Waking automatically allows you to resume breathing, and you repeat the cycle over and over again.  I was doing it on average every 45 seconds.  The odd thing about it is that you do not remember it happening.  You know you have a problem when you drag your butt through the day when all the body wants is a nap.  And an inopportune nap can be embarrassing as in napping during a meeting or sitting at your PC.  It can also be very dangerous when the urge to nap comes over you when you are driving.

What’s a CPAP?  It is a breathing machine that forces open your breathing passages while you sleep.  Pressurized air is delivered from the machine to your nose and mouth through a flexible plastic tube and facemask.  It takes a little getting used to, but it has contributed greatly to my well-being.  So why am I mentioning this?  Because last night I was tested again (for the second time).

After my first test seven years ago when the CPAP was prescribed, my normal sleep pattern resumed.  It was wonderful.  Those annoying nap urges disappeared and my alertness was restored to normal.  All was good, until about six months when those nap urges began to creep back into my life.  This time it wasn’t so serious because I’m retired and I don’t have to attend meetings, and I don’t drive nearly as much as I once did.   

I saw the sleep doctor about a week ago.  I told him that my sleep was no longer wonderful as it had once been, but now just OK.  He said in order to get back to wonderful I would need to be re-tested.  Last night was the re-test.

I checked into the Sleep Center at a local hospital about 9 PM.  I was ushered to my room about the size of a really small motel room.  After completing the usual paperwork, the technicians got down to business by hooking me up to about twenty electrodes on my legs, chest, and head.  I think there were at least ten of them attached to my head.  After that was finished, my overnight technician introduced herself and told me the routine.  My job was to try to sleep as normally as possible given I was encased in a spider’s nest of wires, a CPAP, and a strange bed.  Her job was to watch me sleep, keeping track of all the gathered information, and occasionally waking me up to reattach any disconnected electrodes that came loose during the tossing and turning of the sleep process.  She only woke me twice, not too bad.  At 7 AM, she bounced into my room, removed all the electrodes, brought me a coffee, and left me to shower and check-out.  Two things, there wasn’t enough soap in the shower, and there wasn’t any sustenance to go along with the coffee.

I’ll get the results back from the test in about of week.  My assumption is that the air pressure on my CPAP will be adjusted, so I can once again experience wonderful sleep.  When I get the results, I share them with you.

What about you?  Do you suffer from sleep apnea or share a bed with someone who does? rChance readers want to know!

Remember, it’s rChance to Thrive, Every Day and in Every Way. 

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About ten days ago I had my annual appointment with my urologist.  Yes, he stuck his finger up my butt to check my prostate.  And his nurse drew blood for the PSA test.  The digit test said my prostate was normal and I had to wait until this morning to get a call back from his office with the PSA results.  I’ll share that with you a little later.

Early this week I got my AARP Bulletin (March 2014) in the mail.  The cover headline said: “Doctors Say: Skip These Tests.”  I read the article.  The third test to skip was “PSA to screen for prostate cancer.”  Prostate cancer killed my father, so my annual trip to the urologist is of utmost importance to me. 

The key element in the article is this:  “An estimated 75 percent of tests that show high PSA levels turn out to be false alarms.”  A high PSA number may lead to unnecessary treatments.  Treatments may include surgery or radiation.  These treatments can lead to impotence, incontinence, or both.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends opting out of PSA testing for men with no symptoms when they are expected to live less than ten years.  The American Urological Association supports PSA testing for men between 55 and 69.  So there you go.  Confusing?  Yep.  I admit it - I’m confused.  Who can tell you when to start the “ten years or less to live” countdown?  What if I am outside the “55 to 69” window?  How important is family history?  Should I have the PSA screening if the digital (finger up the butt) test suggests all is well?

So here is what I am going to do.  I’m putting my trust in my urologist.  I will visit him once a year and have him do both tests – digital and PSA.  Should something abnormal appear, I will discuss options with him at that point in time.

By the way, what were the results of my latest PSA?  A very low number – that’s good, for what it’s worth.

What are your experiences with prostate exams?  rChance readers would like to know.

Remember, it’s rChance to Thrive, Every Day and in Every Way. 

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If one of your PCs is running with Windows XP (as I am), Decision Day is around the corner – April 8, 2014 to be exact.  On April 8, 2014 (I’m repeating the date for emphasis), Microsoft will stop supporting XP.  That means no fixes, no anti-virus updates, and no new hacker prevention tools.  If you continue to use XP, it’ll be Groundhog Day all over and over again, except it’ll be April 7, 2014.

So what does that mean in the world of PC’s?  It means the hacker and scammer world will go nuts attacking your computer if you continue using XP.  You will be a sitting duck, especially if you continue to access the internet.

So what is the best way to protect yourself you ask?  Buy a new laptop, or maybe a tablet.  Yeah but if you’re like me (cheapskate) you want to keep using your trusty (but old) laptop running XP.  What to do?  Here are some ideas.

Keeping on with XP.  Back-up all critical files to an off-line storage device or location (like the cloud).  Maybe move those files to a machine that runs on Windows 7 or Windows 8.  Do not leave behind any password files, financial spreadsheets, or personal correspondence, Social Security numbers, account numbers, addresses, you get the idea.  Don’t forget to move your photos and videos too.  When you are done with all that, DELETE the files from your XP machine.  Remember you are opening the door to trouble if you go on-line after the April 8, 2014 expiration date.  If you don’t go on-line, you should be OK.  Keep this in mind; if you are using a XP machine, you are living on borrowed time.  It probably needs to be replaced sooner rather than later.

Buy a new laptop.  If you liked the look and feel of XP, you’ll like Windows 7, just make sure you have four gigs of RAM, even better get eight gigs of RAM.  Frankly, Windows 8 has had a number of user complaints. A laptop makes sense if you use your PC for business, and for pleasure.  I won’t recommend a laptop other than check them out at your local computer store and checkout Windows 7 versus Windows 8.

Buy a tablet.  If your computer use is primarily using email, Facebooking, Twittering, watching videos, playing games, i.e., entertainment, consider a tablet.  There are tons of “apps” (tablet applications) to download to individualize and enhance you tablet experience.  Again do your research before you buy.

I hope this helps.  Thanks to kimkomando.com for a lot of good information.

Remember, it’s rChance to Thrive, Every Day and in Every Way. 

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Sometimes we start something without realizing how it is going to evolve – the potted plant that becomes a garden, or the new hobby you know will eventually bankrupt you, etc., you get the idea… that happened to us. I spotted a darling orchid while waiting in a grocery checkout lane. I was not shopping for orchids, it was the furthest thing from my mind, I will however, admit to being desperate for a sign of life during our long Wisconsin winter, but I did not know at the time the orchid would be that sign.

It was a very pretty plant and in the dead of winter, it called out to me as a sign of hope for spring, with lots of flowers, the colors being beautiful white with pink spots, yellow centers. It was the perfect thing to cheer up the kitchen while waiting for the snow to melt.

It survived the cold ride home, and looked so nice, cheering us with the flowers, which seemed to go on and on. After two months, tragedy, the blooms fell off and then after six weeks, redemption – it bloomed again! The only thing to do was to get another orchid, in a different color – this time a big pink one, which did just fine. Then a friend went south for the winter and said she was going to throw out her orchid, so I offered to take it, and what a mess. Big problem, it had to come out of a very small pot. So I got planting ‘medium’ (they don’t grow in dirt) and tried to get it out of the pot – it would not budge – it couldn’t even get water, so a knife around the edge finally loosened it enough to pull out a mass of stuff that practically filled a gallon ice cream pail. It was re-potted in a larger pot and now has new leaves, for a start.

Then came the largest one – a giant pot, over two gallons, with three separate orchids in it. It was the remains of a marriage, and although it had had good care, it was struggling. After a second household move, it came to live with us and now two of the three plants have new stems with buds and about eight buds each. One plant only has one new leaf but it will be fine, in time. The kitchen table is getting crowded; there are now six orchid plants, all getting light in the east windows and thriving. The original orchid is the best so far and now has 28 blooms. It looks like a bouquet on a stem. I think they like having friends around, just like us… Take a look at the picture attached. I am a proud orchid mama.

Please feel free to share your story, we will feel better if we are not alone with our little obsessions! Feel free to share your orchid pictures!

Remember, it’s rChance to Thrive, Every Day and in Every Way!

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