Questions and Answers

Q:  I’m turning 65 this year and I know I have to sign up for Medicare, but it is really confusing.  Every day I get mailings from different insurance companies about their Medicare plans!  How do I choose what’s best for me and how will I know what they are going to take out of my Social Security check?

A:  It can be daunting to consider Medicare options, especially with all those letters and the terminology.  One good thing is that you have a full seven months to make these choices --- three months before you turn 65, your birth month, and the three months after you turn 65.  In general, under original Medicare, Part A helps cover hospital costs and Part B helps cover other medical costs such as doctors, outpatient services, and durable medical equipment.  Part D helps cover prescription drug costs.  Individuals can instead choose a Medicare Advantage Plan, sometimes called Part C, which usually combines Parts A and B, and often Part D as well, by offering services through a PPO or HMO structure.  These plans are obtained through Medicare-approved private companies and the offers from these plans probably make-up the majority of what is coming to you in the mail right now.

With original Medicare, if you are eligible for retirement benefits from Social Security or Railroad Retirement, you should get premium-free Part A.  The majority of persons turning 65 qualify for no-cost Part A because of their work history and paying into the system.  However, individuals who do not have enough work quarters will have to pay for Part A, possibly up to $422 a month.  As for Part B, in 2018, the standard premium for people signing up for Part B will be $134 a month (or higher if your modified adjusted gross income is above a certain amount) and this is taken from your Social Security payment automatically.  Part D (drug plan) premiums vary by plan, as do Medicare Advantage plan premiums, and these can be automatically deducted from your Social Security payment or paid directly by you.

For more information, check out www.medicare.gov/your-medicare-costs.  Additionally, Region IV Area Agency on Aging and MMAP (Michigan Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program) will be offering free “New-to-Medicare” classes in the coming months, with the first being Thursday, April 5, from 10am – noon, at 2900 Lakeview Avenue in St. Joseph.  For information on attending, contact Mistelle at 269-408-4354.

It Is Tax Season Again!

If you made less than $54,000 in 2017 and need assistance in preparing your tax return, there are several places where trained volunteers will prepare basic federal and state tax returns, as well as homestead property tax credit and home heating credit, for low-income individuals, seniors, and persons with disabilities.  Complex tax returns and those involving business pursuits need to be completed through a tax preparation service. 

In Berrien and Cass counties, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program sites include Orchards Mall – Room 104, Niles District Library, and Cass District Library.  There are also appointments available in Van Buren County through Senior Services there.  In addition, the AARP Foundation Tax Aide program operates from several area Senior Centers.

To schedule a VITA appointment in Berrien or Cass County, call 2-1-1 or 800-310-5454, and in Van Buren County call 269-655-8000.  For the AARP Tax Aide program, contact the location directly to schedule an appointment.  Free tax preparers and sites can be found at www.aarp.org/money/taxaide

You can also call the AAA Info-Line for Aging and Disability, at 800-654-2810, and we will help to find a location near you.  Slots fill up quickly, so call to get an appointment as soon as you have your paperwork organized.