All posts by Long View

Our Illinois and Iowa monthly e-column on health and insurance subjects written by our community liasons.
Mother Knows Best

Long View: Mother Knows Best

Picture it, jumping back and forth on furniture, hearing a mother say, “Stop jumping. You are going to get hurt.” Or hearing a mother say, “Finish your vegetables, and drink your milk.”

Or as a teenager, arriving home past curfew, while Mom waits awake with a worried look on her face. And then she says, “One day you will understand, when you have your own kids. You will feel worried when you don’t know where they are.”

Now that I am a mother, I know exactly what she meant.

“Mother knows best,” is a phrase I think we all heard while growing up. And isn’t that the truth at any age?

Mothers are often who we turn to for big and small things going on in our lives; they’re the ones we celebrate with and mourn with. They share stories of the past to help us learn more about the future. And when I go to my mom’s, or when I would visit my grandmother, I don’t know what it is, but I can sleep there better than anywhere else. I guess it is because it’s where I feel safe and loved for all that I am, no matter what. That’s my experience at least.

My mom has become one of my best friends in my adult life, someone who will always advocate for me, lift me up, and be there in happiness and tears. And I do the same for her.

Now, I have an 18-year-old daughter, and we have developed a similar relationship. Just like they say, time sure does fly, but motherhood has been one of the most rewarding parts of my life. I always want my daughter to feel safe, loved, and supported. I hope pain is limited in her life, but I always want her to know I will be there for her, no matter what the age, if she needs me.

She graduates from high school this month, and that will be an emotional day. When she turned 18 in February this year, she said, “Well, it is my last birthday.” I didn’t quite understand why she was phrasing it that way.

In her mind, it was the reality of becoming an adult, and she felt like that was the last time someone would focus on her special day because she was an “adult” now. Not sure why as adults we think we are less important to focus on, but I will celebrate her and my mother anytime.

May is the month when people recognize and celebrate their mother. Everyone does things a little differently. Maybe they go out and buy flowers, get the perfect card, go out for lunch, and pamper them for the day. Mothers deserve celebrating, and maybe you have something special planned too.

Outside of this special, dedicated time in May, it is also important to appreciate and spend time with them throughout the year to let them know how much we appreciate all of the advice and guidance we receive and to continue to learn more of those “mother knows best” moments!

Terra Mullins leads the community outreach team at Health Alliance. She is a wife, a mother, and has two really cute Mal-Shi pups! She loves nature and learning new things.

Aging with Your Pets

Long View: Aging With Our Pets

My grandparents had a Chihuahua that lived to be 20 years old. Suzy had her own knitted sweaters to wear when she went outside. Every night, Grandma cooked and cut up liver in tiny, bite-sized pieces for Suzy’s dinner.

I’m not sure what the life expectancy and living arrangements for most dogs were in the 1950s and 1960s, but I would wager that Suzy’s life was particularly plush for that era. When I came along in 1968, my parents gave me the middle name of Sue. I often wondered if this was a happy coincidence or a tribute to that beloved Chihuahua.

Today, I have a yellow Labrador retriever puppy named Harvey. Grandpa’s name was Harvey. Touché.

Americans love their pets. Take a stroll through your local big-box pet supplies chain, and the number of things a person can buy for their animals will amaze you. Strollers, raincoats, probiotics, gluten-free and vegan dog food, and even memory foam mattresses. Within just a few miles of my house, Harvey can go to a doggy day camp, swim at an indoor pool just for pooches, and later have his hair and nails done at the pet spa.

Your pet pampers you in different ways. Owning a pet lowers stress, reduces blood pressure, and raises mental sharpness. A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia showed that petting a dog for 15 minutes releases the feel-good hormones serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, while also lowering the stress hormone cortisol.

Pets can open up a lonely world and get you out of bed in the morning. Walking a dog (or a cat, if you are particularly brave and the cat is extremely cooperative) is good exercise. Those of us with an empty nest find a new sense of purpose. And nurturing a beloved animal gives us unconditional love in return.

An older person with a pet companion can be a heartwarming love match. I reached out to Stacey Teager, from the Quad City Animal Welfare Center, for some advice for those who are looking to add a pet to their home in later years.

  • Make sure your pet gets regular checkups and immunizations. Have your animal spayed or neutered.
  • Never give your pet “people” medications. Always consult a veterinarian before medicating your pet.
  • Have a plan in place with your family or close friends for caring for your pet should you become sick and need to be hospitalized or stay in a nursing facility.
  • Match your pet with your physical capabilities. My 50-pound Labrador retriever puppy can drag my mother down the sidewalk. This is dangerous for both her and the dog. A quieter, smaller animal is a better choice for her to walk around the neighborhood.
  • Despite my grandmother’s loving intentions, don’t feed your pet table scraps or human food. Animals can get overweight and unhealthy with just a few added ounces. If you like to bake, there are lots of recipes for animal treats that use ingredients found in your pantry.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Getting Older with Grace

Long View: How Do You Know You’re Getting Older?

When I started working in the Medicare department, I was ignorant about Medicare and insurance of any kind. It seemed like a growth industry, and I was blessed with 7 family members over the age of 75.

15 year later, I have a much more personal interest in the subject. This aging thing is not as easy as I thought it would be. Things change.

I’ve made progress in the meantime. I used to think being online and connected was not that necessary. Now I couldn’t live without it.

Please note, the perception that older people don’t like to use technology is false. According to Nielsen research published in 2009, 89% of people 65+ have personal email and use it regularly. And as of 2015, Pew Research Center reports 59% of those over 65 go online, and 35% of everyone over 65 uses social media, approximately 16 million people.

I used to take extra time getting ready for a big event. When I was done, I would look in the mirror and say, ”You look good.” Now, when I go through all the same steps, I look in in the mirror and say, “You look clean.”

When did I stop hearing, “You look great,” and start hearing, “You look great for your age”? Probably around the same time folks went from saying, “I like your new glasses,” to “Your new glasses take 5 years off your face.” Ugh.

I’ve learned not to ask anyone how old they are unless they are under the age of 12. Even then, I would think twice about it. If anyone forces you to guess how old they are, make a fair guess, and then subtract 15 years. No one ever complains.

From 2014 to 2060, the older population, people age 65 and older, in the United States will more than double from 46 million to over 98 million. More surprising, the oldest of the older population, people over age 85, are the fastest growing segment, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Aging is tough. Often we have to forgo many of the activities of our youth such as:

  • Driving a car
  • Living independently
  • Eating anything you want
  • Staying up all night
  • Getting a haircut
  • Worrying about the small stuff (Oh wait, that’s a good thing.)

Personally, as I navigate this process of maturing, I try to remember we are all getting older. It’s not always an easy process, so I hope my friends and family help me do it with grace and dignity.

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.

Marking Milestones

Long View: Making the Most of Milestones

As a culture, we recognize milestones. We count the years with class reunions, wedding anniversaries, or years logged since a cancer diagnosis. It has been a few months, but I bet the majority of readers can tell me how many years it had been since the Chicago Cubs had last won the World Series.

As parents, we carefully record that first step, first tooth, first time rolling over. At least we do for the first baby; the second, third, fourth… maybe not quite as detailed. This month, I’m celebrating a birthday that ends in a 9.  This is a milestone in a way, a preamble to a new decade. To be completely honest, it’s more about clinging to the final year left in my current decade.

My sons had a great-grandfather who was meticulous in keeping track of each great-grandchild’s birthday. He carried a pocket calendar around and recorded every date in his precious, shaky handwriting, making sure to not miss a single date for each of his 12 great-grandkids. It was so touching to me, and I made sure to never miss that World War II veteran’s birthday either.

Today we are reminded of birthdays and anniversaries through social media. Facebook has made me a much better friend because I never would have put all of those dates into a traditional calendar. I could not keep up with sending something as old-fashioned as a card via something as truly antiquated as the mail. With just a few clicks, I can send a birthday cake emoji with a couple of exclamation points through cyberspace and am on top of things.

Some milestones can be bittersweet, like the first holiday after a grandmother passes away or a 75th wedding anniversary that never happened because one of the spouses is no longer with us. I toasted the 100th birthday of my grandmother even though she left us at 94 years old.

Do you reach out to your elderly family and friends when special dates pop up on the calendar?  These dates don’t have to be completely solemn occasions. Reaching out to remember a wedding anniversary with a widower can bring back happy memories of a beautiful marriage, not to mention the fact that you have taken the time to call or visit with this person and recognize the importance of the day.

You may not want to just send an emoji to your great grandmother. Take the time to send a card and handwritten note or better yet, stop by for a visit.

Can you imagine how you would feel at 29, 39, or 49 if your important milestone wasn’t important to anyone else?  Someone 79, 89, or 99 feels exactly the same way.

Here is an idea. This February, make an elder your valentine.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Old School Lunching

Long View: What Food Group Includes Olive Loaf?

My childhood lunch menu:

Appetizer

  • Banana
  • In-season apple

Entrée

  • Olive loaf sandwich on soft white bread, with lavishly applied mayonnaise (The sandwich had to be cut on the diagonal, or I wouldn’t eat it.)
  • Fresh Fritos in an individual bag serving

Dessert

  • Hostess Ding Dong or Sno Balls

Beverages

  • Sweet tea, chocolate milk, or Kool-Aid

There was little variation in this menu when my brother and I were little kids, and our mom saw little reason to change it. She, and countless other mothers at that time, felt this was a nutritious, filling lunch for 2 growing boys. On the positive side, the Fritos were made from corn, so it counted as a vegetable.

After lunch, Mom expected us to lie down and take a nap. We never went to sleep for some reason, but at least she got a few moments of peace and quiet.

OK, so this was probably not the most nutritious meal we could have eaten, but our supper was usually a well-balanced meal. However, dessert was a nightly occurrence, and a spectacular Jell-O salad often graced the table. Neither my brother nor I seem to have suffered any ill effects. At least not yet.

Remember, this was a time when candy cigarettes and bubble gum cigars were common treats for kids. Flavored sugar water in tiny wax bottles was a Halloween staple, for reasons that are still unclear to me now. SweeTARTS were an odd and unexplainable pleasure, and we ate them by the fistful.

In retrospect, my food preferences have certainly changed over the years. I refused anything with cheese in it, except for a grilled cheese sandwich. I guess in my head, the grilling made it acceptable. I wouldn’t eat a vegetable unless it was cooked to death. That is definitely not the case now. I needed all my seafood encased in a crispy, fried batter, and I remember hating beets. Wait, I still hate beets.

I think we all develop our palates over time and grow to have more complex taste preferences. Healthier eating seems a lot more attainable these days, at least if we make the choice.

But occasionally, I still grow nostalgic for the treats I enjoyed as a child. I recently bought some olive loaf and white bread so that I could recreate my childhood favorite.

It was disgusting.

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.

Figuring Out Caregiving Protections

Long View: Advocating for Our Elders

When I was a youngster, I remember having a hard time paying attention to anything for very long. Thankfully, that’s all behind me now, but sometimes these childhood lapses made it appear like I was misbehaving or being disobedient. That was not the case of course.

For instance, I had my own ideas of when I should be doing chores, and it didn’t always match what my parents had in mind. I’m sure I presented my folks with quite a challenge. Looking back, I realize they were always right, and they had insights I couldn’t have known as a child.

It’s interesting to compare this childhood relationship with the relationships of adult caregivers and their parents or older family members. Being supportive and resourceful and providing suggestions are all part of the deal, but sometimes it’s hard to remember these are relationships between adults and not between parents and children. Even the best suggestion isn’t going to be received well if it doesn’t coincide with the older person’s wants and needs. Of course there will be disagreements, but that’s to be expected.

At Health Alliance Medicare, we have many members who have signed an appointment of representative form, which allows a child or other caregiver to speak on their behalf with their health insurance. We know that acting for a loved one can be a challenging position to be in, but we must have this formal legal agreement before our customer service reps can share the member’s claims information and other confidential information.

Another kind of protection is the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, which works to protect, defend, and advocate for residents of long-term care facilities. One of its duties is to investigate concerns brought forward from anyone on behalf of the resident.

Amanda Hyde is the planning & grants manager at the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging, the sponsor that houses this program. She said, “The Ombudsman Program at ECIAAA is focused on advocating for resident rights. These rights include being fully informed on all aspects, including cost and even changes in rooms or roommates. Residents have the right to complain, participate in one’s own care, the right to confidentiality, the right to dignity, respect, and freedom, including the right to self-determination, and even making what others may deem as bad choices.”

There are many levels of caregiving, and I know it can be stressful. Differences of opinions are bound to happen. Although our loved ones aren’t always going to agree with us, I am sure it’s comforting for them to know that our care and support isn’t based on their obedience.

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.

October, and Its Chores, Return

Long View: It’s That Time Again

There are a lot of reminders for folks to check their smoke detector batteries when daylight saving time is over. It does make sense to tie that chore to something that occurs on a regular basis. (Why not Valentine’s Day?) But, I almost always forget to do it.

It seems there are always other, more pressing things on the to-do list, like finishing up in the yard, switching out those summer clothes, or putting up the storm windows, if you’re unlucky enough to still have storm windows.

Just like these yearly chores, Medicare-eligible people need to review their healthcare coverage every year to see if their current plan still meets their needs. The days of one-size fits all are over thanks to the options-obsessed baby boomers. (I am including myself, so you know.)

If you’re a caregiver, a change in your loved one’s situation may show the need for different coverage. Have they started traveling more or less? Did their medication needs change because of things like new prescriptions or treatments for a chronic illness? Did their primary care provider retire or move? Did their current plan change? Does it still meet their needs? It’s time to explore your options.

We know you’re busy, so let’s look at a few resources:

Medicare.gov

A great one is Medicare’s website. This site is relatively easy to navigate and packed with information. You can check your plan’s Star Rating while you’re at it.

Department on Aging

Another good resource is your state’s Department on Aging. They have independent counseling services for people who are Medicare-eligible.

Area Agency on Aging

Your local Area Agency on Aging is a gold mine. Find one near you.

HealthAllianceMedicare.org

Our website is easy to navigate and gives you a nice overview of the options we have in your county.

The Annual Enrollment Period for Medicare is once again from October 15 until December 7. Sign up then for a plan that starts on January 1, 2017. The sooner you review your needs and gather information, the better you’ll be able to make an informed choice. When you’re done, you can move onto something really important, like cleaning out the junk drawer in the kitchen. Like that’s ever going to happen.

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.