Category Archives: Series

Family Time for the Holidays

Covered Bridge: If Only Time Stood Still

As a child with a birthday in December (of course shortly followed by Christmas), I can say I always wished the first part of December away. I was so excited about all the festivities to come that I merely wanted the days to pass until the real excitement began.

Even though I share a birthday with my twin sister and some of our presents consisted of sharing, I wanted nothing more than to see what gifts we might receive for our birthday. Fast forward 10 days, and all we wanted to see were the gifts we would receive for Christmas, hoping not to have to share those.

That’s usually the way kids work, right?

Now, as an adult, my daughter’s birthday is 2 days from mine, which means I care less about what I get and more about what we get to do for her. My husband and I rarely get gifts for one another. We find much more joy in giving to others than receiving ourselves.

These days, we look forward to making cakes for birthdays and favorite meals for our kids. We look forward to family coming to town to visit and trying our best to get thoughtful gifts for them that we hope they’ll enjoy.

We enjoy the extra company and chaos that ensues with it. We spend more time sitting around the table chatting with family and less time worrying about the cleanup of a meal we spent most of the day preparing. After all, it will be there tomorrow. Our family may not be.

It’s also important to remember that while some of us think of joy and family during the holiday season, others feel isolation and anxiety, and the shorter, darker days and cold weather don’t help. We often forget about those who may be living alone. I encourage you this holiday season to take an extra moment to make time for the ones who may need it more than you know.

During the holidays, which is oftentimes the only time we get to be with distant family, take the extra time to not worry about what can be put off until tomorrow. Spend it talking, communicating, and interacting. We rush through life as children to get to the next exciting moment, but what if the most exciting moments now are the ones shared over a meal and simple conversations?

Happy Holidays!

Morgan Gunder is a community and broker liaison for Reid Health Alliance. Born in the South and raised in the Midwest, she is a wife and mother with a passion for traveling, learning, and technology.

Care for Pets in Holidays and Hard Times

Vantage Point: Fur Babies

November, where did you come from? I swear it was just yesterday that I was stressing out about what I was going to buy to contribute for Thanksgiving dinner last year.

Full disclosure, I’m not a very good cook.

During the holidays, most of us get lists ready of everything we would like to accomplish before the festivities begin. Along with those lists, we still have to do our daily tasks, like taking care of our families and our pets. These four-legged children are a part of our families, and we want them to feel loved during the holidays and for the rest of the year.

Unfortunately, the holidays mean a stressful financial burden for many people. It never fails that life happens and that bad situations happen all at once. When dealing with your four-legged children, they might need some care during this busy season and cause extra expenses you are not expecting. Thankfully, our community has different resources to help support those unexpected situations.

The Wenatchee Valley Humane Society has many programs that can assist during the difficult times. One of the programs they offer is Pets for Life, which has the intent of “keeping people and pets together during the times they need each other most.”

This program can help board pets without cost if the owner can’t afford to do so. Typically, our seniors use this program when they need to be admitted for inpatient care and don’t have anybody to watch over their pets. Pets for Life can also help with the financial burden if your pet needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian, and it can also help supply food for your pets.

Another wonderful program the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society offers is a low-cost spay and neuter program to help low-income citizens spay or neuter their pets at a very low cost. If you or anybody you know could use these services, call the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society at 509-662-9577 or stop by.

Knowing that we have such an amazing place that can help with our pets offers peace of mind to get geared up for our busy season. The holidays are intended to be full of love and joy and spent with everyone you care about. This includes our pets, and thanks to the assistance of this organization, we can feel comfortable that our pets will be by our side.

Jessica Arroyo, born and raised in the Wenatchee Valley, is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance Northwest, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. During her time off, she enjoys spending time with her husband and infant son.

Honor a Veteran This Veterans Day

Covered Bridge: Honor and Comfort a Veteran

My aunt is a quilter. If you know a quilter or happen to be one yourself, you know that this is more of a way of life than a hobby.

Every important occasion in our family merits a quilt. Getting married? Quilt. Having a baby? Quilt. Everywhere you turn from in town to in the country, you see barn quilts on sheds, and those patterns inspire her.

November is an important month in our country because it’s the month we celebrate Veterans Day. How do you recognize Veterans Day? Of course my aunt would say, “I’ve got a quilt for that!”

The Quilts of Valor Foundation is an organization that seeks out veterans to honor by making and presenting them with a handmade quilt. Its motto is “Quilting to Honor and Comfort.” I like that. Here is a group of people with a passion for sewing something with their own two hands to make someone else feel better. To date, Quilts of Valor has given away more than 193,000 quilts.

Let’s go back to the question, “How do you recognize Veterans Day?” Or better yet, do you recognize a veteran?

We live in a time in our nation’s history when a veteran can look so many different ways. Our nation’s veterans are handsome 90-year-old WWII veterans, hardworking Korean War veterans, proud but quiet Vietnam veterans, or even the 25-year-old grandson or granddaughter of someone you know.

The men and women who serve our country have done so in my name, in your name. How can you recognize them today? How can you say, “I see you and understand what you mean to this country?” We can’t all make quilts. But we can buy cups of coffee. We can shake hands, or if appropriate, give a hug. We can all say thank you.

Here are some organizations that reach out to veterans. See if you can find one in your community and offer whatever special skill you have to their cause. If you bake, bake. If you woodwork, woodwork. Share yourself with a veteran so they know you care. It’s the very least any of us can do to honor and comfort the heroes around us.

Morgan Gunder is a community and broker liaison for Reid Health Alliance. Born in the South and raised in the Midwest, she is a wife and mother with a passion for traveling, learning, and technology.

An App for Better Dental Health

Long View: Dialing In to Better Dental Health

I have a confession to make. My toothbrush talks to my cellphone, and I’m pretty much OK with that. I’ve brushed my teeth well over 36,000 times in my time on this planet, and suddenly now, in my 50th year, I need my phone to tell me if I’ve been doing it correctly.

Having good teeth is a genetic gift I inherited from my grandmother. She grew up in an era before there was fluoride in the drinking water, and her father didn’t believe in traditional medicine. I wonder if she ever even went to the dentist as a child. And yet, when she passed away, well into her 90s, she didn’t have a single cavity.

I’m lucky to have inherited her teeth DNA. I’ve only had two cavities in my life and both came after a pregnancy and were so shallow I didn’t even need Novocain. So they don’t count.

This is good news because I have a very low gag threshold and can’t stand having any kind of metal dental instrument in my mouth. Just getting X-rays at the dentist once a year is traumatic for me. I have to give myself a pep talk while biting down. “Just breathe and don’t throw up, just breathe and don’t throw up.” If I had to withstand anything more exotic than a quick cleaning, the dentist would probably have to sedate me.

Getting back to my talking toothbrush, thanks to Bluetooth technology, an app on my phone tells me if I’m brushing long enough, too hard, too soft, or not long enough in a certain area. How my phone knows this is pure sorcery in my opinion, but I’m taking my phone’s advice and trying to do a better job of brushing. After all, good oral hygiene is a part of our overall health and well-being.

In my line of work, I get a lot of feedback from seniors on Medicare. Time and time again, one of their questions is, “How am I going to pay for my dental care?” This is a valid question because original Medicare does not pay for dental care. Without purchasing a separate dental insurance policy, the expenses of cleanings, X-rays, cavities, root canals, crowns, partials or even dentures must come out of your own pocket. (Whew, just typing those procedures made me queasy.)

Some people get to remain on their company’s dental insurance policy when they retire. Others will decide to purchase private dental insurance as part of their overall retirement health insurance expenses. Many people that don’t have these options are kind of left wondering what to do now.

There are many Medicare Advantage plans that offer members a set-amount dental benefit along with medical coverage to help offset some of the expense of dental care. It won’t provide as extensive of coverage as a private dental insurance policy does, but the benefit does help offset some (or all if you have teeth like my grandmother’s) expenses of good dental care.

If keeping your pearly whites in working order is a priority for you but the extra expense of full-blown dental insurance isn’t, a Medicare Advantage plan might be a solution. While you’re at it, you can consider looking into one of those high-tech toothbrushes like mine. As your mother always told you, the best dental care starts with good brushing habits.

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.

Making Sense of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement

Vantage Point: Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage? What’s the Difference?

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend or family member where you were both thinking that you’re talking about the same thing, but then you realize (usually after much confusion and the conversation has drifted a bit), that you’re in fact not talking about the same thing?

The conversation comes to the point where you find that you’re talking about two different things, an “apples and oranges” conversation.

I think that there are a lot of “apples and oranges” conversations when it comes to what Medicare Supplement and  Medicare Advantage plans are. We’re talking about insurance with both, but they are different things.

Medicare Supplement plans, also known as Medigap plans, work with Original Medicare, which is Part A (hospital) and Part B (medical) coverage. They help pay for all or part of the 20% that Original Medicare doesn’t pay for, depending on what plan you choose. Medicare Supplement plans do not include prescription drug coverage, so if you want that, you’ll have to pick up a prescription drug plan separately.

Medicare Advantage, also known as Part C, are plans where a private insurance company replaces Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans have the same Part A hospital coverage and Part B medical coverage that you’d get with Original Medicare. (Remember, you’d still pay your Part B premium if you get a Medicare Advantage plan.) Plus, Part D prescription drug coverage is included in many Medicare Advantage plans. That means you’d have hospital, medical, and drug coverage together in one plan. Medicare Advantage plans may come with extras as well.

Now that the Annual Enrollment Period is here, you’ll be better equipped to have the “apples and oranges” conversations if they come up. If you still want more direction when it comes to your options, there’s a great local service available called SHIBA (Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors). SHIBA is a free service of the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner, Consumer Protection Division and can be reached at 509-902-1114 or 1-800-562-6900  It has great volunteers who can help you.

You can also come into our local office in Creekside Business Park, and we can go over anything you’re confused about in person, bit by bit.

We at Health Alliance Northwest in Yakima are here to help our community learn what the various parts of Medicare are to help each person make informed decisions that are the best for them. (The best choice might not be us, and we’re okay with that!)    

Breck Obermeyer is a community liaison with Health Alliance Northwest, serving Yakima County. She is a small-town girl from Naches and has a great husband who can fix anything and 2 kids who are her world.

Helping Your Loved Ones with Advance Directives

Long View: Helping Your Loved Ones Even After You’re Gone

I have been very self-directed for quite some time, which is one of the reasons I recently got all my advance directives in place. It took some education and investigation, but I feel comfortable with the decisions I’ve made. I was relieved to be done with it until a longtime friend asked, “Hey, what about your obituary?”

Ok then. It took some consideration, but I started to realize it was my opportunity to share what was important in my life — the special people I have known and loved and what I was passionate about. Maybe everyone didn’t know my favorite color was orange but might think it’s okay if they found out after the fact.

This was also my opportunity to suggest where donations, if any, should go and why I felt a particular charity warranted their attention. Many of you can guess it would be food-focused in nature.

I would also get to share all the places I have lived, including Mobile, AL, Eugene, OR, and Perth, Western Australia, among others. Listing these remote locations would make it seem that I was slightly more fascinating in life than most people would have suspected.

I also made arrangements to have my earthly remains (ashes) sent to family in Mobile to be scattered into the Gulf of Mexico, which is close to the place where I was born. I understand there may be laws that prohibit this activity, but my family is resourceful and will honor my wishes I am sure.

In short, I am comforted to know that my wishes will be known and respected after I am no longer concerned with such issues. These types of directives are most useful to those we leave behind. Relieving a little of the burden from your loved ones is probably one of the kindest actions you can take now. All it takes is a little planning, information, and forethought.

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

Changing with the Seasons for AEP

Covered Bridge: It’s That Time Again: AEP

There is a lot of publicity to remind folks to check their smoke detector batteries when daylight saving time is over. It makes 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 duties on the to-do list, like finishing up in the yard, switching out those summer clothes, or putting up the storm windows (if you are unlucky enough to still have storm windows).

Another reminder comes along this time of year. Medicare-eligible individuals’ mailboxes are bombarded with mail for the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP). While it can be annoying and overwhelming, it’s incredibly important for them 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.

If you are a caregiver, a change in your loved one’s situation may indicate the need for different coverage. Have they started traveling more? Less? Have their medication needs changed, like new prescriptions or treatments for a chronic illness? Did their primary care provider retire or relocate? Did their current plan change, and does it still suit their needs? It’s time to explore their options.

We know you are busy, so let’s look at a few resources.

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

Another great resource is your state’s Department on Aging. It offers impartial counseling services for people who are Medicare-eligible.

Your local Area Agency on Aging is a gold mine. Find one near you at n4a.org.

HealthAllianceMedicare.org is also easy to navigate and gives a nice overview of the options we offer in your county.  

The AEP for 2019 is October 15 through December 7. The sooner you review your needs and gather information, the better equipped you will be 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 going to happen).

Morgan Gunder is a community and broker liaison for Reid Health Alliance. Born in the South and raised in the Midwest, she is a wife and mother with a passion for traveling, learning, and technology.