It’s that time of year again. My husband comes home with a huge packet of healthcare information. Yep, it’s open enrollment for his employer health plan. It’s time for us to look at the options and choices that best suit our family in the coming year.
Every year, Medicare beneficiaries get this kind of event too. It’s called the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP). Each year from October 15 to December 7, they have the opportunity to look at the options available in their service area and choose which plan is the best for them and their health.
This is an important time for everyone. As we age, our health may change too. Understanding and knowing what coverage is best for you can be a daunting task, so you should ask yourself some very important questions each and every year.
Am I happy with my current plan? What’s changing for the new year? Is the premium going up on the plan I currently have? Do I need more coverage?
I understand that as Medicare members, you’re sent an enormous amount of marketing material during this time of year. All the Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement, and prescription drug plan companies are trying to get your attention and your business.
How do you weed through all the material? And even more important questions come up for you each year. Do I know the difference between Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement? Is the prescription drug plan I’m currently on the best value for the prescription drugs I’m taking? Finding the answers can be confusing and frustrating.
The answers you seek can be found quickly and easily. Visit our website or call us directly for answers to your health insurance questions. There are also independent brokers available to you, like GHB Insurance located right in Olympia, to help you with all the plan information you receive. In the Thurston County area, there are also SHIBA (Statewide Health Insurance Benefit Advisors) representatives who volunteer their time to help you understand Medicare and all the parts associated with it. They can be found at both the Lacey and Olympia senior centers.
So never fear, your Medicare questions can be answered here. Or at least, we can assist you in getting the answers you need. Remember, you have resources available to you. All you have to do is use them.
Joy Stanford is a community liaison with Health Alliance, serving Thurston County. She’s been involved with Medicare for 20+ years and truly enjoys it. She enjoys gospel, R&B, and country music, and she owns over 100 pairs of shoes.
It’s been a little while since I mentioned a move. Since then, I’ve trotted across a few more states. (Am I actually insane? Perhaps.) After about 9 months in Indiana, my boyfriend and I just made the leap to the Seattle area in June. And moving has been taxing, as always.
I’d love to say that we planned perfectly to move across the country with ease and grace. Unfortunately, when military bases are involved, like they are for my boyfriend, there isn’t always time for perfect planning.
In the span of about 2 weeks, we:
Found an apartment
Packed our old apartment
Rented a truck
Drove across the country
Bought and assembled an apartment’s worth of new IKEA furniture
It was more the whirlwind version of moving.
Moving Your Whole Life Across the Country Recommendations
Get Help Finding an Apartment
Because we were moving to a state we’d never even visited, we did some research about areas we’d like to live, and then we hired a company to help find and show us apartments in those areas.
Between not having to rent a car on our visit and saving time before and during, it more than paid for the day of him driving us around to a bunch of apartments. And he picked the place we chose in the end.
I cannot recommend a service like this more when moving blindly. It made our lives so much easier.
We also loved our guide and are planning a double date with him and his girlfriend, so win-win-win.
Seriously Consider Movers
We did not seriously consider movers, and we are still a little sad about that. After loading the truck in Indiana, picking up my remaining belongings at home in Illinois, and driving over 12 hours a day for 3 days, my back was out when we got to Washington, and needless to say, it was a really rough way to unload a truck.
My mother was kind enough to come on this journey with us and help, but the 3 of us unloading our floppy king-size mattress alone was enough to make it worth hiring movers. I wish I had a video to prove to you that you should never accidentally bring this fate down upon yourselves, but alas, I do not, so instead, I like to think it looked a lot like this:
Combined with the floppiness of this:
And this small child’s linebacker skills:
Seriously, hire movers. We will next time.
Splurge and Take Extra Time Off
I only took off a few days for us to drive across the country, and then I hopped back online on Monday. I really wished I’d taken off the whole week.
Poor Matt assembled almost an entire apartment’s worth of IKEA furniture without much help from me while I was working. And it took a lot longer to have any functioning TVs or food in our fridge because I wasn’t available to help.
You will need more time than you thought you would to unpack and settle in a move across the country compared to a state or even just a few miles away. Trust me.
Plan to Grocery Shop
We didn’t plan time to grocery shop early on, and while our kitchen was the first thing unpacked, we couldn’t really use it for about 5 days. We’re lucky to have a grocery store, Starbucks, Panera, Chipotle, and more across the street, so we didn’t live off just fried food for days. But it was still not fun or good for us.
When you eat every meal out for 8 days in a row, you’ll understand that it’s expensive and exhausting. Plus, you’ll feel really gross by about day 3. So plan to be able to cook or at least throw together cereal or simple salads early.
Protect Your Skin and Hair
Even though our local water board just sent us a report about how great our water is, and I’d been living with extremely hard water in Indiana, better water might still wreak havoc on you.
I’ve had more breakouts in the last 2 months than I did at any point going through puberty or bouts of extreme all-night cramming in college. My normally happy combination skin has taken a full nose-dive into adult acne territory, and my boyfriend’s wasn’t doing too well at first either.
I know it sounds crazy, but Google it. I’m not the only one. Lots of people who have moved across the country or move regularly, like those in the military, have hit this issue.
There are many factors in a move that can take a toll. From the stress of the move, to different water, to adapting to a city without air conditioning and much more sweating than normal (no really, apartments pretty much never have air conditioning in Seattle), to a change in climate, they can all affect your skin. These changes can also be hard on your hair.
My skin’s finally starting to get used to the new digs, but you can save yourself by being prepared. Digging out my normal skincare routine and regularly sticking to it during 2 weeks of moving and unpacking wasn’t high on my list of priorities, and obviously, it should’ve been.
If you don’t take care of yourself during the move, you will regret it later. Wash your face in the morning and before bed, and be prepared to adapt your old routines. You might need a new lotion or conditioner for suddenly dry skin or hair or to change your old products while your skin and hair adapt.
Work on Patience and Understanding
While you’re moving, it’s extremely high stress, and it opens the door to fighting. My mom and I already have the tendency to bicker, but my boyfriend and I are usually very level-headed.
In a twist of fate, my mom and I did a pretty great job, and the bickering mostly bubbled up with my boyfriend, probably partially because we were trying to make serious life decisions on barely any sleep while being completely physically exhausted, all with the added bonus of an extra witness there to see us duke it out.
I’ve had some not-great relationships in the past, which at times made it feel like I had a free pass to be mean if an argument required it. But my current boyfriend is wonderful and one of my oldest friends, and he doesn’t deserve that. As a result, I’ve really had to work on my patience and understanding in the middle of arguments.
One of the best rules I can recommend is don’t fight while you’re exhausted, hungry, or triggered by something else, like work. But when you’re exhausted, hungry, and triggered by moving, which you’re doing all of together, some fights have to bubble up. It’s fate.
Tips to Be More Patient for a Fair Fight
What you can do is be ready. Try to practice patience with some deep breaths, some gratitude for the other person, and maybe just by embracing the uncomfortableness of what’s going on together.
Then, when you can’t avoid that fight, fight fair:
Recognize the other person’s concerns and feelings.
Listen, listen, listen.
Never mix meanness for the sake of meanness or other issues in your relationship into an argument they don’t belong in.
Don’t say things like ultimatums you don’t mean. If what you’re arguing over isn’t a relationship deal breaker, don’t taunt that it is in the heat of the moment.
Know your own and each other’s limits. My boyfriend likes to talk things out right away. I like time to cool off so I don’t lash out. We both know that about each other and try to make arguing work for both of us, even when that’s hard to do.
Pick your battles carefully and get comfortable with compromise. Instead of arguing over a soap dispenser, wait and find one you agree on because it’s just a soap dispenser. If you don’t really care what color that side table is, but your partner really cares, give them the win. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did after the 800th snap decision you have to make in the middle of IKEA.
Always bring it back to a place of love and respect, even while you’re arguing. Never forget that you’re partners in this, even if (when) they’re driving you crazy.
Forgive easily. Moving is too stressful to hold every meltdown against the other person, and with a huge move, there will definitely be some meltdowns.
Take Time to Relax
Luckily for us, we got our big move in right before a big vacation to Hawaii, so we had a built-in break about a month after the move.
Hawaii was gorgeous, and having never been that close to the equator before, a great reminder of the value of sunscreen.
But you should plan time to explore your new home or get away if you need to, even if it’s only for a date night, a weekend, or a massage.
And don’t beat yourself up over the occasional splurge during this time. If there were ever a time to have some real ice cream or a steak, it’s when you’ve just picked up your whole life and dropped it nearly 5,000 miles away.
And for fun, because, Hawaii…
Appreciate Your New Home
After about a month of craziness, hopefully your new home will be in decent shape. At which point, you need to take a step back and give yourselves a big pat on the back.
This will be the second time I’ve moved across the country blindly, once with nothing but a couple suitcases, and this time with everything I own. It’s scary, and stressful, and so worth it. Don’t forget to appreciate what you’ve built.
I’m finally taking a second to admire my gorgeous apartment in a brand-new building, my wonderful puppies, our gorgeous surroundings, my boyfriend who calmly spent about 10 hours in an IKEA with my mom and I and built like 15 pieces of furniture, and the awesome job that let me move across the country and keep working for them remotely, saving me from a frantic job search at the same time. #Blessed, am I right?
And I live about 25 minutes away from this. Seriously, how can you stay burnt out living anywhere this gorgeous!
Being born and raised in the small town of Wenatchee, surrounded by my family, has been such a blessing.
I grew up seeing my mother and father go out of their way to take care of my grandparents, taking them to doctor appointments, picking up their prescriptions, and making sure they always had everything they needed. Fortunately, my parents have never been in the position of having to make life-changing decisions for my grandparents.
As I get older and my parents start to age, I know it will be my duty to care for them as well. And now that I have a child of my own, I think of the future more than ever.
We don’t like to think about bad things happening, but they still happen. And once an unexpected event happens, our world as we know it can start to disappear. The future is coming for each of us, and we all need to have a plan. We can help you start making that plan.
At my first event at the Central Washington Health and Wellness Expo in September, I got to share our Planning Ahead Guide. This is a wonderful resource for everyone, but especially for our Medicare members. This guide has answers about Washington’s living wills and power of attorney to help you plan for all situations.
I also had the pleasure of meeting another great resource for our members, local ombudsman Shawna Pringle from Aging and Adult Care of Central Washington. As an ombudsman, she works to protect, defend, and advocate for residents of long-term care facilities.
Doing the research you need to plan ahead is an important first step, but focusing on setting these plans into motion is key to preparing for the future.
Meet Joy Stanford of Olympia
After my father had lived in California for more than 60 years, I moved him to Washington in 2008. It was somewhat traumatic for him and for my husband and me.
Not knowing a thing about caring for the elderly, we spent many hours on research. One day, a friend of mine reminded me that my dad has veteran benefits. It turned out, he could live at the veterans’ home and be well taken care of. However, we still had concerns and wanted to know who we could turn to if we thought he was not being cared for. We were given information about the Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program ensures the rights, dignity, and well-being of individuals living in long-term care today and in the future. One of its duties is to investigate concerns brought forward from anyone on behalf of the resident.
This program is focused on advocating for residents’ rights, including being fully informed on all aspects of their care, like cost or even changes in rooms or roommates. Residents have the right to complain, to participate in their own care, and to make their own choices, even if that means making choices others think are bad. They also have the right to confidentiality, dignity, respect, and freedom.
Whether it’s in-depth research, word of mouth, or a friendly referral, there are plenty of great resources in our community to help you and your family navigate this situation when you need it most.
Meet Breck Obermeyer of Yakima
The local Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) office is a great resource here in Yakima that you may not know about. SHIBA is a free service that provides unbiased and completely confidential help for those with Medicare, as well as help with healthcare choices for people of all ages and backgrounds. It’s run by volunteers and has locations statewide.
Check your eligibility for healthcare coverage programs
Compare health insurance plans and programs
Enroll in Medicare
Speak with Medicare on your behalf
Find other helpful agencies and programs
Report fraud complaints
Here in Yakima, you can talk to Debra Wilson, Mary Pacheco, or Sirena Phillips at the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) SHIBA office. They have a new number and a new location to serve you! Their new phone number is (509) 902-1115, and their new location is 107 S. 7th Ave., Suite 206, Yakima, WA 98902. Remember, these services are free and completely unbiased, which means you’re getting great information and help that’s the best for you and your needs.
I’d seen all the cell phone carrier TV ads and billboards. I’d received offers to change in the mail and had friends and family share better coverage experiences, but I was stubborn. I convinced myself I was just being loyal, but the truth was, after 20 years with the same carrier, I was resisting change.
Entering the ultra-busy cell carrier’s store, I was approached right away by a super professional greeter. “How may I help you?” he asked, keeping eye contact while also using a hand-held tablet to address my needs.
As I waited for a sales agent, the greeter invited me to look around and told me I would be helped shortly. Not even 2 minutes later, while browsing phone choices and tapping along to the upbeat music, Marco introduced himself with an outstretched hand. I told him I had moved to a remote canyon, where my old cell carrier didn’t have good enough service. He offered me a solution and set my new plan up, right on the spot.
My new carrier’s bills are easy to read, and the website to manage my account is so user-friendly that I can now better understand my usage. Because of that, I’ve changed my plan 3 more times, saving me tons of money. Best yet, I never miss a call. I am now a big fan of comparison shopping.
October 15 to December 7 is the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), when Medicare beneficiaries also get a seasonal opportunity to comparison shop. During the AEP, Medicare-eligible people can change from supplement plans, also called Medigap, to a Medicare Advantage plan, can change prescription drug plans, and can compare all the Medicare plans available in their county. They can and should check their current plan to see if anything new was added or, if due to health changes, it’s still the right fit.
Medicare beneficiaries get bombarded with ads. Some of it’s confusing, and some of it’s scary. Insurance is a very serious and important choice. We can’t compare all plans against each other, but at our customer service office at 316 5th St. in Wenatchee, we can sit down with someone in person and give them all the time and help they need to better understand. Whether they choose us or not, it’s a good feeling to know the personalized value we gave helped them to pick the right Medicare plan to fit their health needs.
Shannon Sims was a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. During her time off she enjoys spending time with her family and riding horses.
The surrounding orchards could not have been more green and vibrant as they readied to grow fruit. The river ran brilliant blue, reflecting a sky filled with puffy, white clouds. The sun shone brightly, arousing hope as only a perfect NCW spring day can. But it took a tragic turn for the worse as I received the call. A dear family member, known for his gentle heart, had tragically committed suicide.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death that could be prevented in the United States across groups, including seniors. Locally, rates have steadily risen in Chelan and Douglas counties since 2012, and Okanogan County has one of the highest rates in the state.
Washington state has recently declared that suicide prevention is a statewide public safety issue and is requiring MDs, DOs, APCs, nurses, and rehab staff to complete 6 hours of suicide prevention training as part of their licensure. This will help them gain the tools and knowledge to recognize at-risk patients, communicate with them, and take the appropriate steps for follow-through.
Carolina was truly sorry to hear of my loss. She said it’s important to promote hope, connection, social support, treatment, and recovery to help with suicide prevention.
The public seems to think that suicide is a response to stressful situations and that suicidal thoughts may lead to death. It is important to combat this view with positive messaging that shows actions people can take to prevent suicide and stories that show prevention works, that recovery is possible, and that programs, services, and help exist.
This does not mean we should minimize the very real stories of struggle. For my family, that beautiful spring day changed our lives and saddened us to depths we may never recover from. I’m not close to having the answers to what we could have done differently, but I have chosen not to dwell on the negative. Instead, I will honor our loved one by calling attention to suicide and encouraging other families struggling to choose hope.
Help is never far away:
Chelan-Douglas Crisis Line: 509-662-7105
Grant County Crisis Line: 509-765-1717 or 1-877-467-4303
Okanogan County Crisis Line: 1-866-826-6191 or 509-826-6191
Shannon Simsis a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. During her time off she enjoys spending time with her family and riding horses.
Recently, I met Eric Fritts, Okanogan County’s Veteran Service Officer, and he invited me to stop in to tour the U.S. Armed Forces Legacy Project of Tonasket, WA, on my next trip north.
I have driven past the prestigious site many times, and the red, white, and blue American flag blowing regally in the wind, surrounded by the 5 tall rock pillars representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, all encircled by 8 walls of plaques honoring veterans always takes my breath away.
Stepping out of my car, I could not help but feel I was on revered ground. The intimacy of the artwork, the absolute pride of craftsmanship reflected in every piece honoring each branch of the United States military, was so thought out.
Unlike a memorial, a legacy accepts the names of living veterans in addition to those who have died. It is both a project and an organization with the specific purpose of building and maintaining a tribute to America’s past, present, and future veterans.
Its mission is to serve veterans and members of our armed forces by honoring all those who gave, including those who gave their all, on their walls, by housing a military library, and by guiding them and their families through their complicated benefits with the help of a service officer like Eric.
As I walked through the library, I got to overhear Eric helping an older gentleman set up his wellness account online. “What kindergarten did you attend?” Eric asked to set up his profile.
“I didn’t go to kindergarten,” the vet said.
“Well, that explains a lot,” teased his friend.
It was a moment that perfectly illustrated the atmosphere of the legacy, which draws the vets in and makes them comfortable accepting Eric’s expertise and help with navigating their benefits. Eric is a veteran himself, and he helps make them feel at home there.
While walking through the grounds, I met a woman who was tending them meticulously. I learned she was the wife of one of the founders and had served as a nurse in Vietnam. Her pride in the site was quiet but profound.
Thanking her for her service, I asked her what it meant to donate her time to the site. She simply replied, “Healing.”
Health Alliance hopes you enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks, and as you celebrate America’s independence, that you also pause to appreciate the brave and humble men and women who are unselfishly willing to give their all.
Shannon Sims is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. During her time off she enjoys spending time with her family and riding horses.
An excerpt from North Central Washington Museum’s “The History of a Thriving Anomaly” describes how the local community thought the Wenatchee Valley Clinic, which opened on April Fools’ Day 1940, wouldn’t last 6 months. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
The tiny clinic was founded by a surgeon, Albert Donald Haug, a radiologist, Lloyd Smith, and an internist with a knack for keeping patients happy, Lumir Martin Mares, and it brought together specialists at a time when most doctors worked alone.
Haug and Mares believed that their little clinic could meet the same standards as those in the East, and they brought together a range of specialists and cutting-edge equipment and training to become the second-largest clinic in the region.
“We knew it would grow,” Dr. Smith said, “but none of us had any idea it would grow to what it is now.”
The clinic brought together its doctors then, and it brings together patients and doctors now. Because of their dream, its nearly 170 doctors treat people from around the world today.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy decided that every May, we would honor older Americans and their contributions to our communities and country. This year’s theme, “Blaze a Trail,” celebrates older adults who are taking charge of their health, engaging in their communities, and positively impacting the lives of others, just like Wenatchee Valley Clinic’s remarkable founders.
Health Alliance will honor older Americans this month by partnering with Confluence Health to hold an educational event about the treatment and prevention of hypertension and strokes on May 25 and by teaming up with community agencies and businesses in planning the 3rd annual senior-focused health fair at Pybus Public Market on June 4.
Health insurance can be challenging, but as I think about those trailblazing doctors, I remember that hard work, progressive thinking, and the camaraderie of partners like you can help turn the dream of making a positive impact through quality care within this wonderful place we all live a reality.
Shannon Sims is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. She has four sons and two grandsons. During her time off, she performs as part of a rodeo drill team on her horse, Skeeter.