Tuesday, May 3, 2011
You've worked long and hard to prepare for retirement, created all the necessary documents for unseen circumstances and legal issues. But they can't help anybody who does not know where they are located. Including yourself! Use our Documents Locator to keep it all together!
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I'm willing to bet Americans know more about where Medicare has failed than know essential facts about the program itself.
It's no wonder. Political rhetoric pits one side against the other whenever key legislation is debated. And those who find fault always shout the loudest, no matter what the argument.
Medicare is not a one-size-fits-all health insurance plan. Options exist to accommodate every situation; regardless of age, income level or basic need.
Congress has added new benefits over time, each with its own set of rules. One particular provision may require totally different qualifications than another. Its complexity makes it hard to understand.
But if you're approaching the magical age of 65, there are some program basics you need to know.
Medicare is not a single plan. Coverage is divided into four parts, each available on its own to allow recipients to choose whichever benefits they need.
Part A covers hospital stay or skilled nursing facility, home health care, hospice care and medicines received by patients during in-patient care.
Part B covers physicians and out-patient services. Rehab therapy, lab tests and medical equipment fall under this section. Doctor's services in a hospital and medicines administered in a doctor's office fall here too.
Part C gives you a choice of private health plans, called Medicare Advantage plans. They package Part A and B into a single product. Often Part D is included as well.
Part D is the newest addition to the Medicare family. This provides a benefit for the cost of prescription drugs.
You can enroll in Part B alone, but if you enroll in Part A, you must also enroll in Part B. You must be enrolled in A or B to get D.
Medicare does not cover everything. It rarely covers vision, hearing and dental care or nursing home care. It does not cover medical services outside of the United States.
There are deductibles and co-pays, depending on the plan you choose.
Unless you're already collecting Social Security benefits, you will have to enroll in the Medicare program. You will not receive notice from the agency.
You have three months before and after the month of your 65th birthday to enroll, a full seven month period including your birth month. If you do not enroll at the proper time, expect to pay a permanent late penalty of an extra 10 percent of your Part B premiums for each 12-month period you delay. If you don't enroll until you are 68, you will pay an extra 30 percent more for the same coverage as long as you are a plan participant.
If you miss that seven month window, you can only enroll in Part B during the general open enrollment period which runs from January 1st to March 31st each year. Coverage begins the following July 1st.
Penalties also apply to late enrollment for Part D prescription coverage for those who did not have creditable drug coverage since turning 65. Creditable drug coverage could be through a current or former private employer plan, union, COBRA, Veterans Affairs or military Tri-Care-for-Life system. Those that have this coverage have an extra two-month period to enroll in Part D prior to being assessed a penalty.
If you paid enough in Medicare taxes while you were working, there is no premium for Part A. Part B requires a monthly premium of $115.40 per month for those joining in 2011. Parts C and D carry a premium as well, which differs according to the plan you choose.
If you qualify for the low-income plan, your Part B premium is waived along with your deductibles and co-pays. Premiums for Parts B and D are higher if your modified adjusted gross income on your most recent tax return is above $85,000 for singles or $170,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return.
Not all doctors accept Medicare patients, and expect even more to leave the program as they're paid increasingly less for their services. Find a list of participating doctors on the Medicare web site.
Don't wait until your enrollment deadline nears to start researching Medicare options. It may take that full seven months to learn enough to make a wise decision.
Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo is Spanish for Fifth of May. It's not Mexican Independence Day. It's not a national holiday. In fact, it isn't even celebrated in Mexico outside of one small area.
Benito Juárez became president of a nearly bankrupt Mexico in 1861. He had no option but to default on debt owed to European governments, suspending their payments for two years. France, Britain and Spain sent naval forces to Mexico to demand reimbursement.
After negotiations, Britain and Spain withdrew. But Napoleon III of France thought Mexico would make a good territory for his empire. Later that same year, a huge French fleet invaded Veracruz and drove President Juárez, along with his government officials, into retreat.
The French were a bit cocky. Their 6,000 troops continued deeper into the country to attack a small town in east-central Mexico called Puebla de Los Angeles.
In the meantime, President Juárez assembled a force of 2,000 loyalists to fight for their country. They were poorly armed and vastly outnumbered.
But what they lacked in resources was more than made up for in spirit. The battle lasted just one day - from daybreak to early evening. By the time the French retreated, they had lost almost 500 soldiers. The Mexicans lost less than 100.
The battle at Puebla was not a major strategic point in the war. But it was a turning point. It bolstered the resistance movement and represented a great symbolic victory.
The war lasted another six years. By that time, the U.S. Civil War had ended and we had military support to lend our neighbor. Mexico remained an independent nation.
It was the last time any country in the Americas was invaded by a European military force.
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the state of Puebla, but it's not a federal holiday. Banks, stores and businesses remain open.
But here in the U.S., it serves to honor the Mexican-American community. Activists began raising awareness of the date in the 1960s because it represented victory for the oppressed.
In June of 2005, U.S. Congress issued a Concurrent Resolution calling on the President to issue a proclamation to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities. It's celebrated much as we do the Irish on St. Patrick's Day and our German roots with Oktoberfest.
You'll find parades, parties, and Mexican food, music and dance marking the occasion wherever there is a large Mexican population. The largest festivals are held in Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.
Perhaps this date can serve purpose to our neighbors to the south today as well.
Embroiled in political corruption, civil unrest, drug wars and poverty, Mexico has become the killing capital of the world. Nearly 35,000 people have lost their lives since the president cracked down on drug cartels in 2006. Many of those were members of rival drug trafficking organizations. Yet innocent bystanders are often caught in the crossfire.
Murder, kidnapping, rape and violence mar the once-flourishing tourist towns of Acapulco, Tijuana, Monterrey and Ciudad Juarez. The U.S. State Department has issued an eight-page bulletin to warn potential travelers of problem areas in that country.
The Mexican people are known for their strong, proud spirit. The lessons of the Battle of Pueblo hold just as true today. Perhaps they can once again lift up a people oppressed.
One of the backbones of our economy has been borrowing, thereby leveraging those borrowed funds into more profits. Since the financial crisis began, lending has tightened up, making it harder for borrowers that might have previously not had any trouble obtaining credit.
This was a result of less money to lend along with stricter lending requirements in some cases. Less money was available to lend as financial institutions were required to increase their capital levels in response to regulator requirements. As more loans became troubled, more was required to offset those potential, or real, losses.
However, according to the Federal Reserve Bank's quarterly Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey, banks generally eased lending standards and terms for commercial and industrial loans (C&I) in the first three months of this year. They also reported that there is a greater need for consumer loans and for commercial mortgages, while residential mortgage need continued to drop. The increased need for consumer loans was reported for all size firms.
The credit quality of potential businesses looking to borrow has improved as well. There was increased demand for commercial real estate loans reported by some of the banks responding to the survey.
With the availability up, demand is starting to rise slowly. Continued growth is needed to fuel our economy!
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