Take Advantage of NCOA’s Benefits Check Up Tool
October 15th marks the beginning of the 2015 Medicare Open Enrollment Season, giving Medicare recipients an opportunity to review the previous year’s medical costs and choose a plan that best suits their needs. With so many older Americans making important choices about their health coverage between now and December 15th, there’s no better time to take a look at other vital programs aimed to lessen the financial burden faced by people living on low or fixed incomes.
To that end, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) offers a pair of tools designed to guide seniors through the countless city, state and federal benefits programs they could be eligible for, as well as provide insight into where seniors could save money in their monthly budget.
The NCOA’s Benefits Check Up tool allows users to generate custom reports detailing a wide variety of programs that can help ease financial burdens, ranging from housing, utility and prescription drug benefits programs to veteran’s assistance programs and employment training.
To generate a report, users are instructed to gather basic financial and medical information for the benefit recipient and answer a short list of questions about their month-to-month living expenses. In an effort to make the tool more user friendly, the questions are tailored to the person filling out the responses, whether they are the benefit recipient, a family member or friend.
In all, the process takes about 20 minutes and can open the doors to financial opportunities that NCOA Public Affairs Manager Vanessa Sink says are all too often overlooked.
“User friendliness has always been something we’ve strived for,” Sink said. “We’re constantly fiddling with the program to make Benefits Check Up a more useful tool.”
To that end, I (a mid-20’s Brooklyn renter with a reasonably steady income and no major medical expenses) tested the system by running a report on myself, then asked an older coworker to test the tool. After learning that I could not claim my cats as dependents, I found myself with a 12-page report comprised of State-based prescription discount programs and a handful of municipal, state and federal employment training services – looks like it’s bootstraps for me.
On the other hand, my coworker (a homeowner and parent experiencing higher medical and household expenses) walked away with a treasure trove – 42 pages of benefits information including prescription drug discounts, winter heating programs, home repair grants and other ways to keep medical expenses in check. The program went so far as to check the New York State Comptroller’s Office (previously reported on in this blog) for any unclaimed funds.
The NCOA’s second tool, the Economic Check Up, similarly matches users with programs to help them stretch their dollars and generates custom financial reports, but also offers general tips on expenses like retirement planning, money management, credit and debt management and tools to assist homeowners and renters alike.
Being a bit of a spendthrift myself, I was pleased to see that my personal spending hovers at a mostly sustainable level. While Sink agreed that it’s beneficial for everyone to take their financial pulse from time to time, she was quick to add that new opportunities to save open up for us every year we age.
“In every state, every city and every municipality, we know there are seniors everywhere not taking advantage of the benefits they are eligible to receive,” Sink said. “Even if they are budgeting properly and making the most of what they have, almost every senior is going to be eligible for some program that frees up parts of their budget for the things they really need.”
SelectCare applauds the efforts of the NCOA for managing these cost-saving tools, which have been available to the public since 2010 and has helped nearly 4.5 million Americans claim more than $15.5 billion in benefits.
We at SelectCare understand the challenges that stem from living on a fixed or low income and our talented staff of home care experts works tirelessly when advocating on behalf of our clients to their long term care insurance providers. We also specialize in crafting home care plans that protect our clients’ safety and independence while working within a tight budget. To learn more about home care, taking advantage of long term care insurance or to simply learn more about our agency, call us today.