When asked what advice 91-year-old Fondus E. Chism would give to baby boomers as they near retirement he said, “Get a lawyer and have him do it.”
“It’s hard for a person to get a lot of it done,” said Chism, a Navy retiree who was stripped of his private sector retiree insurance that he counted on. “I hate to say it, but last December (the company I retired from) took my insurance away from me. (Other companies) did it too. It’s a fouled-up affair. But I got Medicare — they can’t take that from me. And I went ahead and got some other insurance.”
The golden years for most seniors is not financed with the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but there are programs and advisors to help seniors navigate on a budget.
There are options
Asking for help is the best option, said Tammy Hyatt, Sen. David Koehler’s constituent services coordinator and Illinois Department on Aging Senior Health Insurance Program counsellor. There are SHIP counsellors throughout the area, and they are free to use.
The alphabet soup of Medicare supplement plans is difficult with many plans to choose from and finances hanging in the balance. Hyatt helps seniors sort out insurance issues and understand the choices.
For instance, there are two Medicare supplement plans — the Medicare Advantage Plan and Medigap.
The Medicare Advantage Plan, said Hyatt, is similar to employee health insurance with small premiums, a lot of co-payments and a large deductible.
Some supplement plans to Medicare have to go through an insurance agent not through the government. Medigap is one of those. The premium may depend on what company is chosen.
“The reason they have two different types — Medigap plans, those are designed for people who have a lot of health conditions already,” said Hyatt. “These are higher premiums maybe, but they also will pay a lot more than other plans do.”
Under Medigap, all carriers have the same benefits, there are typically no network requirements and there is no contract. The retiree pays Part B and the plan premiums, but there are low or no monthly costs. It is more expensive than Medicare Advantage. Medigap is age and tobacco usage rated. It is guaranteed renewable.
Under Medicare Advantage, benefits vary between carriers, patients have to use network doctors and hospitals, an annual contract is required, and the plan pays the medical costs and the patient pays a co-pay. The plan can cover costs that Medicare does not. It is not age or tobacco rated and there is no medical underwriting. Medicare Part B covers things like ambulance services, mental health care, limited prescription drugs, durable medical equipment and so on.
Hyatt said there is one thing to remember.
“Don’t panic,” she said. “Take small steps.
“If you try to absorb everything that comes in the mail or everything that is on TV, you will get stressed out. You will get so frustrated and worried. Medicare.gov, if people are on the computer, is a wonderful resource.”
Tazewell County Assessor Gary Twist said all property tax exemptions have to be approved by the state legislature — the county cannot change the tax code on its own. The state legislature has approved several that have been available for many years, said Twist.
The Senior Citizens Homestead Exemption is available to seniors 65 and older with no income limits. The program exempts an additional $5,000 of the Equalized Assessed Valuation of a senior’s owner-occupied home. Seniors have to apply for the exemption.
“It’s important to know that sometimes these two different exemptions available at 65 get confused a little bit,” said Twist. “The (Senior Citizens Homestead Exemption) has no income requirements. So when you turn 65, come in.
“Occasionally people won’t come in because they have heard that the only way you get an exemption is to be at a certain income threshold. So it’s very important for them to apply for their over-65 exemption regardless of their income.”
The second exemption is the Senior Citizen Assessment Freeze Homestead Exemption. This exemption freezes the property’s EAV if the owner/occupant is 65 or older and earns $55,000 a year or less per household. Twist said the income level has been at that level for the last decade, but there is discussion in the state legislature about increasing it. That decision has yet to be made. A senior citizen is eligible for both at the same time.
All homeowners, regardless of their age, are qualified for the General Homestead Exemption for residential property that is occupied by its owner. The amount of exemption is the increase in the current year’s EAV over the 1977 EAV, up to a maximum of $7,000 in Cook County and $6,000 in all other counties.
Also, there are Homestead Exemptions for Persons with Disabilities, disabled veterans exemptions, a homestead improvement exemption and a Natural Disaster Homestead Exemption.
“So it’s possible,” said Twist, “you can have three or four exemptions on your residence depending upon what you qualify for.”
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin
• The Central Illinois Agency on Aging. Call (877) 777-2422. Web site is www.ciaoa.net.
• Illinois Attorney General (IAG). Provides assistance to seniors under threat of foreclosure. Homeowner helpline is (866) 544-7151. Web site is www.IllinoisAttorneyGeneral.gov.
• IAG Senior Consumer Fraud Hotline: (800) 243-5377.
• Tazwood Community Services. Has a Low Income Energy Assistance Program, housing assistance, senior prescription medication assistance, supplemental food pantry assistance, farmers market cards and more. Phone 266-9941 for Morton and 694-4391 for East Peoria. Website is tazwoodcs.org.
Information provided by the agencies.