GM Recalls 475,000 Cars Chevy Cruzes


If you are driving a 2011 or 2012 Chevy Cruze, head to your newest GM dealer. You’re driving a unsafe vehicle and they’ve recalled it.

24/7 Wall St.

General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) today issued a recall of more than 475,000 Chevrolet Cruze sedans to correct a problem that could lead to fires in the car’s engine compartment. The recall covers cars sold in model years 2011 and 2012 to customers in the US, Canada, and Israel. An additional 10,000 customers in Australia may also be affected.

Last January Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) recalled 450,000 minivans and SUVs in January and Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) recalled more than 680,000 cars and light trucks in March.

GM said that no injuries or crashes have been reported which are related to the issue. The company will begin sending out recall notices in mid-July.

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Sisters On the Fly: Female Road Warriors


Traveling with the group known as Sisters on the Fly is definitely on my retirement Wish List. These female road warriors, ages 20-something to 80-something, travel all over the U.S. by truck, travel trailer and camper caravan. They fly fish (hence the name), they ride horseback, they take part in cattle drives. They even attend Cowgirl College. Every once in awhile they let the menfolk join them, but not often. Most of the travels are in the Western U.S.

If you don’t mind roughing it, and you love the open road, this group just might be for you. Of course, you’ll need either a camper or a truck and travel trailer. Check out their site – there’s often one or two gently-used and well-decorated trailers for sale. Besides enjoying the great outdoors, you could make some lifelong friends. And, there’s safety in numbers. How many of us don’t venture to places we’re dying to see because we can’t find anyone to go with us, and we’re nervous for our own safety?

By the way, Sisters On the Fly was actually started by two sisters – Becky and Maurrie, from Montana.

All you wanderlust-filled women out there, do check out this great group!

AZ AARP to Launch Medicare Talks by Inexperienced Non-Experts


I was appalled to learn yesterday that the Outreach program of the metro-Phoenix office of AARP plans to send poorly-trained volunteers out into various Arizona communities to conduct “informative” presentations on Medicare to interested local residents. My broker and I offer informational sessions on Medicare, and after hearing about this AARP-affiliated opportunity to present on behalf of  AARP I gladly signed up for yesterday’s training. I assumed that I and the other would-be presenters would be provided with CMS (Center for Medicare Services)-approved pre-written scripts. I assumed that those invited to the training workshop would have brought to the table at least some expertise in the subject matter.

With the exception of myself and another life insurance agent, the few attendees had little or no knowledge of Medicare products, however. Nor was there to be any script. A few minutes into the 2-4 hour training ( depending on our questions,)  I learned that after a quick peruse of Medicare.gov’s “Medicare and You” and some materials the AARP manager had gathered, presenters were to write their own scripts or extemporize. Oh my.

“There is no CMS-approved script?” I asked. “No, we don’t need approval,” I was told. Perhaps YOU don’t, but I and the other agent did if we were to keep our insurance license. We left the meeting.

I am appalled that folks with 2-4 hours of training on Medicare are going to be given what the public will perceive as the full credentials of AARP expertise and trustworthiness, to go out into the community and provide what might well be yet more inaccurate information about a system that is already confusing, and has incredibly serious ramifications for our senior citizens. I have spent several dozen hours learning the ins and outs of Medicare, and still haven’t stopped learning. CMS regulates every presentation I and any other agent or broker provides to the public, as well it should.  Each Medicare plan provider requires training and certification – and all of this training repeats each year. It’s THAT important.

The last thing the confused public needs is bad information about Medicare and missed deadlines. Medicare beneficiaries who don’t meet their deadlines due to poor information and misguidance risk health problems and in the case of a couple parts of the program, increased fees each month for the rest of their lives. This is serious business, folks. People with 2-4 hours of training have no business writing their own unsupervised scripts or speaking off the cuff to people who must get the correct information, pricing and deadlines to make the right choices on time, and thus keep themselves healthy and within their fixed budgets.

I want to make clear that I have enormous respect for AARP and am a long-time member. But this program – NOT a national-AARP-sanctioned program – is not one of its finer moments. While the Arizona founder of the program clearly has the best intentions, his decision to put this in the hands of the less-than-well-informed gives me grave concern.

HOWEVER…. You’ve Earned a Say, what a positive experience!

When I left that meeting abruptly I ran to one I had thought I’d be missing – the Palos Verdes Senior Living -based AARP “You’ve Earned a Say” interactive presentation on Social Security and Medicare. I was late and missed the first 30 minutes. I hope to get to another soon, and hear it from start to finish. The two speakers – Ginny Craeger and Ritch Steven – were nationally-sanctioned AARP Lead Volunteer speakers, well-trained, and while not  experts they came bearing a power point of well-researched material. They were informative and well-versed in leading a discussion and keeping it on track. The audience was vocal, and very concerned about the future of both programs.

The obstacles for the future of Social Security and Medicare were much the same, according to the AARP speakers – fewer people being born, going to work and paying into Social Security than in past decades. Additionally, more people are collecting and will collect and will live longer than in past decades.

Some of the facts we learned:

  • Social Security is a pay-as-you-go plan. By law any excess money it holds above and beyond what it issues to beneficiaries must be invested in safe, secure, liquid, high-quality investment vehicles.  That has been the case from day one.  The product invested in has been U.S. treasury bonds. The government has never missed a payment and always lived up to its obligation.
  • Medicare plans C and D became the auspices of private insurance carriers when it was determined that the cost to the government of running these programs was $14 million beyond what it cost to run plans A and B.
  • Our FICA payroll deductions only account for 37 percent of the cost of Medicare. General taxes pay another 42 percent of the bill, and Medicare premiums only pick up 12 percent of the tab.  In 2024 Medicare will run out of money to pay all its health care obligations. This pertains to Part A, the hospital care obligation, as Part B is somewhat alleviated by the beneficiaries’ commitment to pay a pre-determined portion of the cost, no matter the increase in its doctor bill and other covered costs.
  • Half of Medicare beneficiaries spend at least 17 percent of their income on health care, while the average U.S. adult spends only 12 percent.
  • Since 1991 national health care spending in the U.S. has exceeded inflation by an annual average of 2.4 percent, while healthcare costs have increased a compounded 6 percent annually.
  • The Affordable Care Act, if enacted exactly as written, is purported to add 10 years to the life of the Medicare program as it now exists. However, the Act has already been altered from its original.
  • By 2030 the number of people on Medicare will be double that of beneficiaries in 2000.
The most startling fact to come out of the entire presentation:
” Seventy-five percent of most people’s health care costs are spent in the last six months of their lives,” AARP presenter Ritch Steven told us.
(Steven, incidentally, had previously given a highly-informative presentation on senior living options at the same venue. Here’s my coverage of that presentation. )

The small audience, made up of folks that ranged from 80ish to 30ish, responded to several questions.

When asked “How confident are you that Social Security will be there for you:”

8 were very confident

10 were somewhat confident

8 were not confident

– 4 didn’t know or didn’t respond

When asked “What is the biggest challenge facing Social Security:”

4 thought that fewer workers was the primary obstacle

14 blamed the increase in senior numbers to be the biggest problem

4 thought the issue was that the government didn’t have enough funds

4 blamed other issues such as politics, and the federal government’s having dipped into Social Security monies to pay for other programs.

The audience was asked for suggestions to save the program – “What do you hope happens to Social Security,” ideas included: 

  • Increase the age to qualify
  • Raise or remove the cap for employees and entrepreneurs paying into it
  • The wealthy should opt out of receiving Social Security benefits
  • The COLA should be reviewed annually
  • All of us must suffer, including those already on Social Security

With regard to Medicare the audience was asked, “How important is Medicare to your health?”

24 of the 26 that replied said it was very important, while one called it somewhat important and one simply didn’t know. Only 3 were very confident the program would be there for them, while 16 were somewhat confident, 5 were not confident, and 3 didn’t know.

When asked, “What is the biggest challenge facing the Medicare program?”

11 said rising health care costs was the number one problem

8 thought that having too few funds was the biggest obstacle

2 thought that fewer workers paying into it was its biggest hurdle, and

5 thought that the increase in seniors using the system caused the most trouble.

Several folks spoke about their hopes  and suggestions for keeping the Medicare program healthy:

“I would be willing to pay more for it because the coverage is well worth it,” said one current female beneficiary in the audience.”

“Get control of the fraud,” said another woman.  In response, Steven told us that the Affordable Care Act is designed to help with that, by putting obstacles in the way of the current practice of paying out Medicare claims to providers within 14 days or receipt, and later on down the road perhaps noticing that some claims seemed worth a closer look. Proposed changes would allow Medicare administrators to take the time to investigate where needed before paying claims.

We also learned that that Affordable Care Act would require every congress member and her or his staff to accept state-run insurance rather than any federal option. The thought was that these folks needed “skin in the game.”

When asked what message we would like to send to Congress and whichever candidate remains or becomes president two responses were heard:

“Cut programs to companies that don’t appreciate us,” said one.

“Get private insurance out,” said another. To the latter a clearly-appalled audience member replied, “No, I still want to be able to choose my own health care coverage.”

It is my hope that the woman who suggested that private insurance be removed from the Medicare system – and anyone who agrees with her – reads the first part of what I’ve written here. When it comes to oversight, instruction, help with understanding and application to the various Medicare programs, you would be far better off leaning on the well-trained, licensed, highly-regulated and arduously-supervised insurance agents whose right to earn their living is dependent on their ethics and their obligation to provide you with honest, objective and complete information on the Medicare program. We are the folks who are forbidden, under pain of having our licenses revoked, from doing as Arizona AARP is setting out to do – go unsupervised and ill-trained into any town, any city and any area of the state and provide what could be poorly-understood and highly inaccurate information on a health care program many of you believe you MUST have to lead a healthy life.

Should anyone wish further accurate, detailed information on the Medicare program, I am happy to help. I am not a Social Security expert. That I must leave to others. But whether you turn to me, or Medicare.gov, or another, turn to those whose jobs or long-time commitment it has been to keep abreast of the Medicare program. If your organization would like an informative, no-obligation Medicare presentation, you can reach me at SeniorWellth@gmail.com. I am NOT offering a sales presentation. I am offering good, solid information that will help you make the right Medicare decision at the right time.  I am happy to provide that one-on-one as well. While this nationally-backed event was informative, the upcoming Arizona AARP program seems destined to be less than reliable.

Sierra Ancha wilderness the view east


Tempe, AZ  artist  / blogger Ellen Pierce offers some great views of beautiful Arizona. This particular trail is part of the Sierra Anche Wilderness in the Tonto National Forest. It’s a tough 5 mile trail that reaches into the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Its lowest point is about is 4000 feet and the trail climbs nearly another strenuous 3000 feet. It’s not for the meek or untrained hiker for sure.  The nearest town is Young, AZ, population 561. This tiny Gila-County village, surrounded by mountains, is 130 miles northeast of Phoenix and 60 miles southeast of Payson. To get there from Phoenix you’d take 10E to 60, and then along the Apache Trail by way of Globe. This is a slow and winding but beautifully scenic trip.

Directions (courtesy of Outdoor.com):  From Young to Billy Lawrence Trailhead:
Drive south on State Highway 288, turn east onto Forest Road 410 (Reynolds Creek) and travel 2.5 miles to the junction of FR 410 and Forest Road 235 (Cienga Springs Road). Follow this road for 0.5 mile, then east 2.5 miles to the Billy Lawrence Trailhead. A high clearance vehicle is recommended for this road.From Young to Lucky Strike Trailhead: Travel south on State Highway 288, take Forest Road 203 (Cherry Creek Road) 26.6 miles to the trailhead.

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Sierra Ancha wilderness the view east

Along the Lucky Strike trail we get great vistas and dramatic landscape to treat our eyes

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How Your Income Effects Your Social Security Check


I just got some good news from the Social Security office via phone. My full retirement age is 66, and while I think I might write part time until I take my last breath, I’d sure like to stop putting in these 80 hour weeks as soon as possible. I read about it online, but didn’t quite get it. So I called, and a very helpful, patient social security rep clarified the following:

  • The calendar year I turn 66, even though the day I turn 66 is not January 1,  I can make up to $38,880 without any reduction in my social security check. I knew that once I turn 66,  I could make as much as I wanted, but the good news here is that even though my birthday is May 28, I don’t have to wait to retire until May. If the money I make January through April is not more than 1/3  (4/12th’s) of $38,880 my social security checks will not be reduced. The calculations: $38,880 divided by 12 works out to $3240 a month. So I can make up to $3240 each month from January through April and still draw a full social security check. If I were to earn more than that anytime prior to May, my social security would be reduced $1 for every $3 over that amount. In May I can make as much as I want. Great news, as I don’t expect to be making more than $3000 a month at that point, anyway.
  • The year prior – the year I turn 65, and the year in which I hope to retire – the earnings ceiling (unless it changes from what it is now) will be $14,640. If I decide to start taking my social security in June, the month after I turn 65, what I’ve earned up until June of that calendar year won’t factor into any reduction of my social security check, but as of June it will. For whatever I make each month starting with June that exceeds 1/12th of $14,640 ($1220 per month) my social security would be reduced $1 for every $2 of that overage. While that’s a hefty price to pay, I’m still going to be money ahead each month by taking the social security. What I probably would do (as I’m self-employed and get no vacation pay if I don’t work) is take a month or two off and travel.)  I would actually make money doing that, as my income overage would be reduced. Additionally, the extra earnings would positively effect how much I get from social security down the road. (I’ll have more on the latter topic in a later post.)

Obviously, every person has to make her or his own decision about taking Social Security before full retirement age. We all know that Continue reading “How Your Income Effects Your Social Security Check”

You’ve Earned a Say re Medicare, Social Security


Metro-Phoenix AARP members would do well to take advantage of this opportunity to share your thoughts, and hear what’s going on in Washington, with regard to Medicare and Social Security.

If you missed the gathering in Surprise, here’s another opportunity, at Palos Verdes Senior Living in Peoria. I’ll be there blogging and tweeting it all, but I’d love to meet you there too.

EarnedaSay.org

Veterans’ senior-living benefits, Medicaid qualifiers


Belmont Village

I attended a delicious and informative lunch-and-learn event yesterday at the brand new Belmont Village Senior Living in Scottsdale. Don Smith, chartered financial consultant with Emerald Capital Preservation focused on the help that the VA offers war-time veterans who are no longer equipped to accomplish some of the activities of daily living.

Following the event I toured the assisted living and memory care facility with Millie Oakeson, community relations manager.

Don Smith specializes in assisted living financial planning, not only for veterans but for those who might qualify for Medicaid and anyone who needs to do estate planning and set up healthcare and financial powers of attorney. He’s a long-time member of the National Ethics Association.

He told us about the VA Aid and Attendance Program. Continue reading “Veterans’ senior-living benefits, Medicaid qualifiers”