Medicare Launches New Caregiving Site

  • Medicare is out to help us. Acting Administrator Kerry Weems had some extra incentive to figure out how to better help caregivers navigate the murky waters of the Medicare system, because he and his wife have been caregivers. Since taking over as head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS), he's been working on this new initiative.


    Last Thursday, I attended, via the Web, the launching of the new site titled Ask Medicare. The site is located at  Before the Webcast, a few of us in the caregiving world were invited to participate in a half-hour conference call, so we were able to ask Mr. Weems some of own questions. He was knowledgeable and compassionate, and I felt hopeful, even before the big launch, that caregivers were going to get some real help.

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    The Webcast launch panel answered questions sent in earlier by caregivers around the country, but the real star of the show is this great new site.


    What you will find:


    Under "Navigating Medicare," you will find links to Medicare basics, how to enroll and how to go about getting permission to access information that you'll need to help your elder. You'll be able to compare Medicare D drug plans to see which program will be the best for your elder, compare health and Medigap plans and you'll find information on getting in-home services and what Medicare covers (this is still tricky, so be sure to watch the details).


    Under "Help With Billing," you'll find a section on what is covered, information on how to read those dreaded Medicare summary notices, how to file a claim, submit appeals and grievances and how to report fraud.


    Under "Overwhelmed? Get Help," you will find information on how to get financial help,  find local support, ideas on how to keep yourself healthy and a caregiving exchange (which will take time to develop).


    Under "Care Options," you'll find a link to the new five star Medicare guide to compare facilities, how to find which doctors take Medicare, in-home care advice, nursing home alternatives and ways to pay for nursing homes. They are also big on planning for long-term care, which is great information for the caregiver's future, but may not be helpful for the elder you are helping.


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    My opinion? This is a huge leap forward. The whole thrust of the conference call and the Webcast was to acknowledge the important role of family caregivers. They even talked about the need to educate many professionals about the fact that the family caregiver is a primary player in the care of the elder.


    This should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately, it is often not understood. I've spoken to groups of professionals on numerous occasions. I've reminded them that no one knows the elder like the family. I've reminded them that the family caregiver is the person who spends the most time with the elder and can give the most accurate information. Nurses, doctors and social workers admit they get so caught up in the hurry- hurry world of medicine, they often ignore or roll right over the family caregiver, which is like trying to sit on a three-legged stool with a missing leg. It doesn't work. It's not efficient.


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    This is one of the many issues the new Medicare initiative is trying to address. Don't miss out on this important new tool. All the hoopla leading up to this big launch was merited. I wasn't disappointed. You won't be either. It's still the government, so you aren't going to sail through all of this stuff. But now there's a caregiver friendly site that is interactive. They really do want to help. Give it a try and give them feedback.


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Published On: September 23, 2008