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Medicare’s ‘Extra Help’ available for prescription medications

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If you have limited income and resources, you may qualify for Medicare’s Extra Help program to pay for some health care and prescription drug costs.

Making ends meet should not mean going without your medications. If you have limited income and resources, you may qualify for Medicare’s Extra Help program to pay for some health care and prescription drug costs.

Drug costs in 2015 for most people who qualify for Extra Help will be no more than $2.65 for each generic drug and $6.60 for each brand-name drug.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services estimates that more than 2 million people with Medicare may be eligible for Extra Help, but aren’t currently enrolled to take advantage of these savings. A recent law changed how your income and assets are counted:

  • Life insurance policies don’t count as resources.
  • Any help you get from relatives, friends, and others to pay for household expenses – like food, mortgage, rent, heating fuel or gas, electricity, water, and property taxes – doesn’t count as income.

Many qualify and don’t know it

Even if you were previously turned down for Extra Help due to income or resource levels, you should reapply. If you qualify, you’ll get help paying for Medicare prescription drug coverage premiums, copayments, and deductibles. To qualify, you must make less than $17,505 a year (or $23,595 for married couples). Even if your annual income is higher, you still may be able to get some extra help. Your resources must also be limited to $13,440 (or $26,860 for married couples). Resources include bank accounts, stocks, and bonds, but not your house or car.

No cost or obligation to apply

It’s easy and free to apply for “Extra Help.” You or a family member, trusted counselor, or caregiver can apply online at socialsecurity.gov/i1020 or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. TTY users should call 1-800-325-0778. All the information you give is confidential. You can also get help in your community from your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), Area Agencies on Aging (AAA), the Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRC), and many tribal organizations. For information about how to contact these organizations, visit Eldercare.gov.

To learn more about Medicare prescription drug coverage, visit Medicare.gov, or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048.

SOURCE: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Debt collectors target the elderly

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What should have been the proverbial golden years are often worsened by aggressive debt collectors who hound older Americans about debts they may not even owe.

by Charlene Crowell

NNPA News Service

For succeeding generations, retirement has been the time when older Americans reaped the benefits of their years in the workplace. Oftentimes at ceremonies, workers would receive a gold watch – a symbol of their entry into retirement and an era of “golden years.”

Today, few if any count on getting a gold watch. And what should have been the proverbial golden years are often tarnished by a struggle to keep pace with rising costs of living. These financial challenges are often worsened by aggressive debt collectors who hound older Americans about debts they may not even owe. Sometimes, these collectors threaten to garnish their limited benefits.

“It’s increasingly common for older Americans to carry debts into their retirement years, and consumers living on fixed incomes often struggle to pay off these debts,” said Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). “Older Americans deserve to be treated with the respect they have earned.”

According to the CFPB, debt collection is a multi-billion industry with more than 4,500 firms nationwide. Moreover, consumers have submitted more complaints to the CFPB about debt collection than mortgages, credit cards or any other financial product or service. A recent analysis of complaints received by the CFPB from July 10, 2013 until September 30 of this year revealed that one out of three was about debt collection.

Threats to garnish federal benefits such as Social Security or Veterans Administration benefits are particularly distressing to older consumers when these items are their primary sources of income. Similarly, older consumers with memory loss or other cognitive impairments are particularly vulnerable to harassment and scams.

While some creditors may collect their own debts, others hire third-party debt collectors. To make matters even more complicated, a single debt may be sold multiple times to different debt buyers.

A third of the complaints received by CFPB revealed that consumers could not identify the original source of the debt. Regardless of the source of debt, many older consumers also experienced repeated attempts by collectors to pursue debts of deceased family members – despite them having no responsibility for the debt. For others, even after judicial probate was concluded, or the funds from the deceased have been exhausted, harassing phone calls still continued.

Medical debt, another frequently-reported complaint, involved collectors pressing for payments at the same time the consumer is trying to resolve medical billing disputes and questioning whether the item in question is eligible for insurance coverage. In other cases, debt collectors make repeated attempts to collect on bills already covered by insurance.

The confusion and frustration felt by consumers is also aggravated by collectors calling over bills appearing on their credit report when no prior attempt communicated the debt in question by the original creditor.

Earlier this year, in a separate report, the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) found scant regulation allows profiteers to take advantage of financially-distressed consumers. Many times debt collectors secure court judgments for debts that may not even be owed. A 2009 Federal Trade Commission analysis of 3.9 million consumer accounts, found only 6 percent of the accounts came with any documentation.

To help older consumers to cope with debt collectors, CFPB released an advisory that includes specific things consumers should do when faced with a debt collector. It encourages consumers to verify a debt claim before promising or paying it. In instances in which a consumer knows a debt is not their own, CFPB’s advice is to dispute all inaccurate claims.  The advisory also includes sample letters to help consumers formalize their concerns.

For CRL, the growth of debt collection issues is of particular concern.

“American consumers are profoundly and negatively affected by wrongful debt collection tactics on a daily basis,” said Lisa Stifler, a CRL policy counsel. “No one should be forced to deal with illegal collection activity, and debt collectors should not be allowed to exploit seniors’ vulnerability in order to make a profit.”

No one – and especially our older Americans — deserves to become financial prey. As families look forward to the holiday season, remember to help older loved ones remain free from profiteers. Love them enough to help them defend their financial rights.

(Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .) 

Feeding your face

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In the context of being “the food that you wear” there is a new trend and it includes “slathering” food on your face.

by Valecia Weeks

NNPA News Service

They say that you are the food that you eat. Well, what if I told you that you are the food that you wear? Today there is a new trend and it includes “slathering” food on your face. It’s been proven that taking natural foods from the very kitchen that we eat from and using them as a topical treatment can keep our skin looking healthy and pretty. Just imagine how attractive you will look when you spread natural honey all over your face and sprinkle dried oatmeal on it…a look to die for. Well, below are some foods that can be used to do just that:

Honey – Not just any ol’ store bought honey but the “real thang”. If you can, find some locally produced, raw honey that has not been pasteurized. Because it is unprocessed, raw honey has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, which are great for keeping your skin clean and clear from blemishes as well as acne. It is said that good ol’ raw honey was used during World War II on open wounds to keep them clear from infection. Honey is also a natural agent which seals in moisture and keeps your skin hydrated.

Egg – Both the egg yolks and the egg whites are wonder for your skin. The yellow yolks have a high level of vitamin A, which aids in the skin repairing itself. It also contains an agent called lecithin, which softens skin. The whites of the egg contains over 40 proteins, as well as an abundance of water and can be used to help tighten the skin.

Yogurt or Milk – both of these products contain lactic acid. This type of acid acts as an excellent exfoliant. The vitamin-B in these dairy products also provide additional antioxidant benefits for the skin. Adding a little ground nutmeg to your yogurt or milk exfoliant can give you a natural microdermabrasion.

Lemons – or grapefruit, or oranges, or even kiwi can help clear extra oil from the skin. For those who are bothered with dark spots, this maybe your answer. Rubbing citrus fruits on your skin’s dark spots supposedly will brighten the skin tone. The acid in citrus fruits works as an exfoliant that helps the cells regenerate themselves. It is important to use a moisturizer after using foods high in acid on your face so that the important oils that have been stripped from skin will be replaced.

Oatmeal – When oatmeal is ground into a fine powder, it is great for anti-inflammatory skin treatment, which makes it exceptionally good for skin disorders such as excema. When it is mixed with water or a natural healthy oil, it can be made into a paste and placed on the affected area.

Sugar: Sugar is a great exfoliant and helps you get rid of the dry skin patches.  Mix with a little olive oil for best overall results.

Oils:  The oil cleansing method is quickly becoming a must-do for problem skin.  As strange as it sounds, it’s even recommended for oily skin.  The oil cleansing method (OCM) is based upon the concept that oil attracts oil and requires that castor oil become the basis for cleaning.  By using castor oil on the skin, you are pulling the nasty hard oil your skin produced away from your skin and replacing with good healthy oil that repairs your skin. To get the most benefit, castor oil should be mixed with another oil.

 

  • For oily skin, use sunflower or sweet almond oil.
  • For dry skin, use avocado or apricot kernel oil
  • For normal skin, use grape seed or jojoba oil.
  • For skin prone to acne, use sunflower or hazelnut oil

 

(Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward-Times.)

What’s Happening Myron? ‘Soul’ missing from American Music Awards

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“Soul” missing from American Music Awards; Monique at Chuckles; “Gospel According to Jazz”; more!

by Myron Mays

I had been hearing a lot of promotions for the American Music Awards so I decided to do something different and tune in. Something amazing happened this year. I didn’t feel so out of touch…at least not because of my age. Strangely enough, I felt a little out of touch because of my race. Yes, really I did.

Have I been stuck in a time capsule for the past couple of years? I had to really ask myself, where are all the black folks? I know that there have been some black folks out there making music somewhere. I mean, I do work at a radio station.

Outside of John Legend winning R&B Male Artist and Beyoncé snaring R&B Female artist and Album of the year, it seems as if “we” were kind of lost in the mix. More specifically, our influence was most certainly there, but we weren’t.

True, Mary J. Blige performed. However, her performance didn’t have that “flavor” that you would expect from someone who is considered the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul.” And I don’t believe anything shocked me more than the hip-hop categories. Iggy Izalea won the award for Best Hip Hop Artist AND Album!

Then at the end, Jennifer Lopez turned in one of the greatest impressions of Beyoncé I have ever seen in my life.

What I’m trying to say is that there wasn’t any “soul” in this year’s telecast.

I now realize why shows such as the BET Awards and the NAACP awards are so important to our culture. We don’t necessarily like to be segregated, however, we like to turn on the TV and see a reflection of us. We like to see on TV the people we love listening to perform the songs we love. We like to see them walk away with awards for creating the songs that we like.

Sure, while watching the BET Awards we still have to sit through stuff we really don’t wanna see. However, it’s our stuff and the choice still belongs to us.

I guess I’m done bellyaching now, lol.

Here’s What’s Happening:

You know what time of the year it is, right? You know it’s gonna eventually come around, right? And there’s no way to avoid it. It’s almost Black Friday!

Yes, it’s time to strap on your combat gear and get ready to take on the crowds of renegades who are looking for the biggest TVs at the cheapest prices! Thankfully, however, it only lasts a day.

For those who want to get it all behind them and just enjoy the holidays, here’s a few things you might like.

Sip & Shop

It’s Sip & Shop this Saturday (Nov. 29th) from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Holiday Inn Express & Suites Southwind located at 4068 Stansell Court. Here’s your chance to do your holiday shopping with a diverse selection of vendors without the hassle of the crowds! There’s gonna be food, fun and lots of giveaways! 

Monique at Chuckles

Santa Claus is not the only one coming to town this month. Comedienne and Academy Award winning actress Monique is bringing the funny to Chuckles Comedy House for two nights – Dec. 12-13. Visit Chuckles online at www.chucklescomedyhouse.com for tickets and information.

‘Gospel According to Jazz’

It’s a very special holiday concert as saxophonist Kirk Whalum returns with the “Gospel According to Jazz” featuring Gerald Albright on Dec. 14 at the Greater Imani Church & Christian Center. Premium tickets are $30 and include a special pre-concert reception and VIP seating. For more information, contact Greater Imani 901-274-6711.

(If you have an event you’d like for me to cover or attend, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

The in’s & out’s of the civil lawsuit that could 'indict' Darren Wilson & Ferguson police

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In light of the grand jury's decision to shield Darren Wilson from criminal charges, a legal expert weighs in on the civil lawsuit and the civil rights charge that Michael Brown’s parents and the Justice Department can pursue

by Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele

The Root

Yesterday the public learned that a Missouri grand jury found that they did not have sufficient evidence to indict Michael Brown’s shooter, Police Officer Darren Wilson.

People are angry and disappointed, but the legal system may not be through with Darren Wilson, or, the Ferguson police department that employs him (although reportedly not for long).

There are “wrongful death” lawsuits that can be filed against Wilson, as well as the civil rights violation charge that the Justice Department can bring against him, and the overall conduct of the Ferguson police department.

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Eric Guster, an attorney and legal expert based in Birmingham, Ala., helped The Root sort through all of the pending legal matters that Wilson might find himself embroiled in even after dodging a criminal charge yesterday.

1) Even though Wilson was not charged with Brown's death, can Brown’s parents file a civil suit against Officer Darren Wilson and the Ferguson police department?

Yes. Brown’s parents — Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. — can sue Officer Wilson for damages in a civil trial. Instead of having to prove Wilson’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt—such as is the case in criminal proceedings—they’ll have to prove that there is a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ to hold Wilson liable for damages in the wrongful death of their son.

For context, Oscar Grant's mother (a handcuffed Grant was shot in the back by a transit officer in Oakland, Calif.) was reportedly awarded $1.3 million — and his daughter, $1.5 million — when they filed a civil suit against the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. The payment settled a "wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit" filed in federal court by Grant's family in 2009 against BART, a CBS affiliate in San Francisco reported.

2) Since Darren Wilson was not been charged, will that influence how strong of a case Brown's parents will have if they decide to file a civil lawsuit against Wilson?

In terms of how successful a possible civil suit might be for Brown’s parents, legal expert Eric Guster explained that it would have made things easier if Wilson were brought up on criminal charges. But even though Wilson has not been indicted, that doesn’t mean that Brown’s parents should be discouraged from pursuing that route.  

“It's always easier to have a civil case filed where there is a criminal case as well,” Guster explained.

“[Although] the fact that he is not convicted of a criminal case does not necessarily bear weight on the civil case because of the lower burden of proof [needed],” he added.

3) Can the Ferguson police department be named in a potential “wrongful death” lawsuit filed by Brown’s parents as well? 

Yes. Guster explained that he sees two potential culprits in a civil suit involving Michael Brown’s shooting: Wilson and the Ferguson police department.

“When a civil lawsuit is filed, you file it against every entity that may bear responsibility,” Guster said.

“In a case like this, Brown’s parents would sue Darren Wilson for the death and the police department for the negligent supervision [and employment] of Wilson.”

Money matters in civil suits because a judge decides if the plaintiff should receive an award for their claims. And because Wilson probably doesn't have a lot of money—like say, OJ Simpson did—the suit against the Ferguson police department will likely be more fruitful (like the settlement Oscar Grant's mother and daughter received from BART).  

“In cases like this, you would go after the deep pockets—the city of Ferguson—and anyone else who was responsible for Darren Wilson's employment,” Guster said.

4) What's the likelihood that the Justice Department will bring a civil rights charge against Darren Wilson? Early reports suggest that they won't because there's not enough evidence...

Though he wasn’t charged at the state level, the Department of Justice can still elect to bring civil-rights charges against Wilson, similar to how the feds held on to key pieces of evidence stemming from the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin when they were considered bringing charges against George Zimmerman.

Lest we forget, the Justice Department conducted its own autopsy of Michael Brown’s body and Attorney General Eric Holder dispatched a team of federal detectives to Ferguson to conduct a separate investigation into his shooting. The Justice Department recently issued a press statement saying that their investigation was “ongoing” but they couldn’t provide a “specific timeline for concluding those inquiries.”

However Guster doesn’t think it’ll amount to anything.

“It is almost impossible for the Department of Justice to bring charges against Wilson,” Guster explains, because “the burden of proof is extremely high in reference to a civil rights violation.”

“For a civil rights violation,” he continued, the feds would have to prove that “Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown because he is black. That is the extra requirement needed for the case to be a civil rights violation in these circumstances.”

“They must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Brown was shot because he was black,” Guster stressed. 

5) What are some of the legal obstacles that Brown's parents will face if they decide to go forward with a civil suit?

Oscar Grant was shot in the back while he was in custody and handcuffed, laying face-down on the platform of a train station. Several witnesses captured his last moments alive on video—including the fatal shot that took his life. 

Brown's alleged resistance during the altercation with Wilson, on the other hand, will be critical to whether his parents will win a civil suit.  

“There are several accounts that there was a fight at the car which, as the trial goes forward, would make it harder for a civil suit to be successful,” Guster explains.

“On the other hand if the family has reliable witnesses to show that Michael Brown was surrendering to the police officer when he was shot and killed, then the civil suit may be successful.”

(Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beatsa Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.)