Local Public Benefits Specialist Brings Home Valuable Information from St. Louis Conference

Berkley Crain, Public Benefits Specialist at Elder Law Practice of Timothy L. Takacs, returned recently from the CMS National Training Program in St. Louis. Hosted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the conference was one of five national training workshops in 2015 intended to provide information on Medicare and Medicaid as well as raise awareness about changes in the healthcare system.  The conference included updates on two programs intended to enhance understanding and accessibility of public benefits, My Social Security and Medicare Quality Star Rankings.

My Social Security is an online account system for both current and future recipients of Social Security benefits. Those already receiving SS benefits can make changes to their address and phone number without the hassle of visiting a Social Security office in person or waiting on hold over the phone. It’s also possible to change the direct deposit of benefits and request a replacement Medicare card or SS tax documents.

Those not yet receiving SS benefits can also create a My Social Security account. The system can verify earnings, fix errors due to employee omissions, confirm records with IRS tax returns and generate estimates of future retirement benefits. “In my work helping clients apply for public benefits, I’m excited to come across a portal that may allow for easier and immediate access to verifications,” said Berkley. “My Social Security may also be useful in educating clients on lesser known Social Security claiming strategies.” To create a My Social Security account, a person must be at least 18 years old, have a Social Security Number, a valid email and a valid U.S. mailing address. For more information, visit http://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/

The Medicare Quality Star Ratings program was launched in 2008 with the Nursing Home Compare tool. Since then, the program has expanded to include Hospital Compare, Dialysis Compare, Physician Compare and, most recently, Home Health Compare.  The Quality of Patient Care feature summarizes 9 of the 29 quality measures that come from patient & clinical assessment, with 4/5 meaning that the agency performed better than other agencies and 1/2 meaning that the agency performed below average. Most agencies in the nation fall in the middle with a rating of 3 to 3.5. To use the Compare Tool, visit www.medicare.gov, enter your zip code and select up to three facilities to compare. Results include general information about the agency, contact information, Medicare certification date, and a list of services provided. 

The conference covered a number of other high-profile topics including dual-eligibility for Medicare/Medicaid, new billing codes (e.g. Chronic Care Management & Advance Care Planning), and services/supplies for diabetic patients. For Berkley, the most important takeaway from the conference was the ability to empower current and future enrollees of public benefit programs. “My goal is to equip people with the knowledge and sense of agency that comes with understanding what’s available and how to use it,” she said. “It’s rewarding to help people access the healthcare system in such a way that allows them to understand the legal, financial and personal impacts of their decisions.” 

 

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