Savvy Senior

By The Active Age | March 31, 2022

Does Medicare cover power lift chairs?

Dear Savvy Senior,

Because of back pain and knee arthritis I’m interested in getting a power lift recliner for my living room that’s easy for me to get into and out of. Does Medicare cover them?

Can’t Get Up

Dear Can’t,

Yes, Medicare does indeed provide some coverage for lift chairs, provided your doctor prescribes it for a medical reason, but they won’t cover the entire cost of the chair. Medicare will only pay for the motorized lifting mechanism, which is considered durable medical equipment (DME), and is covered under Part B. The other parts of the chair – the frame, cushioning, and upholstery – are not covered. Here are a few more details you should know.

What Is a Lift Chair?

First, for those who aren’t familiar with them, lift chairs, which look like traditional recliners, have motorized lift mechanisms built in that aid with standing up and sitting down for people with limited mobility. With the push of a button, a lift chair hoists a person from sitting to a position where they can comfortably stand up. It also works in reverse to help a person gently take a sitting position.

Medicare Coverage Requirements

If you’re a Medicare beneficiary, to find out if you qualify for coverage, you’ll need to get a prescription and a “Certificate of Medical Necessity” from your doctor that indicates your need for a lift chair. The conditions you’ll need to meet include:
• That you have severe arthritis of the hip or knee, or a severe neuromuscular disease.
• That you can’t stand up on your own from a regular chair.
• Once standing, you can walk independently or with the aid of a walker or cane.
• That you do not reside within a skilled nursing facility, hospice or nursing home facility.

You’ll also need to purchase your lift chair from an equipment supplier that’s enrolled in Medicare. To find and compare Medicare approved suppliers in your area go to Medicare.gov/medical-equipment-suppliers, type in your Zip code and “Seat Lift Mechanisms” in the equipment box.
If you do qualify, Medicare will pay 80 percent of the approved cost of the chair’s motorized lifting mechanism, after you’ve met your Part B annual deductible. You, or your Medigap supplemental policy (if you have one), will pay the remaining 20 percent of the lift mechanism. You will also pay 100 percent of the remaining cost of the chair.

You should also be aware that if you do buy your lift chair from a Medicare supplier, you will likely pay for the total cost of the chair upfront and can then seek reimbursement from Medicare. Lift chairs can run anywhere from $400 to $2,000 or more depending on the fabric, options and upgrades. The reimbursement is usually between $250 and $300 depending on the state you live in.

Advantage Coverage

If you happen to get your Medicare benefits through a private Medicare Advantage plan, they too provide lift chair coverage, but they may impose different rules and will likely require you to see an in-network supplier. You’ll need to contact your plan directly for details.

Other Helpful Options

If you find that Medicare won’t cover your lift chair or if you’re looking for something less expensive, there are assistive products you can add to your current furniture like the Stander EZ Stand-N-Go (Stander.com, $140), which has adjustable support handles that can be used on any sofa or recliner to help with sitting down and standing up.

Another way to make your furniture more accessible is by increasing its height with “furniture risers.” These typically range from 2 to 5 inches in height and are inserted under the legs of your furniture. Costs range from a few dollars up to $50 or more and can be purchased at retail stores like Walmart and Target, or online at Amazon.com.

What to do with cremated ashes

Dear Savvy Senior,

A while back I saw an article on different ways to scatter a person’s ashes after they’re cremated, but I’ve misplaced it. Can you help me with this? I’m preplanning my funeral and would like to include instructions on what to do with my remains that my family will appreciate.

Planning Ahead

Dear Planning,

There’s no shortage of options when it comes to handling or disposing of your cremated remains after you’re gone. Your family can keep, bury or scatter them in a variety of imaginative ways that reflect your life and personality. Here are some different options to consider.
Scatter them: The most popular option is to have your ashes scattered at a location you loved to be i.e., a favorite fishing spot, camping area, golf course, beach, park or at home. If you choose this route, keep in mind that some places, such as national parks, require a permit. And many public areas, like parks or sports stadiums may prohibit scattering.

Store them at home: Many families choose to keep their loved ones close, by storing them at home. If you and your family choses this option, you can purchase a decorative urn through your funeral provider or online at Amazon.com. Or you may want to use an old cookie jar or favorite container that reminds your family of you.
Bury/inter them: The burial option is good if you wish to have a special place for your family to visit. This is also the only option for cremated ashes sanctioned by the Catholic Church, which specifies that ashes of the dead should be kept in sacred places like a cemetery or a columbarium and not kept at home or scattered.

Plant them: If you’re the environmental type, you can have your ashes planted with a tree. There are companies that offer living urns – like TheLivingUrn.com or UrnaBios.com – that mix your ashes with other nutrients that can be used to grow a plant or tree in your yard or a place of your choosing.

Scatter them at sea: If you love the water, there are many businesses that offer ash scattering services at sea, especially close to coastal areas, or your family could rent a boat and do it themselves. There are also companies like EternalReefs.com that offer reef memorials so your ashes can rest on the ocean floor.

Scatter them by air: This option will scatter your ashes into the sky so the particles can be taken by the wind. To do this, they could hire a private plane, helicopter or hot air balloon service, or use a balloon scattering service like Mesoloft.com. Or they could even send your ashes into outer space with Celestis.com.

Turn them into a record: If you love music, a UK company called Vinlyly (Andvinyly.com) will turn your ashes into a vinyl record. You supply the music (or voice recording) and cover image, and the company creates a memorial that your family can listen to for years to come.

Turn them into jewelry or glass: If you love jewelry or glass trinkets, there are companies – like CloseByMeJewelry.com, SpiritPieces.com and ArtFromAshes.com – that will turn your ashes into wearable jewelry or glass art memorials.

Go out with a bang: If you’re a hunter or a gun lover, a company called Holy Smoke (MyHolySmoke.com) will create loaded ammunition out of cremated remains. Your family could store the ammo in the engraved wooden box it comes in, or they can send you off in a gun salute.

Turn them into art: If you love art, arrange for an artists or family member to paint your portrait, or a picture, with some of your ashes mixed into the paint. Or, if your family is into tattoos, many tattoo artists will mix some ashes with ink to create a memorial tattoo.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Can COVID-19 Cause Shingles?

Dear Savvy Senior,

How effective is the shingles vaccine and what is the CDC recommendation for getting it? My older brother and sister, both in their fifties, got COVID a few months back followed by shingles. Do you know if there is a connection between these viruses, and would the shingles vaccine have protected them? 

Scared of Shingles

Dear Scared,

Great question! Many healthcare professionals across the country have been urging their older patients to get the shingles vaccine (in addition to the COVID-19 vaccinations) during the pandemic because getting COVID-19 can increase your chances of developing shingles. And the more severe case of COVID you get, the greater your risk for shingles. 

The reason for this is because when you contract COVID-19 your immune system becomes compromised fighting off the virus, which gives shingles – a virus that already exist in your body if you’ve had chickenpox – a chance to reactivate. 

Here’s what you should know about shingles, the shingles vaccine, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.

What are Shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a burning, blistering skin rash that affects around 1 million Americans each year. The same virus that causes chickenpox causes shingles. What happens is the chickenpox virus that most people get as kids never leaves the body. It hides in the nerve cells near the spinal cord and, for some people, emerges later in the form of shingles. 

In the U.S., about one out of every three people will develop shingles during their lifetime. While anyone who’s had chickenpox can get shingles, it most commonly occurs in people over age 50, along with people who have weakened immune systems. But you can’t catch shingles from someone else.

Early signs of the disease include pain, itching or tingling before a blistering rash appears several days later, and can last up to four weeks. The rash typically occurs on one side of the body, often as a band of blisters that extends from the middle of your back around to the breastbone. It can also appear above an eye or on the side of the face or neck.

In addition to the rash, about 20 to 25 percent of those who get shingles go on to develop severe nerve pain (postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN) that can last for months or even years. And in rare cases, shingles can also cause strokes, encephalitis, spinal cord damage and vision loss.

Shingles Vaccine

The vaccine for shingles called Shingrix (see Shingrix.com) provides much better protection than the old shingles vaccine, Zostavax. 

Manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, Shingrix is 97 percent effective in preventing shingles in people 50 to 69 years old, and 91 percent effective in those 70 and older. 

Shingrix also does a terrific job of preventing nerve pain that continues after a shingles rash has cleared – about 90 percent effective.

Because of this protection, the CDC recommends that everyone age 50 and older, receive the Shingrix vaccine, which is given in two doses, separated by two to six months. 

Even if you’ve already had shingles, you still need these vaccinations because reoccurring cases are possible. The CDC also recommends that anyone previously vaccinated with Zostavax be revaccinated with Shingrix.

You should also know that Shingrix can cause some adverse side effects for some people, including muscle pain, fatigue, headache, fever and upset stomach. 

Shingrix – which averages around $205 for both doses – is covered by most private health insurance plans including Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, but there may be a cost to you depending on your plan. Contact your insurer to find out.

Super Cheap Smartphone Plans for Scrimping Seniors  

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you direct me to some really cheap wireless smartphone plans for seniors who don’t use much data? I use my smartphone primarily for texting and talking but need some data for checking my email and a few other things when I’m away from Wi-Fi. Right now, I pay $30 per month but am looking for a better deal. 

Senior Scrimper

Dear Scrimper,

There are several super cheap wirelesses providers I can recommend for older smartphone users who are looking to save money by paring down their cell phone plan. Here are three of the cheapest options available that you can switch to without sacrificing the quality of your service.

Cheapest Wireless Plans

For extremely light smartphone data users, the very cheapest wireless plan available today is through Tello (Tello.com), which lets you build your own plan based on your needs or budget. For as little as $6 per month you can get unlimited texting, 100 minutes of talk time and 500 megabytes (MB) of high-speed data. Increases in talk time or data can be added in $1 increments. 

Tello uses the T-Mobile network and gives you the option to bring your existing phone or purchase a new device while keeping your same phone number if you wish. If you want to keep your phone, it must be unlocked. Just enter your phone’s ID (press *#06# on your keypad to get it) on Tello’s website to make sure that it’s compatible with the network.

Another super cheap plan to consider is the annual prepaid plan offered through Boost Mobile (BoostMobile.com). For only $100 per year (or $8.33 per month) this plan provides unlimited talk, text and 1 gigabyte (GB) of 5G or 4G data each month. If you need more data, its $150 annual plan (or $12.50/month) gets you 5 GB. 

Boost Mobile uses the T-Mobile and AT&T networks and lets you use your existing phone (if compatible) or buy a new one.

And a third option to look into is Mint Mobile (MintMobile.com), which is recommended by Consumer Reports and has one of the best values for a cheap plan. 

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