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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published October 12 2008

Medicare site can be helpful to caregivers

Dear Readers: Medicare has launched a new site aimed at helping caregivers. I was fortunate enough to be included on a conference call with Kerry Weems, acting administrator for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, before the Sept. 18 site launch.

Weems talked about his own family caregiving experience. He showed an understanding of what caregivers face, both during the pre-launch phone Q & A and during the launch event itself.

When Weems used the word “isolation” as he answered a question launched by New York Times health reporter Jane Gross, I felt he had knowledge of and compassion for the caregiving community. Breaking isolation on the part of caregivers and care receivers has been a huge part of my own mission, since my active elder caregiving role ended.

“Ask Medicare” is found at www.medicare.gov/caregivers.

"Ask Medicare" is still a work in progress, but it’s already very useful. It's meant to be interactive, and Weems and his staff want input from users. I’ve been told that caregivers will eventually have a way to share their stories with one another. This is something that I, personally, pushed on the call and afterward, as I am a strong believer that essential help comes from those who understand issues from having lived through similar circumstances. The site managers promise more caregiver support is on the horizon.

Below is a sample of what you will find now:

Under “Care Options,” links 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.

Under “Navigating Medicare,” 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, 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,” a section on what Medicare covers, information on how to read those dreaded Medicare summary notices, how to file a claim, submit appeals and report fraud.

Under “Overwhelmed? Get Help,” information on how to get financial help, find local support and ideas on how to keep yourself healthy. There is also a free newsletter.

With Medicare looking to the caregiver for input and making efforts to teach others (particularly professionals) that the caregiver is a vital part of the care receiver’s health team, we are all ahead.

This is a government site, folks, so don’t expect warm fuzzies. But it’s a start. When all professionals, be they Medicare officials, doctors, nurses, nursing home administrators or social workers, or Medicare personnel, learn to look at the caregiver as a team member, everyone wins. The thought behind “Ask Medicare” shows huge progress in that area. I’m thrilled to see it.

Bursack is the author of a support book on family elder care. To submit questions to “Minding Our Elders” and view past columns, go to www.inforum.com and click on columnists. Readers can reach Bursack at cbursack@forumcomm.com or write her at The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107