Retirement information provided at forum

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin HeraldCongressman Dan Newhouse hosted an information forum on retirement benefits in Othello Tuesday.

OTHELLO — Despite some rumors to the contrary, nobody in the U.S. Congress is talking about reducing benefits for current recipients of federal retirement programs, said Congressman Dan Newhouse. “From what I know, that is not part of the conversation.”

Newhouse sponsored a retirement benefits information fair for senior citizens, and anybody else who was interested, in Othello Tuesday.

The future of Social Security and Medicare will require some “hard decisions,” Newhouse said in a separate interview. Individual contributions, what Medicare does and doesn’t cover, age at eligibility, benefit amounts – there are many details of the retirement programs that need to be examined, Newhouse said. Americans must rethink what they want from the retirement system, he said, if the system is to remain solvent. If the country maintains its current course, the system won’t survive, he said.

Experts from regional and state health insurance agencies, veterans agencies and adult care agencies discussed some of the things people need to know to navigate the system successfully. In some ways, accessing the Social Security and Medicare systems is relatively easy, but in others it’s very difficult, said Todd Dixon, manager for the Health Insurance Benefit Advisor program operated by the Washington Insurance Commissioner.

“You’ve got to be proactive with the Social Security administration,” Dixon said. People should start thinking about the qualification and filing process – and what they need for it – well before they file.

The state has set up regional agencies whose job, in part, is to assist people who have questions about the process, or need help working through it. Both Adams and Grant counties are served by offices in Moses Lake and Wenatchee.

Dixon said Medicare fraud is a concern for federal and state agencies alike; he estimated fraud and waste cost the program about $20 billion per year. For comparison, Dixon said the Medicare program spends about $580 billion annually.

To help combat fraud, Dixon suggested that Medicare recipients “do what I don’t do, read your explanation of benefits.” If Medicare patients find unfamiliar activity, they can and should ask questions.

People who have Medicare questions can contact the Wenatchee office of the benefit advisory program, 888-452-0731. Aging and Adult Care of Central Washington also can answer questions, and provides other services, said Ken Sterner, the organization’s director of business operations.

Aging and Adult Care monitors some of the services provided in the region, including extended care facilities, Sterner said. People who have questions or want to ask about services can contact Aging and Adult Care at 800-572-4459 or 509-886-0700.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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