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Finding All the Answers

Senior Expo answers questions about health, Medicare.

From blood tests to financial options, from a barbershop chorus to Phyllis Diller, Fairfax County residents in their Golden Years had plenty to take in during the Senior Living Expo last week at the Springfield Mall.

"We are checking blood glucose and cholesterol," said Ann Colvig, a registered nurse at Inova Alexandria, one of the dozens of vendors at the Expo. "We also have information on interventional radiology, a special treatment geared to do something about diseases and conditions doctors may find, that does not require surgery."

Interventional radiology, she said, can correct spinal fractures caused by osteoporosis without causing a patient to spend weeks at home in pain or recovering in a full body cast. It can also be used to eliminate varicose veins.

"Our population is aging and we feel we can offer services in the community that people should know about," she said of the hospital's involvement in the Expo.

The blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol checks can help draw attention to concerns that could become long-term problems, said Karen Lang, a PRN at Inova Alexandria. "We discuss the results with the people who stop in and talk about some lifestyle changes they may need to consider," she said. "People can be aware of health issues that may become troublesome later on" by getting their glucose and cholesterol levels checked, she said.

WITH CHANGES to Medicare regarding prescription drug coverage scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2006, Lynda Sussman and Ronald Rubin of Secure Horizons Direct were at the Expo to give out information regarding their company's "stop-gap" coverage that allows patrons the option of knowing how much out-of-pocket medical expenses they will have in any given year.

"This is a new fee-for-service medical supplement plan," Rubin said. "Currently, it is available in Loudoun and Fairfax counties for $25 per month. You can go to any doctor you want and there's lots of flexibility that isn't available with traditional coverage," he said.

"This program is part of the 1997 Budget Act that provided some Medicare reforms," Sussman said. "Doctors love it because they get paid 102 percent of what Medicare would pay. There is a maximum out-of-pocket limit for each person and there's no restriction in terms of referrals," she said.

"This program is tightly controlled by the government," Sussman said. It was only recently approved in Washington, D.C. and a few counties in Maryland, so the Expo was an opportunity to distribute information to more people. "This program can be married to any drug program and can be used in tandem with Medicare," she said.

For those who are planning for retirement or looking to make their savings last longer, Louise Piazza from Ameriprise Financial Services was at the Expo to give out information regarding financial health.

"We help people reach their financial goals and make their money last them for their lifetime," she said. "We sell long-term care insurance and help make decisions for accumulating and securing wealth. It's important for us to meet people and when you have a big flow of people like this, you get the chance to talk to a lot more people than sitting in the office," Piazza said.

Wade and Orea Homesley of Mount Vernon took the morning to stroll around the mall, pausing to hear the Harmony Heritage Singers before gathering more information.

"We're members of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees so we heard about the Expo from them," said Wade Homesley. "We've picked up a lot of new information so far and I've had my blood pressure checked."

"It's very helpful to have all these groups together in one place," said Orea Homesley. "Some places are so busy you can't step up to the booth easily, so I wish they were a little more spread out," she said.

The Homesleys planned to stop by the DaVinci Room, where "Goodnight, We Love You," a movie about Phyllis Diller's retirement from comedy, was playing throughout the day.

"It's important to keep up on senior issues," said Wade Homesley. "We're concerned about health issues and want to keep informed."

ONE OF the more popular and busy booths was the one operated by the Social Security Administration, where Marion Knight and Mollie Abraham were trying to obtain answers to questions they had regarding their Medicare coverage.

"I want answers to some questions about Medicare's prescription coverage," Knight said. "People need to pay up front to enroll but you don't know what's covered and what isn't."

"If I'm paying $37 per month and a $250 deductible, will they give me the same prescription coverage I have now?" asked Abraham. "I haven't been able to get that answered."

The two were happy to see so much information available, but Abraham said she was concerned to see so many lined up to have their blood pressure checked. "There's a lot of people not getting the care they need," she said.

"We are getting a lot of questions on retirement, benefits and how much Social Security will be around for them, their children and their grandchildren," said Greg Harrison, a representative of the Social Security Administration.

Most of the questions were regarding the upcoming changes, he said. "We'd like to get the information out to the public as much as possible, about Medicare offering prescription coverage as of January," he said. "We have a team relationship with Medicare. More information will be provided to people about prescription drug coverage sometime this fall which will give people enough time to make decisions before the change takes place," he said.

The Senior Living Expo was presented by the Senior Beacon, a monthly newspaper in the Washington, D.C. area.

"We have 35 organizations here today," said Gordon Hasen, director of operations for the Beacon. "It started out after some readers were asking us about doing seminars on various topics and, eventually, we decided to expand it into this."

The Senior Beacon hopes to be "viewed as a resource guide for seniors," said Betsy Whitaker, director of sales for the publication. "We get a lot of compliments on how many people appreciate what we have to offer. It's a nice time out and a way to get in touch with vendors and products and services targeted to seniors," she said.