The Hacking of the American Mind—Report #1

The Introduction

My Beginning Comments: I became familiar with Dr. Robert Lustig from his Youtube video titled, Sugar, The Bitter Truth. In the video, Lustig discussed the myriad of health problems that have resulted from the introduction in the 1970s of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in Western diets. Among these ill-effects are an explosion of type two diabetes and obesity. An acquaintance referred me to his newest book, The Hacking of the American Mind. For future reference I’ll shorten the title to Hacking.

I looked at Lustig’s Youtube video titled The Hacking of the American Mind with Dr. Robert Lustig and decided that Hacking has merit for anyone wanting to better understand how we got to where we are as far as the American diet goes. Lustig poses an interesting question, “Have our minds been hacked by corporate and governmental interests?” He suggests that they have.

Lustig deals with philosophical, political, economic, and theological elements as he discusses one of the central themes of his book. This is the conflating, or mixing up of the concepts of pleasure and happiness.

In college I was never thrilled when I had to deal with abstract subjects; it just wasn’t my cup of tea. So, here I go; I’m dealing with more abstract topics. I feel like I’m struggling with my college classes all over again.

I’m totally sympathetic with those of you who aren’t too thrilled about having to deal with abstract topics and concepts. With that in mind, I promise that I will do my best to explain Lustig’s concepts in a simple and understandable way.

Lustig uses an English word that was new to me, and that is conflate or conflating. Merriam-Webster defines “conflate” as to bring together, fuse. A second definition is to confuse. Google defines conflate as follows: combine (two or more texts, ideas, etc.) into one. Specifically, Lustig demonstrates how corporations have conflated the concepts of pleasure and happiness for their profitable gain.

If you would like to delve into more detail than I can realistically present in these reviews and digests, I encourage you to acquire your own copy of The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains.


Lustig’s Introduction

Lustig begins by explaining that childhood is a time when the balloon of happiness soars high above the mundane. He says that he became a pediatrician in part, to relive and help channel the wonder and delight involved in growth.

He sadly explains that four decades later something has happened as he now sees children taking adult prescriptions such as metformin for type 2 diabetes and benazepril for hypertension. Lustig says that the balloon of happiness has been deflated and now children have the pleasures of Capri Sun, Netflix, and Snapchat.

Lustig poses these questions: What if those pleasures, ostensibly developed and marketed in the name of increasing your happiness, actually did the opposite? What if they actually made you unhappy? What if they changed your brain so that happiness was sapped from you? What if today’s kids are actually canaries in the coal mine?

He spends some time discussing the ancient philosophical differences between pleasure and happiness. As Lustig reflects back over a four-decade time span, he makes this telling comment:

These past forty years have witnessed the twin epidemic of the negative extremes of both of these emotions: addiction (from too much pleasure) and depression (from not enough happiness).

He asks more rhetorical questions:

Did this uptick in addiction and depression occur naturally? Separately? In a vacuum? Or under what form of outside pressure? What if all of Western society has been hacked, to profit a few at the expense of the many? And what if you didn’t even know you’d been hacked?

Lustig then proceeds to define what he means by “hack.” Initially “hack” meant a prank. Then Silicon Valley types stole the word to denote clever solutions to difficult problems. That was “white hat” hacking. “Black hat” hacking is breaking into computers and infecting them with viruses and stealing data.

Lustig emphatically points out that he is not a conspiracy theorist by saying I’m not going to stick my neck so far out as to say that there has been a conspiracy between different industries and the government to purposely inflict malice on the public. However, he states that there has been a plot by some industries to obfuscate the link between their products and disease, and to willfully confuse the concepts of pleasure and happiness with the sole motive being profit.

My comments: All one has to do is to look at the food and beverage industry’s peddling high profit snacks and beverages that promote type 2 diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.

Continuing: Lustig refers to “sugar” as the other white powder [the first being cocaine]. He references his earlier book, Fat Chance where he posed these two rhetorical questions. Why are we all so fat and sick? And in just thirty years? He points out that there is a wealth of information on the role of nutrition on outcomes related to behavioral health. He says that this information is virtually unknown to most doctors and patients. He continues by saying that industries and governments have pushed their reward-generating substances onto their unsuspecting populations which has caused further unhappiness. Lustig concludes this section by stating that some of the basic tenets [beliefs] of modern medicine are rubbish.

Lustig next defines pleasure and happiness and how they are different.

Pleasure: Enjoyment or satisfaction derived from what is to one’s liking; gratification. While pleasure has a multitude of synonyms, it has a specific, well understood “reward pathway” in our brain.

Happiness: The quality of being happy or contentment. I’ll skip over the philosophy of Aristotle that he cites to further explain happiness. Contentment says that I’m satisfied; it’s not necessary to seek more.

My comments: To help myself better understand the difference between the emotions of pleasure and happiness, I have recounted these memories. I knew a young woman who was somewhat overweight. One evening she binged on chocolates and had immense pleasure as she was scarfing them down. The next day she was bummed and depressed about what she had done. What gave her fleeting pleasures devolved into unhappiness and depression. I, too, well understand this as sadly, in my previous life of being a sugar addict, I have experienced the same emotions.

Fast forward to today. When offered addictive sweets and treats, I do everything possible to politely pass on the offerings. I willfully forgo indulging in the goodies as I derive much more happiness that I have mastery over a temporary pleasure. I cannot agree enough with Lustig when he states that too much pleasure leads to addiction, and not enough happiness leads to depression. It’s so true!

Continuing: Lustig states that scientists know that pleasure (reward) is the emotional state where your brain says, this feels good—I want more. Contentment says I’m okay, I don’t need any more.

My Comments: Here is what is swirling in my mind as I sit here and press keys on my keyboard. If I’m contented with my station in life, my house, my car, my clothes, and my wholesome food diet, I don’t feel the need to be out there spending money to buy stuff to make me happy.

Continuing: Lustig uses pages 9-10 to further discuss the connection between reward and pleasure. He points out that pleasure and happiness are not mutually exclusive [meaning they can both exist at the same time]. The example he cites is having dinner at a fine restaurant where it’s a shared experience with family and friends.  You can simultaneously have the pleasure of eating fine food and happiness derived from your social gathering.

He continues with this revealing comment about reward:

Reward when unchecked can lead us into misery, like addiction. Too much substance use (food, drugs, nicotine, alcohol) or compulsive behavior (gambling, shopping, surfing the internet, sex) will overload the reward pathway, and lead not to just depression, destitution and disease, but not uncommonly death as well.

He points out that pleasure is usually driven by taking something such as taking a drug (legal or illegal), taking in sugary foods, and going to casinos to get the thrill of rolling the dice and winning the big one.

Happiness or contentment is derived from giving. This can include spending time with your grandchild or giving to a charity.

Lustig’s final point about reward is this:

Reward is driven by dopamine and contentment by serotonin. Each is a neurotransmitter—a biochemical manufactured in the brain that derives feelings and emotions—but the two couldn’t be more different. Although dopamine and serotonin drive separate brain processes, it is where they overlap and how they influence each other that generates the action in this story.

This concludes his discussion of reward. He continues with a caution saying that the science about dopamine and serotonin is largely based on animal studies. He says that human studies are correlational at best. Correlational means that two things are related, but that doesn’t mean that one thing proves another. He offers more details on page 12 concerning some of the problems with human studies.

Lustig concludes his introduction by briefly outlining what he will cover in each part of his book.

Part 1: He discusses the differences between reward and contentment.

Part 2: He will elaborate on the biology of reward and science of dopamine.

Part 3: He discusses the biology of contentment and the science of serotonin. Anyone taking an anti-depressant may find this chapter to be very informative.

Part 4: Lustig will show how the perpetration of this “plot” [the conflating of pleasure and happiness for profit] has brought us to this place from a personal, cultural, and economic standpoint. He makes this sobering statement:

In the last half century, America and most of the Western world have become more and more unhappy, sicker, and broke as well.

Part 5: He will offer solutions as to how you can defend yourself against the “peddlers of pleasure.”

To be Continued

Gary Taubes ‘The Case Against Sugar’, a YouTube video Part 3

transcribed by Liz Reedy

To view Gary Taubes’ 1 hour and 22-minute YouTube video, please click here.

Please click here for our Part 1 transcription.

Please click here for our Part 2 transcription.

Part 3 continues beginning at 28:03

Think about it this way. If I was giving a talk on wealth, I might get a pretty good audience. And afterward in the Q&A, someone would ask me, “Why are Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos so rich?” And I would say, “Because they make more money than they spend.” You guys would leave, right?

If I was giving a talk on climate change, that would probably get a pretty full house. And at the end somebody would ask, “Well Gary, why is the atmosphere heating up?” And I would reply, “Because it’s taking in more energy than it expends.” And if I looked at you like it was a serious answer you would think I was joking.

But in obesity research, if somebody asks why some people get fat and others don’t, the answer is that they take in more calories than they expend. And it’s almost incomprehensively naïve. It has become conventional wisdom. You show me a paper on obesity, and I’ll show you where that belief system is interwoven into that research or that paper.

My geneticist friend at Cambridge University, the BBC host, is not studying the genetics of why people get fat; he’s studying the genetics of why he thinks people eat too much or exercise too little. Part of this goal is to get people to get rid of that energy/balance idea. And the stakes are enormous. I am trying to do a fundamental thing with this book.

Claude Benard, the great French physiologist, said in 1865, “Science is about explaining what we observe.” Fundamentally that’s what you’re always doing in science, whether what you observe is a supernova or a gamma ray burst or something else in the night sky. It could be how a frog behaves or how swallows mate or anything you can name.

Why we get heart disease, why we have obesity, it’s about explaining what we observe. The observation today that is so frightening is these obesity and diabetic epidemics are worldwide. It happens in every population in the world in which they transition to a Western diet from whatever they were eating baseline.

It doesn’t matter if they were Inuits living on caribou and seal meat, or Maasain Africans living on the meat and milk and urine from the cattle they herd, or the agrarian population in the Himalayas, or Native Americans or any population that started eating western diets. They experience these tremendous increases in obesity and diabetes.

In October, the director general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, gave a key note address to the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. She said that these epidemics of obesity and diabetes represent a slow-motion disaster world-wide.

They are overwhelming health-care systems. The estimated cost of obesity and diabetes in direct health-care costs in the U.S. is a billion dollars a day. If you look at indirect societal costs and you believe these estimates, it’s a trillion dollars a year.

Margaret Chan said the chances of the public health organizations like the W.H.O. to reign in these epidemics in order to prevent a “bad situation” from getting much worse is effectively zero. Think about that. The director general of the World Health Organization is talking about these slow-motion disaster epidemics, and not only acknowledging that organizations like hers have completely failed to curb them, but predicting complete failure in the future.

One of the things I would do if I were a journalist or in newspapers, I would imagine if this was HIV. In 1985 we understood that the HIV virus causes AIDS. But imagine after coming to that conclusion, thirty years later, AIDS prevalence and AIDS incidents had continued to go up and mortality from this disease had continued to go up.

We would have a task force, committees, think tanks and a team of researchers. We would be spending billions, if not trillions of dollars, trying to understand what we don’t understand about this disease. But in obesity and diabetes we’ve had this same phenomenon.

In the 1890s, on the Eastern coast the estimate was that one out of every three thousand patients in the hospital suffered from diabetes. Today, if you go to a VA hospital, one out of four patients suffers from diabetes. One out of every eleven Americans in or out of hospitals has diabetes today. There’s been this tremendous explosion, and we have to understand what’s causing it.

You cannot stop an epidemic unless you understand the cause. You have to know what to remove, what to get out of the population, whether it’s the HIV virus, or you recommend safe sex and contraceptives and you design drugs that go after the virus. If it’s a lung cancer epidemic you have to know that smoking is causing it, right? So you can tell people to stop smoking.

In this country with obesity and diabetes we have the director general of the W.H.O basically shrugging her shoulders and saying, “Yes, we’ve seen 900% increases of diabetes in the United States in 50 years. And it’s going to go up. But we don’t know what to do about it.” Well, how about you examine your assumptions.

What I’m trying to do in this book is ask the question, “Are we wrong about what the cause is?” If this was a legal case and we have a similar crime being committed in a very similar way in every country in the world, who is the prime suspect? Who should we be targeting? Why should we be targeting? And the answer is sugar.

So, with that long introduction I’m going to do a little bit of reading, and I’m going to hope for the best. I have to borrow a book. The first chapter of this book discusses obesity and diabetes epidemics and why I’m focusing on sugar and why I think it’s the prime suspect. As I say in this book, if this were a legal case this book would be the prosecution’s strategy.

I had trouble writing it. I don’t like writing. One of the reasons I’m such a good reporter, if I am a good reporter, is because reporting is a way to procrastinate on writing. As long as you keep doing the research you don’t have to write…until you run out of money as I said earlier, and then you have to write.

I finally wrote the first chapter, and then I wrote the second chapter, Drug or Food, which I’m going to read from. And I finally had the sense of profound relief that this is a good chapter, that I’m on my way, that I’m going to be able to get this book done. So, I have four thousand words written discussing whether sugar is a drug or a food, and is it addictive?

Then I read a book called 1493, [1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created] written by a friend of mine, Charles Mann. It’s about the history of what’s called the Columbus exchange, which is about the spread of foods and plants around the world after Columbus discovered America. Charles (Cam) is such a beautiful writer that I can’t even read his writing, as it depresses me so much.

But I realized he had a chapter on the history of sugar and knew I should read it. He’s a great reporter and a great writer. I read it and in this chapter, he has a single line made up of seventeen words. He says, “Scientists today debate amongst themselves whether sugar is an addictive substance, and people just act like it is.”

And I think, “Great. I’ve just written four thousand words about this, and here Cam wrapped it up in seventeen.” I could throw away my first chapter and then I’m back to the state of frozen writer’s block that I was in, or I could keep the first chapter and quote Cam, which is what I decided to do. So, you can find Cam’s quote in here.

It begins with two other quotes, two epigraphs. The first is from Roald Dahl, from his memoir, Boy: Tales of Childhood, which was written in 1984. Dahl said, “The sweet shop in Llandaff [UK] from 1923 was the very center of our lives. Thus, it was what a bar is to a drunk or a church is to a bishop. Without it, there would have been little to live for. Sweets were our life-blood.”

The second quote is from Michael Pollan’s, Botany of Desire in 2001, one of the great books Michael wrote before Omnivore Dilemma. He said, “Imagine a moment when the sensation of honey or sugar on the tongue was an astonishment, a kind of intoxication. The closest I’ve ever come to recovering such a sense of sweetness was secondhand, though it left a powerful impression on me even so. I’m thinking of my son’s first experience of sugar, the icing on the cake at his first birthday.”

“I have only the testimony of Isaac’s face to go by, that and his fierceness to repeat the experience. It was plain that his first encounter with sugar had intoxicated him. It was, in fact, an ecstasy in the literal sense of that word. That is, he was beside himself with the pleasure of it. No longer here with me in space and time in quite the same way he had been just a moment before. Between bites, Isaac gazed up at me in amazement (he was on my lap as I delivered the ambrosial forkfuls to his gaping mouth), as if to exclaim ‘Your world contains this? From this day forward, I shall dedicate my life to it.’”

By the way, you should argue the wisdom of starting a book with quotes from two authors who can write better than you can. Your readers are likely to put your book down and say, “I’m going to go get Botany of Desire.”

What if Roald Dahl and Michael Pollan are right that the taste of sugar on the tongue can be a kind of intoxication? Doesn’t it suggest that the possibility that sugar itself is an intoxicant, a drug? Imagine a drug that can do this to us, that can infuse us with energy and can do so when taken by mouth. It doesn’t have to be injected, smoked or snorted for us to experience its sublime and soothing effect.  END at 39:08

Medicare Updates and News

by Ron Iverson, President of the National Association of Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage Producers. Inc. and Lance D. Reedy

New Medicare Numbers

Background from Lance: I’m sure that everyone is aware that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has used your Social Security numbers for your Medicare numbers [Health Insurance Claim Number or HICN] since the beginning of Medicare. For most people that have worked at least ten years and paid into the SS system, their Medicare number is their SS# followed by the letter “A”.

In some cases, for those that have not paid into the SS system for ten years, their Medicare number is typically their husband’s SS# following by the letter “B”. The letter “T” has been used for those on Medicare but not yet drawing SS. There are various “D” codes for typically a widow who is drawing off her deceased husband’s SS. The Railroad Retirement Board uses letter(s) in front of one’s SS#.

The problem, of course, is that we are sadly in the age of identity and medical theft. If your wallet or pocketbook containing your Medicare card is lost or stolen, now your or your spouse’s SS# is floating around ready to be co-opted by an identity thief.

People have griped at the SSA for years about this problem, but the wheels of government bureaucracies turn slowly. Finally, Congress passed the “Doc Fix” legislation in 2015. One of its amendments was to direct the SSA to begin issuing new, non-Social Security, Medicare numbers beginning in 2018.

From Ron Iverson: CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] recently released a bulletin answering questions about the rollout of the new non-Social Security Medicare numbers. The first wave [of new Medicare numbers] from April to June will be sent to Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

I have provided the following links to CMS’ website to answer questions you may have about this new rollout.

Number 1: Medicare Card Messaging Guidelines

This link answers general questions and provides instructions about the new Medicare card that you will be receiving in the coming year.

Number 2: New Medicare Cards and Why They are Important

This link provides more details about the new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI). Yes, you have a new acronym to keep straight. The new MBI replaces the SS# based Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN) that is on your existing Medicare cards.

Number 3: New Medicare Card Mailing Strategy

Oregon will be in Wave #2. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Washington will be in Wave #6


Speech, Physical, and Occupational Therapy Limits

from Ron Iverson

One of our members, Paula Smith, sent me an article from AARP dated January 24th, which indicates some rather unsettling news regarding the Part B benefit of speech, physical, and occupational therapies. We all have been aware that there are limitations on those benefits, but you may not have known that, according to the article, “Congress has previously passed an automatic exception that allows Medicare to pay for care beyond the caps when the treatments are deemed medically necessary.”

Paula was rightfully concerned because her accountant had forwarded the article to her, and she contacted her Congressman who knew nothing about it.  She also was told that people should be contacting their legislators to keep this benefit going.  So, what is the change in the benefit?

Well, the change is pretty serious, because the automatic exception expired December 31st. According to the article, “which then means that the caps of $2,010 for physical and speech language therapy and the $2,010 cap for occupational therapy are being enforced.  When the exceptions were in place, Medicare beneficiaries paid only the 20 percent coinsurance* that Part B requires.”  (The $2,010 figures are for 2018.)  *Some or all of this amount would be picked up by your Medicare supplement plan.

“Without the exceptions, Medicare beneficiaries must pay the entire therapy bill once they exceed the threshold.“ According to AARP, some beneficiaries with high-cost conditions could reach the annual cap in the coming weeks.  According to a recent analysis commissioned by the American Occupational Therapy Association, nearly 6 million Medicare beneficiaries accessed outpatient therapy services in 2015.  Of those, nearly 1 million cases required care that exceeded the combined cap on physical and speech therapy, while nearly 250,000 surpassed the occupational therapy threshold.”

Comments from Ron Iverson:  This is a serious matter, and one which very few Medicare Part B enrollees would know about until they go to their therapist and get the bad news.  I know of people who suffer a stroke, and the $2,010 limit does not begin to cover what can become a six-month, or longer, need for speech rehab, let alone physical therapy.  This situation is going to impact the providers, who now cannot use the exceptions, and risk placing themselves in a bad standing with CMS.  Good ol’ RACs [Recovery Audit Contractors] come into play here.  We, and Congress, have known for years that something must be done in relation to these limits on therapy.

Since Paula’s Congressman didn’t know about this problem, it’s likely that there are many others in the same situation. It’s time for CMS to take action and forward solutions to Congress for some type of revival of the “automatic exception” rule. I understand the fact that CMS is trying to save money and lower costs to the program, but this is not a way to do it.

Comments from Lance: For an even better understanding of this situation, please read this article on the American Physical Therapies Association’s website. Here is a key paragraph.

Wasn’t Congress ready to permanently end the hard cap? What happened?

It’s true: over the fall, a bipartisan, bicameral deal was reached that would have permanently eliminated the hard cap on therapy services. That deal was part of a larger piece of legislation that included other changes to Medicare, such as payments for ground ambulances and reauthorization of special needs plans. This package of so-called “Medicare extenders” was supposed to be adopted in early December. Unfortunately, the debate over the tax reform legislation dominated Congress in the final weeks of session, pushing nearly all other issues to 2018.

Let’s hope the Congress can fix this problem sooner than later.  End

Always Call Your Agent First

By Lance D. Reedy

For several years I have pounded the table with this central message: If you have any questions, thoughts, ideas, or concerns about anything connected with your Medicare plans, please call your agent first. Doing so can save you much grief and acid indigestion.

Before I get into the details about this topic, I want to describe an incident that happened with one of my daughters. For this discussion, I’ll give her the fictitious name of Susan. In March of 2016 Sue was hit as a pedestrian in a crosswalk while walking to class at the University of Idaho in Moscow. She ended up with a cracked vertebra and a broken scapula. She was initially transported by ambulance to Gritman Medical Center in Moscow and then to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston.

Fortunately, the woman driving the Ram pickup that hit Sue had liability insurance in force. I told my wife and daughter that it was imperative that we quickly secure the services of a top-notch personal injury (PI) attorney. Through a referral, we met with Ted Harris (also fictitious), Attorney at Law in Moscow.

I might add here, that if you ever need the services of a PI attorney, make sure that he is a TRIAL lawyer. Insurance companies know that they can’t play foolery games with an experienced trial attorney. I’ll also comment that even though our PI attorney charged the typical 33 1/3% of the settlement, he was worth every penny!

All the phone calls, hassling with the insurance company, and dealing with bill collectors was lifted from us.  Not only was Mr. Harris worth his fees, he was able to put in a claim for under-insured motorists with our own insurance company as the offending party was under-insured. Sue ended up with a better settlement than she could possibly have imagined if we had done this on our own.

Additionally, Mr. Harris negotiated with the hospitals to re-price some of the billings. We were being billed the full-blown rate, and he used his influence to have those bills repriced to what the providers would have billed a health insurance company. That left a larger nest egg for Sue’s future physical therapy costs and who knows what else that might happen as a result of her accident.

About a year and nine months after the accident, attorney Harris had everything wrapped up and finalized, or so we thought. In December 2017 Sue received a letter from a local collection agency demanding payment of $850 for some past due medical bills. Her attorney said everything was wrapped up and finalized, and all bills had been paid out of the settlement. What happened?

I told my daughter that we’re not going to lose one second of sleep about this newest problem. I emailed Mr. Harris and attached a scanned copy of the collection letter. The $850 was for $675 of past due hospital bills and $175 in interest. I made NO phone calls to the hospital or collection agency. I just dropped the matter in Harris’ lap and said, “Please fix it.”

A week later he emailed me back that we could disregard the collection letter. When the hospital submitted their final bill to our attorney, they were legally, in fact, saying “Case closed, we have been paid in full.” Evidently, they had missed some bills for the final tally, or so they claimed, and since the bills were more than a year out, they turned it over to a local collection agency.

I will interject here that during my 18 years of being in the Medicare business, I have dealt with several billing mistakes. When there is some sort of a billing or claims issue, the chances are 90% or better that the billing office has made a mistake.

In Sue’s case, the hospital declared to our attorney that all bills were settled. It was legal finality; they agreed that that was it. Whether or not the billing office overlooked some charges is a moot point. They made a mistake by trying to charge Sue more after they had agreed that all charges had been settled.

In the end they agreed to “write off” the $650 and instructed the collection agency to drop that demand. Mr. Harris asked us if this was agreeable to us. “YES, of course!” I emailed back to him.

We called our attorney

We hired a pro attorney, and by doing so, that lifted the legal burden from us. After all, my wife was almost full-time for four weeks caring for our daughter. We turned it all over to attorney Ted, and he guided us through the entire process. The last thing we wanted to do was to hassle with an insurance company, and we didn’t! Oh yes, there were email consultations during the process, but we were relieved from the legal hassles. The entire saga went remarkably well.

Joe Called His Agent First

To protect the individuals’ privacy in the following events, I have changed their names and city of residence. Those are fictitious, but the events are real. Joe Jensen lives in Pinetree, Montana. In the summer of 2014 he was in a serious auto accident, and very well could have died from his perilous injuries. But in his 80s, Joe is one tough ol’ dude. He is like The Cat Came Back, he Just Wouldn’t Go Away. Remember the old camp song?

Joe was on a Medicare advantage (MA) plan when this near fatal accident happened, and he stayed on Medicare advantage through the end of 2017. When his plan provider terminated his plan effective December 31, 2017, Joe elected to return to original Medicare and go with a Medicare supplement plan instead of signing up for another MA plan.

Please keep in mind that during Joe’s recovery, Medicare was never billed as he was on a Medicare advantage plan. In mid-January 2018 Joe went to his medical supply store in Pinetree to pick up some home-health medical supplies. When Joe presented his Medicare card and Medicare supplement card, he received some unsettling news.

The proprietor told Joe that Always Safe (fictitious) was his primary insurer and that Medicare was his secondary insurer. Highly puzzled, Joe called me FIRST.

Here’s what happened. Joe’s auto-insurance company, Always Safe, became the primary insurer for some of Joe’s accident claims. Joe’s MA plan was the secondary in some cases. MEDICARE WAS NEVER BILLED because he was on an MA plan. For the remainder of 2014 all the way to the end of 2017, Joe was on Medicare advantage. After his recovery from his injuries, his Medicare advantage plan was his PRIMARY insurer, and the thing with Always Safe was in the past and long forgotten.

Even though there was a lingering old record of Always Safe paying some bills from Joe’s accident, it was a non-issue. It never came up. However, starting January 1, 2018, Joe was now on original Medicare, and his Part B providers would now be billing original Medicare and his Medicare supplement plan as his secondary.

Once the proprietor at Pinetree (Mac) checked his Medicare data base on his computer to verify Joe’s Medicare status, this thing with Always Safe popped up now that Joe was on original Medicare for the first time in four years. Also, Mac likely misinterpreted what he was reading on his screen, which added more confusion to the issue. He said to Joe, “Always Safe is your primary and Medicare is your secondary insurer.”

In a state of bewilderment, Joe did the right thing and called me. I told him that we needed to initiate a three-way phone conversation with Medicare. With the privacy rules and regulations, I cannot take care of this on my own. Joe must be on the phone to give his permission to the Medicare representative for me to speak on his behalf.

The Medicare rep, Chris, after hearing the story, directed us to contact the Benefits Coordination Recovery Center (BCRC) at 855-798-2627. We thanked Chris, called BCRC the next day, and quickly and successfully resolved the problem.

If Joe had been on his own, he likely would have started making phone calls with his Medicare supplement plan. That would have been useless. In this case, since he contacted me first, I was able to work with him on a step by step process to correct the problem.

She Called Me Last

I have run into similar situations where people have spent stress-filled hours on the phone trying to resolve a similar situation. In one case, Joan went to her pharmacist for a recommendation for a Part D prescription plan (PDP) for her husband, Scott.

In January 2018 Scott went to his pharmacist to fill his prescriptions, but the pharmacist told him that the charge to his PDP provider wasn’t going through. The result was that Scott had to pay full price. Joan went to work on behalf of her husband in an attempt to resolve the problem. She spent hours on the phone with both Scott’s pharmacist and his PDP plan provider in an attempt to fix the problem. Getting nowhere, she called me.

I explained to her that this was a Medicare issue and that sometime in the past Scott must have had prescription coverage through a former employer. I explained to her that she needed to call Medicare to fix this problem. Joan called me back a day later to explain that she was successful. Unfortunately, before calling me, she spent many frustrating hours on the phone getting nowhere.


Some people have voiced to me that they didn’t want to “bother” us with what seemed to be a trivial issue. The insurance companies compensate us agents for your business. As part of that picture, you are entitled to customer service from your agent.

Our daughter Sue needed help after she was hit by a truck. Sue hired a professional attorney to handle her legal needs and to reach a fair settlement. She didn’t have to deal with legal complexities or hassling with an insurance company!

Joe called me first when he ran into a problem, and as a result, he didn’t have to stumble around trying to fix it on his own. The burden was lifted from him.

Once Joan finally called us, we were able to quickly direct her to the solution for her husband’s problem. End