From the Philadelphia Gay News

December 17, 2015

By Megan Staley

Visiting the doctor can seem like a hassle. It can be nerve-wracking, or it can just be downright unpleasant. It is not unheard of for many people to report confusion after an appointment. It is therefore important for people of any age to arm themselves with the skills and knowledge to become their own best advocate.

We want to trust our doctors (and for the most part, we can and do), but it is easy to become a number and to get lost in the shuffle. Being your own health-care advocate is often easier said than done. However, the following list of eight best practices can help make sure you get the care you need and deserve.

1. Read your annual notice of change from Medicare/Medicaid

Every September, the Center for Medicare Services (CMS) mails to your home an annual notice of change covering everything you need to know regarding changes in benefits, cost, coverage and/or eligibility for Medicare. It is important that you or someone you trust reads through this in order to understand what you are and what you are not eligible for, and at what cost. In Pennsylvania, the APPRISE Helpline (1-800-783-7067) can help you find answers to any questions about your Medicare coverage.

2. Know your benefits

If you’ve read your annual notice of change, you’re aware of the benefits afforded you through Medicare. However, you may have a supplemental insurance through a private company or as part of a pension. Understanding what care is covered by each insurance will allow you to ask for specific treatments and to lessen some delays in paperwork.

3. Know your rights 

People 65 and older are considered vulnerable populations under the Older Americans Act. Therefore, there are extra protections and policies in place to uphold the rights of older Americans to be free from abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, to make informed decisions, to stay in one’s own home for as long as safely possible and to have access to preventative health care.

4. Ask questions

There is nothing rude about asking your health-care professional questions regarding your medications and treatments. Why are you receiving it? What are the potential complications and side effects? Are there foods or activities you should avoid or get more of? Do not be afraid to ask.

5. Take notes or bring a friend to your appointments

A lot of information can get thrown at you during appointments. It may often seem to be in a language you don’t understand. Further, you may not be feeling well enough to even pay attention to what your doctor is saying. Therefore, it is helpful to take notes regarding your ailments, treatment and other important information, or bring a trusted friend along to do it for you. Having a friend with you at your appointments not only gives you an extra set of ears to catch information, but it’s also an extra mouth to ask questions.

6. Carry a list of all your current medications, including over-the-counter drugs and home remedies

Your health-care provider will not only want to know this information for diagnostic purposes, but also if you are to be prescribed any new medications. Having this information for your provider will prevent any adverse drug interactions. Be sure to include the dosage and frequency with which you take each medication.

7. Plan ahead and know your prices

Prescription drugs can be very expensive, especially if you choose the name brand. Generic drugs often have the same effect at a fraction of the cost. The same applies to many assistive devices and tools. If the need should arise for long-term residential care in a nursing home, take the time to plan ahead and shop around. The annual median cost for a private room in a Pennsylvania nursing home is around $107,000. Check out Pennsylvania Health Care Association (PHCA.org) for more information.

8. Be upfront about your LGBTQ status

Members of LGBTQ communities have a greater risk for many diseases and disorders and often have a family history that affects their well-being. Being upfront about your identity will give your provider a better understanding of how to diagnose and treat you. Also, this is a great way to find a provider you can trust and be open with. If someone is uncomfortable with your status or refuses to treat you because of it, they’re not the right health-care provider for you.

Megan Staley is a volunteer with the LGBT Elder Initiative. She is currently earning a master’s degree in management of aging services through the University of Massachusetts at Boston. To comment on this article, contact the LGBT Elder Initiative at info@lgbtei.org.