June 26, 2014

Portraits of Pride: Lolita

To celebrate Pride month, we're sharing “Portraits of Pride” featuring SAGE participants each week throughout June. This week we're introducing Lolita, the alter ego of Al, a SAGE Participant. With her silver sequins and megawatt smile, Lolita sparkled in more ways than one during our photo shoot!

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Al came to SAGE about two years ago, and given his flair for performance it's no surprise that his favorite activity is acting class! He enjoys other activities as well, though, like helping the theater desk obtain complimentary tickets to shows in New York City.

We were so happy to be graced with Lolita's exuberant presence for our photo shoot--she definitely looks ready for a party in this portrait! 

-- Posted by Kira Garcia 

 

June 23, 2014

Medicare & the Windsor Decision: Where Do We Stand?

Last year's Windsor decision has triggered a series of ongoing changes that impact many of us on a day-to-day basis. For LGBT older adults, Medicare is one of the most critical Federal programs undergoing change. So where do Medicare recipients currently stand? Our Q&A with Casey Schwarz of the Medicare Rights Center answers some important questions. 

I live in a same-sex marriage state like Massachusetts, Iowa, New Mexico or one of the other 18 states and the District of Columbia (as of May 19, 2014) that allow for same-sex marriage. What new or increased Medicare benefits am I eligible for as a spouse in a same-sex married couple? 

If you have to pay a premium for Medicare Part A (the part of Medicare that covers inpatient care) because you do not have enough Social Security working quarters, you may qualify for free Part A based on your spouse’s Social Security work record.

If you have been covered by insurance from your spouse’s current work since you became eligible for Medicare, you may be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period to enroll into Part B of Medicare (the part of Medicare that covers outpatient care and lab tests) when your spouse’s work-provided insurance ends and you need to enroll in Part B. In other words, you may be able keep your current coverage and delay enrolling in Part B of Medicare without a penalty.

If you are covered by insurance from your spouse’s work, and the employer has more than 20 employees, that insurance should pay first, before Medicare. If your spouse’s employer has fewer than 20 employees, then that insurance will usually pay second, after Medicare, and you should find out how to enroll in Medicare.  

You may be eligible for the Extra Help program, the federal program that helps people with Medicare pay for some prescription drug costs. The income and asset limits for the Extra Help program are higher for married couples.

Are there possible downsides to getting married with respect to Medicare benefits?

If you are eligible for Extra Help, your spouse’s income will count in evaluating whether or not you continue to qualify for that benefit.

If your spouse’s income is high, and you file taxes jointly, you may be required to pay a higher premium for Medicare Part B and Part D, called the Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA)

I live in a state that only provides civil unions (CUs) or registered domestic partnerships (RDPs), like Colorado, Nevada, or Wisconsin. Am I or my same-sex partner eligible for new or increased Medicare benefits by being a part of a CU or RDP? 

If your state’s civil union or registered domestic partnership rules give you the right to inherit property in the same way a spouse would, you may be eligible for premium-free Part A under your partner’s social security work history.  The rules are complicated and vary for each state depending on when you entered into the CU/RDP, so if you think you might be eligible for this benefit, you should apply.

If you have insurance as a result of your partner’s current work, and that employer chooses, that insurance will pay before Medicare.  Be sure to check with the employer to ensure that they intend to pay as primary.

Coverage as a result of your partner’s work does not, however, give you access to a Special Enrollment Period to delay enrolling in Part B. If you delay enrolling in Part B, then you may have a late enrollment penalty.

I live in a non-marriage, non-CU or RDP state like Mississippi, but I got married to my same-sex spouse in one of the other 18 states and the District of Columbia (as of May 19, 2014) that allow for same-sex marriage. Am I eligible for any of new/increased Medicare benefits you’ve outlined above for individuals living in marriage states?  Are there any differences because of where I live?

You are eligible for all of the benefits outlined above for individuals in Marriage states except you cannot get premium-free Part A based on your spouse’s work history unless your state recognizes your right to inherit as a spouse based on your marriage, CU or RDP.  You may, however, be able to get a reduction in the amount of your Part A premium

I’m eligible for Medicare because I am over 65 but my same-sex spouse is still working and I’m eligible to stay on his/her health plan. Is there any reason I’d want to stay on his or her health plan?

If your spouse’s employer has more than 20 employees, that insurance will pay primary to, or before, Medicare while your spouse is working.  You will also have a Special Enrollment Period to enroll in Part B later, without a penalty, while you are still covered by that insurance and while your spouse is still working, and for 8 months after the coverage or employment ends.

Your premiums or cost sharing might be lower in your spouse’s health plan than they would be for Medicare Part B. If you delay enrolling in Part B you should be sure to enroll before your spouse stops working to ensure no gaps in coverage.

If your spouse’s employer has fewer than 20 employees, Medicare will be your primary insurance.  It is very important to enroll in Part B when you first become eligible to avoid gaps in coverage. Your spouse’s employer coverage may pay secondary to Medicare, covering the co-pays and coinsurances that would otherwise be out-of-pocket costs. When you first enroll in Part B you have certain rights to buy supplemental insurance (Medigap) that you may not have again – you should evaluate whether these policies are a better fit for your needs than the employer plan.

If so, how does Medicare coordinate my benefits with my spouse’s employer?  Is there anything in particular I should know or pay attention to with respect to the coordination of benefits?

Whether Medicare pays first or second depends on the size of the employer and why you are eligible for Medicare. Find out more about enrolling in Medicare on Medicare Interactive, or by contacting the Social Security Administration.

It is important to let the employer know that you are eligible for Medicare so that they can report your status to Medicare’s Coordination of Benefits office correctly.

It is important to let your doctors know that you have two forms of insurance, and which to bill first. 

How do I go about signing up for Medicare or changing my marital status?

To enroll in Medicare, whether or not you are ready to retire or to sign up for Social Security Retirement benefits, contact the Social Security Administration.  You can apply online, in person at a local office, or get more information over the phone.  

You can change your marital status by contacting 1-800-MEDICARE, and you can correct errors regarding other insurance you have by contacting 1-800-MEDICARE or the Coordination of Benefits office.

I’ve applied but my application is stuck or I’ve been told it’s on hold – what should I do?

Follow up with the Social Security Administration.  New rules putting the Windsor decision into effect are being released and applications put on hold should be processed.

If you are denied, consider appealing the denial.  If the law in your state changes while your application is pending or during your appeal, you may be entitled to benefits back to the date of your application.

Keep good records of your conversations with Social Security – either on the phone or in person – record the time, date, name of the person you spoke to, and what you were told. Reach out to your elected officials to let them know about the delays. And if you face delays, please contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 1-866-542-8336 or at http://www.lambdalegal.org/help

What if I encounter a problem?

If you have additional questions contact the Medicare Rights Center helpline at 800-333-4114. If you face denials or other problems, please contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 1-866-542-8336 or http://www.lambdalegal.org/help

Contact your elected representatives to let them know that you are having problems accessing benefits that you are entitled to.

-- Posted by Aaron Tax and Kira Garcia

June 20, 2014

Policy Update: FMLA Benefits Extended to Same Sex Spouses

Family illness can cause tremendous stress for caretakers, both physically and emotionally. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 addresses this issue directly by entitling eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

Millions of Americans have benefited from these provisions, but for many LGBT workers these benefits have historically been inaccessible as the government has not recognized their relationships. This challenge is exacerbated for older LGBT adults, who face striking health disparities: increased risk for certain cancers, a greater likelihood of delaying medical care, and higher rates of chronic mental and physical health conditions, including HIV/AIDS.

Given these historic challenges, today’s announcement by the U.S. Secretary of Labor marks a tremendous victory for LGBT older adults.

The announcement from Secretary Thomas E. Perez proposes a rule “extending the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act to all eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages regardless of where they live.”

This means that same sex spouses married in any state would have access to the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts—regardless of where they live. So a couple married in Massachusetts but living in a state which does not recognize their marriage would still be covered by the protections provided by the FMLA. 

According to today's statement from the Department of Labor:

Secretary Perez is proposing this rule in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, in which the court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act provision that interpreted “marriage” and “spouse” to be limited to opposite-sex marriage for the purposes of federal law.

The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between succeeding at work and being a loving family caregiver,” said Secretary Perez. “Under the proposed revisions, the FMLA will be applied to all families equally, enabling individuals in same-sex marriages to fully exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities to their families.

The extension of these benefits to same sex spouses will make a significant difference in the health and well-being of LGBT older adults across the United States—regardless of where they live.

To read the full text of the announcement, visit the Department of Labor’s web site online here

-- Posted by Kira Garcia

June 19, 2014

Portraits of Pride: Jimmy Harris

Pride month is underway! To celebrate, we're sharing “Portraits of Pride” featuring SAGE participants each week throughout June. This week we're introducing Jimmy Harris, an actor and SAGE participant who charms both on and off-stage. 

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Born in Richmond, Kentucky as the ninth of ten children, Jimmy remembers that his mother encouraged him to move away, saying "You're out of here! You're going to end up in a big city--you're going to learn how to eat frog legs and lobster!" 

True to his mother's prediction, Jimmy moved to New York City at age 20 in the late 1960's, drawn by a love affair with a well-to-do man. He remembers that he experienced a "shock of luxury--that I was willing to adjust to very quickly! It was a magnificent journey."

Eventually Jimmy graduated from Fordham University and moved into the professional world. After being fired from a job at insurance company for being gay, he built a successful career as a court reporter, then left it to pursue his dreams of show business. Despite being offered a partnership in the firm he worked for, Jimmy knew it was time for a change. "I had to take the road that would liberate my soul and not stifle my personality," he remembers. "I didn't want to be in a suit five days a week."

Jimmy's brave choice paid off; he's had a successful career as an actor, having performed in a few films and about 25 plays over the years. Though he's now retired, Jimmy says he's tempted to return to acting from time to time, so keep an eye out for him on Broadway! If you don't see him onstage you'll find him at The SAGE Center, where he meets friends for dinner two or three times a week.  

-- Posted by Kira Garcia 

June 17, 2014

Policy Update: An Executive Order to Protect LGBT Workers

Today, we learned that the President Obama will sign an Executive Order (EO) banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity by federal contractors.  We appreciate this bold move by the President to provide much-needed protections to the LGBT employees of federal contractors, who deserve to be judged, not based on who they are or whom they love, but on how they perform on the job.  Today’s announcement is of particular importance to LGBT older adults, who, despite facing unique challenges, including discrimination based on both their age and their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, continue to work in this challenging economy. Many of this generation are in fact compelled to stay in the workforce given the financial effects of facing a lifetime of discrimination both in and out of the workplace and the continued discrimination in government benefits.  While LGBT older adults are often perceived to be a wealthy population, nothing could be further from the truth.   Many LGBT older adults must continue to work – undoubtedly many as employees of federal contractors – to age successfully like their counterparts.  SAGEWorks, SAGE’s national, older adult, employment program, helps LGBT older adults navigate this often challenging time in their lives to obtain employment.  

This Executive Order also serves as a reminder that those who are not employees of federal contractors still remain at risk of being fired simply for who they are or whom they love.  There is still no national, non-discrimination protections to protect individuals based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the workplace.  We call on Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), to provide concrete protections, and to send a much-needed message, that all working individuals, including LGBT older adults, can and should be able to bring their entire selves to work, without the fear of discrimination.  

This EO has been a long time coming and many of our allies in the LGBT advocacy community deserve our thanks and appreciation for helping to bring this day to pass.  We congratulate the White House on this landmark Executive Order and we look forward to seeing the President’s leadership in working with Congress to pass ENDA. 

-- Posted by Aaron Tax, Director of Federal Government Relations

June 16, 2014

Two Recent Policy Victories for Transgender People

What would you do without an accurate I.D.?

Imagine the challenges associated with having to present identification that misrepresents your gender identity--whether at the airport, during a traffic stop, or in countless other situations--and then being mistreated, denied benefits or subjected to discrimination. For many transgender people, including elders, this is a daily reality.

Two major recent policy victories will help to change this, by making it easier for transgender people to obtain accurate legal documentation--a critical tool in accessing public services and housing, traveling safely, and fully engaging in civic life.

On June 5, New York State announced that it will no longer require New Yorkers to provide documentation of gender reassignment surgery or hormonal treatments to update the gender on their birth certificates. This will alleviate the bureaucratic burden of documenting these procedures for some transgender individuals. For others who choose not to undergo medical intervention, this announcement will mean that for the first time, their legal documentation can match their true identities.

Last week, more good news: the American Medical Association announced that transgender people shouldn't be required to have surgical intervention in order to change the gender reflected on their birth certificates.

Each of these steps toward transgender equality will have special significance for transgender older adults, since accurate legal documentation is vital to accessing services like Medicaid, social security, and nutrition benefits. When an accurate I.D. is easier to obtain, these services will be, too.

For more about these issues and why they're important, read Improving the Lives of Trangender Adults, a report published by SAGE and the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2012.

-- Posted by Kira Garcia

June 12, 2014

Portraits of Pride: Frances Gordon

Pride month is underway! To celebrate, we're sharing “Portraits of Pride” each week throughout June, featuring SAGE participants. This week we're introducing Frances Gordon, a lesbian originally from Georgia who has called New York City home for so long now that it "feels like forever".

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Frances stays fit with a regular workout routine, but she loves a good party, too. She remembers past Pride celebrations at a women's bar called Bonnie & Clyde's, which was on West 3rd Street in New York City (you can read more about it here). 

Bonnie & Clyde's closed in the mid-1980's, and Frances remembers that women's bars were sometimes hard to keep track of. She says that they opened and closed so quickly that "sometimes they only lasted a month or so".  Regardless of the location, Frances celebrates SAGE Pride with grace and a terrific smile!

-- Posted by Kira Garcia

June 11, 2014

A Quick Chat with SAGE Participant Shelley Teitelbaum

SAGE and its affiliates offer dozens of programs every month throughout the country. Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on these programs and a little more insight into the remarkable folks who make up our community. This month we spoke with Shelley Teitelbaum, a 75-year-old New York City native who has been a SAGE participant for two and a half years. 

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Thanks for taking the time to do this, Shelley. Where are you from originally?

I’m a native New Yorker; I’ve lived in the village since 1963. 

And what do you do?

I’m a retired attorney; I had a general civil practice. When I retired I was looking for ways to fill my time, so I started coming to SAGE for the Conscious Creative Aging group, a monthly book club, and dinner. I also teach French at another senior center near Washington Square. SAGE is important to me as a lesbian, because it provides services. But it’s also important that it provides a good meal and a chance to hang out—to have book clubs, listen to music, things like that.

What’s your favorite aspect of SAGE?

I especially love my creative aging group—being with eleven other gay and lesbian men and women—because they’re fearless! We share hopes, joys, fears, and learn from one another what it’s like to age. We didn’t learn about that in school, you know.  We start each meeting with a meditation, then share our responses to readings and share thoughts on selected topics. We work on how to deal with aging gracefully and consciously. 

That sounds beautiful! Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

It’s been a pleasure!

--Posted by Kira Garcia 

 

June 5, 2014

Portraits of Pride: Michael Roberts and Michael Johnson

Pride month has begun! To celebrate, we’ll share a “Portrait of Pride” each week throughout June, featuring SAGE participants. This week we're introducing Michael Roberts and Michael Johnson, who were photographed in their home. 

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Michael Roberts (left) and Michael Johnson (right) have been together for more than thirty years, having met at a party when, as Michael Johnson says, “Michael [Roberts] went to meet the host—I went to flirt with everybody!” More recently, they became the first gay male couple to be legally married in New York State.

Michael and Michael live together in a historic Harlem townhouse that they’ve lovingly restored, and have been SAGE participants and treasured friends of the community for decades. 

-- Posted by Kira Garcia 

June 2, 2014

Remembering Arlene Kochman, Former Executive Director of SAGE

SAGE is saddened to announce the recent passing of Arlene Klarfeld Kochman, who served as  Executive Director from 1991 to 1996. 

Arlene oversaw the rapid expansion of SAGE services , dramatically expanding the numbers of LGBT elders receiving support, and relocating SAGE to its current headquarters at 305 7th Avenue in Manhattan.  

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Arlene Kochman, former Executive Director of SAGE

 

Arlene was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who also brought increased visibility to issues related to HIV and aging. She made important contributions to the public dialogue on this issue, which remains a key focus for SAGE policy advocacy and services  today.

In 1993, Arlene was quoted by the New York Times in an article about New York City’s domestic partnership registry, which acknowledged same-sex couples and served as an important benchmark on the road to marriage equality.  

"It means something," said Arlene Kochman, executive director of Senior Action in a Gay Environment in Manhattan. "The more people who say, 'We are domestic partners and we have this piece of paper,' the more it will begin to be known that this is a binding agreement and it will be respected." 

Arlene forged and witnessed remarkable progress for LGBT elders and SAGE--and for the larger LGBT equality movement--during her lifetime. Her dedication and leadership are remembered with great gratitude and fondness.