Quarantine Questions – an Update from BCRTA President Gerry Tiede

April 2020

COVID 19 has brought change to all our lives. As seniors, we are in the most vulnerable group and will need to avoid direct contact with other people for some time. I want you to know that BCRTA will continue to serve our members in the months ahead.

Here is some information for our members:

BCRTA Office

Our office continues to operate as usual with our BCRTA staff working remotely. Your phone calls are directed to our staff who are working their regular hours, have access to all our computer systems and are ready to help you. All BCRTA member services continue to be active, except of course we can’t accept visitors to our office.

BCRTA Meetings

All BCRTA meetings have been canceled or postponed indefinitely. That includes our Board meetings, committee meetings, zone meetings and pension education workshops. We have also encouraged our branches to cancel all their meetings.

Our Board and Branch Executives have responsibilities that are laid out in our Bylaws and policies. During this time we will focus on the most important ones and deal with them through email or on-line meetings. We accept that some decisions may be delayed as our leaders make choices that are in the best interest of our members.  For example, your branch may ordinarily hold an Annual General Meeting in May which will need to be rescheduled for some time in the fall. Your branch leaders will keep you posted on what they are doing.

When the ‘physical distancing’ orders are removed across BC we will all make decisions to get BCRTA business meetings back on schedule.

Teachers’ Pension Plan

With the hit to the economy of the world, the health of our pension plan is on our minds. Certainly there will be short-term losses in some of our investments, but we need to remember that our plan began this year in a surplus position with significant reserves. Our investments have benefited from 11 straight years of good returns and a downturn of some type was expected. The TPP’s investment managers were able to diversify to other types of investments to reduce the effect of losses in the stock markets.

Also, our pension is a defined benefit plan.  That means that our pension is not dependant on the day-to-day performance of the investment market.

Updated information is available at https://tpp.pensionsbc.ca/

One note about service levels at the TPP: Many of the Pension Corporation staff are currently working remotely. While everything is in place to handle any pension business or questions, you may experience some minor delays in getting a response.

Here is the most important thing: Our pension payments are secure and will continue to be deposited into our bank accounts right on time.

We are also fortunate to live in a stable and prosperous Canada, so our OAS and CPP payments are also secure.

Johnson Insurance

We have been in regular contact with our Johnson Insurance partners. They, too, have closed their office to visitors but continue to provide services.  Johnson has worked to help our traveling members return to Canada; their insurance coverage continues for those who have been unable to return to Canada.  Johnson has devoted their staff time to reimbursing our members for their trip interruption and trip cancellation claims. We expect that the cost of all these travel claims will likely dwarf the normal medical costs that they pay this year.

The events of these past weeks emphasize the value of our insurance plans to our members.  The reason we have travel insurance is not only for protection from the cost of individual accidents and sickness but also from the costs of disasters or pandemics like the one we are currently experiencing.

The traveling behavior of all Canadians has changed and that will likely continue for awhile. I would encourage you to take some time before making decisions about your own future travel and insurance needs. Our insurance policies with Johnson are all one-year contracts which end on September 30th each year.  BCRTA will continue to work with Johnson insurance to be sure our plans meet our members’ needs.

It is also important to remember that when Johnson advises us that certain travel costs will not be covered by insurance during this time it is not because they have changed their policies. What has happened is that world events have activated conditions in the insurance contracts, such as limits on coverage for travel to a location that is covered by a government of Canada advisory. What is unique about this situation is that it is not one or two locations that are the advisory “hotspots” but the entire world.

BCRTA will continue to work for the best interests of our members when it comes to securing both EHC and travel insurance coverage and understanding the coverage available.

For current updates from Johnson visit https://www.johnson.ca/coronavirus

COVID 19 Scams

The COVID 19 disaster has brought out the best is most people, but it has also brought out the worst in others. There are a lot of scams in play as those without a conscience try to take advantage of our curiosity and anxiety. Be sure you access reputable sources for information – BC Center for Disease Control http://covid-19.bccdc.ca/ or Canada Health Services https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html

Do not open unsolicited emails about COVID 19 and above all, do not open attachments or links in those emails.  To do so invites another kind of virus into your computer which may steal your personal and credit card information.  See the Canadian Anti-fraud Center – https://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/features-vedette/2020/covid-19-eng.htm

The Little Black Book of Scams provides general information about protecting yourself and is available from the Competition Bureau of Canada. https://www.competitionbureau.gc.ca/eic/site/cb-bc.nsf/vwapj/CB-lBBS2-EN.pdf/$file/CB-lBBS2-EN.pdf

Physical Distancing – not Social Distancing!

Now is a good time for us all to pick up the phone or message a friend, neighbour or family member.  It’s a bit lonely for some of us to stay physically isolated for such a long time but we need to make that extra effort to keep up our social connections!

We Can All Do Something

We know from our recent survey that BCRTA members provide over $50 million worth of unpaid volunteer efforts to their communities each year. It is part of who we are. We want to help, to contribute, to work for a better world. Right now it may feel that all that goodwill is being bottled up at home. How frustrating!

But even if we can’t get out and about like we want to, there is one activity that is guaranteed to do good: Reach out! Pick up the phone and reach out to your isolated neighbours. Send a note by email to someone you know who is working hard at a medical facility or serving in a grocery store. Chat with the sibling that you meant to call but could never find the time. Play Scrabble online with your grandchildren.

If You Need Help

The Office of the Seniors’ Advocate has a phone line and a website to provide personal supports for seniors.  Call 211 or http://www.bc211.ca/ to access their services.

And Finally: Getting stir crazy?

Here is a list of things you can do:

·  Email and video calls to family and friends

·  Volunteering in the community – community kitchen; meals on wheels, etc.

·  Getting outside each day for a walk

·  Going through closets to put together give-away items

·  Reviewing photo albums, rearranging, re-organizing and reminding of better times

·  Puzzles, board games, crokinole,

·  Shredding documents that are no longer needed

·  Netflix, Crave, Apple TV – binge watching

·  Cooking – creating and trying new recipes

·  Home improvement projects

·  Reading

·  Eldercare

·  Spring Cleaning

·  Listening to music

·  Yoga

·  Dance – Line Dance, “Dancing as no one is watching” – because no one is!

·  U Tube videos

·  Write, draw, paint, photography

·  Play an instrument, sing, dance, act

·  Take a shower or a bath

·  Go for a drive

·  Watch cute kitten videos on YouTube

·  Play a game

·  Write a note to someone you care about

·  Care for or play with a pet

·  Make a list of inspirational quotes

·  Make a gratitude list

·  Write a list of goals

·  Take a class or webinar

·  Write a list of strengths

·  Exercise

·  Laugh at least once per day

·  Get enough sleep

·  Eat healthy foods

·  Create a good routine

·  Eat a little chocolate

·  Limit caffeine

·  Practice deep/slow breathing

·  Pray or meditate

·  Enjoy nature via video, movies or magazines

·  Prioritize important tasks

 

Office Hours and Accessibility Update – March 16 2020

Dear BCRTA Members and Partners

Effective immediately, BCRTA’s offices will be closed to visitors except as pre-authorized by our staff.

We will continue to answer phone calls and emails during normal office hours of 8:30AM to 4:00PM, Monday to Friday. Deliveries and mail services to our office will also continue per normal.

Following the recommendations of BC’s Provincial Health Officer and Canada’s Chief Medical Officer, we are adapting our operations to increase the safety of our staff and the public. BCRTA’s staff are on the job and continue to serve the needs of our members. However, from time to time that work may be done remotely.

We anticipate no interruption in services.

We will keep you informed as to the status of our office.

Thank you and stay safe everyone.

 

Johnson Insurance Updated March 13

Many BCRTA members use Johnson Insurance for their MEDOC, Travel Insurance, and Trip Cancellation coverage. In the quickly-changing environment caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, it is very important that you know the current coverage you have. Advisories from Health Authorities and the Government of Canada may affect your coverage. Review your status carefully.

Here is an update from our Johnson representative as of  March 13, 2020:

Dear BCRTA,

I am writing to provide you with an update about Johnson and our plans related to Coronavirus (COVID-19). We understand that you will have concerns and questions about how your members’ insurance coverage through MEDOC is being impacted and what steps we are taking to ensure we are supporting our customers and providing information so they can make informed decisions.

Firstly, the safety and well-being of our customers is our top priority. We have a dedicated team focused on implementing our business continuity plans to ensure our operations and claims teams will continue to be available to serve all of our customers to the standard that they expect.

TRAVEL INSURANCE COVERAGE UPDATE
Both Johnson and RSA Canada are monitoring the impact closely, and we are regularly reviewing our current coverages to determine how they are impacted by this evolving situation.

Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Insurance Coverage

A customer who booked a trip outside of Canada whose policy includes Trip Cancellation & Trip Interruption coverage may be covered if the trip was booked before any formal travel advisory against the destination country/region/city had been issued by the Government of Canada. Booking travel plans to a destination after it has received an advisory of “Avoid all travel” or “Avoid non-essential travel” can impact the travel insurance coverage.

On March 13, 2020 the Government of Canada announced a formal travel advisory limiting all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice. It is important to note that coverage for Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption:

  •  Does not extend to any travel booking made on or after a formal travel advisory is issued;
  •  For customers that departed on a trip before a formal travel advisory is issued, trip interruption coverage is limited to a period of 10 days from the date of the travel advisory; and
  •  Trips booked after a destination or cruise receives a formal travel advisory are not covered for trip cancellation or interruption.

Out of Country Emergency Medical Insurance Coverage

For Out of Country Medical Insurance, a travel advisory of “Avoid all travel” or “Avoid non-essential travel” will impact insurance coverage.

  •  Out of country emergency medical coverage is not available if a formal travel advisory is issued before your departure;
  •  Customers who book future travel to a location which is currently under a relevant travel advisory (including cruises) will not have medical coverage in these locations if the advisory is still in effect at the time of travel;
  •  If a travel advisory is issued after departure, medical coverage for that location is limited to a period of 10 days from the date of the travel advisory or formal notice was issued, or to a period that is reasonably necessary for you to safely evacuate the country, region or area.
  •  Because of the advisory to “Avoid all cruise ship travel,” beginning March 9, 2020, customers who depart on a cruise after this date will not have out of country medical coverage.

Please visit https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories for the most up-to-date information.

This situation is developing daily and we are committed to keeping our customers informed with the most current information. Customers can visit www.johnson.ca/coronavirus for details and updates.

I hope this update helps address the concerns of you and your members, and gives you confidence in the steps we are taking.

If you have further questions, please reach out to me anytime at 778-835-4647.

Intercom Security for Seniors

If you are living in an assisted living unit or an apartment – DO NOT open the main door to the building via intercom unless you recognize and know who you are letting in. If someone claims to have been locked out or they can’t raise the person they want; ask them to contact the building manager. Do not be fooled by a “sob-story” or “pretend emergency.”

Never tell anyone over the phone or who may knock at your door that you live alone.

Avoid using your first name in telephone directories or in lobbies. Just use your initial and last name.

Well-being Committee

Finance News Feb 2020

The Finance Committee has taken steps to ensure the security of the Association, our directors and members. We rounded out our general liability insurance by adding coverage for contents and crime. This insurance protects us against loss of office equipment and cash. Following the advice of two different insurance providers the BCRTA increased liability coverage for directors and officers from $2M to $3M. Additional information about this coverage will be provided to directors and branch executives.

The interest from two maturing GICs will be moved to the BCRTA operating fund and the principal amounts will be reinvested.

New computers and office software are in place and the transition to new financial systems is well underway. The completion of this upgrade will give us better tracking and reporting and aid the board of directors in long-range planning.

Our present auditors will have completed six years of service at the 2020 AGM and there are ongoing changes to our new financial systems taking place in this fiscal year. With the completion of the contract with our present audit firm, the Finance Committee has taken the opportunity to work with BCRTA staff to develop a formal request for proposal (RFP) for auditing services. This RFP has been circulated to a number of accounting firms who provide auditing services to non-profit organizations. The finance committee will review proposals and the recommendation of an auditor will be made at our October AGM.

Grace Wilson
1st VP and Treasurer

2020 retired teacher pension payments

2020 Marks Changes to Your Pension Payments

If you receive a pension from the Teachers’ Pension Plan of BC, you will have noticed some changes to your pension payments in 2020.

MSP Premiums End

If you watched your bank account near the end of December you might have noticed an increase in your pension amount. Because premiums were eliminated in the BC Medical Services Plan (MSP) beginning in 2020, and most of us paid our MSP premiums directly from our pension, the deposit amount increased by $37.50 per person in December. In the past we paid ahead for MSP – and the January premium would have been deducted in December. But not anymore!

Pension Increase

A cost-of-living increase to our pensions came into effect on our January payment. You will have noticed a 1.9% increase. This increase now becomes part of our guaranteed pension. BC and Ontario are the only provinces where the teachers’ pension plans have consistently provided full cost-of-living increases.

Pensions and Benefits Committee

retired teachers free hearing test

Hey there – I Went for a Hearing Test!

In the last Connections I shared an article about a presentation I attended by HearingLife on the impacts of hearing loss on seniors and the need to have regular hearing check-ups after reaching the age of 60. HearingLife is one of BCRTA’s Advantage Partners and offers BCRTA members savings on hearing-aids.

What I didn’t mention was that my wife and I often complain to each other that we can’t hear what the other is saying and we frequently ask one another to repeat things. Even worse are the miscommunications about events and happenings. Occasionally one of us says in exasperation, “I TOLD YOU ABOUT THAT LAST WEEK, YOU NEVER HEAR WHAT I HAVE TO SAY!!”

I reflected on this after the Hearing Life presentation. After some discussion, my wife and I decided we would give HearingLife a try by getting our hearing tested.

Now I want you to know that I have never before entertained doing this because over the years I had a nasty suspicion that I was going to be told that I needed hearing-aids whether I was suffering hearing loss or not.

So off we tootled to the HearingLife office nearest to us in Penticton. It was easy and convenient to schedule the appointments. My wife had her test first, followed by me. The tests took about half an hour for each of us and then we had a combined consultation for about fifteen to twenty minutes.

The consultant who did the testing was an amazing person who took the time to discuss how the ear works and the causes of routine hearing loss. She had a professionally-equipped audiometric booth and a thorough testing process. The friendly manner of the testing and consult was greatly appreciated.

What was amazing to the technician and to me and my wife was that the results of our tests provided almost 100% identical hearing profiles. That is apparently quite unusual. What surprised me even more were the affirming words from the consultant—she told us that we have amazingly good hearing for our age (I am seventy and my wife is sixty-nine). She indicated that because our hearing is so good that we don’t need to worry about another test for two or three years.

When we asked her about our concerns regarding not hearing each other she asked us how long we have been married. We said forty-two years. She replied that the answer was easy – there is what she calls the “Marriage Syndrome” that after a long marriage, often hearing is not a problem. What is a problem is “listening”!

Her advice was not to go around shouting at each other but when communication is essential to take the time to sit down, face each other, snap our fingers and say, “Are you listening to me?” Then we will be set to get the information across. For me, at least, this is good advice because my attention span is becoming increasingly shorter as our marriage continues to grow in numbers!

So… have you had your hearing tested?

Terry Green
BCRTA Well-Being Committee Chair

Editor’s Note: BCRTA Members always receive a 10% discount off HearingLife standard pricing. Other discount offers are made from time to time, and HearingLife offers price matching for equivalent devices. To learn more contact HearingLife for details and let them know you are a BCRTA member.

Tax Tips for Retired Educators – Updated for 2019 Tax Year

Last year’s tax preparation checklist was our most frequently accessed resource. So we are back this year with an updated guide to help you make the most of your tax return. BCRTA does not offer income tax advice, but here are some common things to keep in mind. Working through this list will help you complete your return to your maximum advantage. This year’s check list was put together by our Pensions and Benefits Committee, with some additional tips from financial expert and PostScript columnist Mike Berton.

Eligible Medical Deductions

Any eligible medical costs that you pay that exceed 3% of your net income can be deducted when you complete your income tax return this year. A couple usually should combine all medical expenses on one tax return – usually the one with the lowest income – to gain the highest value deduction.
  • Eligible medical expenses are those payments made by you or your spouse that were not fully reimbursed by an insurance plan. Some examples that you should explore:
  • Prescribed medications
  • Payments to a medical doctor, dentist, and most paramedical service providers such as physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapy, etc.
  • See CRA’s complete list of medical expenses that may be eligible for tax deductions here.
  • Premiums that you paid for any health service plan other than MSP.
  • If you participate in our Johnson insurance with Prestige Travel Plan you should receive a letter that itemizes your claimable premiums as well as your claims history that shows your eligible deduction. If you don’t see this by March 16, follow up with them.
  • If you participate in MEDOC and have requested a letter that shows the eligible amount of premiums in a previous year you should receive it soon. This year’s tax notices are scheduled to be sent out by February 19th. If you are a MEDOC participant but have never requested this notice, call Johnson at 1.800.563.0677 and you will automatically receive one every year.
  • If you are signed up for Extended Health Coverage with Green Shield and premiums are deducted from your Teacher’s Pension Plan payments, GSC premiums are always shown in Box 135 of the T4 you received from TPP. See more about tracking GSC claims at www.bcrta.ca/gscclaims

The New Canada Caregiver Credit

The Canada caregiver credit (CCC) is a non-refundable tax credit that may be available to you if you support a spouse, common-law partner or a dependant with a physical or mental impairment.  For detailed information click here.

Disability Tax Credit

The disability tax credit (DTC) is a non-refundable tax credit that helps persons with disabilities or their supporting persons reduce the amount of income tax they pay. For detailed information click here.

Age tax Credit

If you were 65 or older on Dec. 31, 2018 you may be able to claim an age tax credit. The credit is geared to income with the maximum discount for those whose income is less than $36,976, and the credit is gradually eliminated as your income increases. There is a corresponding provincial tax credit as well. This deduction can also be transferred to a spouse. For detailed information click here.

Charitable Donations

Tax credits are available for donations made to registered charities. In a spousal relationship, the claim can be split or attributed to either person to provide the greatest tax advantage. For detailed information click here.

Political contributions

Tax credits are available for any contributions you and your spouse made to registered federal political parties or British Columbia political parties. For more information about the federal credit click here and for British Columbia credits click here.

Tax Form Updates

The CRA has revised the T1 Personal Income Tax return form this year.  You should allow yourself a little extra time to complete the return. The new return has expanded from four to eight pages including calculations that were once on other schedules. Line numbers have changed from 3 digits to 5 digit numbers. Where possible, the print is larger to assist those with vision impairments.

Payment Options

If you are among the 16% of Canadians that owe tax after filing, you now can pay using a credit card, PayPal, or Interac e-Transfer (See Payments to the Canada Revenue Agency on the CRA website).

Other Options

You can now also file a return electronically on CRA’s website. You will have to register on the CRA website MY Account service to do this.  Once you have registered, you can take advantage of CRA’s “Auto-fill My Return” Feature.

Need Help Filing Your Return?

There are several low-cost or free tax filing programs available on-line. Search for “on-line tax filing.”  A listing provided by CRA can be found by clicking here.
There are also many volunteer run tax preparation clinics at Seniors’ and Community Centers around the province.

CRA Scams

Be on the alert for phone calls, e-mails or letters pretending to be from the Canadian Revenue Agency. If you receive one of these, provide NO information. Rather contact CRA directly by calling 1-800-959-8281 or check your CRA My Account on-line.

Simply Connect Offers BCRTA Members Savings

With terrific phone plans designed for senior singles and couples, Simply Connect is a great choice for your phone provider. With complete North American coverage and good travel options, you can always stay in touch.

Now BCRTA members can use the BCRTA Advantage Plan to sign up with great discounts of 10% off basic phone and text plans, and 15% off phone and data plans.

To find a plan that is right for you, call 1-866-669-7212, let the operator know you are a BCRTA member and quote the promo code “BCRTASAVE2019”.

Or visit simplyconnect.ca/promotions

60 eh? Test Those Ears

On Dec. 3, 2019, the Well-Being Committee received an excellent presentation from Sally Thompson who is National Director of Affinity Development with Hearing Life, one the BCRTA’s Advantage Program partners. Her presentation was not so much about purchasing hearing aids, expensive or not, but on the importance of hearing health being part of our overall health profile. Starting at age 60 hearing acuity often declines. In fact, 47% of those who are of age 60 suffer some hearing loss. In addition to the inconvenience of not being able to follow a conversation or hear the TV, hearing loss also has an impact on both the functioning of the auditory processing of the brain and the overall health of the senior. The longer the hearing impairment is left untreated the greater the likelihood of significant long-term damage to the brain and serious health deficits for the individual.

Age, Illness, and Even Medications Can Affect Your Hearing

The use of some medications can impact the hearing nerves in the brain. For example, long term use of Aspirin or common antibiotics ending in “cin” can damage the auditory nerve.  Your doctor should be able to advise you on appropriate use to minimize damaging effects of these medications.  That is why it is important for hearing testing to be a regular part of your health regimen at the age of 60. There are many causes of hearing loss, some of which can be treated without having to resort to hearing aids. Hearing testing is a cost-free service with Hearing Life. You do not require a medical referral for a hearing test, you can simply call 1.855.749.7743 or visit the online booking page on their website. Mention you are a member of BCRTA and Hearing Life will schedule you into a clinic convenient to you.

What to Expect

The hearing test process, regardless of the provider, should emphasize diagnosis first and not the purchase of devices. Included should be a discussion of your medical history, the results of Otoscopy, Tympanometry, Air/Bone Conduction, and speech understanding assessment. Ms. Thompson gave an explanation of some “advantages” her network offers to BCRTA members. The free hearing test determines the nature of the hearing loss and what sort of remedies are available (not always a hearing aid). Free trials of various devices help patients find the right one.

The Cost of Hearing Aids

A common concern is the cost of hearing aids. Thompson pointed out that devices have different price points, but the primary concern should be selecting the device that best addresses your needs. As I write this, Hearing Life is offering BCRTA members a 25% discount off the price of hearing aids, plus the special 10% discount that BCRTA members always receive. Hearing Life sometimes has a reputation of being expensive, but Thompson pointed out that they have a price-matching guarantee. Those who find the one-time cost of purchasing a device should consider that financing is available. Both Green Shield and Johnson EHC plans also have some coverage for hearing aids – check your plan. When you need a hearing aid, the final cost per day is small compared to the health benefits. According to Thompson, in addition to requiring a professional certification , all Hearing Life centers abide by a code of conduct that emphasizes honest and accurate hearing assessment and appropriate treatment planning. You should never receive a “pitch” from any hearing provider to buy something you don’t need.

Ms. Thompson concluded that hearing aids do not cure hearing loss but work to stabilize speech understanding capabilities in neuro-sensory cases. Successful treatment relies on a positive attitude, willingness to learn, practice, patience and commitment of the client to persevere in the acclimatization process of adapting to hearing aids. Most importantly, addressing hearing loss concerns does contribute to a longer, sustainable, and healthy lifestyle for seniors.

After her presentation I felt very reassured that we as BCRTA members have an Advantage Partner that can offer retired teachers a valuable and cost-effective way of treating hearing loss.

Terry Green
Chair, Well-Being Committee