What Your Ears May Be Saying About Your Heart

Could a hearing loss be trying to tell you something about your heart’s health? Listen carefully, because a growing body of evidence – based on six decades of research – points to a connection between hearing loss and cardiovascular disease.

In fact, several prominent experts call the ear a “window to the heart.”

“The inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it is possible any abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body,” explains David Friedland, MD, Ph.D., of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Dr. Friedland has been studying the hearing-cardiovascular connection for years.

Conversely, a healthy cardiovascular system (heart, arteries and veins) may positively affect a person’s hearing.

Another study, involving nearly 5,000 Icelandic citizens, indicate that a hearing impairment and dual sensory impairment (involving both vision and hearing) in older men are associated with increased mortality from cardiovascular disease and other causes. Researchers also observed that men and women who used hearing aids had significantly lower mortality risk compared with hearing-impaired individuals who did not use hearing aids.

Find out what your ears may be saying, simply call 877-806-7054 to request an appointment for a professional hearing exam with an Amplifon Hearing Health Care provider at a clinic near you. Our Patient Care Advocates will answer your questions and guide you through the entire process.

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Book Club: Mrs. Luther’s Story

Mrs. Mary Luther is a retired English as Second Language teacher and a North Carolina State Health Plan member. When her husband, a Humana member, received a newsletter from their local Neighborhood Center, the Book Club caught her interest. She’s so glad she decided to attend a meeting – the Book Club has been an excellent way to make like-minded, avid reader friends. After most meetings, Mrs. Luther eats lunch with the Book Club, continuing their discussions and building true friendships.

“There’s something special about this group, says Mrs. Luther. The group pivoted to Zoom during the pandemic, which helped keep the group connected. “Books take you to another place, which is especially good during COVID.”

The Greensboro Book Club

  • Book club meets twice a month on Fridays, from 10-11 ET at the Humana Neighborhood Center in Greensboro (1564A Highwoods Blvd.)
  • Recently read books include, “The Kite Runner,” “Where the Crawdads Sing,” and biographies about Charles Lindberg and Henrietta Lax
  • Book Club is open to everyone, and there is no cost to join

Member Spotlight: Paula K. Stewart

Paula K. Stewart, a NCRGEA member (District 7), was recently awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine for her great contributions during her career in Harnett County and volunteer efforts. She retired in July 2021 as Harnett County Manager.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is the highest civilian award given by the governor of North Carolina. Paula worked tirelessly during her career and continues to contribute to her community, currently serving as treasurer of the Angier Area Buddy Backpack and working part time as management consultant for Mid-Carolina Regional Council. Paula lives in Angier, NC with her husband Del and they have two adult daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and reading.

We are proud to recognize Paula during Women’s History Month and to honor her contributions as a public servant of North Carolina. Con- gratulations on a job well done!

Update from Deryl Fulmer

Deryl Fulmer, Ph.D.
Community Liaison

To My Fellow Retirees,

Strategic Plan 2021—2024 Update

Pushing the needle forward toward a 10% gain in membership is paramount for growing the NCRGEA. Please encourage friends to join and renew your membership by visiting our website: www.ncrgea.com.

Get to Know the NCRGEA Trivia Game

The March Trivia game is available on our website under the “news” tab. Beginning in May, our $50 gift card winner will be featured on our Facebook page. Our January winner is Sherry Beck, from Lexington, NC, District 3.

Please find her story on page 15. Congratulations Sherry!

Trivia answers for January, 2022:

Questions: What is the purpose of becoming an online advocate? What will NCRGEA provide to help you become an online advocate?

Answers: To support NCRGEA by educating and advocating with state and local leaders in your community about matters important to retirees across North Carolina. NCRGEA will provide training and talking points to support these efforts.

A brief update on the District Community Advisory Board Meetings

Community Advisory Boards have been initiated in all nine Districts across the State. CABs provide a way to meet new people and to assist the NCRGEA with offering activities and benefits that you want in a smaller group.

Interested? Information regarding meeting dates, times and zoom links are on the website at www.ncrgea.com, under District Community Connections.

Services and Opportunities for You

Visit your local Humana Neighborhood Centers or visit them online at www.humananeighborhoodcenter.com. These Centers are open to both state and local government retirees and are located in 5 cities across the State, including Raleigh, Greensboro, Asheville, Charlotte (2 locations), Winston-Salem and the virtual Neighborhood Center.

Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels (MOW) needs volunteers. If you are interested, please contact your local MOWs to offer your services or to receive services. As a note, some MOW sites provide meals for your dog or cat. Please check them out: www.mowanc.org.

Transitions LifeCare

Transitions LifeCare is non-profit organization founded in 1979 as Hospice of Wake County. We are committed to providing personalized care at the highest level of excellence. We offer a variety of services that provide comfort and support for people of all ages experiencing life-changing ill- nesses. Our service area includes: Durham, Johnston, Franklin, Harnett, Wake, Granville, Orange and Chatham counties. www.transitionslifecare.org

And finally, we celebrate Women’s History Month in March. In honor of Women’s History Month, we recognize Paula K. Stewart, from District 7, who was recently honored for her service to NC and received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. You can read more about Paula on page 10. Congratulations Paula!

Deryl Davis Fulmer, PhD

Community Liaison


Your Systems, Your Retirement

By N.C. State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, CPA

The North Carolina Retirement Systems (NCRS) is the world’s 26th largest public pension fund. It provides retirement benefits for nearly 1 million teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public workers.

Last year, NCRS paid close to $7 billion in monthly benefits to nearly 345,000 recipients.

A recent “stress test” concluded that North Carolina’s state pension funds are well-positioned to endure tough economic times. This was put to the test over the last two “pandemic” years and volatile markets; yet NCRS continued to reach historic levels. As of Dec. 31, NCRS was valued at $123.7 billion and maintained the lowest cost when compared with our peers.

The resilience of the pension fund is due to meaningful oversight by the Boards of Trustees (Boards). That is enhanced by the Department of State Treasurer’s (DST) conservative investment strategy while maintaining loyalty to members of the plan that teach, protect and serve the citizens of North Carolina and taxpayers like them.

In December, North Carolina enacted the state’s first comprehensive budget in three years. This included an appropriation for two one-time supplements to benefit recipients of the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System (TSERS), Consolidated Judicial Retirement System and Legislative Retirement System.

With the budget passing months beyond the fiscal year-end, it was a Herculean effort by our staff to make the first one-time payment (2% of the annual retirement benefit payable as of September 2021).

The second will be paid in October 2022 (3% of the annual retirement benefit payable as of September 2022). This supplement will be paid to members who retired on or before Sept. 1, 2022, and beneficiary recipients living as of Sept. 1, 2022.

Earlier this year, I issued a recommendation for a Local Governmental Employees’ Retirement System (LGERS) supplement, and this was ap- proved by the Board. The money to pay for this comes from the 11.12% net investment gains the system earned in 2020.

Unlike TSERS, whose supplement comes from the General Assembly, the LGERS supplement comes from the fund itself.

The LGERS one-time supplement will be paid in October 2022 (2% of the annual retirement benefit payable as of September 2022).

Regular payments will resume in November.

Many retirees return to service and are subject to an annual earnable allowance. The earnable allowance for 2022 is $37,240 or 50% of your gross pre-retirement salary, whichever is greater.

There are specific guidelines and limitations if you perform work in any capacity for an employer under the same system from which you retired. It’s important that you and your potential employer understand these be- cause of the potential impact on your retirement benefits.

DST, Boards and staff work hard to sustain a pension for people like you.

We are also committed to protecting these benefits for current and future public servants, and their beneficiaries or survivors.

Thank you for all you do and inspiring others to choose a career that serves our state’s citizens.

President’s Newsletter Message

June-July 2022 Message

This is my last letter to you as President of NCRGEA. I do hope that you have found these letters to be informative about what we do for you and how much we consider each of you a member of our public servant family. And what do families do? We stick together and support one another. Well, as I leave my two-year tenure as your President and 10 years as a Board member, I want you to know that we need to keep on sticking together. You did your duty even in the tough times, and now it’s time for state and local officials to do their duty to our many retirees, whether it be pensions, COLAs or health insurance!

You have heard already that, after 10 years, the Supreme Court ruled on the Lake Case in the favor of state public servants who had joined the State workforce for a salary often below the market rate, with the promise that health insurance would be provided at no cost for an 80/20 plan. When the State reneged on that promise in 2011 by charging a fee for our health insurance, 28 plaintiffs, including Justice I. Beverly Lake, and one past and one current NCRGEA Board member, sued the State. NCRGEA supported that suit on behalf of our members from the very beginning and has spent over $300,000 supporting that effort. Yes, it was a gamble over those 10 years when the outcome was not certain, but we knew NCRGEA needed to stand up for its members and all other retirees. Look for more news about the Lake case in this newsletter on page 2.

Previously, I announced that we had hired an interim ED while we searched for a new one. I want you to know that Bryan Setser and his team have not only kept the trains running on time, but they are producing more new services than ever before. If you have checked our website, you have already seen the first efforts at making the site more modern and user friendly while adding much new content. Over the next few years, you will find the NCRGEA website to be the “go-to site” for the lifestyle of retirees. We want to be the one place where you can go to be connected to all kinds of services you need to live a better, richer life. As I write this letter in April, we are in the midst of the Executive Director search led by Martha Sue Hall. Hopefully, we will be informing you of the new Executive Director at our June board meeting.

Elsewhere in this publication, you will learn details about one of the staff’s greatest achievements – a week-long virtual celebration of Public Service and Public Servants for the first full week of June. Instead of a few district meetings this Spring, all 65,000 of you will have access to presentations spread over most of the week, so you

can choose what topics you want to learn about. The topics are those traditionally offered at our district meetings, plus many, many more. You can read much more about these opportunities in this newsletter on page 4 and on the website and social media.

You will also find in this newsletter several opportunities for you to participate in our efforts to recognize the contributions you and others make to our state, counties and municipalities. As a family of public servants during our careers, and even in retirement, let’s celebrate that.

You and I are proud to have been public servants and I am honored to have served you on our Board.

Vann Langston, NCRGEA President

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March-April 2022 Message

There have been a few developments in recent months here at NCRGEA you need to know about. After seven and a half years as Executive Director, Richard Rogers has re- signed to pursue other opportunities. His years of service leave us in a much better place. In fact, he is leaving us with an excellent strategic plan which will lead to even better services to our members and to increased membership. The Board is grateful for his service and wishes him well in his future endeavors.

NCRGEA is fortunate that Bryan Setser will serve as Interim Executive Director until summer. His company, Setser Group, was essential in the development of our Strategic Plan and has provided transition support to our staff since last June. Don’t forget, too, that our knowledgeable staff will continue providing member support, while our lobbyists work daily on your behalf, as they did with the recent retiree bonuses.

Over the next few years, you will see a dramatic expansion of member services, including a campaign to improve the public’s image of govern- ment service and public servants. We are convinced that the decline in the general public’s appreciation of public service underlies many of the prob- lems we face today. It is hard to convince voters and legislators to spend tax revenue on pensions, health care, or even direct public services when they don’t value governmental services and believe you can get something without paying for it. We are not saying we shouldn’t be efficient and effec- tive, but the government can’t run shorthanded forever.

In this newsletter, you will find a statement from Josh Stein, our Attorney General, outlining his efforts to fight scams and robocalls. Please understand that scammers know which organizations we support, but a tug at our heartstrings doesn’t mean we should donate. So, have you been called by the Police Officers PAC or the Americans for Female Officers PAC and many other “worthy causes” that end in “PAC”? Please be aware that “PAC” stands for Political Action Committee. That means your donation is not tax deductible, and the organization has few, if any, rules governing how the funds are spent. Neither of the “police” PACs listed above actually provide funds to police departments or individual officers; therefore, they are scams. Before donating, Google these PACs, visit www.Charitynavigator.org to check out real charities, or call your local police, fire departments, etc. to ask how you can help locally.

Remember that old saying, “Charity begins at home.” Our organization will always fight for you against these scammers, and please be vigilant in the days ahead.

Vann Langston, NCRGEA President

Six Reasons to Become an Advocate

In April, we will offer virtual training on issues facing retirees and strat- egies to best advocate for our retiree community. Join us and become a retiree advocate.

Here are six reasons to become an advocate:

  1. To safeguard your retirement, quality of life, and one of your biggest investments over the span of you career: your pension. While your pension benefits are protected by both the state constitution and case law, your voice to secure cost of living adjustments and other bonuses needs to be heard.
  2. To safeguard the future investments of our children, be they our own or those in our communities: We need teachers, law enforcement officers, first responders and all professionals who keep our communities safe, clean, and highly functioning. A well-funded and well-managed pension will allow communities to continue recruiting top candidates.
  3. To protect one of our state’s greatest, and most important, assets: North Carolina Retirement Systems is the 26th largest defined benefit system in the world. Year after year it remains one of the top ten best funded systems in the United States and fuels the state’s AAA bond rating. It is a gem worth fighting to protect.
  4. Because at the end of the day, advocacy is fun. We love our families, communities; we love North Carolina. Advocating shows our dedication and passion for the Old North State and her people.
  5. Because it fosters leadership: it takes gumption to stand up for something, no matter how right you may be on the matter. We are all called to be leaders. You have an opportunity to develop your leadership skills by participating in NCRGEA advocacy trainings.
  6. It is time to patch back together our lives from the destruction of the COVID-19 pandemic. You had to shelter in place for your health and for our public health, but that does not mean you have to sacrifice your voice, principles, or future.

We hope you will join us! Stay in touch by visiting ncrgea.com/advocacy/.

Humana Neighborhood Centers Welcome NC State Health Plan Members

Humana Neighborhood Centers, both in-person and online via the Virtual Neighborhood Center, offer special events, programs and activities designed to educate on physical and mental health. Many services can be used by anyone, including those who are not Humana members, at no cost. Each location offers a unique calendar of in-person or virtual events, programs and activities.

In-person locations are operating with limited capacity and by appointment to ensure the safety of visitors. Humana’s Virtual Neighborhood Center offers daily online classes on learning to manage health conditions, cooking healthy meals and learning to improve mental and physical health at home.

There are five Neighborhood Centers in North Carolina: Asheville, Greensboro, Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem. The centers offer classes and events and customer care specialists are onsite to answer plan benefit questions. Licensed Humana sales agents are available to help eligible non-members choose and enroll in Humana plans. Beginning in May, Humana Neighborhood Centers will host North Carolina State Health Plan (NCSHP) educational events at all five centers each month in 2022.

NC Attorney General Josh Stein on ACA Protection & Fraud Prevention

Attorney General Josh Stein

February 2022

As your attorney general, it’s an honor for me to go to work every day to protect the people of North Carolina. My colleagues at the Department of Justice and I are dedicated to making North Carolinians’ lives better. You all understand the reward that comes from public service because you have also devoted your lives to serving others – thank you. As attorney general, please know that I am committed to safeguarding the rights of older or retired North Carolinians.

That includes fighting to make sure you can receive affordable quality health care. I have fought to defend the Affordable Care Act all the way to the Supreme Court – and won. The ACA protects more than 4 million North Carolinians from being discriminated against because of their pre-existing conditions, and it saves more than 1.8 million North Carolina seniors more than $1,100 a year on drug costs on average. Health care is a basic right, and I’ll continue to defend it. 

Additionally, my Consumer Protection Division works to protect seniors, students, and consumers from frauds and scams. During my time as attorney general, my office has won back more than $2.5 billion through consumer and taxpayer relief for the people of North Carolina. 

Fraudsters often prey on older or vulnerable populations to try to scam you out of your hard-earned money. In 2021 alone, my office received more than 1,000 complaints of elder fraud. 

Of course, the issue I hear about the most is robocalls. They are a scourge that disrupt our peace of mind every single day, and worse, rob people of their hard-earned money. Last year, North Carolinians filed more than 10,000 robocall reports with my office. That’s why I’m leading a nationwide group of 51 attorneys general and 15 phone companies to push the phone companies to put technology in place that prevents these robocalls from coming to your phone in the first place. 

And we’re also working together to hold these scammers accountable for their behavior. This January, I brought a lawsuit against telephone service provider Articul8 and its owner Paul K. Talbot for allowing tens of millions of illegal robocalls from international callers on the U.S. telephone network. The only way telemarketers can inundate our phones with robocalls is with the complicity of these gateway phone companies. These phone companies turn a blind eye to illegal robocalls in order to make money on each call. It’s wrong. It violates state and federal law, and I won’t tolerate it.

But the best thing you can do to protect yourself is watch out for the common warning signs of a scam: 

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 
  • A lot of exciting offers require you to make a small advance payment first. Don’t fall for it.
  • Don’t give your bank account or Social Security number to anyone you don’t know. 
  • If you get a call or email from someone you don’t recognize, or from a company you may do business with, examine it closely. Call or email the business back through a number or website you know to be legitimate. 
  • Pay with your credit card when you purchase so you can dispute a purchase if needed.
  • If you’re feeling pressured or something doesn’t feel right, pause and verify with someone you trust. 

I encourage you to visit our website at www.ncdoj.gov to learn more about how you can recognize the signs of a scam and protect yourself. If you have questions or think you might have been victimized by a scammer, report it to my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or ncdoj.gov/complaint

As your attorney general, I’ll go after anyone who breaks the law to harm North Carolinians. And I’ll continue to fight to protect your rights and make sure we all have the opportunity to pursue our dreams, take care of those we love, be a part of strong, stable communities, and live out our lives with dignity. Thank you for your service to our state and its people.