August 1, 2014

Savvy Senior: How Medicare covers eye care


By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,
What does Medicare cover when it comes to eye care? I currently have good vision insurance through my employer, but will lose it when I retire.
—Looking Ahead

Dear Looking,
Many retirees are unclear what Medicare does and doesn’t cover when it comes to eye care. The good news is that Medicare covers most medical issues including cataract surgery, treatment of eye diseases and medical emergencies. But unfortunately, routine care like eye exams and eyeglasses are usually the beneficiary’s responsibility.
Here’s a breakdown of how original Medicare covers your eyes, along with some tips that can help you reduce your out-of-pocket costs.

Routine eye exams (sometimes called “eye refractions”) that test for eyeglasses or contact lenses are usually not covered under Medicare, but you are entitled to a yearly medical eye exam if you have diabetes or are at high risk for glaucoma. People at high risk include diabetics, those with a family history of glaucoma and older Hispanics and African-Americans.
Medicare will also pay for exams to test and treat medical eye diseases and other problems like macular degeneration, dry eye syndrome, eye infections or if you get something in your eye.

Eyeglasses and contact lenses
Medicare does not pay for eyeglasses or contact lenses, with one exception: If you have had a conventional intraocular lens inserted during cataract surgery, Medicare will pay for eyeglasses or contact lenses following the operation. Otherwise, you are on your own.
To find affordable eye exams or eyeglasses, many retailers provide discounts—between 10 and 30 percent—if you belong to a membership group like AARP or AAA.
Also consider Costco Optical, which is considered by Consumer Reports as the best discount store for good eyewear and low prices—it requires a $55 membership fee. Walmart Vision Centers and For Eyes Optical offer low prices too, with no required membership.
You can also buy your glasses online. Some online stores like, and sell prescription eyeglasses for as little as $7. To purchase glasses online, you’ll need your prescription and pupillary distance from an exam, and your frame size.

Eye surgeries
Medicare covers most eye surgeries, including cataract surgery to remove cataracts and insert standard intraocular lenses to replace your own. Medicare will not, however, pick up the extra cost if you choose a specialized lens that restores full range of vision, thereby reducing your need for glasses after cataract surgery. The extra cost for a specialized lens can run up to $2,500 per eye.
Eye surgeries that are not covered by Medicare include refractive surgery and cosmetic eye surgery (such as eyelid surgery) that are not considered medically necessary.
Supplemental Insurance
Keep in mind that of the medical eye care services that are covered by Medicare, you’re still responsible for 20 percent of the cost—Medicare pays the other 80 percent. To help with this out-of-pocket expense, you may want to consider getting a Medigap supplemental policy.
If you can’t afford Medigap insurance, check into EyeCare America at This is a national program that provides medical eye examinations to seniors, age 65 and older, and up to one year of treatment at no cost.

Advantage Option
Another way you can get extra vision coverage when you join Medicare is to choose a Medicare Advantage plan instead of original Medicare. Many of these plans—which are sold through private insurance companies (see—cover routine eye care and eyeglasses along with dental, hearing and prescription drugs, in addition to all of your hospital and medical insurance.
Or, if you choose original Medicare, consider purchasing an individual vision insurance policy (see These policies cover routine eye care and eyeglasses and typically run between $12 and $15 per month.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Sustainable garden tour set for next week


By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff
Locals who want to learn more about sustainable gardening can get a peek at their neighbors’ methods next week.
Local environmental group Sustainable Williston is hosting a sustainable gardens tour on Tuesday, Aug. 5. The group is meeting at the Williston Community Gardens on Mountain View Road at 6 p.m. and the tour will last approximately two hours.
Five local gardens are on the agenda—large and small gardens tended by experienced green thumbs and beginners.
“Our definition of ‘sustainable’ for this event was simply ‘gardening with little or no chemical help,’” Sustainable Williston member Luc Reid wrote in an email to the Observer. “For this tour, we wanted to highlight family and community gardens that produce organic or mostly-organic food—vegetables, berries, fruit, nuts and more. We’ll be able to bring together gardeners and interested non-gardeners to see several approaches and talk about what has or hasn’t worked for each of us.”
Reid said if the event goes well, Sustainable Williston members hope to turn it into an annual event.
Reid said the tour can accommodate approximately 25 people, but will organize carpooling from the Williston Community Gardens to minimize the impact of driving and because parking is limited.
For more information and to reserve a spot on the tour, visit ongoing-projects/sustainable-gardens/

Community helps local couple win free ‘dream wedding’

Ric Volp and Sienna Fontaine are preparing for their wedding.

Ric Volp and Sienna Fontaine are preparing for their wedding.

By Phyl Newbeck
Observer correspondent

After friends, family and the community rallied around a Williston Vermont National Guard member and her fiancé, the couple is preparing for an all-expenses-paid wedding.
Earlier this year, Ric Volp and Sienna Fontaine entered a Vermont Weddings contest for military couples. Called “A Salute to our Soldiers,” the contest was designed to provide a free wedding for a Vermont couple with military connections. Judges whittled down the more than 50 entrants to three finalists whose stories were printed online so members of the public could choose the winning couple.
When voting ended in March, Volp and Fontaine emerged victorious.
Fontaine said she is overcome with gratitude to those helping to make her dream a reality.
“We’re still in this place of awe,” said Fontaine. “We still have to shake ourselves that we really won this wedding. It’s still kind of unbelievable.”
Both Fontaine and Volp are members of the Vermont National Guard. Fontaine is a Williston native who graduated from Champlain Valley Union High and the University of Vermont. She is currently working on a Masters in social work at UVM, with the goal of helping returning veterans. Volp did a tour of duty in Afghanistan and now works as a detective in Burlington. The couple met in the summer of 2012 and Volp proposed last November.
On Monday, the couple went to Boyden Farms—the wedding venue—for an event sponsored by Vermont Weddings to thank all the wedding professionals who contributed to the contest. All of the couple’s vendors were present as they work to come up with plans for Fontaine’s and Volp’s big day, which will take place this October. In addition to meeting the couple, the event gave the vendors a chance to interact with one other.
As a thank you to Vermont Weddings, Fontaine has agreed to join the board of directors of “A Salute to our Soldiers” to help out with next year’s contest.
“We want to make every year bigger and better,” she said.

Laundromat, dry cleaning service opens at Cornerstone Dr. location

Greers recently moved its laundromat and dry cleaning services to a new location on Cornerstone Drive. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

Greers recently moved its laundromat and dry cleaning services to a new location on Cornerstone Drive. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff

Greers Professional Fabricare Services has brought its laundry and dry cleaning facilities to a new Williston location.
The laundromat opened July 17 at 204 Cornerstone Drive, near the former Rocky’s Pizza, and the dry cleaning portion was set to open next door on July 31.
“So far it’s going great,” General Manager Dan Poplawski said. “It’s a great little plaza with lots of traffic.”
Greers began orchestrating the move from the Taft Corners Plaza approximately six months ago. The business’ lease at that location was up and the owners decided to move for “economic reasons,” Poplawski said.
The new space is slightly smaller, but Poplawski said the laundry capacity is the same, and the owners added several large-capacity washing machines.
Greers plans to offer a drop-off wash, dry and fold service for those who would rather pass laundry duties on to someone else.
Greers first opened in South Burlington in 1948, and now has six locations in the Burlington area.
The Williston laundromat is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The dry cleaning portion will be open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information, visit

Harvesting for the hungry

Sue Stanne (left) and June Jones harvest zucchini from the Plant a Row plot in the Williston Community Garden. Produce from the garden goes to the Williston Community Food Shelf. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

Sue Stanne (left) and June Jones harvest zucchini from the Plant a Row plot in the Williston Community Garden. Produce from the garden goes to the Williston Community Food Shelf. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

Plant a Row for the Hungry program provides produce

By Stephanie Choate

Observer Staff

As tomatoes redden, zucchinis swell and beans multiply, locals who visit the Williston Community Food Shelf can look forward to an influx of fresh, local produce.
The Plant a Row for the Hungry program, organized by University of Vermont Extension master gardeners and Williston in Bloom members, is getting into full swing. The group, which has a plot in the Williston Community Gardens, began making deliveries to the food shelf earlier this month.
Gardener June Jones, who leads the project with fellow Williston gardener Susan Stanne, said the season is off to a slow start due to cool weather in the spring and early summer, but that it’s about to ramp up.
Many food shelf customers get a carb-heavy load, and they appreciate fresh produce, Jones said.
“One little girl, I gave her a watermelon and she was just thrilled,” she said. “Fresh vegetables are a treat.”
“There’s nothing like fresh tomatoes,” added Stanne.
The project is a community effort. The town donates the space in the community gardens and rototills it in the spring and fall. American Meadows, located in Williston, donates seeds. The group uses burlap coffee sacks from Green Mountain Coffee as mulch, keeping the weeds at bay and upkeep to a minimum. At the end of the season, they bring the biodegradable bags to Green Mountain Compost. The gardeners also received a grant this year from the Vermont Community Garden Network, netting them seeds, along with compost from Green Mountain Compost.
Local Daisy girl scouts have helped harvest and deliver produce to the food shelf, and especially relish picking pole beans, Stanne said.
A core group of five local gardeners start the seeds, transplant seedlings, tend the plants and bring the bounty to the food shelf.
This year, the group planted 38 tomato plants and 26 sweet pepper plants, along with zucchini, summer squash, pole beans and bush beans, carrots, beets, cucumbers and watermelon.
Since the program began in 2006 as a joint effort between the Williston Observer and the town of Williston, it has provided thousands of pounds of produce. In 2013, the Plant a Row gardens yielded 542 pounds of produce for the food shelf.
“The Plant a Row contributions to the Food Shelf have been such a blessing for the last few years, as it allows us to provide beautiful locally grown fresh produce to our clients who otherwise may not be able to afford it,” Food Shelf President Cathy Michaels said. “The donations are generous and very much needed at this time of year when our donations are down and the need is up.”
Food Shelf volunteers incorporate the produce into their new Fresh Initiative Program, intended to help families make healthy food choices. Each month, a fruit or vegetable is highlighted as the food of the month, and the food shelf provides recipes featuring the produce.
Residents who want to help harvest produce for the food shelf can meet in the garden at 5 p.m. each Tuesday. Locals with excess produce in their own gardens—or those who want to share what they have—can bring it to the food shelf, located on the basement floor of 300 Cornerstone Drive, in Suite 115.
“The generosity of the Plant-a-Row program and our neighbors who donate produce from their individual gardens is always greatly appreciated as it helps us provide healthy, whole foods we cannot otherwise provide outside these summer months,” Michaels said.

New food truck opens

Owner Mark Austin (left) and cook Joe Taylor pose for a photo at Take-A-Bite, a new food truck that opened earlier this month on Industrial Avenue. (Observer photo by Heleigh Bostwick)

Owner Mark Austin (left) and cook Joe Taylor pose for a photo at Take-A-Bite, a new food truck that opened earlier this month on Industrial Avenue. (Observer photo by Heleigh Bostwick)

By Heleigh Bostwick
Observer correspondent

There’s a new lunch truck in town.
Located behind the Sears Home Store at the confluence of Industrial Avenue and Williston Road, Take a Bite! opened two weeks ago and features an impressive lunch menu—from cheeseburgers and chicken Caesar salad to tuna salad, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and the Michigan hot dog made famous by Tim’s Snack Shack, which closed in 2009.
Austin purchased the Tim’s Snack Shack trailer and moved it to the 48 Industrial Avenue location. His wife, Taryn, came up with the catchy name.
“It’s affordable and priced for people who want a decent meal on the run,” he said.
Specifically designed as a food truck, the trailer is painted dark grey, but a paint job is in the works.
“I might paint it lime green to make it stand out,” Austin joked, referring to the truck’s location at the back of the Sears lot and the lack of formal signage on both Williston Road and Industrial Avenue.
“A-frame signs need a special permit from the town,” he explained. “I’m in the process of obtaining it now.”
Business has been good so far with a steady stream of customers.
“We’ve had people from the state offices over on Industrial Avenue already come by and pick up menus,” he said. “It’s a great spot for a lunch truck, quite a nice place actually—off the beaten path, no dust, no grime, with a bit of privacy.”
Some people prefer to stay and eat their meal at one of the two picnic tables adorned with red and white striped umbrellas.
“It’s not gourmet dining, but we try to make it a nice experience,” he said. “We’re adding flower boxes and hanging baskets in a few weeks.” Austin hired experienced cook Joe Taylor, but spends quite a bit of his day helping Taylor out “just to make his life easier,” he said.
“We hand cut our fries every day, so there’s a lot to be done,” he said.
Although Take a Bite! already offers an extensive array of lunch items, they’re open to suggestions.
“We’ve had several requests for wraps, so we may keep some on hand,” he said.
Austin, a South African native who arrived in Vermont 22 years ago as a granite trader, bought the Sears store last September, and also owns the business, Upon This Rock, which sells granite countertops.
He admits he’s never run a lunch truck before, but was a frequent customer at Tim’s Snack Shack, whose owner gave him what he says is the original Michigan hot dog sauce recipe (and closely guarded secret) from Charlie’s Red Hots, a Mallett’s Bay hot dog establishment that has long since closed.
Take a Bite! joins Zuppa duppa, the bright yellow snack bar parked in the lot at the Champlain Oil Company gas station off Industrial Avenue, in offering reasonably priced lunchtime fare for local employees.
“There are enough people working in the area to support two of these carts,” Take a Bite! owner, Mark Austin said. “There’s room enough for both of us.”
Take a Bite!, located at 48 Industrial Avenue, is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but may extend its hours to Saturday if business picks up. It takes credit cards and delivers. The phone number is 999-4704.
“Come by and try it,” Austin said. “I’m sure you’ll like it.”

Gas pipeline opponents stage protest in Williston

Opponents of the planned natural gas pipeline held a protest at the Vermont Gas staging area in Williston Wednesday morning. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

Opponents of the planned natural gas pipeline held a protest at the Vermont Gas staging area in Williston Wednesday morning. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff

Opponents of the Vermont Gas pipeline staged a sit-in protest at the Williston staging area Wednesday morning, briefly disrupting work on the pipeline.
A dozen protestors associated with Rising Tide Vermont, a group that has opposed the pipeline, sat blocking the driveway at the former Williston Driving Range for approximately an hour, singing songs and displaying banners that read “You will not break ground, you will not break us” and “Permits ≠  permission.”
“We are asking Vermont Gas and its employees to stop work here and let them know that we aren’t going anywhere,” said Jen Berger of Burlington, a spokeswoman for the group. “We’ve been speaking out in opposition and we want them to listen.”
Berger said there are no concrete plans in place, but didn’t rule out the possibility that protestors would be back.
“We’re going to continue to demand that they stop construction,” she said.
Holding hands, the protestors sang songs with lyrics like “We’ll flood the streets with justice,” “We shall not give up the fight, we have only started” and “Which side are you on, Shumlin?”
The group attempted to deliver a “stop work order” to Vermont Gas employees, but Caroline Decunzo, and organizer with the group, said the employees refused to accept it.
The group stood and left, singing, at nearly 10:30 a.m., when a Vermont Gas representative approached with a trespass warning.
Decunzo said the group is pleased with the day’s efforts.
“It was a great experience for us to be there and successfully blockade the pipeyard and stop work for an hour and a half,” she said. “I think that’s a huge accomplishment.”
She said organizers were also able to communicate with police officers and Vermont Gas representatives, hearing about their viewpoints and plans.
Representatives of Vermont Gas could not be reached before the Observer’s press deadline on Wednesday.
Williston Police officers arrived at the site shortly after protestors. Chief Todd Shepard said protestors have the right to make their voices heard, but his officers were there to make sure workers and protestors were safe.
“Our concern is safety,” he said. “The safety of the demonstrators and safety on the work site.”
If formal trespass warnings were issued, the officers’ roles would have been to enforce those warnings, he said.
“Certainly they have the right to assemble peacefully and demonstrate, but they have to do it in the public right of way,” Shepard said.
Vermont Gas set up the Williston staging area in late May for work on the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project.
The Vermont Public Service Board approved a 41-mile stretch of natural gas pipeline, known as Phase I of the project, in December. Phase I will bring natural gas from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes through an underground high-pressure pipeline, passing through Essex, Williston, St. George and Hinesburg. Vermont Gas received its final permits earlier this month. Vermont Gas hopes to eventually extend the pipeline to Rutland.
Rising Tide Vermont has staged several recent protests, objecting to the fracked gas that would run through the pipeline, the investment in fossil fuels and what they say was not a participatory decision-making process, as well as promoting the rights of landowners who do not want the pipeline to run through their properties.
“We’re standing here today to let Vermont Gas know that they do not have the social license to continue construction,” Berger said in a statement. “Vermont Gas must halt construction immediately. Ratepayers don’t want to fund this project, and landowners don’t want to host it. Enough is enough.”