Q: I’m a senior with Medicare as my health care insurance. I am wondering if I have any say in what hospital I would use if I have need for that type of care. Some friends have indicated that I must go to the local hospital but others have said that I can go elsewhere. Are there any rules about where I must or could go?

A: Whether or not you have a choice about what hospital you select for care depends on how you receive your Medicare benefits.

Those seniors who receive their health care through the original Medicare plan may go to any doctor or hospital that accepts Medicare for payment. You are in the original Medicare plan if you use your red, white and blue Medicare card to receive your health care. In the original Medicare plan where you have the freedom to select your hospital your choice could be restricted to the hospital or hospitals where your doctor has privileges.

If a senior has assigned his or her Medicare benefits to a senior advantage plan (an HMO) then in most cases choice of providers and facilities will be limited to those providers and facilities that have a contract with that specific managed care plan. Before joining such a plan it would be wise to check out which providers, specialists, hospitals and skilled nursing facilities are available to plan members.

Another consideration that could affect your choice of a hospital depends on the type of illness or injury. Sometimes a particular hospital or clinic is known for expertise in the treatment of specific illness or injury. If you have a rare or serious health problem you may want to select a doctor and hospital that have reputations for treating that type of problem.

Research indicates that hospital staff have better success when a procedure is routinely performed. If this is the situation you face you may want to discuss your options with your doctor. Ask how often a hospital has done a specific procedure. Inquire about how often a doctor has treated the particular disease or injury and how well previous patients have recovered.

Keep in mind that no matter how you receive your Medicare benefits, original Medicare or senior advantage plan, or what hospital you use, as a Medicare patient you have certain rights while you are a patient in the hospital.

You have the right to get all the care you need while in the hospital and after you leave. If you feel you have been asked to leave the hospital too soon you have the right to ask for a review of that decision.

When you enter the hospital you should be given a copy of the pamphlet entitled “An Important Message from Medicare.” If you are not provided with this document you should ask for a copy. It provides details about your patient rights and what to do if you feel those rights have been violated.

Remember that no matter how you are covered by Medicare if you have a life threatening medical emergency you should go to the nearest hospital for treatment. If after you are stabilized and able to be transported, your doctor and/or medical plan may make arrangements for you to be transferred to an appropriate hospital.

Q: Exactly what is identity theft and how does it happen?

A: Identity theft occurs when someone obtains personal information about you and uses it as if it were their own. With such information as your Social Security number, credit card numbers and bank account numbers they can open additional credit card accounts, withdraw from your bank accounts or make purchases on your existing accounts. This is all done with no intention on their part of paying for the merchandise and services obtained — leaving that for you to do.

The theft of this type of information can occur in a number of ways. Some thieves merely steal your purse or wallet and obtain the information from the cards you carry with you. Others go through curbside trash and extract credit card bills and other documents with vital information. Some are computer literate and find information using the Internet. No matter which method used there are some steps you can take to reduce your chance of being a victim.

Minimize what you carry in your purse or wallet. Never carry more credit cards then needed and leave your Social Security card at home. Remember your Medicare coverage card contains your Social Security number. Consider carrying it only when you know you’ll be asked for it. If you have an emergency someone can always get it to you.

Never give out your Social Security number unless it is absolutely necessary. If it is requested always ask why it is needed. Remember your Social Security number is not necessary for check cashing or credit card purchases. If a clerk insists on needing it ask to speak to a manager.

Junk mail is much more personal that we realize. It often carries vital information about the addressee. Never toss it unopened. Determine what it contains and if it has pertinent information it should be shredded or torn into small pieces before disposing of it. If you are throwing away merchandise catalogs make sure that you look at the order blank included in the catalog. Many times that order blank includes information about the addressee and so that should also be shredded before disposing of the catalog itself.

There is no guarantee that you won’t become a victim but every step you take to protect yourself makes it more difficult for the unsavory character looking for a free ride on your money.

Sunday: Senior Concerns-Ladin Subaru 23rd Annual Love Run — half-marathon, 10K, 5K and 1 mile run/walk — at Townsgate Road in Westlake Village. For more information and registration call 497-0189.

Monday: Economic Check-Up appointments from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Simi Valley Senior Center, 3900 Avenida Simi in Simi Valley. For more information or to make an appointment call 583-6363.

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