By Kate McGahan LMSW
We don’t like to think about aging and the potential issues of death, disability, dependence and cognitive loss. Because we don’t like to think about these things, we tend not to plan ahead for the inevitable.
Yes, the “system” has it’s own frailties. The “system”, however, is making dramatic strides to try to improve service delivery while at the same time, to reduce the tremendous costs of running federal and state programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
The Managed Care system is changing health care delivery by attempting to reduce and eliminate unnecessary costs and treatments of medical health care. While far from perfect, this has in part caused a dramatic shift in the care and lengths of stay in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and nursing homes. Hospital stays have shortened, rehabilitation while nursing home facilities are now meeting more acute care needs of their residents. The newer residential concept of “Assisted Living” is now meeting the needs of many people who normally would have required nursing home care. Home care programs have been recharged to meet increasing needs of those who wish to remain at home.
Granted, there are many weaknesses in the system. Therefore, we need to be accountable for planning for our own future and the future of our aging families. Never underestimate the power of the “private pay dollar” when it comes to buying what you need and want in the health care system. That “dollar” buys your choice of caregivers, physicians, residential options and other preferred services.
How do you maximize the private pay dollar? By starting as early as you can to plan for your retirement. By saving and investing your money wisely. By maximizing your retirement income and pension plan. Have a solid health insurance plan that best supplements Medicare and a Long Term Care(LTC) Insurance plan that will fill the remaining “gap” of financing your long term care needs in the future.
Find out about medically-deductible expenses which can include the costs of nursing home care, home care, medications, home improvements due to a disability, insurance payments, copayments and a portion of your LTC insurance premium. You may qualify for a dependent-care credit if you are caring for a dependent parent at home and if you contribute to your parent’s medical expenses, those expenses may be deductible if you itemize.
Investigate the possibility of creative options such as a Reverse Mortgage or a HUD conversion loan which allow you to use the equity in your home to fund the costs of your long term care. Open a Medical Savings Account (implemented in 1996 on a demonstration basis) which allows you to invest your money and then reap your earnings tax free if applied to your personal health expenses. Look at your life insurance portfolio; you may want to borrow from your insurance to pay for your current needs.
Respectfully encourage your parents to plan for the future, if they haven’t already done so. Think about and implement Advance Directives such as a Living Will or Health Care Proxy. Establish a Power of Attorney and a legal and financial plan to attend to future needs.
Involve a team of objective, competent professionals to help you design a plan that is best-suited to your situation and personal goals. The ideal team will consist of an attorney, a financial adviser, an accountant, an insurance specialist and a geriatric care manager. The involvement of this team will help you in making sound decisions in the areas of financial, tax, estate planning and personal long term care planning.
Many Baby Boomers will find that they will spend more years caring for their aging parents than they did raising their children. Some will find themselves in the overwhelming situation of caring for both at the same time! Only 5-7% of our elderly population resides in nursing homes. The others are being cared for by families, home care agencies and informal caregivers. Many more are living active, independent lifestyles.
Gather your team of advisers, save and invest your money wisely and learn what choices are available to you. Communicate with your family and create a healthy lifestyle for yourself. When you have the support of those who love you and the advantage of good physical, emotional and financial health, you will find yourself surrounded with unlimited choices as you face the days ahead.