Is Medicare Headed for a Crisis?

If you are among the wave of Baby Boomers about to begin enrolling in Medicare you may be in for some tough times. Recent stories in Financial-Planning.com and USA Today report that the number of doctors refusing new Medicare patients is reaching a record high—and it’s not expected to improve anytime soon, especially since last month “Congress failed to stop an automatic 21% cut in payments that doctors already regard as too low.”  Doctors simply feel they cannot afford to treat Medicare patients anymore.

Here are some of the distressing details you’ll find in the USA Today article:

  • The American Academy of Family Physicians says 13% of respondents didn’t participate in Medicare last year, up from 8% in 2008 and 6% in 2004.
  • The American Osteopathic Association says 15% of its members don’t participate in Medicare and 19% don’t accept new Medicare patients. If the cut is not reversed, it says, the numbers will double.
  • The American Medical Association says 17% of more than 9,000 doctors surveyed restrict the number of Medicare patients in their practice. Among primary care physicians, the rate is 31%.

What this means for seniors is that although you may be able to qualify for Medicare you may not necessarily be able to count on it. But you can take action to ensure that a crisis for Medicare doesn’t mean a crisis for you.  Your financial advisor or estate planner can help you determine what options you have regarding long-term care, asset protection, and even using alternate strategies in conjunction with Medicare.

The days of being able to count on the government to take care of you in your old age may be coming to an end.  It’s time to make your own luck and plan for your own future.  Our office can help.

Communication is Key: Talk to Your Doctor About Your End-Of-Life Wishes

Part of creating an estate plan is talking to your spouse, your family—and yes, your attorney—about your end-of-life wishes. A living will or healthcare directive is an essential part of any estate plan. This is the document in which you nominate the person or people who will make healthcare decisions for you when you are unable.  It is also in this document that you specify what treatment you would (or would not) like to have at the end of your life. It is in this document that many people specify their do not resuscitate (DNR) orders; and once they’ve created and signed this document they think they’re all done.

Not quite.

Studies have shown that even with perfectly executed healthcare directives many patients receive treatment they specifically did not want; this is because their wishes are unclear or have not been communicated to medical providers.  Some states have found a way to prevent this miscommunication… with a program called Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or POLST.  “The program involves an innovative medical form that is signed by a doctor, allowing patients to specify what kind of care they want at the end of life, such as feeding tubes and other medical interventions.”

The key here is that the medical form is signed by the patient’s doctor.  This requires patients to include their primary care physician in their decisions regarding end-of-life care—or at the very least notify their physician of these wishes—with excellent results.  A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that “patients with the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment forms had much less unwanted hospitalization and medical interventions.”

This is wonderful news if you’re in a state like California or Oregon, which already has the POLST program in place.  But it doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if you happen to reside in a non-POLST state.  Even without the official POLST program, the key to having your end-of-life wishes respected is communication; communication with your doctor, with your family, and with the nursing or caregiving staff most likely to be attending you in an emergency situation.

If you are concerned about having your wishes followed, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor and/or nursing staff about your living will or healthcare directive.  Even have them read and sign off on it if necessary.  After all, a healthcare directive is a wonderful tool, but it doesn’t do much good gathering dust in your filing cabinet.  Make sure your family and medical staff are aware of your end-of-life wishes.

Can You Really Afford Long-Term Care Insurance?

The American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance recently released a report on the costs of long-term care insurance, and the results were surprising.  Most people mistakenly believe that long-term care insurance is going to be expensive and difficult; but in fact, according to the report, “over one-fourth [of buyers under the age of 61] paid less than $999-per-year.”  And in fact, “fewer than one in 10 (9.3%) pay $3,500 or more.”

This is great news!  This means that long-term care insurance could cost you less than $100 per month!  The trick is that you have to think about it early.  “Age at the time of application plays an important role in determining the cost for long-term care insurance the Association study reports.  While 41.5 percent of buyers under age 61 pay between $500 and $1,499-per-year, only 20.8 percent of buyers who are ages 61-to-75 pay within this range.”

This is not to imply that if you’re over the age of 75 you’re out of luck.  You’re not likely to get the same great rates as someone in their 50’s, but you still may not have to pay an arm and a leg for long-term care insurance. According to the report, of applicants aged 76 and older only 28.2% end up paying an annual premium of $4,000 a year or higher.  Actually, almost half of applicants in this age range still end up paying less than $2,500 a year.  This may not be the attractive $500/year you could have gotten in your 50’s, but it also isn’t the thousands of dollars a month most people seem to be afraid long-term care insurance is going to cost them.  In fact, it’s only a little over $200/month.

If you’ve been thinking about long-term care insurance, don’t wait any longer.  This is one situation where time is not on your side; the quicker you act the better it will be.

Does the New Health Care Reform Affect Your Long Term Care Plan?

From a recent announcement on PR Newswire:

“Many Americans seem confused and immobilized by a key part of the recent Health Reform legislation, the CLASS Act, which will offer a form of long term care insurance for working people and others who may become disabled. ‘CLASS’ stands for Community Living Assistance Services and Supports, and the program, a legacy of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, is intended to offer new choice and security for millions now at risk. But, ‘we find that the public doesn’t know how to react,’ says Denise Gott, Chairman of the Board of LTC Financial Partners LLC (LTCFP), one of the nation’s most experienced long term care insurance agencies.”

The new Health Care Reform will almost surely affect your long term care plan, but is it too soon to know exactly how? You don’t want to be caught without coverage, but you also don’t want to make any decisions without having all the facts.

To help you discover how health care reform may affect your long term care plans, the link above provides access to a newly released 2010 Long Term Care Guide complete with healthcare reform update.  Don’t let your family be caught off-guard.

A “Graying Trend” In Caregiving

What will you be doing when you’re 73?  If you think you will have earned the right to have someone take care of you, think again; you may end up serving as a caregiver for someone else.  A recent article in the New York Times describes a new trend in caregiving: the elderly are being cared for increasingly by the elderly. According to the article, “Professional caregivers — almost all of them women — are one of the fastest-growing segments of the American work force, and also one of the grayest.”

As odd as it may sound, the arrangement of 55-75 year olds caring for 85-100 year olds often works out beautifully.  Older caregivers may not be able to do much heavy lifting, but what they are able to do is connect with their charges.  Many older caregivers have already spent months or years caring for their parents or spouse, so they have an understanding of the fear, frustration and stress the families are going through.  In addition, because older caregivers often share similar culture and experiences, the relationship can end up turning into a friendship, as with the case of Grace Jackson and Mary-Lou O’Neill:

“Grace Jackson, who is 101, said she never wanted a helper at home and resented Mary-Lou O’Neill, 73, when she arrived four years ago at Ms. Jackson’s daughters’ insistence. But as their relationship has grown, ‘It’s developed into a friendship,’ Ms. Jackson said, adding that friends who had younger aides were often offended by their manners or language.”

The down side to this “graying trend” in caregiving is that most of these elderly women—in spite of how they excel and make the best of their situation—become caregivers because they have to, they can’t afford to retire completely, even at the age of 70 or 75.  The time to think about your own future is now. Talk to your advisors about planning for your own retirement; because although you may have everything it takes to be a wonderful caregiver in your senior years, the fact is that you may not want to.

One More BIG Reason to Have a Health Care Directive

Do you have a health care directive?  If not, the Los Angeles Times has just given you one more reason to create one: Advance directives for end-of-life care result in preferred treatment.

That’s right, according to the recent article; those people who have recorded their wishes for end-of-life treatment have their wishes followed by agents and doctors over 80% of the time.  According to a health and retirement study done between the years of 2000 and 2006, “researchers found that of the 398 incapacitated people who had used a living will to request limited care at the end of life, almost 83% received it…” and “…Of the 417 incapacitated people who had requested comfort care in a living will, 97% received it.”

Those are huge percentages, especially when you consider how easy it is to create a health care directive or living will.

There is no down side to recording your wishes and nominating a trusted agent to help ensure those wishes are followed—it brings you peace mind, it brings comfort to your family members, and our office can help you execute one quickly and easily.  Knowing all this, as well as the fact that studies now show how truly effective they are in getting you the treatment you desire… there’s really no reason to delay any longer.  Call our office for more information.

What Does the New Healthcare Legislation Mean for YOU?

Everybody knows the latest big news: President Obama’s health care reform bill was finally approved by the senate—for better or worse—and although politicians may still be arguing the benefits and evils of the bill across party lines, most Americans are asking one simple question: What does this legislation mean for me?

CNN Health attempts to answer that question and more in a recent article entitled (appropriately) “Answers to your questions on healthcare law.” At a time when everyone either loves or hates the bill, it’s not always easy to get a straight and non-partisan answer to a question that really has nothing to do with politics; but this CNN article does a good job of providing straightforward answers to many of the frequently asked questions, and explaining exactly how this bill is likely to affect you and your family now and in the years to come.

We know that many of our clients will have questions about this bill that go beyond those answered in this article, and we invite you to contact our office with any concerns you may have; especially about how this may affect your decision-making rights, legal healthcare documents, or Medicaid qualification. Whether you are a parent of young children worried about your health insurance, or a retiree facing the need to tighten your purse strings in your “golden years,” this legislation may have an impact on you; contact our office to find out how.

Ensure Your Wishes for Medical Treatment are Followed: Share Them With Your Doctor

This time of year often involves spring cleaning for many families: reorganizing the closets, clearing the weeds and brush from the yard, and getting rid of all those boxes in the garage or basement.  Spring seems to be a time to take stock and start fresh… at least in the home.  But what about with your health?

We’re not talking about the diet you vowed to follow in your New Year’s Resolution, or trying to look good in that new bathing suit for summer; what we’re talking about is your annual checkup—taking stock of your health with your primary care physician and making sure you’re both on the same page with your instructions for health care and your advanced healthcare directive or living will.

When clients come into our office for an estate plan, we ensure that their healthcare instructions are completed as well; but the job doesn’t end when the document is signed. Your health care providers need to be aware of your wishes as well.  The best way to ensure that they know and understand your wishes is to take a copy of your advanced healthcare directive or living will with you to your next check up and talk to your physician about it, then ask them to keep the copy on file.

A rule of thumb with healthcare wishes is to give a copy of your living will or healthcare directive to each of your primary care physicians, give a copy to each of the healthcare agents you’ve nominated, AND keep a copy or two on file to take with you if you ever need to go to the hospital. And of course keep the signed original in a safe place with the rest of your estate planning documents.

Facing the BIG Picture

We frequently urge you here on our blog to create the documents necessary to protect yourself in case of emergency, and to ensure that your family and loved ones know your wishes for health care if you are ever unable to make those decisions yourself.  But a recent article on MSNBC reminds us that creating the documents isn’t always enough.

The article by Susan Brink details the final days of Bunny Olenick, 87-year-old mother and grandmother, whose massive stroke in December of 2008 threw her family into a state of confusion… in spite of the fact that she had done all the right things.

“Olenick had done all she could to give her family instructions about her death. She had spoken to her sons about her wishes, filled out an advance directive, a living will, and had named her sons as health care proxies — all legally accepted documents and procedures designed to insure that a person’s end-of-life wishes are spelled out and honored. Yet even they weren’t prepared for the many difficult questions they faced.”

The questions they faced were a surprising mixture of technical and metaphysical: Did “life-support” include temporary nasogastric tubes for nutrition?—How exactly does one define “Quality of Life?”—Was a short-term oxygen mask okay, even though a respirator was against her wishes?—And Bunny’s own heart-breaking question upon waking up in a hospital bed, “Why am I still here?”

Bunny’s story illustrates for all of us the importance not only of creating the appropriate legal documents, but also creating the time and space to talk to our loved ones about these difficult situations. Our firm can help you to create an estate plan that will protect your loved ones and guide your agents in your wishes… but the documents are only a small part of the process. Talk to your family about the process of creating your estate plan: the how and why of your important decisions. Knowing why you made the choices you did will help your family accept your decisions and follow your wishes when the difficult metaphysical questions come up.

The Not Quite Empty Nest Syndrome

It’s that time of year when many high school seniors are starting to prepare for graduation and eventually to head off to college; these seniors are close to turning—or in some cases have already turned—eighteen.  It’s almost time to spread their wings, leave the nest, and be on their own…

… Except that most 18 year old college freshmen aren’t actually ready to be on their own.  They still rely on their parents for financial support, emotional support, credit card payments, physical transportation… even clean laundry! And just about all of them still rely on their parents’ medical insurance when they need health care. You would think, then, that you as parents would be able to make medical and financial decisions for these fresh 18 year olds when they need help… except you can’t.

Once your child is 18 you as a parent are no longer their legal guardian. No longer will you be able to easily call the shots in the hospital or doctor’s office.  You may pay the credit card bill, but you may not always get a representative to talk to you if there is a problem with that credit card.  Likewise you may not make decisions regarding their bank account, or have legal dealings on their behalf with their landlord. Not unless your child gives you permission, that is—written permission in the form of a durable power of attorney and/or a healthcare directive.

By naming you as his agent in a durable power of attorney and/or a healthcare directive, your brand new 18 year old is giving you the power to keep doing what you’ve been doing all along… be his loving parent and help with the tough decisions; or—heaven forbid—step in to take charge in case of an emergency.

Durable powers of attorney and health care directives are documents that can be easily executed by our office or your own trusted attorney.  Creating one of these documents for the first time is a good opportunity to discuss responsibility with your child, and encourage him or her to begin thinking of these decisions that you have helped them make all these years as their own.  We know, however, that this isn’t always an easy subject to discuss with your young adult.  If your child is resistant to discussing this with you, perhaps he or she will be willing to discuss it with your family estate planning attorney instead.  This is an important subject, not only for you as a parent, but also for your young adult’s safety and well being.