May is Special for Elder Law Attorneys – Part 1

May is National Elder Law Month. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys started National Elder Law Month to acknowledge attorneys who support seniors and their families with their planning needs. And while that sounds great, many people still ask, “What do elder law attorneys do?” “May is Special for Elder Law Attorneys” will explore several ways elder law attorneys help seniors and their loved ones.

Elder law attorneys help seniors and their loved ones plan for the possibility of needing long term care. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 10 people age 65 or older has Alzheimer’s dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts that this number will double by 2050. Alzheimer’s is also the most expensive disease in the country, with no known cure. In 2017, the average lifetime cost of care for someone with dementia was $341,810.

A diagnosis of dementia can wreak emotional and financial havoc on a family. Elder law attorneys can help discussing options to pay for appropriate care without losing the family home or savings.

The emotional and financial cost to family caregivers is also quite alarming. 83% of all caregiving comes from family members, friends, or unpaid caregivers. 30-40% of family caregivers suffer from depression.  In 2011, a MetLife study estimated that women caregivers lose over $324,000 in lost wages and social security benefits over their lifetime. Male caregivers lose an estimated $283,000 in lost wages and social security benefits over their lifetime.

Family caregivers also need a their own legal plan. Elder law attorneys also work with family caregivers to make sure they have legal documents in place, if their health fails, or if they lose their jobs.

If it’s not in writing, it won’t be honored.

Elder law attorneys work with seniors to understand what should happen if they can no longer make financial or health care decisions. For example, if mom develops dementia, who will she want to have authority to access her bank account and pay the bills? What type of care does she want if her dementia advances to the point that she can’t communicate her wishes? Does she want to live at home as long as possible? Does she want a private room if she’s in a facility? These are just a few questions that elder law attorneys discuss with clients, which then get put into legal documents so that mom’s wishes will be fulfilled.

My loved one is in the hospital and can’t come home – now what?

It can be very stressful for a spouse and children when a parent becomes ill and can no longer live at home safely. It can also be very expensive, putting the family’s home and savings at risk.

Elder law attorneys help families find and pay for the best long-term care possible. Unfortunately, 24 hour care at home or in a facility can cost families thousands of dollars a month. Therefore, it is important to look at other funding sources, like Medicaid or Veterans Benefits. Elder law attorneys help families explore options, and make the best decision for the loved one needing the care.

We will continue exploring how elder law attorneys help seniors and their families in Part 2 of “May is Special for Elder Law Attorneys.” In the meantime, if you or a loved one needs help, we’ll be happy to talk with you. Please give us a call today. 

 

Medicare and Medicaid: Unlocking the Mystery

Medicare and Medi-Cal have long been a mystery to many consumers. In fact, it can baffle and confuse even some of the smartest citizens. Like me, you might have thought, “I don’t need to worry about this right now.” However, it is never too early to gain a little understanding and awareness that just might help you help an aging loved one or yourself down the road. As the saying goes, “Time flies.”, and you will be there sooner than you think. Let’s break it down and learn some of the differences and basics of Medicare and Medi-Cal to unlock the mystery.

 

Medicare

Medicare is a health insurance program provided through the federal government. To receive Medicare, a person must be 65 years old or older or have a severe disability. For a disabled person under the age of 65 to be eligible for Medicare, they must have received Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for two years. To be eligible for Medicare, a person must have Social Security retirement benefits or Social Security disability benefits. Because Medicare is run and administered by the federal government, it is uniform from state to state. If a person meets Medicare eligibility requirements, they can receive Medicare no matter their income or assets. Costs for Medicare are based on the recipient’s work history. This means that costs are determined by the amount of time a person paid Medicare taxes. These costs, like all insurance, include premiums, copays, and prescriptions.

 

Medicare can be confusing because there are four parts. The commercials talk about Parts A, B, C, D. What does it all really mean? Parts A, B, and D can be somewhat simplified. Part A is hospital insurance, Part B is medical insurance, and Part D is prescription drug coverage. Parts A and B are covered in Original Medicare offered by the government.

 

Part C is often called the Medicare Advantage Plan. This is a private health plan. The Medicare Advantage Plan or Medicare Part C plan are required to include the same coverage as Original Medicare, but usually also include Part D as well.

 

It is important to do your homework on these plans to find what works best and is most cost effective for you.

 

Medi-Cal

Medicaid is a health care assistance program of the federal government. It is administered by the individual states, and Medicaid is called Medi-Cal in California. Medi-Cal is for people who cannot afford to pay for care on their own. It is based on income and assets, and is available to people who belong to one of the eligible groups: Children, people with disabilities, people over age 65, pregnant women, and the parents of eligible children. Seniors who require nursing home care can qualify for Medi-Cal and only pay a share of their income for the nursing home. Medi-Cal then pays the rest.

 

Dual Eligibility

A person can be eligible for both Medicare and Medi-Cal, and can have both. The two programs work together to help the recipient best cover the expenses of health care. For example, Medicare costs include premiums, copays, and deductibles. Full Medi-Cal benefits can cover the costs of Medicare deductibles and cover the 20% of costs not covered by Medicare. Medi-Cal can also help with Medicare assistance and may cover costs of premiums for Part A and/or Part B.

 

Although Medi-Cal and Medicare can be quite confusing, it is important to know the basics.

 

We assist seniors and their families qualify for Medi-Cal with a number of different planning tools. If you would like to discuss Medi-Cal, please call us now.

 

If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact us.

3 Tips for Traveling with Disabilities

Traveling with disabilities can seem like an overwhelming task. However, it doesn’t have to be, if the right research, planning, and preparations are done ahead of time. There are even travel agencies that specialize in disabled travel. The most important thing is to be prepared. Here are some tips to consider in advance of traveling if you or a loved one has physical limitations:

1. Consult with a Physician

If you have disabilities and are planning to travel, one of the first steps is to discuss the travel plans with your physician. Be sure to give the doctor an accurate picture of what the trip will entail. In many cases, the physician can help plan for medical needs while traveling. The doctor can prescribe certain measures to help make travel easier. The doctor can also provide you with a medical statement for emergency situations. Keep your doctor’s name and phone number available while traveling. You should also identify what medical care is available at the travel destination. Be sure to carry extra medication in case of unforeseen delays. Keep all medication in carry-on bags to prevent loss.

2. Know Your Rights regarding Traveling with Disabilities

When planning for accessible travel, it is important to know your rights. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has certain procedures for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. It is important to understand these procedures before going through airport security. The Air Carrier Access Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also provide information regarding the laws for those traveling with disabilities. Unfortunately, many airline, cruise, and theme park employees don’t know the law regarding those with disabilities. It’s always best to obtain the information ahead of time.

3. Plan Ahead

Planning ahead is the most important tip and encompasses all the other tips. One easy way to plan ahead is to hire a travel agency that specializes in accessible travel. These agencies can plan for the specific needs of the traveler with disabilities. If you wish to plan your own travel, then begin to plan early. First, research and create an itinerary for your trip. Websites can help you obtain information about accessibility and services offered. Even with websites, you should call to schedule any necessary accommodations that you need, so that each stop on the itinerary enjoyable. Remember to be detailed when describing your disability, so that everyone understands the limitations accurately.

Planning ahead for flights can also be very helpful for people with disabilities. If possible, avoid connecting flights: Fly direct to the destination. You should also check in with the flight attendant before landing to make an exit plan. Once you’ve disembarked, if a wheelchair is necessary, make sure you have set up accessible ground transportation to and from the airport. All of this can be done ahead of time to help ensure more relaxing travel for everyone involved in the adventure.

The experience of travel can be smooth and enjoyable with the right information and planning. Of course, even the best plans can experience turbulence along the way, but planning and documenting in advance can help minimize any bumps along the way. Just remember, after calling and booking for the special needs, call again and touch base 24-48 hours in advance of your trip to ensure all appropriate accommodations are in order.

Unique Health Challenges Faced By Veterans

The United States veteran population is some 20 million strong, many of whom face health challenges different from non-Veterans. Due to their military training, Veterans have a well-defined culture. This culture is strong on values, codes of conduct, respect of superiors, and customs, to name a few. Due to this culture, Veterans face different health challenges that family, friends, and health professionals need to be aware of.

Advances in medicine have allowed many more Veterans to survive once-fatal injuries. However, this often comes at the cost of mental health. A successful transition from the battlefield to civilian life rests on being able to spot the many health issues Veterans face, and assisting them in getting the help they need.

A study titled “US Veterans and their unique issues: enhancing health care professional awareness,” published in the US National Library of Medicine and available here, identifies several health issues specific to United States Veterans:

Mental Health Disorders

33% of Veterans are diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder. From 2006 to 2010, 2.1 million Veterans received mental health treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Only about one-third of those diagnosed with a mental health issue actually seek treatment. Often, Veterans feel embarrassed or shame about needing mental help. It is important for family and friends to help change this stigma, and ensure Veterans get the help they need.

Substance Use Disorders

The extreme stress of military service causes Veterans to often seek out a vice. Such vice may take many forms, such as  alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. A 2013 study titled, “Enhancing veteran-centered care: a guide for nurses in a non-VA setting” found that both cigarette and alcohol consumption is higher among Veterans than the general population. Medical research finds that treatment of an underlying condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), reduces tobacco and alcohol consumption in some Veterans. Sometimes, long-term care is required.

PTSD

PTSD results from directly or indirectly experiencing a traumatic event. Military personnel are nearly four times as likely to be diagnosed with PTSD. The American Psychiatric Association diagnoses PTSD with the presence of four symptoms: intrusive symptoms (flashbacks), avoidance of reminders (isolation), negative thoughts and feelings, and exaggerated reactivity symptoms. Social support is a large facet of the treatment plan for Veterans with PTSD.

Depression

Depression is among the most treatable mental health disorders that Veterans face. Although likely underdiagnosed, the National Alliance on Mental Illness states that the depression rate for Veterans is 14%, but the treatment success rate is between 80-90%. If you know a Veteran who you believe is suffering from depression, it is vital that you encourage them to get help. There is nothing “weak” or embarrassing about seeking help, and depression is often treatable.

Veterans often have a challenging time acclimating to civilian life after being at war for any length of time. However, providing them with a strong support system, along with all of the help available to them through private care and the Department of Veterans Affairs, they can experience a smooth transition to civilian life.

We help Veterans and their families plan for long-term care.  If you would like to learn more or would like help, please contact us now.

Middle and Low Income Seniors Facing Affordable Housing Shortage

There is a growing need for affordable senior housing. Cities and individuals struggle with this issue. If you have a lot of money, you typically have a lot of options. At the other end of the spectrum, if you have nothing, you can qualify for government assistance. Such assistance, however, may include years of wait times due to lack of available housing. 

A Growing Housing Crisis

Nearly 40% of seniors have less than $50,000 in savings. This is according to a study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies and Harvard University. These seniors are not poor, but they’re not rich, either. Middle income seniors are stuck in the middle. 

As a result, there is a looming senior housing crisis coming. By 2035, one in three households will be headed by someone aged 65 or older. The population aged 80 or older will have doubled to 24 million.

Cities and developers are not creating thoughtfully designed housing for senior adults on a scale that reflects the growing need. Many aging adults don’t want to think about not being able to live in their current home. When asked about their living plans for the future, many seniors say some variant of “the plan is to die in my home.” 

The Future Is Unpredictable

Sadly, it is impossible to know when or how you’ll pass away. You may hope that it will happen gently in your home. However, it is more likely that an adverse event, such as a fall, will change everything. You then will likely require some level of care.

The Social Security Administration estimates that if you turn 65 today, you will live to 84.3 if you are a man, and to 86.6 for women. Added the Social Security Administration: “And those are just averages. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of ten will live past age 95.” Those longevity numbers represent staggering costs when you consider the likelihood that those oldest years may require significant care.

Housing and Significant Care Is Expensive

That “significant care” costs serious money. According to “A Place for Mom,” the average national cost for a private assisted living facility is almost $4,000 per month. If you want private nursing home care, the cost increases to more than $6,000 per month. Since nearly 50% of adults aged 65 or older have just enough income to afford basic expenses, this creates an up-coming recipe for disaster. 

Significant care such as living in an assisted living facility may require you to spend assets pay for care. That is not a good option for several reasons. First, you will likely run out of assets quickly due to the current costs of care. Second, you would be unable to leave a legacy to your children or loved ones, or to continue to provide for your spouse after you are gone. 

Planning for the Future Is Imperative

That is why the understanding of aging is facing a paradigm shift in thinking. Many companies that design and build for retirement communities want the word “senior” dropped altogether. Innovative technology companies and non-profits are changing the discussion from challenge to opportunity, from health care to health, wellness, and lifestyle, and bringing entrepreneurial ideas to create a positive change. It is a step in the right direction but it does not change the current reality: There is a shortage of affordable senior housing and there is a continuing increase in need for senior residency. 

What is your housing reality and future? Do you have a plan in place to handle the changes that most likely will affect you and your living environment? It is important to have this discussion with your family, and with a professional elder law attorney. Proactive planning is in your best interest. Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you with your planning.

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