December 2018

Car driving in snow

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Be safe during the holidays, whether you’re traveling across town or across the country to enjoy your family and friends.

We’re taking a break too at the Center for Retirement Research. This blog will return on Thursday Jan. 3 with a roundup of our readers’ favorite articles in 2018. …Learn More

An elderly woman making pies with a young woman

Holidays with Dementia in the Family

When my grandmother was spirited away by dementia and no longer recognized me, I stopped visiting her in the nursing home.

I didn’t understand this at the time but now think that I just wanted to remember her baking lemon cream pies or waving at me as she rode around on her lawnmower cropping the lot next to her Indiana farmhouse.

I wish I could get another chance and do things better this time. Regret is hard to live with.

Psychologist Ann Kaiser Stearns views the holidays as a precious time of year to make elderly family members feel they are loved and included in the festivities.

“People respond for as long as they live to smiles, to touch, to music, to kindness, to sitting in the sun, to pumpkin pies,” Stearns, a professor of behavioral science, said in an interview.

“We just need to remember that all of that nourishes an elderly person to whatever degree they have impairments,” said Stearns, who also wrote “Redefining Age: A Caregiver’s Guide to Living Your Best Life.”

Stearns encourages people to make an extra effort to connect with a loved one over the holidays and provides some tips:

Be patient. Take the extra time to sit down with your parent, aunt, or uncle and talk to them. Encourage them to reminisce. “Don’t do something if you don’t have the time,” Stearns said.

Be present. If grandma doesn’t remember you or something that happened in the past, do not argue with her or ask, “Why don’t you remember?!” She advised that it’s better to say, “Remember grandma, it’s your granddaughter from Baltimore.” When an elderly person repeats or forgets, connect with them where they are now, even if it means going through the same conversation again.

Stir sweet memories. Stearns said that her friend’s father, a former minister, has Alzheimer’s but the friend brings him to church anyway. When Stearns’ parents were old, they used to sit happily watching the squirrels in their yard while her father smoked cigars. It’s important to repeat rituals that are uplifting and have always brought meaning to their lives. …Learn More

counting change

Reducing Poverty for Our Oldest Retirees

With more Americans today living into their 80s and beyond, the elderly are becoming more vulnerable to slipping into poverty.

To reduce the poverty risk facing the oldest retirees, some policy experts have proposed increasing Social Security benefits for everyone at age 85. Under one common proposal analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research in a new report, the current benefit at this age would increase by
5 percent.

The poverty rate for people over 85 is 12 percent, compared with 8 percent for new retirees. But more elderly people may actually be living on the edge, because the income levels that define poverty for them are so low: less than $11,757 for a single person and less than $14,817 for couples.

age and poverty chartOne reason the oldest retirees are especially vulnerable is that their medical expenses are rising as their health is deteriorating, yet they’re too old to defray the expense by working. This is occurring at the same time that the value of their employer pensions – if they have one – has been severely eroded by inflation after many years of retirement.

Further, elderly women are more likely to be poor than men, because wives usually outlive their husbands, which triggers a big drop in income that is generally not fully offset by a drop in their expenses.

Limiting the 5 percent benefit increase to the oldest retirees would ease poverty while containing the cost. …Learn More

Caregiver Guides Detail Financial Duties

The federal government has released online brochures to give people who are thrust into a caregiving role a better idea of what they’re getting into.

“It’s a big shock at first and a big adjustment,” an Episcopal priest says in the video above. He became his mother’s caregiver after she developed dementia.

But people who anticipate they will one day be a caregiver can soften the blow by studying up on their future responsibilities with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new guides to caring for a loved one.

The brochures are free and cover four financial responsibilities: guardian, trustee, power of attorney, and fiduciary for a Social Security or Veterans Affairs beneficiary.

They can be downloaded in English or in Spanish at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website, or the agency will mail them.

CFPB has also posted brochures detailing the caregiver regulations and laws specific to six states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, and Virginia. The state guides each cover the same four topics: guardian, trustee, power of attorney, and fiduciary for a Social Security or Veteran Affairs beneficiary.

Non-profit organizations in Michigan and Texas have also published their own brochures on caregiver issues in their states – links to these brochures are also on CFPB’s website. …Learn More

Open enrollment ad

ACA Premiums Drop in Many States

Premiums for the benchmark silver health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act will go down 1 percent to 2 percent, on average, in 2019.

This sounds like good news to people scurrying to enroll by the Dec. 15 deadline. But a more accurate characterization is that this slight decline is a break from what had generally been a relentless pace of premium hikes in 2016 through 2018.

Cynthia Cox, director of health reform and private insurance for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, said insurance companies in many states had previously “raised premiums more than they had to” amid the uncertainty in the program’s early years. These hikes boosted their profits, but they’ve “put the brakes on premium increases,” which they are required to justify to state regulators.

On close inspection, however, the picture is far more complex. Each state regulates its insurers, and individual state markets have gone in many different directions in the five years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect, a Kaiser study shows. The unique developments in each state market reflect a combination of state and federal regulatory changes, insurers’ constant repricing to market conditions, and insurers’ entrances into, and exits from, the state insurance exchanges.

Here are a few examples, based on insurance companies’ rate filings with state regulators:

  • Tennessee residents will see the biggest decline in 2019 premiums, a drop of 26 percent for the benchmark silver plan, which is the second lowest-cost silver plan. Tennessee insurers initially had set some of the lowest premiums in the country. In a 2018 adjustment, Cox said they overcorrected them to the point that the policies became “particularly overpriced.” Next year, insurers will drop the premiums as they continue their efforts to find the proper pricing for the state’s insurance market.   Somewhat similar stories have played out in New MexicoNew Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.
  • North Dakota premiums are going in the opposite situation. Two years ago, Cox said, insurers there were “losing money quickly,” so they raised their 2018 rates by 8 percent. This increase apparently wasn’t enough, and the benchmark silver premium will rise by another 21 percent next year.
  • Alaska’s premiums got so high that the state stepped in. In 2017, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services granted Alaska’s request for a waiver that allowed it to reinsure its health insurance companies to reduce their risk in hopes they would drop their prices. The reform worked. Between 2017 and 2019, Alaska’s benchmark premium has fallen 25 percent.
  • New Jersey’s benchmark price will drop nearly 15 percent as a result of a new state law. Last summer, the state instituted a mandate requiring uninsured residents to purchase coverage to replace the federal mandate, which was eliminated. …

Learn More

house roof

Home Equity Offers Big Boost to Retirees

Retirees’ primary sources of income are the usual suspects: Social Security and employer retirement plans. They rarely use a third option: the equity locked up in their homes.

The Urban Institute recently quantified how much this untapped equity could be worth to seniors in the United States and 10 European countries if it were converted to income – and the amounts are significant.

The typical retired U.S. household has the potential to increase its retirement income by 35 percent, researchers Stipica Mudrazija and Barbara Butrica estimate. In Europe, using home equity would add anywhere from 19 percent in Sweden to 100 percent in Spain.
home equity in various countriesLearn More