Posts Tagged "Medicare"

Using Home Equity Improves Retiree Health

Retirees spend $1,500 more per year, on average, for medical care after a diagnosis of a serious condition like lung disease or diabetes.

Often, the solution for individuals who can’t afford such big bills is to scrimp on care or avoid the doctor altogether. But older homeowners can get access to extra cash if they withdraw some of the home equity they’ve built up over the years.

While the money clearly provides financial relief for retirees, a new study out of Ohio State University finds that it is also good for their health. Every $10,000 that Medicare beneficiaries extracted from their homes greatly improved their success in controlling a chronic or serious disease.

Among the retirees who had hypertension or heart disease, for example, one standard used to determine whether the condition was under control was whether blood pressure levels stayed below 140/90, which the medical profession deems an acceptable level. The people who tapped their home equity were more likely to stay below these levels than those who did not.

This is one of several studies in recent years to tie financial security to home equity, a resource many retirees are reluctant to tap. A study in 2020 found that older homeowners were less likely to skip medications due to cost after they had extracted equity through a refinancing, home equity loan, or reverse mortgage.

But this new research is the first attempt to connect the strategy to retirees’ actual health. The analysis followed the health of more than 4,000 homeowners for up to 15 years after they were diagnosed with one of four conditions – lung disease, diabetes, heart conditions, or cancer. …Learn More

Low-Income Retiree Gets Financial Coach

Every state should have what Delaware has: a program that helps low- and moderate-income seniors find a financial survival strategy.

Stand by me logoSince it opened in 2013, the program, Stand by Me 50+, has connected more than 2,300 older residents – mostly retirees – with federal and state aid programs, advised them of Social Security’s rules, and helped them pay medical bills or eliminate debt. The services are free.

Kathleen Rupert, a financial coach and head of the organization, helped one man in his 70s pay off $13,000 in debt. Another retiree doubled his income from Social Security after she determined that he was eligible for his late wife’s $1,700 benefit. About 44 percent of the program’s clients have monthly income of $1,500 or less.

“We go wherever the need is – to senior housing, senior centers, community centers, libraries,” she said. “We set up appointments at Panera Bread or Hardee’s – wherever they’re available.”

Squared Away interviewed three clients who said the financial solutions they got from the program have given them peace of mind. Here is the first client’s account of how Stand by Me 50+ helped her.

Peggy Grasty with great granddaughters, Aaliyah Gale and Quamiylah Sease.Peggy Grasty with great granddaughters, Aaliyah Gale and Quamiylah Sease.

Peggy Grasty retired in 2010 after two decades at Elwyn, a non-profit social services agency where she was a supervisor and worked with people with mental disabilities. She continues to help people – voluntarily. The 71-year-old takes other retirees under her wing who need assistance because they have trouble walking or aren’t as capable as her.

She initially contacted Stand by Me because she couldn’t make ends meet. She has a comfortable, federally subsidized apartment in Wilmington, Delaware. But her income is limited to a $1,500 Social Security check and a $53 pension from a job long ago waxing floors and driving a bus for a Pennsylvania middle school.

Stand by Me got help for Grasty through two programs: federal SNAP food stamps and a Delaware non-profit that pays low-income residents’ medical bills. By doing this type of work, the program addresses a real need. Although myriad financial assistance programs are available for low-income workers and retirees, they are frequently unaware of the programs, assume they don’t qualify, or may need help navigating the application process. …Learn More

Nursing Home Staffs’ Vax Rates by State

One in four of the more than 900,000 Americans who have died from COVID resided in nursing homes. Yet two years into the pandemic, hesitancy about protective vaccines persists in the facilities in many states.

In January, the Supreme Court upheld a regulation by the Biden administration that required all staff to be vaccinated in long-term care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding, which is pretty much all of them.

But a newly released rundown of state vaccination rates may not provide much comfort to vulnerable elderly residents and their families living in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Missouri, which rank at the bottom – only about 70 percent of nursing home staff were fully vaccinated as of Jan. 30, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The national average was 84 percent.

The highest vaccination rates – 99 percent of staff – were in Massachusetts, Maine, New York, and Rhode Island.

Kaiser’s vaccination rates were calculated based on the staff working in 10,600 U.S. nursing homes who’ve received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s traditional vaccine. The rates exclude booster shots, which are not part of the federal mandate. The nationwide booster rate for staff, which Kaiser provides separately in its report, is a low 28 percent – the Hawaii, New Mexico and California rates are double that.

A partial reason for the wide range of vaccination coverage is that states have different deadlines for complying with the federal mandate – some were in January and some are in February. But numerous states, including Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia, have low vaccination rates because they are, despite the Supreme Court ruling, seeking other legal avenues to challenge the mandate.

The size of a state’s population of people over 65 doesn’t seem to have much bearing on vaccination rates in nursing homes. …Learn More

Pharmacist attending to a customer

Mortgage Payoff Frees Up Money for Meds

Paying off the mortgage frees up a lot of money for other things. The homeowners in one study splurged on big-ticket items.

Older homeowners, however, are adding another priority: medications.

After a mortgage payoff, workers and retirees ages 50 to 64 spent 50 percent more on prescription drugs in a comparison with households who had no major changes in their monthly housing costs, according to a new study by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and funded by the U.S Social Security Administration.

The mortgage is typically a homeowner’s largest monthly expense. If medication spending rises when this big bill is eliminated, it supports the argument that some aging homeowners who are still carrying a mortgage may be choosing housing over necessary medical care.

This research is particularly relevant at a time older Americans are entering retirement with more debt. In 2016, four in 10 retirees had a mortgage – double the share in the late 1980s.

Not surprisingly, the researchers found some indication that lower-income workers and early retirees benefited more from eliminating their monthly payments. They have difficulty paying even for essential expenses, and the increase in their prescription purchases after paying off the home loan appeared to be larger than for higher-income groups with fewer constraints.

The researchers split the homeowners into two age groups – under and over 65. While homeowners under 65 sharply increased their drug spending after the mortgage payments ended, the Medicare beneficiaries did not.

The level spending after Medicare eligibility indicates that the program relieves some of the pressure on the family budget, the researchers said. Medicare also provides an average $5,000 annually to subsidize low-income retirees’ medications under the Low Income Subsidy program.

But for older homeowners who are too young to get Medicare but are still paying a mortgage, the study “raises serious concerns for health care quality and the costs to treat poorly managed conditions,” the researchers said.

To read this study, authored by Christopher Herbert, Jennifer Molinsky, Samara Scheckler, and Kacie Dragan, see “Older Adult Out-of-Pocket Pharmaceutical Spending after Home Mortgage Payoff.”

A blog post last year featured a similar study – this one about the older Americans’ adherence to medications after …Learn More

Wandering into Retirement Worked for Him

Howard Gantman didn’t exactly have a plan for retirement. Rather, he wandered into it during the early months of COVID chaos.

Nevertheless, retirement is going better than he’d expected. Gantman, who read comic books and science fiction voraciously as a child, has rediscovered his passion. He joined a writing group on Zoom and is working on a science fiction novel of his own. (And no, he’s not disclosing the plot yet.)

“I’m happier doing this than I would’ve been if I’d continued to work. I really was ready for a change,” the Washington, D.C., resident said in a recent interview. “Aside from a gruesome virus that keeps on whacking us on the head, I feel more in control of my life.”

Howard Gantman

Howard Gantman

Retirement experts often warn baby boomers that planning for lifestyle changes before retiring is just as important as making certain one’s finances are in order. That’s the ideal. But not everyone who’s making the transition has a well-developed plan or takes a straight route to where they wind up.

Gantman, a former journalist and government and communications professional, had anticipated working until he was about 72. In March 2019, at age 67, he left his job at the Motion Picture Association during a staffing transition and started focusing on consulting and volunteer work while searching for a new job. In December, he had to go into the hospital for surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm and replace an aortic valve.

After the surgery, while he was recovering and doing some light consulting, COVID hit and his employment opportunities dried up.

He decided to get back into creative writing, something he had only dabbled in as a young, workaholic journalist and then government official. At first, he blogged about aging and thought about writing a memoir centered on his late-life transition. But that topic no longer seemed to strike the right tone with so many lives suddenly in turmoil around COVID.

That’s when his love of science fiction and fantasy pulled him back in. “I decided that’s it. That’s what I want to do,” he said about writing a novel. …Learn More

seniors in a retirement home

Medicaid to Help Fill Gap in Seniors’ Care

Two previous studies on long-term care reported in this blog estimated how many of today’s 65-year-olds today will require care for minimal, moderate, or severe levels of need as they age and how many have the financial resources to cover each level of care that might be required.

In the third and final study in this series, the Center for Retirement Research matched the specific levels of need each retiree is projected to have in the future with their resources to determine how many of them will fall short.

Among all retirees, 22 percent are expected to have minimal needs for care and 9 percent will lack the family and financial resources to cover it – in other words, just under half of the people in this group will fall short. The shortfall among people with moderate needs will be larger: the comparable figures are 38 percent of all retirees will be at this level and 21 percent of retirees will fall short. Finally, 24 percent of retirees are expected to have severe care needs – for at least five years – and 16 percent will fall short.

But there is another critical source of support: Medicaid. The researchers find that the joint federal-state program dramatically reduces the share of retirees with insufficient resources to cover their care.

Not everyone qualifies for Medicaid, however. Older Americans can get the funding if they meet two conditions. First, they must have a serious health issue, such as dementia or a physical or medical condition that limits their activity. Second, the program covers nursing homes only for retirees with little in the way of financial resources, either because they had lower-paying jobs and didn’t save or because they exhausted most of the retirement savings they had scraped together.

Medicaid and LTSS graphWhen Medicaid is added to the picture, the program makes a significant dent. Among the 65-year-olds who will need moderate care, the share of all retirees who lack the resources to cover it drops from 21 percent to 14 percent when Medicaid funding is included. Medicaid also reduces the burden on boomers who will need high levels of care: the share lacking adequate resources drops from 16 percent to 11 percent.

The researchers didn’t include Medicaid in the resources available to the 9 percent of retirees who will need only minimal help with chores like cleaning or grocery shopping. The program typically doesn’t pay for these services, though there has been movement in a handful of states and at the federal level to loosen the restrictions around housekeeping. …Learn More

Open enrollment

Need Help Choosing Your Medicare Options?

This blog is for the procrastinators. The last day of Medicare open enrollment for people who want to switch their Medicare Advantage or Part D insurance plans is Dec. 7.

The hoopla around this open enrollment period can be confusing, because Medigap supplemental plans are on a different schedule. The optimal time to buy a Medigap plan is during a six-month window after your 65th birthday, which is the only time insurers are required under federal law to sell you a Medigap policy. Switching to a different Medigap plan during the current open enrollment is trickier, because you can be denied coverage, though several states have made it easier to enroll or switch from Medigap or Advantage to a new Medigap plan.

Retirees with Advantage or Part D plans can freely change plans during open enrollment but are usually reluctant to shop around. But insurance experts warn that the terms of existing policies can change, and this is the time to see if there’s a better deal out there. The Kaiser Family Foundation said retirees have a record number of Advantage plans to choose from for 2022 – double the number available five years ago. But this can be a double-edged sword if choices sew confusion.

If you haven’t plunged into researching your Advantage or Part D options, the resources listed below can help.

Free counselors. Every state has a counseling program to explain the Medicare options. The counselors are free, and this website lists every state with a link to that state’s contact information. Although volunteer counselors may not be as knowledgeable as insurance brokers who sell the policies, many volunteers are former health care professionals or are themselves enrolled in Medicare and know the system. …Learn More