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Last week was National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), a campaign that encourages consumers to take full advantage of their rights and make better-informed decisions. Unfortunately, scams never stop. The NCPW website offers a way to keep up with scams, highlighting some of the most common schemes, with red flags and tips to keep consumers safe.
Attorney General Mark Herring is warning Virginia property owners to be cautious of companies offering to sell them a copy of the deed to their home. Homeowners throughout the state have been receiving official looking letters, often titled as a “Deed Processing Notice,” that offer to sell them a copy of their deed for $83. The letters specify that homeowners must comply by a specific date. Often these letters are received shortly after you’ve purchased your house or refinanced your mortgage. “Even though these letters look like official notices, they are actually solicitations and should be treated as such,” Attorney General Herring said. In other words, these letters are a scam.
You should never need to pay to get a copy of your recorded deed, because you always get the original deed back within a few months after closing – directly from the Settlement Agent who handled your closing. Here’s what happens: when you first buy your home or other real estate, the Settlement Agent who handles your closing sends your deed to the County courthouse to be recorded; after recordation, the courthouse sends your deed back to the Settlement Agent and the Settlement Agent then sends it to you, typically along with your Title Insurance Policy (assuming you purchased Owners Title Insurance, which most buyers do). Most people put that Deed and Title Insurance Policy in a safe location such a bank safe deposit box or a small home safe.
Please keep in mind that the mortgage lender does NOT keep your deed until you pay off your mortgage. That happens with car titles, but not with real estate deeds. If you need your original deed for something and you can’t locate it, you should start by calling the Settlement Agent who handled your closing and asking for a copy. If for some reason they don’t have a copy, or you can’t recall the name of the Settlement Agent, then you can go to the land records division of the county courthouse and obtain a copy of your recorded deed for a very small copying fee. In some smaller counties, you might even be able to call the county land records office and they might be willing to work out sending you a copy without you having to come in to the courthouse.
At the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we encourage you to stay informed about this and other scams this Consumer Protection Week and always. Other scams out there include phony charities asking for donations, advance-fee loans, fake checks and identity theft. Read the FBI Common Fraud Schemes Web page or the Better Business Bureau Scam Stopper Web page for more details and be sure to report any scams to the Better Business Bureau. In addition, please read our “Don’t Let Your Mother-in-law Get Duped” post for more details.
Keeping up with scams that are affecting consumers is important. It is also very important to keep up with your planning. If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. as soon as possible at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to schedule your appointment for our introductory consultation.
In Watertown, Wisconsin, several local businesses display small purple angel decals in their windows. The decals indicate that the employees inside have been trained in how to recognize customers with dementia and how to best assist them and their caregivers.
Jan Zimmerman, a nurse in a senior living community in Watertown, initiated the effort and envisions a community where residents are fully educated about dementia, business owners are trained on how to assist customers with memory loss, and people with dementia remain independent for as long as possible.
According to Zimmerman, the participating businesses are part of a “broader effort to educate the town’s 24,000 residents about dementia and to keep those who have the condition engaged in the community by providing the services they need.”
How does it work? People in Watertown who are living with dementia can pick up pocket-sized cards intended to be carried by people with memory loss and presented at retail establishments at monthly support meetings. The cards read: “Thank you for your patience. I am memory impaired and may require a few extra moments. Your cooperation and understanding is much appreciated.” The cards are a subtle way people can signal their situation without having to announce it publicly.
Businesses in the town can take advantage of no-cost, on-site training for their employees, and those that complete training can display a purple angel in their window. Shops with purple angels then make special accommodations for their customers. In the Connection Cafe, a coffee shop similar to Starbucks with trained staff, baristas might encourage those patrons with memory loss to simply point to which size of coffee they want. And at the local bank, employees have been trained to look for signs that customers have been scammed.
The concept of making communities dementia-friendly is spreading in Europe but is just beginning to take hold in the United States. Currently, more than 50 groups have joined in the ACT on Alzheimer’s collaboration to help additional U.S. communities prepare for growing numbers of residents with dementia. According to Lori La Bey, executive director of Alzheimer’s Speaks, “I think it’s going to continue to expand. People are seeing the need, and this does not have to cost a lot of money or take a lot of time.”
Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Dementia Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. If you have a loved one who is suffering from dementia, we can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.
Nearly 300,000 Veterans have been found to have brain injuries since 2000, according to the Department of Defense. If you are a Veteran living with traumatic brain injury (TBI) who also has Parkinson’s, dementia, depression, unprovoked seizures, or certain diseases of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, you now have an easier path to receive additional disability pay under new regulations developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The new regulations, printed in the Federal Register, say that if certain Veterans with service-connected TBI also have one of the five illnesses described above, then the second illness will also be considered as service-connected for the calculation of VA disability compensation.
Eligibility for expanded benefits will depend upon the severity of the TBI and the time between the injury causing the TBI and the onset of the second illness. However, Veterans can still file a claim to establish direct service-connection for these ailments even if they do not meet the time and severity standards in the new regulation.
“Any veteran who believes they may be affected by this new regulation should contact their local National Service Office as soon as possible,” said National Service Director Jim Marszalek. Veterans who have questions or who wish to file new disability claims may also use the eBenefits website, available at www.eBenefits.va.gov/ebenefits. Information about VA and DoD programs for brain injury and related research is available at www.dvbic.org.
Please also read our recent blog post for additional changes that are being made to VA benefits that affect Veterans who are in need of medically-related assistance with activities of daily living.
Evan H. Farr is an Accredited Attorney with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs who understands the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit and the Medicaid program and the interaction between both benefit programs (please note that Mr. Farr does not work with clients seeking service-connected compensation). Mr. Farr works with clients to obtain the financial assistance to which they are entitled and enables veterans and their spouses afford the type of long-term care that they need, whether home care, adult day care, assisted living care, or nursing home care.
If you are a Veteran or spouse of a Veteran who served 90 days active duty, and at least one day during a period of wartime, and you need physical assistance with your activities of daily living, be sure to make an appointment ASAP for a no-cost consultation at the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. We can work with you to evaluate if you qualify for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit and/or Medicaid (or if we can get you qualified) and we will handle the filing of all the tedious and technical paperwork. Call us at our Fairfax Virginia Elder Law office at 703-691-1888 or at our Fredericksburg Virginia Elder Law office at 540-479-1435 to make an appointment today.
Q. My 70 year old mother-in-law, Geraldine, is a lot like the character “Rose” from the 80’s sitcom, Golden Girls. Although she was always a kind and gentle person, she is becoming more and more naïve and trusting. You would never believe that just five years ago, she was a successful business owner who made sound decisions. Now my husband tells me the doctor thinks she is in the early stages of dementia. We are very concerned about her decision-making capabilities.
I was over at her apartment one day with my son, who was home from college, and she picked up a call on her cell phone from a telemarketer. Next thing I know, she was giving him her personal information. I signaled for her to stop and hang up. When she got off the phone, she told me that the caller was promising the “investment opportunity of a lifetime.”
She will be moving in with our family soon, but the calls may not stop, since many of them are on her cell phone. I might not always be around to stop her from giving her information out. How can I convince her, before it is too late, that calls such as the one we witnessed are most likely fraudulent?
A. Sadly, with the increasing proportion of aging baby boomers, such as your mother-in-law, criminals are under the impression that they have a wealth of potential victims. According to a survey on elder fraud from Investor Protection Trust, 20% of unsuspecting retirees become victims of financial fraud. The same study reveals that one in every five Americans over 65, or about 7.5 million people, has lost money through financial fraud.
As we age, our ability to discern the credible from the not-so-credible decreases. And retirees in the early stages of diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s, such as your mother-in-law, are more prone to fall for illegitimate phone, mail, or email-based money-grabbing schemes.
As a rule of thumb, if it seems too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. With that in mind, since you can’t be around all the time, gently remind your mother-in-law not to sign up for sweepstakes, travel giveaways, or suspicious free gift offers. According to the National Consumers League fraud center, once the scam bait has been taken, her contact information may end up on a “suckers list,” where it’s collected and then sold to outside parties. From that time onward, she will likely find herself receiving a plethora of fake mailings and phone calls.
The following are some common scams that target seniors:
• Telemarketing or mail fraud: Dishonest scammers use the phone to sell seniors goods that either never arrive or are worthless junk. In addition, they often conduct investment and credit card fraud, lottery scams, and identity theft. Telemarketers take in an estimated $40 billion each year, bilking one in six American consumers. AARP claims that about 80% of them are 50 or older.
• Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud: In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
• Grandparent Scam: Since she has at least one grandson in college, she should be aware of a frightening scam that comes as a call from someone pretending to be a family member needing money. The criminals often do intensive research on the potential victim’s family, so their story may sound credible. If this happens to her, tell her to ask the person if you can call them back later and immediately check the facts with your family. Suggest to your mother-in-law that she should NEVER give money to anyone without verifying their identity.
• Using Fraudulent Legal Documents: Many scammers cloak their actions in legal authority, procuring a power of attorney or will or other legal document giving them access to a senior’s property. They get seniors to sign these documents by lying, intimidation, or threatening of the seniors. To ensure that this does not happen, make sure that your documents are done in a safe and ethical manner by a Certified Elder Law Attorney, such as myself. Make her aware that any other estate planning or incapacity documents presented as hers are not authentic.
Of course, there are plenty of other scams out there, including phony charities asking for donations, advance-fee loans, fake checks and identity theft. Read the FBI Common Fraud Schemes Web page or the Better Business Bureau Scam Stopper Web page for more details and be sure to report any scams to the Better Business Bureau.
You mentioned that your mother in law was diagnosed with dementia. Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Dementia Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. If you have a loved one who is suffering from dementia, we can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one, such as your mother-in-law, who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.
Q: My mother, Sally, 62, owns a home in Fairfax that is valued at $500,000 and the amount owed on her mortgage is still $300,000. When my mother retires in 3 years, the monthly mortgage payment will be unaffordable for her, but she would still like to remain in her home. She is considering refinancing her current conventional mortgage to turn it into a reverse mortgage, but I heard that some changes have recently gone into effect that may make reverse mortgages harder to get. Is this true? Also, my grandpa lost his house when he had to go into a nursing home several years ago due to Alzheimer’s. I understand now (from reading your website) that we could have protected grandpa’s house had we come to you. But now I’m concerned about my mom maybe getting Alzheimer’s and needing nursing home care. Would a reverse mortgage cause a problem with getting her eligible for Medicaid?
A. Many homeowners understandably want to remain in their homes as they age because they want to remain independent and because they have spent many years making their home everything they wanted it to be. Reverse mortgages have assisted many senior homeowners over the years to stay in their homes when their financial position changed.
A reverse mortgage is a loan for people age 62 or older. It provides money from the equity in your home through a line of credit, monthly payments or a lump sum. It does not require repayment of the loan until you move, sell the property, or pass away, and the homeowner is still responsible for property taxes and insurance. Reverse mortgages were initially developed as a tool to assist individuals to remain in their homes and communities as they grow older, by allowing homeowners to tap their equity without selling their homes. As you mentioned, however, the rules about reverse mortgages recently changed, making them harder to obtain.
In August of 2013, the President signed HR 2167 – “The Reverse Mortgage Stabilization Act of 2013” – giving the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) the authority to make necessary changes to the reverse mortgage program. According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the changes “reduce their risk and make the program easier for seniors to use responsibly.” For the homeowner, the changes will make it harder to qualify for a reverse mortgage, but will provide additional protections.
Until now, getting a reverse mortgage loan required no credit history and no minimum income requirement. Due to problems with homeowners failing to maintain their property tax and home insurance payments, starting on January 13, 2014, the FHA began requiring lenders to verify that homeowners have the ability to pay their taxes and insurance and that their credit history demonstrates a commitment to paying obligations.
To qualify for a reverse mortgage, lenders now must analyze all income sources — including pensions, Social Security, IRAs and 401(k) plans — as well as credit history. They also look closely at how much money is left over after paying typical living expenses.
If a lender determines that you are not be able to keep up with property taxes and hazard insurance payments, they are now authorized to set-aside a certain amount of funds from your loan to pay future charges. The amount of the set-aside is based on the life expectancy of the youngest borrower. If set-aside funds run out, you must continue paying property charges using whatever funds are at your disposal.
If a lender determines that you have sufficient income left over, then you don’t have to worry about having any funds set-aside to pay for future tax and insurance payments.
These changes, along with the reduced benefits adopted in September of 2013, mean that many seniors will not qualify for a reverse mortgage to make their homes affordable.
Why the new rules? Some seniors who obtained reverse mortgages with rather harsh terms found they were unable to either live off the loan for long or pay it back entirely. The FHA’s changes to its reverse mortgage program sets out to encourage homeowners to tap their home’s equity slowly and steadily. “What regulators are trying to do is shift behavior so that people are more thoughtful and methodical about how they draw the money,” says Peter H. Bell, president of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association. “The changes are intended to put the program back on track and encourage people to take what they need and no more.”
You also asked if a reverse mortgage might affect Medicaid eligibility for your mother. The answer is no. Keeping money in a reverse mortgage line of credit in Virginia, and in most other states, will not count as a resource for Medicaid eligibility purposes so long as the house itself is an exempt resource, which it would be for your mother so long as she is living in the home and receiving home-based Medicaid services. However, transferring money from the reverse mortgage line of credit to a bank account and leaving it there past the end of the month would convert the exempt home equity into a countable resource and that would make her lose her Medicaid eligibility. This important distinction between countable resources and exempt assets is not a simple black and white issue — if you or your loved one is facing the possible need for long-term care, you should get an opinion from a Certified Elder Law Attorney, such as myself. To make an appointment for a no-cost consultation, please call the Fairfax and Frederickburg Medicaid Asset Protection Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg.
Marlene suffers from chronic back pain and arthritis. Sometimes, she is so stiff that she cannot move without wincing in pain, and has to stay in bed. She has tried everything, including visiting doctors and specialists and taking prescription painkillers. She has even considered complementary and alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and chiropractic help. She recently heard from a friend about Reiki, and was intrigued and wants to know more about what causes chronic pain and alternatives for healing.
Chronic pain, or pain lasting more than three to six months, affects 100 million adult Americans, according to a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine. This equates to more than 40% of the adult population and, according to USA Today, it costs the nation upwards of $635 billion a year — more than cancer, heart disease and diabetes combined.
Chronic pain is not just acute pain that doesn’t go away. The National Institute of Health describes it as pain signals that “keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years.” There may have been an initial mishap, such as a sprained back or a serious infection, or there may be an ongoing cause of pain, such as arthritis, or cancer. Some people suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of body damage, and many chronic pain conditions affect older adults.
For generations, the default method for treating unrelenting pain has been prescription and over-the-counter painkillers. However, sustained use of painkillers can lead to its own problems, including stomach ulcers, liver failure, and addiction (which affects 1.9 million Americans). Luckily, pain management is one area in which drug-free treatments are showing promising results. A recent survey found that 75% of integrative-medicine centers across the country were successful at relieving chronic pain with therapies that don’t come in the form of a pill.
Alternative therapies and treatments, including acupuncture, nutritional supplements, massage, chiropractic therapies, certain herbal therapies, and as mentioned in our example, Reiki, have the potential to alleviate chronic pain in many people.
As a Reiki Master and as the founder of ROSE (Reiki Outreach Services for Elders), I have seen for myself the wonderful healing power of Reiki. Reiki is one of many types of energy-based healing practices. It is based on the fact that a universal energy or life force flows through us and around us.
Reiki is a simple, natural and safe method of energy healing and self-improvement that everyone can use. It has been effective in helping virtually every known illness and malady and always creates a beneficial effect. It also works in conjunction with all other medical or therapeutic techniques to relieve side effects and promote recovery.
When used with the elderly, Reiki can have a two-fold outcome in its use. Many, if not all, infirmed elderly suffer from many chronic ailments at once rather than just one, including Stroke, Parkinson’s, respiratory ailments such as emphysema, pneumonia or asthma, Alzheimer’s, heart failure, kidney disease, immobility or cancer. Receiving Reiki not only provides a level of energy and relaxation to the elderly, but can also address the emotional nourishment the elderly need – all through the simple act of touch. Learn more about ROSE (Reiki Outreach Services for Elders) at http://www.Reiki4Elders.org. If you are a Reiki practitioner or are interested in helping bring Reiki into the Elder community, visit our Reiki For Your Soul Meetup website and find out about our upcoming events.
Alternative therapies, such as Reiki, bring the body and mind to a better place. It may not take your back pain away tomorrow, but it can give you excellent coping strategies and increased awareness of what modifies the pain. Remember, as you are finding ways to help with your body, the greatest way to gain peace of mind comes with planning for your future and for your loved ones. If you or a loved one is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care or if you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), please call The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Long-Term Care Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.
People with Alzheimer’s often wait years after their symptoms first appear to seek evaluation and treatment. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, half of the people with Alzheimer’s don’t even know they have it. If you or a loved one are experiencing memory loss that disrupts daily life, experts stress the importance of early detection of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, providing the chance to get the full benefit of treatment sooner and also to allow for future planning.
Tests already exist that allow doctors to get a baseline measurement of cognitive function in their patients in order to follow and track change over time. However, these tests are not generally administered at home or in a community setting, but in a medical setting. According to the January issue of The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE test) can be administered at home or in group settings (such as health fairs), and has proven to be reliable.
Created by researchers at Ohio State University (OSU), SAGE was made available online this month and the resulting news coverage led to so many people trying to access the test that it crashed OSU’s web site. The website is now working again, and the test can be downloaded here. The Alzheimer’s Association, which does not typically recommend self-administered testing for Alzheimer’s, speaks highly of SAGE and its reliability.
To develop the test, researchers at OSU visited 45 community events where more than 1,000 people age 50 or older took one of four versions of SAGE. Participants were provided their score and written information about SAGE, and were advised to show it to their physician for interpretation and potential further evaluation based on their health history. All were told that this test represented their baseline to be compared to future re-testing by their physician.
The 22-question exam measures orientation, language, computation, visuospatial skills, problem solving, and memory. The average time to complete this four-page test is 10 to 15 minutes, but there’s no time limit. Sample questions include:
- How many nickels are in 60 cents?
- How are a watch and a ruler similar?
- Write down the names of 12 animals.
- What is today’s date?
- Draw a large face of a clock and place in the numbers.
“What we found was the SAGE self-administered test correlated very well with detailed cognitive testing,” researcher Douglas Scharre said in a release. “If we can catch this cognitive change really early, then we can start potential treatments much earlier than without having this test.”
Keep in mind that the researchers themselves say that the test does not diagnose memory and thinking problems, such as Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, a diagnosis is made through a complete assessment that considers all possible causes. The assessment includes medical history, a physical exam, a neurological exam, mental status test, genetic testing, and brain imaging. If this tool is validated by further research, it may then become a tool that allows doctors to get a baseline measurement of cognitive function in their patients, so they can then track these abilities and assess change over time.
If you decide to complete the SAGE test, keep in mind that there is no answer sheet provided for you to score yourself because there are multiple correct answers to many of the questions on the test. SAGE should be scored by your physician, so be sure to take the results to your primary care physician for evaluation. Your doctor will score it and interpret the results. If indicated, your doctor will order some tests, as described above, to further evaluate your symptoms or refer you for further evaluation. If your score does not indicate any need for further evaluation, your doctor can keep the test on file as a baseline for the future. That means you can take the test again in the future, and the doctor can see if there are any changes over time.
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is life-changing for both diagnosed individuals and those close to them. While it’s not easy to think about, if your loved one has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is imperative to make an appointment with a Certified Elder Law Attorney such as myself, to determine who to name to make legal, financial, and medical decisions when your loved one is no longer able to do so. In addition, if your loved one hasn’t done so already, it is also of utmost importance to determine how he or she will pay for long-term care without depleting the family’s hard-earned assets.
People with Alzheimer’s live on average four to eight years after they’re diagnosed, but some may live 20 years beyond their initial diagnosis. Do you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s? Persons with Alzheimer’s and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Medicaid Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia or memory lost, we can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits. Please contact The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. as soon as possible at our Fairfax Elder Law office at 703-691-1888 or at our Fredericksburg Elder Law office at 540-479-1435 to schedule your appointment for our no-cost consultation.
Q. A few days ago, in an article by Oscar Garcia of the Social Security Administration, I read that “People who have Medicare coverage are not affected by the Affordable Care Act.” In my own personal experience, I don’t think he is completely correct. I am on Medicare and personally, I have been affected by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I have taken advantage of the wellness visits and prescription drug savings. In fact, as an example, before the ACA, I was told I had to pay $160 in cost-sharing for a colorectal cancer screening. Today, this important screening and many others are covered at no cost to me (with no deductible or co-pay). I have also read in many places that the ACA is playing an important role in improving the financial viability of Medicare. In light of this conflicting information, can you clarify whether seniors on Medicare are or are not affected by the ACA?
A. Mr. Garcia is correct that people covered by Medicare do not need to replace Medicare coverage with plans offered in Marketplace coverage. Please read our recent article about this subject. As you noted, however, people with Medicare are affected by the ACA. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), below are some examples of how the ACA positively affects seniors on Medicare:
Preventative Services: The ACA helps tear down a significant barrier for some seniors to staying healthy and helps their care providers prevent, identify and treat problems early.
◦More than 25.4 million senior citizens and others covered by Medicare received at least one preventive service at no cost to them during the first eleven months of 2013, because of the Affordable Care Act.
◦Before the Affordable Care Act, Medicare recipients had to pay part of the cost for many preventive health services, such as the colorectal cancer screening you described.
◦These out-of-pocket costs made it difficult for many seniors to get the important preventive care they needed.
Annual Wellness Visits: In the first eleven months of 2013, more than 3.5 million seniors and other beneficiaries with Medicare took advantage of the Annual Wellness Visit established by the ACA.
Financial Viability of Medicare: Provisions of the ACA are proving to be highly beneficial to the future of the Medicare program.
◦ACA provisions have had a substantial effect on reducing the growth rate of Medicare spending. Growth in Medicare spending per beneficiary hit historic lows during the 2010-2012 period, and this trend has continued into 2013 (Source: Department of Health and Human Services).
◦Medicare spending per beneficiary will grow at approximately the rate of growth of the economy for the next decade, breaking a decades-old pattern of spending growth that outstripped U.S. economic growth. (source: projections by both the Office of the Actuary at CMS and the Congressional Budget Office)
Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs): Doctors, hospitals and health care providers establish ACOs to work together to provide better health care through closely coordinated services to their Medicare patients, while working to slow the growth of health care cost.
◦The goal of coordinated care is to ensure that patients, especially the chronically ill, get the right care at the right time, while avoiding unnecessary duplication of services and preventing medical errors.
◦According to CMS, when an ACO succeeds both in delivering high-quality care and spending health care dollars more wisely, it will share in the savings it achieves for the Medicare program.
◦There are now more than 360 ACOs working with Medicare to provide higher-quality coordinated care to 5.3 million seniors and other beneficiaries, while reducing the cost of health care (source: HHS)
Prescription Drug Coverage Savings: The ACA saved seniors $8.9 billion on their prescription drugs since the law’s enactment (source: CMS).
◦Seniors with Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) will see a $15 drop in their deductible, from $325 in 2013 to $310 in 2014.
◦The “donut hole” (coverage gap for seniors with large prescription drug needs), has been getting smaller each year, since 2011, and due to ACA provisions, it will continue to get smaller. In fact, in 2014, the donut hole will be $158.75 smaller than it was in 2013, another step closer to the plan to eliminate this coverage gap by 2020. For more details, read our blog post about the donut hole.
You are right in questioning the conflicting information you have read. As you can see, actions resulting from the ACA (also called Obamacare) are certainly having a major effect on seniors on Medicare today, and according to the CMS, will continue to do so in the future.
As you are taking advantage of the benefits of the ACA and planning for your next wellness visit, it is also a good idea to plan for your future and for your loved ones. If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. as soon as possible at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to schedule your appointment for our no-cost consultation.
Q. We just found out that my father, Barry, will be moving in with us in the new year. He is in his 70’s, has Parkinson’s, arthritis, and is in a wheelchair a lot of the time. We don’t have much money to renovate, but we want to make sure our home is safe and comfortable for him. Being in our home with his grandchildren is where he is the happiest, and quality of life for my dad is of utmost importance to us. I am most worried about him falling. What small adjustments can you recommend to make our home safe and livable for him, so he can stay as long as possible? Also, if it is too much for us to handle alone, who can we call for assistance?
A. There are lots of simple modifications you can do to make your home safer for your father that don’t cost a lot or are completely free. By making some minor adjustments, your father can move into your home and hopefully live safely, comfortably, and independently, among his loved ones.
As you mentioned, falls are certainly a cause for concern, as they are the leading cause of home injury among seniors. Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, head injuries, and significant loss of independence. Those over age 75 who fall are four times more likely to be admitted to a skilled nursing facility. The good news about falls is that most of them can be prevented.
The following are a few simple modifications from the AARP Home Fit Guide, that will help to decrease the likelihood of falls and to make your home all-around more accessible for your father:
- Pick up any clutter that can cause your father to trip, such as newspapers, books, shoes, clothes, electrical cords, and phone cords.
- If you have throw rugs, remove them or use double-sided tape or non-slip pads underneath to secure them.
- If you have stairs, consider installing handrails on both sides.
- Add lamps, light fixtures, and night lights where needed to improve visibility. Consider installing motion sensor lights outside the front and back doors and in the driveway.
- Get some non-skid bath rugs for the bathroom floors, put a non-slip rubber mat or self-stick strips on the floor of the tub/shower and install grab bars inside the tub/shower. Consider getting a hand-held adjustable shower head installed and purchasing a shower or bathtub seat so your father can shower from a safe seated position.
- Organize your kitchen cabinets so things are within easy reach. Make your cabinets and pantry easier to access by installing pullout shelves or lazy susans.
- Since your father uses a wheelchair, adapt your home by installing ramps on entrance steps, and mini-ramps to go over high entrance thresholds. You can even widen the doorways an additional two inches by installing “swing clear” offset door hinges.
- To make things more comfortable, since he has arthritis, replace round doorknobs with lever handles, round bathroom faucets with lever faucet handles, and knobs on cabinets with pull handles.
If you are not handy or need professional guidance to make your home accessible for your father, please consider the following:
- Think about hiring a Professional Organizer to help you organize and declutter, making rooms less crowded and therefore less of a fall hazard. You can find a directory of Certified Professional Organizers (CPO) by visiting the website http://www.certifiedprofessionalorganizers.org.
- Find an Aging in Place Specialist to make your home accessible. You can find a directory of Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) by visiting the website of the certifying organization – the National Association of Home Builders, at http://www.nahb.org.
- All the help available to seniors may in itself be overwhelming. How do seniors choose the right service provider for their needs? If you live in Northern Virginia, be sure to check out the Trusted Referrals listed on The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. website.
It is always a good idea to plan for the future, just in case your father needs more adaptations and assistance than you can provide. Nursing homes in Northern Virginia cost $9,000 – $12,000 per month (less in Fredericksburg). Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting your father from having to go broke paying for nursing home care, while also helping ensure that he gets the best possible care and maintains the highest possible quality of life, whether at your home or, in the future, in an assisted living facility or nursing home. Learn more at http://www.VirginiaElderLaw.com and call us at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.
As the population of seniors grows rapidly in this country, so does the need to pinpoint which lifestyle choices and activities will promote healthy aging. Recently, the University of California, San Francisco, received a $1.9 million grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to launch a four-year study to provide scientific-based evidence that community arts programs, such as singing in a choir, promote better health.
The study, called “Community of Voices,” involves 400 seniors who will participate in weekly, 90-minute singing sessions for one year. Qualifying choir members are at least 60 years old and for the most part, and have no prior choral experience. In exchange for three study interviews, every participant will be paid $105 and will be invited to perform in public.
The goal of the study is to evaluate how participation in these choirs influences cognition, mobility, and overall well-being — from mood, loneliness and memory to strength and balance.
The first of three groups has already formed at the Mission Neighborhood Center, and whether the study proves health benefits or not, participants are excited to be involved.
“This choir is good for me — my self-esteem is going up because I’m not in my house thinking my life has no value,” said Carlos Castro, 62, who recently had to give up his career as a massage therapist.
One of the only other studies of senior singing, by Gene Cohen and colleagues at George Washington University in Washington DC., found that participants reported better health, had fewer doctor visits and falls and added more activities to their routine when compared to seniors who did not participate in a choir.
At the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. (www.VirginiaElderLaw.com), we are excited to share that singing in a choir may promote better health. Our firm is dedicated to helping protect seniors preserve dignity, quality of life, and financial security. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.