middle class

The Aging Middle Class Has Been Forgotten

As we age, simple things we took for granted as kids become more difficult — and more expensive. That’s a truth all of us know. What you may not realize is that the aging middle class will face unique difficulties going forward. The private market offers options for assisted living, but at a price too high for the middle class; and those same people often have too much to qualify for Medicaid or subsidized housing. See Health Affairs article on the same.

Moreover, the adults stuck in this bind have fewer assets to fill the gap. They have more debt and fewer savings, are less likely to receive pensions and are likely to have smaller families to turn to for support as they age.

So what will fill the gap in the coming decade as more and more seniors require, but cannot afford long-term care?

The government could seek to incentivize the private market by expanding tax credits to developers of low-income senior housing, as a New York Times article suggests. The United States, like many Western democracies, could turn to public programs to fund long-term care or shift the boundaries of Medicaid to cover seniors above the current cut-off line, or to cover costs like housing instead of just health care. Given the increasing pressure on Medicaid and the difficulty of accruing political capital for such hot-button issues, those expansions seem unlikely.

Will the private market respond to demand, and start offering lower-cost options on its own? Long-term care insurance (LTCI) may be an avenue for growth, as discussed in this Commonwealth Fund article. Private LTCI options have become increasingly popular since their emergence in the 1970s, and despite some flaws, from underwriting and actuarial uncertainties to inflexible designs, LTCIs are overall a sound investment.

Planning for the possibility of needing long term care in the future is something we can assist with. We can also provide guidance in how that care will be paid for, without sacrificing all of your savings.

If you are interested in discussing an asset protection plan that focuses on long term care, please give us a call at our Norman, Oklahoma office by dialing (405) 241-5994, or you can send us a direct message by clicking here.

Aging in Place

Challenges with Aging in Place

According to AARP aging in place is a goal for 3 out of 4 Americans aged 50 or more. These seniors and near seniors are willing to employ alternative solutions to facilitate this. The alternatives include home-sharing (32%), building an additional or accessory dwelling unit (31%) and locating into villages that provide services which enable aging in place (56%). These communities become a source of support and engagement for residents and give a sense of grounding through memories of a long-time home environment.

Seniors who want to reside in a community (aka, age in place) rather than seek residential institutions or nursing homes are mostly dependent on unpaid caregivers and family members for assistance with activities of daily living (ADL). These activities include laundry, self-care actions like bathing and dressing, meal preparation, and transportation. Medicare provides some long-term care services and supports (LTSS); however, the LTSS program falls far short of the need. While the aging population in America is rapidly increasing, lawmakers are slow to respond to the insufficient funding to increase the availability of LTSS for seniors choosing to age in place. The goal of LTSS is not to replace but to supplement the contribution of unpaid family and caregivers. The addition of a Medicare benefit to support family caregivers as they help their loved ones would enable more aging adults to successfully remain in their homes.

Technology has provided some solutions for caregivers, allowing caregivers to monitor their loved one remotely while they stay engaged at work. Smart environmental controls and personal assistants have lightened the load of constant oversight but cannot replace the helping human touch. Nearly 60 percent of seniors who have seriously compromised mobility report being house or apartment bound, while 25 percent of those seniors say they often remain in bed and do not dress daily.

Low tech devices like canes, walkers, ramps, grab bars, shower seats and raised toilets to increase the level of accessibility and safety for aging in place seniors, however, transferring in and out of bed and moving around their homes still provides notable difficulty for many. The senior who wants to age in place is typically independent-minded and therefore have trouble foreseeing a time when help is not a want but a need. Aging adults and their families need to plan to address changing physical capacities before an adverse health event such as an unintended fall or dementia challenges change everything. While aging in place is a great goal for many seniors it requires planning just as if they were planning on moving into an assisted living facility.

Johns Hopkins researchers report 42 percent of older adults who have problems performing ADLs or are living with probable dementia receive no assistance at all from family, friends or paid caregivers. That is a staggering number of unaided seniors. Additionally, twenty-one percent of seniors with a minimum of three chronic conditions and high needs received no assistance at all. LTSS through Medicare will have to make changes to meet the ever-increasing demand for human caregiving.

Approximately 60 percent of at-home seniors use at least one low tech device, most commonly for bathing, toileting or in-home movement, throughout their day but their needs multiple as they age. Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover the expenses of most of these nonmedical devices and services. The resulting problem is seniors near, or at the bottom of the income ladder go without assistance, human or device, putting their daily lives in a very precarious position.

Hardships for these seniors on the razor’s edge include the inability to pay medical bills or prescription costs, utilities or rent, and some resort to skipping meals to balance out their unaided lifestyle. At best this is heartbreaking, at worst it is inhumane.

The CHRONIC Care Act will allow Medicare Advantage plans to offer supplemental benefits for seniors to cover devices such as wheelchair ramps, grab bars, personal care, and transportation to chronically ill seniors however there are 21 million people who have needs to be met and how this will be paid for is unclear. Meanwhile, the 39 million people enrolled in traditional Medicare are entirely left out of any supplemental benefit. Affordability for at-home care is a significant issue on a personal, family, and government level.

Caregivers and assistive low tech devices are an absolute necessity for seniors opting to age in place. The extent of the adjustments senior adults make as their needs become more profound are not well documented. As aging in place is a common strategy now, new solutions and programs must be explored to ensure successful aging.

If your strategy is to age in place, have a discussion early on with trusted counsel and family members to address some of the challenges you will eventually have to overcome.

If we can assist you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to The Law Office of Tyler R. Barrett, PLLC in Norman, Oklahoma. You can send us a message by clicking here or give us a call at (405) 241-5994.

Resident Security Upgrades for Senior Living Facilities

Technology is a rapidly changing industry. Advances in technology bring are constantly changing the way we live our lives and seniors are no different. There are a variety of new options emerging in security technology that can improve resident security in senior living. Many things that have long been used in security for senior living facilities are still relevant, such as locks and alarms, but more personal devices are being developed and have started emerging on the security scene.

This new technology is, for the first time, marrying safety and independence. Previously, these two things have been at odds. Personal alert systems have been around for a while, but the sophistication and reliability continue to improve. These devices give seniors the comfort to live their lives and yet be able to, at the push of a button, summon medical help. They are able to move about more freely in facilities and staff are comfortable being able to locate and assist at a moment’s notice. Wearables for seniors are no longer just for promoting physical activity and wellness, but with heart monitoring technology, they can trigger irregularities in a heartbeat and quickly detect issues. There are even sensors that can be worn under clothing to predict certain types of infections and falls. This allows independence, while also allowing help to reach the senior quickly.

Devices and apps that allow for social engagement are readily available for seniors. Devices such as smartphones and tablets are more and more common amongst the senior population. There are even phones and tablets specifically geared toward seniors that are simplified for greater ease of use. Along with these technologies are apps that allow seniors to connect with family as well as peers. Facebook and Skype give platforms that allow seniors to keep in touch with family and friends. Apps like Words with Friends allow seniors to play games and engage in mental stimulation with family and friends. Stitch is an app that allows like-minded seniors to communicate one on one, post group activities, and for some even seek romantic relationships.

In addition, up and coming applications like Gray Matters are bringing new possibilities for social engagement. This app was designed to allow dementia patients to stay connected. It allows the user to upload family photos, add text, or even recorded voices to allow dementia patients to engage while also improving social and mental functioning.

So how are technology engineers making this happen? They are putting to use technology that has been used in other forms, some even come from military uses. Take for example a global positioning system, better known as GPS. This along with real-time location services are used to create wearables that track and report the location of seniors if or when they need assistance. This allows for more independence with peace of mind, whether they are living alone or in a facility. Artificial intelligence in wearable devices allows for more data to be collected and used to predict needs and better detect changes in behavior and activity. Beyond this, engineers are using data analytics to take the data from artificial intelligence and use it to predict infections such as urinary tract infection and even malnutrition.

For many seniors, independence often trumps security, but for their families, the opposite is usually true. No matter what form of senior living best serves you or your loved one, safety is most likely one of the most important factors in making that choice. In the current age of ever-changing technology, the options may be better than you think. Take the time to research and look into improvements in technology for seniors if you or a loved one is facing these challenges.

Our firm has extensive experience in helping seniors plan their living situations along with adapting to new technologies. If you have any questions, please give us a call at (405) 241-5994, or click here to send us a direct message.

online scams

How to Avoid These Common Online Scams

The online world is rife with scams, and the number of people in the online world makes it a target-rich environment for scammers. Seniors and near seniors should be aware of some of the more common attacks aimed to gain access to your money as well as identity. If you have social media accounts, email, or shop online, you are being targeted by scam artists. Here is what you need to know about some of the most common online scams.

Don’t Fall for the Sales Pitch

The product reads or sounds to be amazing. There are testimonials of success or satisfaction galore with the product that includes a Free Trial Offer! What can go wrong if all you do is pay a modest sum for shipping and handling? Here is what is wrong. Your payment for shipping and handling allowed them access to your credit or debit card information and buried deep in the fine print are the real terms of the deal which obligate monthly payments of some much higher monetary amount after your free trial expires. This payment has to be canceled within the stringent guidelines of the contract you agreed to by clicking a box. Read the user agreement or contract parameters before accepting the free trial. Reputable companies will allow cancellation of the advertised product however if you cannot get out of the contract immediately cancel your card and negotiate a refund. If that doesn’t work, contact your credit card company and make an appeal for their help to gain restitution.

Be Wary of Public Networks

Always be aware of your digital surroundings as local Wi-Fi zones may leave you vulnerable to a hotspot imposter. In a coffee shop or an airport if you are logging onto free Wi-Fi or what resembles a paid service like Boingo Wireless you may be logging onto an illegitimate site designed to look like the real thing. A criminal can be hosting a false Wi-Fi site near you on a laptop. Free, unsecured sites allow for crooks like this to data-mine your computer or phone for a credit card, password, or banking information. The information is then typically resold to another criminal who will exploit your information for money. It can be tough to tell what a legitimate Wi-Fi spot is. One protective mechanism is to ensure you are not automatically set up for non-preferred networks. If you are not sure how to do this, ask a trusted internet savvy family member or friend. When traveling pre-purchase a credit gift card through MasterCard or Visa and use this for online purchase for access to airport Wi-Fi to protect your data and do not do banking or internet shopping from any public hot spot unless you are sure the connection is secure as it is not worth the risk.

They Call it Click-Bait for a Reason

Don’t fall for clickbait. The chances of you being the winner of a contest for a free iPad or other expensive prize is likely a scam to get you to click the link provided to “learn more”. Often the connection is grabbing your IP address and adding your computer to a botnet that can be used for a multitude of nefarious purposes. Before clicking on a shortened URL typically found on Twitter and other social media that limits characters check the profile of the user promoting the link. For instance, if the user is following thousands of people, but no one follows them, it is most likely a bot set up to trap your data.

Be Skeptical of Erroneous Pop-Ups

Sometimes on a computer, a window will pop up about seemingly legitimate antivirus protection with an alert stating that your machine has been compromised with a dangerous virus, bug or malware. You are then prompted to click on a link that will scan and remove the offending virus for a fee and the promise to clean up your computer. When you click on the suggested link, the bogus company will instead install malware, or malicious software, on your computer, compromising all of your data. The front is to scare you into acting right away out of fear to protect your computer, but the opposite happens. Often the design of these pop-up windows has a look and feel that mimics reputable companies like Microsoft. If a pop-up virus warning appears, close the window without clicking on any links, and then use tools in your operating system to run a scan to check for system integrity.

Always Contact Your Banking Institutions Directly

If your bank sends you a text message on your cell phone stating there is a problem with your account and you need to call right away with account information it is not legitimate. Another text message might read that you have won a gift certificate to a well-known store and that all you have to do is call the toll free number and provide your credit card information is also a scam. The gift certificate scam will ask for payment information for shipping and handling to receive your winnings. This is a technique known as smishing, which stands for SMS phishing. Like its email version counterpart phishing, you will lose control of your credit card data and have to chase down fraudulent charges. A real bank and legitimate store would never ask you to reveal account information over the phone for security or to claim a prize, so don’t do it, ever.

Do Your Homework on Charities

It is noble to be charitable, and Americans are some of the most generous people in the world. Whether in email, social media, text, or phone call do not donate sums of money to charitable causes as the charity is most likely a scam designed to gain access to your money and banking data. Many of these bogus charitable scams will use current headlines to garner your sympathy and get you to act now. Donate to real charities on their legitimate and secure websites only.

Write a check to the Salvation Army or Hospice and send it to their valid mailing addresses. Do not be goaded into immediate action. Have a plan for what you choose to donate to charity and follow your plan.

Never Send Money Through a Dating App

One of the cruelest scams online is the dating site or chat room scam which preys upon the lonely elderly. You might play a virtual game together online, exchange pictures, or even talk on the phone; that is the hook. You feel like you have met someone you can relate to that eases your loneliness. Typically what happens next is there is a need to wire money to escape a foreign country, an abusive parent, get medical care, or buy a plane ticket to travel to you. It isn’t true. This person isn’t the new love of your life, and you will lose your money and have your heart broken. Scam artists in online social networking specialize in luring the lonely into friendships and love affairs. Be smart about how you approach dating and social networking sites. The minute someone asks for money immediately sign off and employ these tips for keeping yourself safe from online dating scams.

Read Up on Those Online Seller Reviews

Even be wary of online shopping sites like Amazon or eBay as they allow resellers access to their platforms. Just because you are on a reputable site does not mean the reseller is trustworthy. In some cases, the scammers will send a product, but it will be counterfeit. In other cases, they will post delivery to you 3 to 4 weeks from purchase date, knowing that Amazon pays sellers every two weeks. The scammer will then receive the money from you and the legitimate company, and you will never receive anything. They have your money, and you have nothing.

The online world is always changing, and scam artists change with it because it is so lucrative. Even if 1% of their targeted victims fall prey to their tactics, scammers can make a lot of money. Don’t let that money be yours!

Dealing with reputable companies and trustworthy information is the key to your ability to enjoy a successful aging strategy.

If you feel you have been taken advantage by one of these types of online scams, there may be legal avenues available to help you.

Contact our office today by calling us at (405) 241-5994 and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you. You may also click here to fill out our website contact form, and we will be in touch with you as soon as possible.

The Problem with Joint Bank Accounts

Here’s an idea that sounds better than it is: Put children’s names on the parent’s bank account. That way, children can sign checks if parents can’t pay bills when they become ill. When the parents pass, the money goes directly to the children with no court involved. Simple.

Simple does not mean good, however. Joint bank accounts are owned equally by all who are named on the account. All can spend without question. You may not believe that your children would take your money without permission – but what if that child might be going bankrupt, is in a bitter divorce, or is sued in court?

In one bad case, mom went into the hospital and a son on mom’s account saw his chance to go on a spending spree. It took six years of hard-fought litigation, and many thousands in legal fees, for his siblings to recover just a small portion of the misappropriated money. The rest was gone for good.

It is smart to designate a person to pay your bills when you can’t, so get a lawyer to draft a good power of attorney for you. This is much safer. Good power of attorney also permits your agent to stand in your shoes if you plan to qualify for Medicaid, or to file your taxes, or to sell a property if need be. With a power of attorney, you can designate only people whom you trust to take care of your finances responsibly when you can’t.

Then, for a very simple and no-cost way to give money after you pass, you can choose your beneficiaries with a “payable on death” (POD) designation at the bank. This keeps your name, only, on your account while you are alive, and it instructs the bank to convey your money to your beneficiaries only on your passing.

The best way to resist temptation is to avoid the opportunity in the first place.

If you have any questions on sharing financial information with your loved ones, please contact us for a consultation.

Estate Planning for Military Families

Estate Planning for Military Families

No matter the time of year, it is always a good opportunity for members of the military and their loved ones to consider setting up — or revising an existing —estate plan. Military families need to consider special estate-planning issues that others do not. This is particularly true when one or more family members are deployed overseas. Beyond this, members of the military have access to special benefits and resources. This can become complicated and, for this reason, it is important to seek special help if you are a military family.

Whether you are just starting your service in the military or have been serving for some time, consider the following common factors that may be important in your estate planning.

Factors to Consider

Estate plans should be customized to each person’s particular circumstances. In your estate planning, you should consider whether:

  • You own real property and, if so, if it is located in different states;
  • You are married;
  • You have minor children, or children with special needs;
  • You have money set aside in 401(k), IRAs, or thrift savings plans;
  • You plan to give to charity; and
  • You are moving multiple times across states or to different countries.

Estate Planning Necessities

There are many benefits offered to military families that can help with estate planning. These include:

Life insurance – Life insurance is an important part of an estate plan intended for those who are financially dependent upon you, especially if you are facing deployment. Active-duty members have access to low-cost life insurance for themselves and their loved ones from Service Members’ Life Insurance Group. More information can be found on the Department of Veterans Affairs website. When examining your life insurance, work with us to make sure that the beneficiary designation works the way you expect.

Will – A will is a crucial document outlining to whom and how you want your property distributed at your death. It also allows you to name who will administer your estate and specify who will care for a minor or special needs children.

Trust – A trust is a separate legal entity that can hold property and assets for the benefit of one or more people or entities. Similar to a will, a trust allows you to dictate who will receive your property at your death and how it is to be administered. The added benefit of a trust is that it also provides instructions on how to handle the assets during any period of your incapacity. For most families, a trust-centered estate plan is a better fit, but a will can work for some families.

Other benefits for survivors – Survivor benefit plans (SBP) are pension-type plans in the form of an annuity that will pay your surviving spouse and children a monthly benefit at your death. Likewise, dependency and indemnity compensation (D&IC) provides a monthly benefit to eligible survivors of servicemembers or veterans (1) who die while on active duty, (2) whose death is due to a service-related disease or injury, or (3) who are receiving or entitled to receive VA compensation for a service-related disability and are totally disabled. When you are examining any financial service or insurance product, it’s a good idea to work with an estate planning attorney to make sure any beneficiary designations work the way you expect and provide the maximum benefit to your family.

You Need Special Help

Members of the military often experience frequent moves, have access to several forms of government benefits after service, and can be subject to some unusual tax rules. For these reasons, estate planning for military families is more complicated than most.

You can expect an estate planning professional to assist you in setting up the following:

  • Powers of attorney for financial matters, as well as health care decisions (they are very helpful when a spouse is deployed);
  • Funeral and burial arrangements;
  • Wills and living wills;
  • Organ donation;
  • Family care plans;
  • Life insurance;
  • Trusts;
  • Estate taxes;
  • Survivor benefits; and
  • Estate administration and/or probate.

An estate plan has multiple objectives: to provide for your family’s financial security, ensure your property is preserved and passed on to your beneficiaries, and determine who will manage your assets upon your death, among others. We are here to guide you through the best options available to you and your family. Give us a call today.

Top 5 Budgeting Tips for Seniors

Money is one of life’s biggest concerns. People of all ages struggle to stretch their dollars to meet their needs and wants. Many seniors live on a fixed income and are presented with more challenges in making ends meet. Creating a budget can help seniors plan how to use the money they have to pay their bills and to save for the unexpected.

First, write down all income sources from retirement to social security. Next, make a list of all bills and expenses. After you have a list of bills and expenses, prioritize those from what is necessary to those that can be lived without. Now it is time to make a plan. There are many budget planning worksheets, websites, and apps that can help with this part. An example can be found on the AARP website, Budgeting Worksheet. Then begin inputting the information for your income and expenses into the correct places. More than likely, the budget will not balance on the first try and adjustments will be needed.

Balancing Your Budget

  • Shop Smart

    • Advertisements can be a great way to find lower prices on items. Another great way to save when shopping is to use coupons and discounts offered through many stores via e-mail. Many companies offer senior discounts. Do your research and use these discounts to shop and save money.
  • Sell Your Car

    • If you are no longer able to drive or if other forms of public transportation are available, selling your car may be a way to cut expenses in the budget. Even if the car is paid off, there are still maintenance and fuel expenses.
  • Rent or Downsize

    • Some may want to rent instead of owning their home. This is helpful if home maintenance is too much and is too great a drain on the budget. When renting, maintenance is taken care of by the owner of the property. Downsizing is also a great way to save money. It can cut housing costs, as well as utility costs.
  • Cut Unnecessary Spending

    • This is a pitfall of many people who attempt to live on a budget. Look at every purchase decision and decide if it is necessary. If the answer is no, then avoid spending money on the purchase until you have excess money.
  • Get Help

    • Help is always available. If you need help, a trusted family member is a good resource. There are also many financial advisers out there that can help create a budget that works for you.

Budgeting also helps when figuring out how to save money. Unexpected events always occur and it is important to be ready when they do. It is often recommended to have an emergency fund. This should be somewhere around $1000, depending on what your monthly expenses are.

Be careful of scams. There are many scammers that use phone calls, emails, letters, or show up on your doorstep to try to take your money. They love to prey on seniors. Be well aware of who you are giving your money to. Use internet resources or check with someone you trust to help figure out whether companies or opportunities are legitimate. Don’t give money to people who don’t want to give you time to check things out on your own. Use your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, trust yourself.

Budgeting can seem like a daunting task, but taking one step at a time can make it manageable. It can take away the stress that money can create. Instead of letting your money control you, it is time to control your money.

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

Preserving Quality in End-of-Life Planning

We, lawyers, prepare powers-of-attorney documents so that when our clients can no longer act for themselves, the documents will convey on other trusted people the authority to act on our clients’ behalf.

But when it comes to the actual use of those documents at the time of a health-care crisis, clear and powerful documents are just the beginning. The decision-points can (and must) be put down on paper in advance, but when it comes to end-of-life situations, the clarity on which we lawyers thrive can be very hard to find.

Sitting in her lawyer’s office, the client may have been quite certain about health-care decisions. She does not want her life prolonged by a battery of aggressive treatments, where these would not preserve her quality of life. She does not want blood transfusions, dialysis, repeated courses of antibiotics and chemotherapy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or breathing and feeding tubes. She does not want to die inert in the ICU, surrounded by machines and strangers. She wants to die at home, surrounded by loved ones, at a time when she retains the presence of mind to make her peace.

But that goal doesn’t just happen from wishing it and stating it. It happens with additional careful preparation for the realities. As the end of life approaches, the clarity we lawyers enjoy can be elusive. When a person gets a prognosis of two to five years (maybe), where, along that continuum, would be the time to start declining aggressive treatment? When there’s always one more intervention that may (or may not) produce a good result? When one decision could create an ever-widening array of complications? When, step by step, the patient becomes less and less able to exercise autonomy, and where treatment decisions by caregivers are not in line with the care the patient was clear about when she was sitting in the lawyer’s office?

No matter how clear the powers-of-attorney documents, with all these imponderables, the patient can end up in a situation many miles away from what she wanted. And there’s no possible do-over.

Powerful and clear power-of-attorney documents are an essential first step and us lawyers are glad to take care of that part. Beyond that, though, thorough preparation is essential.

Consider that the best result may be one that cares for comfort right now, at the moment.

The question is not necessarily about how long life can be prolonged. The question may be, rather, how comfort can be maintained – at this moment, and then the next moment, and the next. The question is how life can be made better right now. Watch a video by palliative-care physician B.J. Miller, on why this is so important, here.

Make concrete plans

These include specifying what you want to happen if you’re no longer able to live independently; choosing wisely whom you want to act for you, to make sure your plans will be followed; being ready with your health-care documents before you find yourself deposited in the emergency room or ICU; and seeking the reassurance that your loved ones will be cared for when you’re no longer there. Judy MacDonald Johnson speaks about this in this moving video.

There is no doubt that the process in safeguarding the quality of life at the end of it is possibly the most challenging of all. But if that process can create as much pleasure as possible through an extremely difficult time of life, and if forthrightly engaging in that process would facilitate a passing more in line with what we would envision, the worth of the process will be felt. The transition will be smoother and more meaningful for the dying person, and a kinder legacy will be left behind for those who accompany us on this journey.

Please don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation if we can help you or a loved one with a health care plan.

How Seniors Can Avoid Medicare Scams

By far the largest types of insurance fraud are scams against government and private health care insurers. Scammers frequently target government insurance like Medicare by stealing newly issued medical ID cards and then stealing identities. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud estimates that tens of billions of dollars are lost annually to these types of fraud. Additionally, medical identity theft is now a top complaint received by the Federal Trade Commission. Billing fraud is also responsible for huge losses to Medicare funds and is difficult to assess as it can be a billing error or intentional fraud.

How does this affect a senior on an individual level? Scammers typically pose as Medicare officials and ask people to pay for their new cards which in reality are free. Or they phone a potential victim with false news of a refund and ask for the person’s ID number and bank account number to deposit the refund. “Right now … everyone is being inundated with TV commercials, brochures and other official-looking documents in the mail about all the Medicare Advantage plans. It’s so confusing, and in an environment like that, fraud is rampant,” says Micki Nozaki of the California Senior Medicare Patrol. There are more than 50 million Medicare beneficiaries who can annually opt to swap Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans which provide scammers with the opportunity to prey on vast numbers of seniors.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have a list of tips to help prevent fraud. The first and foremost is to protect your Medicare and Social Security numbers vigilantly. It suggests treating your Medicare card like you would a credit card and do not provide the number to anyone other than your doctor, or people you know should have it. Become educated about Medicare with regards to your rights and what a provider can and cannot bill to Medicare. Review your doctor bills carefully, looking for services billed for but not provided to you.

Remember that nothing is free with regards to medical care; never accept offers of money or gifts of free services. Be suspicious of your provider if they tell you they know how to “bill Medicare” to pay for a procedure or a service that is not typically covered. Before leaving your pharmacy check to be sure your medication is correct, including the full amount prescribed and whether or not you received a generic or brand name medicine. If your prescription is in error report the problem to the pharmacist before leaving.

Remember Medicare will never visit, call, or email you and ask for personal information such as your Medicare number, Social Security Number, address, or bank account number. Medicare already has this information and does not need you to provide it. Even when Medicare issues new cards that no longer contain your social security number in April of 2019 you will not be required to do anything. You can assume that anyone who claims to be helping you with Medicare and asks for your personal or financial information is a scam artist so close the door, hang up the phone, or delete the email.

When it is time to compare plans be sure to meet with a trustworthy advisor. Some insurance representatives give the industry a bad name by selling you a policy or plan that does not suit your needs or your budget. Some agents go so far as to ask you to sign a release form allowing them to make decisions on your behalf. Never sign anything related to Medicare without first reading it carefully. Additionally, it is a good practice to have a family member or lawyer review the document before signing it. The non-profit National Council on Aging (NCOA) has a free, brief assessment that allows you to compare plans online. You can also contact your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). SHIPs is a provider of free, federally-funded Medicare counseling via a trained volunteer or staff member.

Medicare fraud wastes billions of taxpayer dollars annually. Carefully review your medical bills and have inaccuracies corrected. Guard your personal information vigilantly and be wary of people asking you to provide that information. Meet with a trusted insurance advisor or compare medical plan options using the sites listed above. If you are unsure about something call Medicare directly for clarification.

If you have questions or would like to discuss anything you’ve read, please don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation.

The Uncertainty of Social Security Funding

Social Security benefits, which are funded through 2 trusts, may not be available for much longer. The US Social Security Administrations funding trusts are known as the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund and the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund. In their annual report to Congress, the Board of Trustees has published some startling detail about projected insolvency for the Social Security Program. As reported, short term results indicate that beginning in 2020 and all subsequent years after; the program cost will exceed non-interest income. Because the OASI Trust has no authority to borrow money, asset spending will have to occur to cover the costs of social security benefits and deplete the reserves of both OASI and DI trusts. Considering each trust separately, the funds for the OASI Trust will be exhausted by the year 2034 and the DI Trust by 2052.

If you are 50 years of age or older and have worked, you have been participating in the funding of the Social Security Program for decades expecting protection against economic hardships that sometimes happen in retirement; protection promised to you by the federal government. The current actuarial status means that without significant changes to the OASI Trust, funding for your scheduled benefits is at risk of being reduced or possibly not there at all by 2034. It is a stunning admission by the Trustees of the unsustainability of a federally managed program handling your retirement money.

Many economists have likened social security to a Ponzi scheme, and now that the bulk of the population (baby boomers) are receiving benefits with fewer and fewer participants in younger generations paying into the system the entire program is in jeopardy. Increasing numbers of retirees, increasing longevity, and a shrinking workforce leaves the yearly intake of monies (receipts) and accrued interest less than the outlays to cover scheduled benefits. The law of large numbers works well until the pool of paying participants shrinks.

The current report suggests at the time of depletion of the combined trust reserves the Social Security Administration will be unable to pay scheduled benefits in full and on time in 2035. There is a suggestion in this report that it will suffice to pay between 77 to 80 percent of scheduled social security benefits. Legislative action is required to stop reserve depletion and preserve full payment of scheduled benefits to retiring and already retired Americans who have faithfully paid into the system. There is not a lot of time to get the fix in place because of the scale of the monies involved. Future beneficiaries may have a benefit reduction as a possible strategy to help shore up the program. Raising the rate of payroll taxes that both workers and employers have to pay is also a potential strategy. All of these proposed solutions are not likely to make voters happy since the essence of the fix is for the American taxpayer to receive less and pay more. Currently, the political gridlock in Congress does not give much hope that the social security benefit funding problem it will be quickly resolved.

In the event the OASI Trust becomes insolvent how will that affect your retirement plan? Very soon the federal government will have to take action and make significant changes so that Social Security Administration can continue benefit payments in full. Knowing that the government historically privatizes gains and socializes losses the brunt of the financial burden may well fall to individual Americans.

We help families prepare for retirement and the possibility of needing long term care. If we can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact our office for a consultation.

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