AARP Polls Members re: Medicare Prescription Drug PlanA new AARP poll indicates that only 46% of Americans age 61 and older think Medicare’s prescription drug plan will be a good thing for older Americans who have difficulty paying for their prescriptions. These older people are even less likely than baby boomers, not yet eligible to participate, to give it a favorable rating. Twenty-six percent of those age 42 and older in this survey think the program is bad for older Americans.
This is not surprising as more seniors fall into the donut hole and realize that the Plan is not all it was cracked up to be.
Open season begins November 15. If you are not pleased with your plan, Watch your mail for the Medicare & You handbook and for information from plans in your area. Complete the Rx Enrollment Check-up. You can also review and compare plans on cost and coverage at the Medicare website on the web. This site offers lots of helpful information for seniors. Decide what plan you want for 2007. If you’re satisfied with your current plan, there is no need to re-enroll.
Bed Sores and Cherishing RelationshipsPatricia Ann Hunter in Washing the Feet of the Saints offers helpful tips for avoiding bedsores. This is an important topic for those caring for aging parents who aren’t able to move a lot. Patricia doesn’t post often, but I love her attitude of service and grace in caring for her mother.
We’re visiting our son and his wife following a conference for Christian bloggers at Biola University. The conference was good, but seeing our newlyweds is better. They’re settling in so well. Today my dear DIL and I went shopping. It’s fun having a girl! This evening we visited some of our son’s friends. One of our joys has been developing close relationships with so many of his friends over the years. They seem to enjoy us almost as much as we enjoy them. Last time we were here, we hosted a party at their apartment, just so we could visit with all of their friends. Since we have only the one child, we’ve always seemed to add boys along the way, investing in the lives of many. Seeing our son successfully launched as a man is such a joy for us.
Unfortunately, when we visit the kids, we get so busy that it’s easy to forget Mom. I hadn’t called her for a few days. Usually, I call every day or at worst, every other day. She acts as if it’s a nuisance, often sounding annoyed as she answers, “Well, what do you want?” I try to not let that bother me. It’s just her way. But tonight when I called, she was glad to hear from me. She said was about to call me! Now that would be a switch!
It’s sad when she isn’t as delighted to hear from me as we are to hear from our son and DIL. Sometimes when he’s coming home, we wait for him at the curb we’re so anxious to see him. We’ve always wanted him to know how wonderfully special he is and how delighted we are to have him. I hope that when I’m old and he calls, I’ll still behave the same way. I hope when I’m old, he’ll call.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Gadgets can bring independence to seniorsADT Security discusses several technological advances that can help seniors gain more independence, and give greater peace of mind to their adult children who live at a distance.
I want to check out some of them, despite the hefty price tags. I worry constantly about my mom falling at home, especially now that she’s there alone. And my step-dad has macular degeneration. He has a reader in his room, but that’s limited to flat photos and reading materials. How wonderful if he could read a menu or see scenery from a car.
I guess the good news is that by the time our generation needs this level of technology, the prices should fall. Meanwhile, perhaps we can find ways to get some of it for our parents. Peace of mind for everyone.
Friday, October 27, 2006
A New LookYes, you’re in the right place. I changed the template for my blog. Oh, the wonders of the blogosphere! When I started, tentative as I was, I used a typical Blogger template. But I was advised by those in the know that using a generic template was ever so plebian. So I searched and searched for something that seemed to fit with my Gen Sandwich blog and came across this one by Ravasthi. My dear son installed it for me today and I’m delighted with the template, but even more so because he was willing to do it for me.
I like it because it seems to reflect the multi-tasking life of a Gen Sandwicher. Seems that my days are filled with bouncing from one thing to another, from work to parents to kids to friends to who- knows-what-else. I long for a few hours to concentrate on one thing, but seldom get them. So I’ve learned to multi-task. To overlap. To make a phone call while doing the ironing or emptying the dishwasher. To file papers while sitting on hold. To check email while listening to Mom. It seems that I never get caught up. There are so many important things crying for my attention, and so many mundane tasks that are never complete.
I also like it because it seems lighter. Sometimes the old template seemed dark and drpressing to me. This one suggests that in the midst of the busyness, there is a richness to the tapestry of my life. I suppose I’d get bored if I really did have hours to focus on just one task. Yes, sometimes I feel smooshed, but more often, I’m grateful to God for the opportunity to have such variety and for the good health and ability to do what I do. I’m thankful that, as stressful as it is, I’m able to provide some level of attention to my parents, maintain a good relationship with my son and his wife, and enjoy work that I love. Life is good!
So welcome to my tapestry. Let me know what you think.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Eldercare SurveyElderCarelink, a leading Internet service that connects consumers to providers of services for the elderly, is sponsoring a study through a series of surveys designed to help identify and address the growing needs of family and professional caregivers. These Surveys will initially be sent to more than 50,000 families who have used ElderCarelink in their search for eldercare. Seventy five percent of these are sons and daughters looking for assistance in caring for their parents. The survey is also available to any additional caregivers, family or professional, who wish to participate at www.eldercarelink.com/research. The survey takes about 5-10 minutes to complete and will help Eldercare develop a comprehensive database on a diverse range of eldercare issues, ElderCarelink hopes to provide an important and up-to-date resource for those involved in caregiving.
The evolving needs and issues (medical, financial and logistical) facing the 72 million Americans who will be 65+ in the next 25 years will affect virtually every family and business across the U.S. You might want to weigh in with your experiences.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Parenting Adult ChildrenAs I’ve watched my son become an adult over the past several years, I’ve often said that parenting adult children is much harder than parenting any other stage. I guess that’s because we no longer have the rule of law on our sides. Only the rule of influence.
Let’s face it. When the kids are little, we can simply pick them up and move them to where we want them to be. They may be kicking and screaming, but when reason fails, Mom and Dad still have the last word. As they grow to teen years, good communication goes a long way in maintaining a good relationship. But when reason fails at this stage, we usually still have the power of the purse and the power of position to persuade them to see things our way. Sure, I know that many kids rebel at this stage and parents feel powerless. But if we’ve not taken our roles too legalistically and have developed good communication in the first 13 years, we can make it through the teen years relatively unscathed.
But then, they’re off to college or work, and their world broadens. They’re meeting people we don’t know and making friends outside of our circle of influence. They’re developing romantic interests without our oversight. This is when we know if our family values have been communicated to the next generation.
We’ve been so pleased with the friends our son has chosen and the wife he married. But as he’s moved into adulthood, he’s made choices that we have frightened us. Choosing to get married younger than we would have preferred. Business decisions we aren’t sure he’s ready for. We trust him, but so often we cringe because we know that our role is no longer to give him the answers. It’s to give him wings and encouragement and trust. It’s to stand on the sidelines and cheer him on, no matter what decision he makes. It’s to pray that the decision he’s making is the right one. That’s so much harder than making his choices for him or even giving him advice, but so essential as we encourage him to become the man God created him to be.
Ann Gowans offers some good tips in an article in today’s Columbia Daily Tribune about parenting adults. For those of us in Gen Sandwich, giving our adult children the freedom to thrive helps to relieve the feeling of being smooshed.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Strategies for the "Sandwich Generation"Karyn McCormack, in an article for BusinessWeek.com, offers several strategies for the Gen Sandwichers.
She notes that the costs for the Gen Sandwichers can add up, even if your parents have saved for their own future care. The reality is, their generation is living longer—many into their 90s--thanks to better health care, and the cost for that care is rising.
McCormack notes that the average cost for a nursing home stay in 2005 was $64,000 a year—or about $176 per day—for a semi-private room. In my step dad’s case, the cost was $205 per day, plus lots of extras—and he doesn’t live in an urban area.
About the time Gen Sandwichers are coughing up an average of $21,235 for college tuition (per child), they’re also losing money as they take time away from work to care for their aging parents. “On average, 18 hours a week are devoted to care,” says Patti Brennan, president of Key Financial, a financial planning firm in West Chester, Pa.
McCormack points out that many caregivers, who tend to be women, must either leave their full-time jobs or work part time and give up important benefits. They might also turn down promotions and the higher salary that comes with them because they can't devote the necessary time for additional work responsibilities.
According to Brennan, “On average, care costs an estimated $659,000 during a person's lifetime in reduced salary, lower 401(k) contribution, and lost retirement and health benefits.”
Elder care can take a psychological and emotional toll, because not all siblings and family members will agree on how to take care of a parent, who will be the primary caregiver, and who will pay for it.
To avoid disaster, McCormak says that caregivers need to get their own finances and retirement plan in order. Especially when children are in the mix, caregivers must set priorities and have open communication with their entire family to figure out ways to share the financial, emotional, and time burdens.
Her article discusses seven tips to cope with being sandwiched:
1. Don't dip into your retirement savings.
2. Start a college savings plan for your children.
3. Make sure your parents have long-term care insurance.
4. Establish a durable power of attorney, a health-care directive, and update wills.
5. Take inventory of your parents' assets and consolidate accounts.
6. Seek help from social services and elder law attorneys.
7. Continue saving despite family obligations and control debt.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Welcome to the Sandwich Generation“Making Your Parents' Golden Years Shine” by Will Andrews in Business Week Online suggests three tips for Gen Sandwichers to begin the process of staying aware of their parents’ declining abilities, even before they begin to need help. He suggests that we:
1. Investigate. Keep an eye on things. Pay frequent visits to parents or elderly relatives in their homes or care facilities. Try to notice any changes—whether it's peeking in the refrigerator to check for a sudden lack of food or scanning the hallway desk for a pile of unpaid bills.
2. Prepare. Don't wait for a crisis—a sudden illness, injury, or other negative development—to start the process. With the help of your parents, do an assessment of the state of their health and finances. Make sure that all their important papers—wills, insurance policies, and the like—are up to date and readily accessible.
If you have access to eldercare referral services, give them a call. If you and your parents think a move to a care facility may be in the cards, be sure to visit the places under consideration, and ask as many questions as necessary.
3. Communicate. Keeping the lines open is essential, whether it's asking your parents about their needs and preferences, or keeping a smooth relationship among siblings as they try to share eldercare responsibilities. It's a good idea to establish a regularly scheduled time to talk with parents, siblings, or caregivers about how they're faring, and about your own concerns. You don't need to book a conference room; a cup of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts will do just fine.
Andrews concludes this post with his most important comment: One final thing to consider: We are part of a continuum. Our parents and grandparents also dealt with the joys and sorrows involved in looking after their aged mothers and fathers. Now it's their turn to be the recipients of their children's care and attention. And the way we treat our parents may be the example our children take with them when we reach our golden years. Here's to showing them the right path.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Are You Counting on a Windfall Inheritance?Over recent years, there’s been a lot of talk about the Baby Boomer generation inheriting a huge windfall. According to an article in the Insurance Journal in 2004, the 76 million boomers were predicted to inherit $40.6 trillion by 2052.
However, according to several studies reported by New York Life, Boomers will inherit far less than predicted. There are several reasons for this:
Our parents are living longer and spending more of their resources on long term and medical care.
The recently poor economy has savings.
Baby Boomers have more siblings, meaning there are more people to spread the remaining wealth among.
We’ve certainly been experiencing the first reason. For years, I told my mom to not worry. They had enough to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. Then my step dad went into the nursing home and suddenly we were spending $2000 to $3000 per month over and above what their long-term care insurance paid. Watching the savings drain was like a loud sucking sound. Add to that CD rates of under 2% for a couple of years and the dollars disappeared quickly. We’ve been able to stem some of that drain by moving him to an excellent board and care home, but the concerns remain. He could return to nursing home care any day. And Mom could just as suddenly need care. Now we aren’t so sure how long their savings will last.
So even as we’re managing the needs and perhaps finances of our parents, we also need to be planning for our own retirement. We need to be faithful in contributing to our retirement accounts rather than counting on Social Security that probably won’t be there. And we need to consider long-term care insurance. The New York Life article suggests several important ways we can plan ahead responsibly.
It’s important that we do that so that we don’t burden our children—a generation that has far fewer workers than the Boomer generation.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Protect your MarriageIn an article entitled “The Cluttered Nest Syndrome,” Sheri & Bob Stritof, offer nine tips for maintaining a successful intergenerational household. They suggest that clear communication and self-care are essential for Gen Sandwichers.
I find that even though my parents live several hours away, the time and emotional energy required to keep up with their needs puts stress on our marriage. My husband always knows when I’ve had a difficult conversation with Mom. It’s important to know what you can handle and what your spouse can handle. I’m still learning to set boundaries and not become enmeshed with my parents’ issues. It’s not easy, but it is essential. And healthy. And it’s OK.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Emergency PreparednessIf your aging parents were to have a medical emergency, could you provide the vital information doctors would need to care for them? Do you know the names of your parents' doctors? Is your mom taking any medications? Has your dad ever had any surgery?
These are questions asked in an article on the Mayo Clinic website. They ask several good questions that we need to know about our parent’s medical and health needs, and they provide a PDF form to organize the info. I’m sending a copy to my parents today. And it wouldn't hurt to complete forms for my husband and I and send them to our son--just in case...
In addition, make sure that you, your adult children, and your parents carry cards indicating who to call in case of emergency. I don't think my husband or I even have such a card in our wallets. How would emergency personnel ever find our son, best friends, or parents to notify them? This is particularly important with regard to adult children who live elsewhere and only have cell phones rather than land lines. They will be much more difficult to locate than someone listed in the phone book.
I have a couple of tasks to do tonight. How about you?
Friday, October 06, 2006
Death—and LifeHeaven gained a wonderful woman this week. Lila Lee was my mom’s best friend from childhood. She and Mom played together as children in Kansas and they’ve remained best friends for over 80 years, even though they haven’t lived near one another since high school. I only met Lila Lee a few times over the years, but each visit was a delight. A kindergarten teacher, she was single until her 40s. She wore brightly colored, flamboyant clothes and found joy in everything. She was fun.
In recent years, she developed multiple sclerosis. She struggled on as long as she could, but for the past several years was bed ridden in a second floor condo. She had caregivers who came in for a few hours per day. Otherwise, she was alone. And yet, she always had a positive outlook. Always had joy. Always was positive. Never complained, no matter how difficult her life was, no matter how much pain she was in.
When our son was married this summer, we were able to take Mom for a visit to Lila Lee. We were happy to battle the southern California traffic to make sure they got time together. Because of her care constraints, they only had a couple of hours together, but they yakked non-stop, knowing it would be their last visit. I’m so glad we were able to give them that time together.
I’ve always admired Lila Lee’s joyful attitude in her good years and her bad years. So many older women facing such limitations whine and complain about their lot in life. They live in dread and misery, and in the process, make everyone around them miserable in the process. Not Lila Lee. She lived joyfully until the day she died.
While most people are governed by their feelings, the reality is, we can choose our behavior and our feelings will follow. Lila Lee pursued joy, trusted God, and found contentment in whatever circumstance she was in. One of my wise friends reminds me that we are now becoming the older women we will be. I want to follow Lila Lee’s example. I want to be a delightful older woman.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
With an Eye Toward Our FutureAs I’ve been consumed this week dealing with the donut hole (and not finding good solutions yet), today there’s news for those of us who are baby boomers. The experience with our parents has probably already taught us that we can’t depend on Medicare and Social Security to cover everything, even though my mom feels that they should. But soon, these concerns will apply to us as well.
According to a story from the Wichita Eagle, about the time that three million baby boomers become eligible for Medicare benefits next year, the federal insurance program is proposing to cut payments to physicians by 5.1 percent. This marks another round of proposed decreases in reimbursement rates to doctors, mandated by what physicians call a perpetually flawed formula and once again threatening access to care as fewer doctors say they can afford to see patients with Medicare.
When I worked in health care years ago, both Medicare and Medicaid were blamed for the spiraling costs of health care. Doctors were already limiting their practices to a certain percentage of Medicare patients, and even fewer Medicaid patients. In California, it’s increasingly difficult find doctors who will treat Medicaid patients. Is it likely that by the time we get there, doctors will accept fewer Medicare patients as well? And is it likely that our parents will find it more difficult to find care?
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called for an urgent overhaul of Social Security and Medicare, warning that failure to do so soon could lead to dire economic consequences as the first wave of baby boomers—76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964—begin taking early retirement in 2008.
Federal lawmakers are unlikely to make the decisions that will solve the problems. As the population ages, fewer workers will be funding our benefits. So it’s important that we begin to look ahead, plan ahead, and be prepared to take responsibility for our own needs. If we depend on the government, we may be sadly disappointed. The biggest problem with the donut hole is that seniors expected the government to take over their prescription drug needs. As the plan is failing, our parents feel betrayed. Let’s make sure we don’t have the same experience.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Possible Help With Medicare Prescription Drug Plan CostsI’ve been calling around today to see if we can get help with the donut hole. After almost an hour on hold and calls, I learned that the Social Security Administration has a program to help low-income seniors when their prescription drug costs have exceeded the limit. If they qualify, the government will pay the Medicare Part D premium and 95% of the cost of the medications. You can apply online or call for an application (which they say will take three weeks to reach you) at 1-800-772-1213 or TTY 1-800-325-0778, 7am-7pm Monday-Friday.
In order to qualify for this program, the applicant’s combined savings, investments, and real estate (other than their home, vehicles, burial plots, or personal possessions) must be worth less than:
$11,500 if you are single, a widow(er) or your spouse does not live with you; or
$23,000 if you are married and living together
To complete the application, you will need access to the following documents for the applicant and his or her spouse (if married and living together).
bank account statements, including checking, savings, and certificates of deposit;
Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), stocks, bonds, savings bonds, mutual funds, other investment statements;
most recent Social Security benefits award letters or statements for Railroad Retirement income, Veterans Benefits, pensions and annuities; and
the cash value and face value of any life insurance policies you have.
Of course, the application is complicated enough that many seniors will need help completing it, and anyone who has been responsible in providing savings, life insurance, IRAs, etc. for themselves over the years won’t qualify. Unfortunately, it appears that my dad doesn’t qualify by just a few dollars. And yet, his prescription drug costs are in the hundreds every month. Hundreds that used to be covered by his Medicare wrap HMO. I wonder who is winning with this program? Not us. I’m feeling smooshed…
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Some Facts on Aging and Care GivingAs Baby Boomers age, caring for our parents is becoming a way of life for an increasing number of women, many of whom still have children at home. I’m at the front end of the Baby Boom, so we can only expect the needs and issues to increase. I guess the good news is that we aren’t alone. And in fact, it seems that everyone I talk to is providing some level of care for their parents. It’s becoming the new hot topic of conversation, at least for those of us who are in the midst of it. Many, like me, live several hours from the parents needing care. Clearly, we need to learn new ways of managing life if we are to honor our parents in their latter years. And if we don’t, who will?
In their Profile of Informal and Family Caregivers, the American Society on Aging reports:
So if you're feeling smooshed, take comfort in the fact that you aren't alone.
Monday, October 02, 2006
The HoleThis week we fell into the hole—the donut hole. We aren’t alone. Three million seniors are expected to fall with us, many this month. The donut hole is a formerly little-known gap in the new Medicare prescription drug plan. Under the plan, the government pays for the bulk of drug costs only until the beneficiary and the government together have spent $2,250 for the year. Then beneficiaries pay 100 percent of costs until they have spent a total of $3,600 of their own money. Only then does the federal government resume its participation, paying 95 percent of any additional expenses. This plan was discussed in a Washington Post article dated last week. The Post estimates that 3 million seniors will fall into the donut hole this year.
When the new Medicare Part D Plan went into effect, Dad was in the nursing home. The staff there tried to explain it, but they weren’t sure about the details. And frankly, it was way over my head—and I have a master’s degree in health care administration! Mom didn’t even try. Having no context to understand it, we signed up and prayed for the best. Dad’s prescription drug needs continued to increase and so did his costs. And then, last week when Mom picked up his meds, she was hit with a bill of several hundred dollars!
We’ve been trying to figure out what to do. There are a number of programs that have been developed to help seniors in the hole, but figuring them out is almost as confusing as understanding the Medicare plan. Some of the drug companies have plans to provide their meds at reduced costs, but it looks as if we’ll need to go to several companies. Medicare offers five suggestions for bridging the gap
I’d like to know who our lawmakers thought they were helping. These problems were anticipated when it was in the legislative stage, but no one listened. And now, I’m not the only one feeling smooshed.