Money in the Middle

Sandwich Generation Talking About Money Up, Down and Across Generations

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Adult children and aging parents: enable or safety in driving?

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In a week of horrific front page news, it’s the story about an elderly couple who got lost driving home and froze to death that haunts me.

For anyone in the delicate balance of respecting the wishes of aging parents who want to keep driving and trying to make sure they are safe, the story captures our greatest fear.  We’ll miss a critical sign that can mean the difference between life and death..The headline reads:

Elderly Couple found Frozen To Death After Getting Lost During Drive

The daughter was quoted as saying: “We didn’t realize it was time to do more. We didn’t realize it was time. . . . Oh, the second-guessing that is running through our minds.”

They had taken precautions – gathering in places where the drive would be short and familiar; providing a cell phone; checking in to make sure they arrive — things many of us have done to help honor our parent’s wish to keep driving, at the same time hoping we are keeping them safe enough.

Maybe it’s just that I returned from driving my mother down to Florida — taking the 14 hour drive off her, but giving her the freedom to get around on her own there for the next few months.

I sometimes worry about becoming an enabler – that is, helping continue a routine that really needs to be altered in realistic response to aging issues.  When actually the discussion should be about how we adjust to a change and find new ways to accomplish the activities that keep us feeling independent.  There is so much fear wrapped up in the ability to no longer drive.

There are many resources available about the issue of aging and driving.  Some great websites about how to have the conversation and options available to help transition to a non-driver.  Here are a couple of those website if you are tackling the driving and aging issue.  I also find them helpful in beginning to think about how I want to handle this situation as I age.

Family conversations about driving from The Hartford

Older Drivers by AAA

Such a horrific story.   But  one that reminds us all that sometimes we have to push the balance between respect and safety even more than we’re comfortable with when it comes to aging parents and driving (among other issues).  My heart goes out to the family who tried so hard to find that right balance between respecting wishes and taking away the keys.  It’s so hard to know what’s right.

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Written by Laura Rossman

January 14, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Get Ready to Help with Medicare Insurance Decisions

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This is the time of year when people on Medicare prepare for open enrollment.  And you thought you were done with that when you left the workforce.  But, Medicare has an open enrollment period each year for Medicare beneficiaries who want to enroll or change Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans.

 For many of us in the sandwich generation, it’s a time when we lend a hand to an aging parent or family member to figure out if they need to change plans – either for cost reasons or because their medical needs have changed.  It can be pretty confusing no matter what your age.  But it really is worth taking the time to compare plans and make sure you’ve got the right plan and the right price.

 The good news is that prices for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans won’t be changing much from 2010 to 2011. 

Plan prices will be about 1 percent lower, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. 

You may still have to shop for a new plan during open enrollment – if the plan has changed benefits, health care needs have changed or the plan is exiting the business. It’s also smart to check and make sure the plan you’ve got is still the right plan.  During this special period you can switch plans without having to worry about health conditions limiting your choices.  This period doesn’t apply to Medicare Supplement Plans.

 Those who have Medicare Advantage plans or Medicare Part D plans can change their plans during the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) from Nov. 15 – Dec. 31. 

Longevity Alliance, a national insurance brokerage, is offering an AEP Reminder service.  You can sign up to receive an email when most of the 2011 plan information is available.  That way you won’t have to keep calling to find out about rates for 2011 and you won’t let it slip!  You can sign up for the free service by clicking here.

Rate and plan comparison tools are available at www.medicare.gov.  But the 2011 rates usually aren’t loaded into the system until mid-late October.  So keep checking back and make sure you are looking at 2011 rates. 

“Even with the lower costs, all beneficiaries should take time this Fall to compare their current health and drug plan coverage with what’s available and best meets their needs for next year,” said Jonathan Blum, deputy administrator and director of CMS’ Center for Medicare.  “Medicare will continue to provide a wide-range of consumer tools to help beneficiaries make the best possible choice of coverage.”  

Rates and benefits for specific 2011 plans are generally released between Oct. 15 and Nov. 1.  The government rules say you can’t buy a plan until Nov. 15, but you can start shopping and comparing rates so you don’t end up in a last-minute rush.  And you’ve got to shop to save and/or make sure you’ve got the right plan for your current medical needs.

 Don’t wait too long. The companies handling this business get very busy.  You’ll get more attention and assistance, if you need it, if you look early in November and apply as soon as you can – November 15.  And make sure you compare plans and fully understand the co-pays and network limits since a low-cost premium may just shift costs  and you’ll find you’re paying more at the doctor and the pharmacy.

Written by Laura Rossman

September 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Preparing for the Medicare Shopping Season

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Medicare Part D Covers Prescription Drugs

 

Medicare Part D Prescription Drug plans will cost about the same in 2011 as they did in 2010 according to information released yesterday by CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services).   

Good news for Medicare beneficiaries.  And good news for sandwich generation adult children who assist senior family members or aging parents with making Medicare plan selections. Maybe fewer will face the confusion of changing plans.   

But don’t assume the 2010 plan is still the best plan for your health care needs.  You’ll still want to shop and compare plans – and watch out for changes in the co-pays that can boost out-of-pocket expenses.     

This announcement marks the start of the Medicare shopping season also known as Annual Enrollment Period (AEP).  Medicare beneficiaries can change Part D and Medicare Advantage plans only from Nov. 15 – Dec. 31 for plans effective in 2011.  You can’t do much with the information yet.  But come mid-October there will be specific plan information available on the government website so you’ll be able to compare you current plan with 2011 plans.  

Here’s the schedule leading up to AEP:   

September –Information about premium and benefits for each Part D and Medicare Advantage plan  

October – More detailed plan information is available so that you can begin comparing plans  

Nov. 15- Dec. 31 – applications for plans effective in 2011 can be accepted  

 Here’s the statement from Medicare on part D premiums for 2011.   

 “Most Medicare prescription drug plan premiums should remain relatively stable next year, and all beneficiaries should compare their coverage under their current plan with the plans that will be offered in 2011 when that information becomes available in October,” said Jonathan Blum, deputy administrator of CMS’ Center for Medicare. “The Affordable Care Act improves the value of drug coverage people with Medicare will receive next year, providing discounts on brand name drugs and coverage of generics in the coverage gap, or donut hole.”

Written by Laura Rossman

August 19, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Baby Boomers: Leave Your Kids Alone

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 A 24-year-old turning down a $40,000 job for fear it will short-circuit his future.  Really?  That’s the story on the front page of the NYTimes.  It’s been bugging me ever since I read it. 

Here’s why. 

* We all make choices about jobs.  Don’t understand his, especially in this market, but you gotta do what you gotta do. He will learn.  But let’s not paint a whole generation of young people with the same brush.  I think Generation Y is pretty savvy and display some of the same attitudes and values about work and money as their grandparents – not their baby boomer parents. 

* What are Mom and Dad thinking? I’m big on letting young adults find their own path and make their own decisions.  But supporting them fully financially – so they have no incentive to move forward – doesn’t help them – or their parents.  Many Baby boomers seem to be excelling at trying to live their children’s lives.  Let him make his choice,  But also let him live with the financial ramifications of that decision.

 * The article headline – American Dream is Elusive for a New Generation.  Every bit of research I’ve seen on Generation Y and the future of work and retirement says that expectations are different.  This is a generation that knows that they will have many different jobs and probably careers.  Traditional career ladders don’t exist.  You move up, across, down, up – whichever way takes you to the next opportunity. Theirs is a different dream.

 I wish Scott Nicholson well in figuring out his career path.  At the same time I hope that his baby boomer parents start letting him feel the financial consequences of his decisions.  

 We may think that by providing full  financial support to our adult children we’re helping them.  We’re not.

Written by Laura Rossman

July 8, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Less Help from Employers with Retirement and Eldercare

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 Retirement planning, investment advice, elder care services – just three benefits that employers are cutting back on at just the time when more of us need them.

 It is a sign of the times…and economic reality.  Benefits increase costs and employers have just been through rounds of cost cutting. While cutting benefits has allowed more to keep their jobs, it has shifted where we look to for assistance.   

You are on your own more than ever.

A new survey from SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) says:  

  • Companies offering defined benefit (pensions) are down to 27%; 
  • On the other hand, companies offering defined contribution (401(k) plans is up to 92%; 39% offer retirement planning service (compared to 52% in 2006); 
  • 40% of companies offer individual investment advice (down from 48% in 2006); and 
  • 11% offer elder care referral services (down from 26% in 2006). 

For many baby boomers, the employer has been the source of assistance and resources on planning for retirement and family services –whether it’s childcare or eldercare.  Not anymore.  And while some of these benefits may come back, when economic conditions become more stable, it may not be in enough time to help. 

But, the good news is that there are resources available to help.  And there are services available if you have the money and willingness to pay for assistance.  Here are some suggestions: 

  • Check your 401(k) plan website.  There are usually very helpful tools to help you not only with investments but with overall financial planning. 
  • The government website MyMoney.gov is a great resource for all types of financial information  
  • Eldercare.gov can lead you to local elder care resources 
  •  For low-income seniors, Benefitscheckup.org from NCOA  can help identify what government provided or subsidized programs may be available. 
  • Health insurance company Humana just launched a subscription based caregiving support programs PointsofCaregiving.com that provides access to information and services.
  •  A geriatric care manager can be a life saver if you are struggling with what services you need and how to get them.  This association can help you find local resources.

If you are lucky enough to still have these benefits available through your employer, make use of them!  If you don’t, there are plenty of free and for a fee resources available. Family and friends can be good resources.  And, just make sure if you hire someone, you check out their credentials carefully.

College Grads Get Bridge on Health Insurance

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Wondering about how to get health insurance for your college grad until the new law takes effect that will let you keep them on your health plan until they are 26? 

Breathe a sigh of relief if you have a UnitedHealthcare plan (we suspect others will soon follow). 

UnitedHealthcare announced it will extend the health coverage that graduating college students currently have under their parents’ plans until the new health reform provision requiring dependent coverage up to age 26 is fully implemented.

The new law created a coverage gap that was going to send baby boomer parents scurrying for coverage or have their new grads join the ranks of the uninsured.  As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, young adults will be able to stay on their parents’ employer-offered or individual family health plans up until age 26. However, this extension does not begin to take effect for employer-sponsored plans until Sept. 23.

 UnitedHealthcare said it is acting to eliminate this coverage gap that some graduating students may face when losing their parents’ UnitedHealthcare health plan coverage upon graduation, and will work with its employer customers to implement the extension.  Other health care companies reporting that they will let parents keep their children on the plans include Wellpoint, Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, Kaiser Permanente, and Humana.

This extension of coverage applies to college students who currently are covered under their parents’ fully-insured health plan offered through UnitedHealthcare. Individual family health plans through UnitedHealthcare’s Golden Rule already allow all dependents to stay on the plan until age 26. 

Now, how is that job hunt going?

Written by Laura Rossman

April 19, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Health Care Reform: What’s in it for Sandwich Generation?

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Now that the maneuvering and rhetoric is dying down (sort of), we’re trying to figure out what health care reform will mean to us – personally.  And for most of us, there just isn’t enough information yet to understand what it will mean to our cost of health insurance or our kids.  

But there are a couple of provisions for the sandwich generation that look to have an immediate impact on older and younger generations.  If you are looking for a good summary of the highlights of the law, try these “explainer” articles from Kaiser Health News.

 Getting young adults health insurance – dependent coverage for adult children up to age 26 for all individual and group policies.  Lot’s of young adults are without health insurance as they were forced to roll off their parents policy and yet to land a job with health insurance benefits.  This give families with insurance a bit of peace of mind as those young adults find work with benefits (hopefully soon).

 Closing the Part D doughnut hole – On the other side of the “sandwich” is Medicare beneficiaries.   There’s good news for those with Part D prescription drug coverage who find they drop into the doughnut hole and facing the full expense of prescription drugs while also paying insurance premiums. If you’ve every helped someone choose a Part D plan or decipher what gets covered or not covered, you know what I mean. 

The law begins to phase out the doughnut hole in 2011 as well as require pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide a 50% discount on bran-name prescriptions filled in the coverage gap. 

This year, those falling into the doughnut hole will receive a $250 rebate.  No word yet on how it will be implemented but it’s welcome relief for Part D participants. 

Long-term Care – A government long-term care insurance program (referred to as CLASS- Community Living Assistance services and supports) was rolled into the bill and got little attention amidst the bigger issues. No details yet on how it will work or how much it will cost workers (it will generally be offered through employers and provides a minimal level of benefit ($50-$75 per day), but it gives hope to those who can’t qualify for long-term care insurance that there is a way to buy some protection against long-term care costs.  I’ll cover this more in a future post.  If you’re interested in reading more, this is a good summary from the American Association for Long-term Care Insurance (AALTCI)  

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be providing more information on what’s in the health care reform bill and how it impacts the sandwich generation. For baby boomers  planning for retirement, understanding health care costs in the future will be critical to figuring out how much money you’ll need.  A recent survey from Fidelity Investments says a 65-year-old couple today should have $250,000 socked away for health care costs in retirement –not counting long-term care costs.

 If there is something in the health care reform bill you’d particularlypleased about or would  like to hear more about, post it here.