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  • Archive for 2016

    National Family Caregivers Month: What is caregiving and why does it matter?

    Monday, November 7th, 2016

    thumbnail_caregiver-juggling-smileNovember is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to think about the millions of Americans who take care of others. This year’s theme is “take care to give care”, a reminder that the first rule of taking care of others is to take care of yourself first. In acknowledgment of National Family Caregivers Month, WISER is publishing a series of blogs examining caregiving and the ways women can take care of themselves by planning for its financial impact.

    Many people who are caregivers do not actively identify as such, and many are not even aware that they are part of a defined group. Do you care for an elderly parent or a disabled sibling? Do you stop by your neighbor’s house daily to help them with certain tasks, like measuring out medication or cooking? These may seem like common tasks that you do simply because it’s the right thing to do. However, caregiving is a time-consuming duty that warrants recognition. It can often take up as much time as a full-time job, yet isn’t paid, and can actually be a drain on your finances. Estimates suggest between 40 and 70 million Americans nationwide provide 37 billion hours of caregiving work each year.

    Some of the jobs caregivers take on include:

    -Home keeping duties like laundry, cleaning, cooking and shopping

    -Medical tasks like picking up, dispensing and measuring medicine, aiding in medical decisions, driving to and from doctor’s visits and helping with medical tasks like physical therapy or changing feeding tubes

    -Helping with end-of-life decision-making like writing a will or hospice care

    -Financial tasks like banking and paying bills

    In our society, caregiving duties frequently fall on women. According to the Family Caregiving Alliance, the “typical” caregiver is a 46-year-old woman who spends 20 hours per week taking care of her mother and also works outside the home. In total, about 61% of caregivers are women.

    Caregiving duties impact finances in a number of ways. The time caregiving requires can cause people to work fewer hours at their jobs or decline promotions that require more time or travel. According the National Alliance for Caregiving, 70% of caregivers report making adjustments to work schedules to accommodate caregiving responsibilities. Making these sacrifices at work causes a reverse snowball effect: not only are you forfeiting pay, but also benefits, compounded return on 401(K) matching contributions, and investment opportunities. There are also a countless number of more subtle consequences, for example, you may not be able to pursue additional education and degrees that could increase earning power.  Caregiving is also simply expensive: a MetLife study reports that caregivers pay an average of $5,531 annually in out-of-pocket costs.

    The financial hit of caregiving also overwhelmingly impacts women. In combination with the other challenges women face- like the pay gap- the cost of caregiving puts women at a disadvantage when it comes to saving for retirement. The same MetLife study also showed that caregivers lost $303,880 in wages, Social Security benefits, and private pensions over their lifetime as a result of caregiving responsibilities.

    Stay tuned for more blog posts this month about ways to avoid compromising your own financial security while caregiving. In the meantime, check out WISER’s Financial Steps for Caregivers booklet which includes lots of great information and resources to get you started.

    Medicare Open Enrollment is Going on Now! What You Need To Know

    Thursday, October 20th, 2016

    Taxes

    What is Medicare open enrollment?

    Medicare open enrollment is a period of time during which current Medicare users can re-evaluate and adjust their coverage. That may mean switching coverage, adding additional coverage, or dropping coverage. This year, Medicare open enrollment will take place between October 15 and December 7. Any new coverage or changes to coverage will begin January 1, 2017.

    More specifically:

    -If you have Medicare Parts A & B (Original Medicare), you can switch to a Part C plan (Medicare Advantage).

    -If you have Medicare Part C, you can switch back to Parts A & B.

    -If you have Medicare Part C, you can switch to a new Part C plan. If you have Medicare Parts A & B, you can join or drop a Part D prescription plan.

    -If you have a Part D prescription plan, you can join a different Part D prescription plan.

    -It also may be beneficial to re-evaluate your coverage during open enrollment if it would allow you to switch to better prescription care coverage, or allow you to keep the same doctor but spend less.

    It also may be beneficial to re-evaluate your coverage during open enrollment if it would allow you to switch to better prescription care coverage, or allow you to keep the same doctor but spend less.

    Even if you are content with your current level of Medicare coverage, it is worth using the open enrollment period to check the coverage you have and see what other options are available. Your health is always evolving, and so are your Medicare needs.

    What to consider during open enrollment

    -Your Health: Has your health changed since you first signed up for Medicare? It is important that your plan meets your current medical needs. If you are in need of more or less coverage, now is the time to make the change.

    -Your Finances: Over the past year, did you struggle to afford your plan? Did you visit your healthcare provider frequently, leading you to exceed your plan’s coverage and pay high out-of-pocket costs? Think about how well your current plan meets your financial situation.

    -How well has your plan been working for you? Are you happy with the flexibility of your current plan? Medicare Advantage (Part C) tends to limit you to providers near your home, whereas Original Medicare (Parts A & B) offers access to medical care across the country. If you plan to travel more or less than expected, open enrollment is the time to switch.

    Thinking about healthcare isn’t always a priority. It can be easy to just keep things as they are rather than do the research required for selecting a new plan. However, doing so is a worthwhile venture; it may save you money and be beneficial to your overall health.

    How to get help

    If you need more general information on Medicare, check out WISER’s Medicare Basics fact sheet. The National Council on Aging also operates My Medicare Matters, a great resource that can walk you through your different Medicare options, costs, and understanding the enrollment process. The Medicare website similarly offers an online tool for shopping plans called the Medicare Plan Finder. If you would like personal help selecting a plan or have questions, call Medicare’s toll free number (1-800-633-4227) or the Medicare Rights Center (1-800-333-4114). Federally funded State Health Insurance Programs can also provide assistance. Find your local SHIP at www.shiptacenter.org or by visiting or calling the Eldercare Locator  (1-800-677-1116, www.eldercare.gov).

     

    Know When to Enroll in Medicare! To B or not to B in Part B?

    Monday, October 3rd, 2016

    Authored by Joe Baker, President, Medicare Rights Center

    More and more Americans are still working at age 65 but many are unaware that they are not automatically enrolled in Medicare Part B when they become eligible. Many people mismanage Medicare enrollment in part because people who are not taking Social Security retirement benefits do not receive notification about how and when to enroll. But delaying Medicare enrollment after age 65 without fully considering your situation can have significant financial consequences.

    Making a careful decision about Medicare enrollment is particularly critical for Medicare Part B, medical insurance that helps pay for important services such as doctors’ appointments, preventive care, and laboratory tests. Unlike Medicare Part A, hospital insurance which is premium-free for most people, there is a monthly premium for Part B.

    Delaying enrollment in Part B to avoid paying the premium can be risky. You may risk:

    –going without needed health coverage;

    –paying a lifetime 10 percent premium penalty for each 12-month period you were not enrolled; and

    –having to wait until the annual General Enrollment Period (GEP) to enroll.

    Delaying Part B might be a good choice for people who have access to a Special Enrollment Period, which allows you to enroll in Part B without waiting until the GEP and without penalty. To be eligible, you must have coverage from your or your spouse’s current employment from the time you become eligible for Medicare. The Special Enrollment Period lasts while you, or your spouse, are still working and for up to eight months after the job or insurance ends, whichever is first. Note that COBRA and retiree insurance are not considered current employer insurance.

    Even if you have access to a Special Enrollment Period, you should still consider whether to enroll in Part B to avoid having inadequate coverage. Whether you should sign up depends on whether Medicare or your employer health coverage is the primary insurance.

    If you are eligible for Medicare because you are 65 or over and your insurance is from your, or your spouse’s, job at a company with:

    –20 or more employees, your employer coverage will be the primary payer.

    –less than 20 employees, Medicare is primary. You should not delay enrolling in Part B because you will have no primary insurance – equivalent to not having insurance at all.

    To enroll in Medicare, call Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213. If you are thinking about turning down Part B, call Social Security and ask if you can defer enrollment without penalty.

    Recently introduced legislation in Congress would improve information for people approaching Medicare eligibility and otherwise modernize this complicated Medicare enrollment process.The Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act would require Medicare to send a notice to all people approaching Medicare eligibility that would explain Part B eligibility, the late enrollment penalty, and how any other coverage coordinates with Medicare.

    Tell your member of Congress to co-sponsor the BENES Act to help the 10,000 people aging into Medicare each day avoid costly enrollment mistakes. Take action today!

    WISER

    About Us

    WISER is a nonprofit organization that works to help women, educators and policymakers understand the important issues surrounding women's retirement income. WISER creates a variety of consumer publications including fact sheets, booklets and a quarterly newsletter that explain in easy-to-understand language the complex issues surrounding Social Security, divorce, pay equity, pensions, savings and investments, banking, home-ownership, long-term care and disability insurance.

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