Building Safety Nets as We Age: Coverage, Consulting, Community & Care

Between the rising costs of health care, insurance, long-term care, housing, etc., figuring out how to age well can feel like a high-wire act. Not only is it complicated to get where you’re going, the stakes feel high. The role of safety nets is just as important to aging adults as it is to acrobats and building a network of professional, financial, and social support can help families turn fearful chaos into secure solutions for the future. At the heart of building proper safety nets is anticipating our needs. This may seem like an impossible task without a crystal ball to look into the future, but the way we think about coverage is to anticipate based on the likelihood of an event or need.

We are living longer than any generation before us and this longevity presents unique challenges. Healthcare and long-term care costs are rising at a moment in time when the largest generation is beginning to enter the stage in their life when they will consume the most medical and long-term care. According to LongTermCare.gov, “Someone turning 65 today has a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care services and support in their remaining years.” It leaves many wondering if they will be able to pass something on to their family or even if they will outlive their financial resources. Preparing for long life begins with surrounding yourself with quality consulting, coverage, and care. Let’s take a quick look at the core threads that should make up the safety net you’re building for retirement and beyond.

Professional Threads in Your Safety Net

Elder Law Attorney: Between a durable power of attorney, trusts and taxes, getting your paperwork in order can be complex. An elder law attorney specializes in the very topics and questions that families are asking as they age. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys provides a searchable directory to find a lawyer near you.  

Geriatric Care Manager: The health care system asks a great deal from family members of aging adults including coordination of appointments and services, ensuring consistency of care and meds at home, coordinating a discharge from the hospital, taking over complicated care tasks at home, etc. Most adult children are not prepared with the training or experience to manage it all. As experts in elder care, Professional Geriatric Care s are filling a huge gap in the healthcare system by navigating the healthcare maze for families and directing and coordinating the care of aging adults. Their educational backgrounds as Registered Nurses or Masters of Social Work equip them to proactively engage care needs and give aging adults and their families a high quality of life. A consultation can help aging adults proactively think about their needs and ask the right questions as they plan, saving families an enormous amount of time and money. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers provides a searchable directory to find a Certified Care Manager near you.  

Long-Term Care Providers: Whether you are recovering from an injury like a fall, gradually need more assistance around the house, or need respite care for a family caregiver, in-home caregivers are an important provider of long-term care. While many families hire caregivers privately to address their needs, they also assume a great deal of risk that a home care agency would assume on behalf of the family. For more information on comparing options in caregiving click here to read our blog post, “Piecing It Together: Informal vs. Professional Home Care”.

Financial Planner/ Wealth Manager: Paying for care, assessing financial risks, preserving assets, and managing a portfolio become all the more important in retirement and beyond. Having a financial planner or wealth manager who understands the unique needs and interests of their aging clients is crucial.

Geriatrician / Eldercare Doctors and Therapists: We experience aging most intensely in the body and it is important to have doctors and therapists that have a deep understanding of the aging process and how to support aging adults to live a high quality of life. Geriatrics is a dwindling specialty for physicians and a shockingly low amount of doctors have training in caring for the elderly. Your doctor should be your partner in health and aging and it is important to find and build a relationship with a primary medical professional who you can have an open dialogue with and trust.

Financial Threads in Your Safety Net

Medicare: When signing up for Medicare be sure to understand your options and know what is covered and what is not. A common myth is that Medicare will cover long-term care needs. It does not. Medicare is for acute care such as short stays in the hospital or rehabilitation. These services have day limits and it is up to the individual to cover the on-going care needs within the home.

There are four basic sections on Medicare as well as a supplemental policy: 

  • Part A: Going to the Hospital
  • Part B: Going to the Doctor- routine visits, test,etc. 
  • Part C: Medicare Advantage Eye and Dental Coverage (This also includes A & B)
  • Part D: (optional) Prescription Drug Coverage (separate or with Part C)
  • For more information about Medicare and tools to find the right plan visit Medicare.gov

Long-Term Care Insurance: Unlike Medicare, Long-Term Care Insurance is designed to cover care costs for chronic and long-term care needs. This can range from 24-hour care due to a brain injury to the day-to-day help around the house and with personal care after an event like a fall or stroke. According to LongTermCare.gov, 69% of people use long-term care services of some kind for an average of 3 years. Those out-of-pocket expenses can be a heavy burden with no insurance to help cover them. Be sure that you ask about what types of care the policy covers, what the limits of coverage are and the financial rating/ strength of the insurance company. Premiums can be high, so also be sure that you will be able to sustain insurance payments for consistency of coverage.

Property Insurance: Making sure that house, car, and other types of property insurance are up-to-date is important as we age. Over time our possessions ebb and flow and it is a good idea to make sure that you and your loved ones have appropriate coverage and are not under or over insured.

Health Insurance & Savings: Knowing that you have enough health insurance to cover your medical expenses is a huge safety net for healthcare consumers. A big part is knowing the boundaries and limits of coverage for each policy. Fidelity Investments estimates that a couple age 65 retiring in 2013 would need $220,000 out of pocket to pay for medical expenses. That assumes that this couple is using Medicare and that there are no long-term care costs. 

Benefits: Whether you are thinking about Social Security or are a veteran, claiming all the benefits available to you is an important piece in the conversation about paying for health and care costs.  

Family Threads in Your Safety Net

Adult Children: In the event of a crisis, difficult diagnosis, or just long life, adult children are often at the forefront of eldercare decisions and help aging parents by navigating eldercare services, financially contributing to care needs, and often providing hands-on care. It is important for both generations to voice expectations around what is needed, desired, and what can be contributed.

Spouse/ Significant Other: A spouse or significant other is often the first to enter the caregiving role in daily tasks or during a medical event. Getting on the same page about your goals and wishes for aging well is a crucial step in being supported and supporting one another in the process. Document and talk openly about end-of-life wishes and healthcare wishes including filling out Advance Directives. This can really take the pressure off should they ever need to make a decision or speak on your behalf if you were unable to for any reason.

Community Threads in Your Safety Net

Community Resources: Where we age has a huge impact on how we age. When it comes to choosing a community where you can age in place, look for care providers in your area as well as access to arts and cultural events, support groups, organizations and services for seniors, access to recreational activities and outdoor spaces, opportunities to volunteer and engage in hobbies, etc. These aspects of life have a huge impact on quality of life, health, and over all well-being.   

Friends: Building a network of friends who are asking the same questions and dealing with the same challenges can be extremely helpful and fun! One of the most powerful ways to impact the way we think about aging is to be around others who challenge us to grow, continually learn, get our affairs in order, and have a sense of humor. As human beings we need witnesses to our lives and people to share the joys and concerns with. Never stop building your network of friends you can rely on.

Since 1989, Sound Options has been an important part of the safety nets of families in the Puget Sound region. Our In-Home Care services and Geriatric Care Managers provide those crucial threads of hands-on compassionate care as well as expertise, professional elder care consulting and care coordination. Whether planning for the future or managing a crisis, aging adults and their families can rest in the professional support of Sound Options.  More information at www.SoundOptions.com

Published on July 30, 2014.