The Internal Revenue Service recently issued a notice to people with disabilities who are employed that for the first time they can now deposit extra money into their ABLE accounts without losing Social Security, Medicaid, or other government benefits. Annual contributions to ABLE accounts are currently capped at $15,000 but under new legislation passed in late 2017 individuals with disabilities who are employed may now accrue at least some of their wages as well.

This year, Americans living in the lower 48 states may now deposit an additional $12,140 from their income which means workers with disabilities are allowed to save up to $27,140 in their ABLE account in 2018. Hawaii residents can save an additional $13,390 and Alaska residents can save an additional $15,180, according to the release put out by the IRS this month.

Additionally, the IRS has announced that workers with disabilities and an ABLE account may now qualify for a Saver’s Credit to help reduce their federal tax bill. Formerly known as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, the Saver’s Credit gives special tax breaks to low and moderate income taxpayers saving for retirement. The Saver’s Credit can be taken for contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA, a 401(k), SIMPLE IRA, SARSEP, 403(b), 501(c)(18) or governmental 457(b) plan.

A recent study conducted by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California San Francisco suggests that magnetic radial imaging (MRI) could detect the early stages of dementia up to three-years before it occurs in some patients. The modestly sized study predicted with 89 percent accuracy who would go on to develop dementia within three years.

Presented at the Radiological Society of North America meeting in Chicago, the findings suggest that physicians may soon be able to use widely available diagnostics to inform patients about their risk of developing dementia before symptoms present themselves. MRI brain scans are widely available in most hospitals and give doctors insight to the patient’s brain. The researchers in this study used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging to assess the health of the brain’s white matter, which encompasses the cables that enable different parts of the brain to communicate with each other.

“Diffusion tensor imaging is a way of measuring the movement of water molecules along white matter tracts,” said ead author Cyrus A. Raji in a media interview. “If water molecules are not moving normally it suggests underlying damage to white tracts that can underlie problems with cognition.” Researchers discovered that patients who eventually experienced cognitive declines showed significantly more damage to the white matter of their brains.

With the skyrocketing costs of medical care and nursing homes, few people can afford to pay out of pocket costs to live in a long term care facility in their later years and most will eventually need to qualify for Medicaid to do so. Medicaid has essentially become the default funding source for for nursing home care and the long-term care insurance of the middle class in the United States.

Sources estimate that up to two-thirds of nursing home patients are covered by Medicaid, which was created to act as a safety net to the country’s poorest citizens. The definition of who qualifies as poor under Medicaid varies from state to state. In New York, individuals may only have up to $15,150 “countable assets” such as cash, stocks, bonds, investments, vacation homes, and savings and checking accounts to qualify for institutional or nursing home care. The spouse of the individual applying for Medicaid is allowed to have $123,600 in assets.

Certain assets are not counted towards these eligibility requirements. Some of the most important exemptions are the individual’s personal possessions like clothing and furniture, a single motor vehicle used for transportation, and the individual’s principal residence as long as he or she intends to return there at some point. For those over income an asset limits, New York does offer a variety of programs to help individuals qualify for Medicaid benefits.

Having a last will and testament is something that every single person needs to have, regardless of how substantial or modest they feel their estate may be. This because a last will and testament does much more than spell out who receives what part of an estate. A last will and testament can and should go on to set out contingencies for many practical scenarios and life events that the average person can find himself or herself in.

First and foremost, a last will and testament allows individuals to direct portions of their estate to whomever they choose. When individuals pass away without a will it is known as intestacy and will be distributed according to the laws of the state where that person resides. Generally, this means that the deceased’s property will be distributed among his or her immediate family, regardless of what his or her final wishes would have been.

Once a person passes away, his or her estate will generally need to pass through probate court, known in New York as Surrogate’s Court. Without a last will and testament, this process can be more costly and time consuming than if the deceased had clearly expressed to the court his or her final wishes on how to divide the estate in question.

The odds are that most of us will end up caring for a relative or close friend at some point, helping to manage their health and wellness and even make important decisions to ensure that person lives a comfortable, dignified life. Whether these tasks include arranging transportation for doctor’s appointments, overseeing finances, performing chores, or helping hands on with hygiene, getting dressed, or meal preparation, caregivers come in all forms and play an important role in the lives of loved ones.

Statistically, long distance caregivers have an average age of 47 and nearly 70 percent are female. Almost all of them provide care to a close relative despite the challenges associated with long distance caregiving, more than half of them make visits at least once a week to the person they care for. Approximately 40-percent visit at least once a month.

Helping loved ones of friends who live close by can be challenging enough but when the person we are responsible for lives greater distances away, the challenges can included unique obstacles, including lengthy travel time, extra costs, an inability to attend medical appointments and questions about how to find help in a different state. Fortunately for these vital caregivers, there are a multitude of community-based resources to help make these tasks easier and help caregivers and their loved ones.

Authorities across the country are warning of new scams targeting elderly Social Security over the phone, where individuals claiming to be government representatives try to collect sensitive information under the guise of a computer glitch causing issues with benefits. The Social Security Administration has made it very clear that under no circumstances will it call or send emails to beneficiaries asking for personal information, such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth or other private information, and advises people to not respond to such messages.

Other scams include callers asserting that beneficiaries need to pay a fee to unlock their Social Security number because of criminal activity and will also need to confirm their Social Security number. The Federal Trade Commission recently confirmed an increase in this type of scam and beneficiaries should be on the lookout for this type of illicit activity.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network recently announced it has had more complaints to its helpline in the past few months from consumers targeted by Social Security impostors than the older IRS scams that harassed thousands, if not millions, of Americans since 2013. According to the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, those IRS scams stole more than $73.6 million from almost 15,000 victims over the past five years.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released a set of helpful guides to help individuals manage the financial affairs of loved ones or others who are unable to do so and require a fiduciary to take of such matters. The guides cover multiple topics to help fiduciaries, including how to spot financial exploitation and avoid scams as well as a “Where to go for help” section with a list of relevant resources for more information.

One of the guides included is “Help for agents under a power of attorney” which lists the four basic duties that fiduciaries with a power of attorney need to keep in mind when managing the affairs of another. Those include to act only in the beneficiary’s interest, manage the beneficiary’s property and money carefully, keep the money and property of the beneficiary and fiduciary separate, and to keep good records of all transactions.

Another helpful guide included in the series is “Help for court-appointed guardians of property and conservators” which someone the court names to manage money and property for someone else whom the court has found cannot manage it alone. This can also apply to instances where a fiduciary is named to act in the interest of another person as a guardian, managing that person’s healthcare and other personal decisions. Other times, a court may be appointed to manage the governmental benefits of an individual and the CFPB also provides outlines for these responsibilities too.

As of January 1, 2019, approximately 1.2 million seniors across will lose their SilverSneakers coverage on Medicare Advantage plans that give them access to gyms and health centers without any additional membership costs. The controversial business decision will affects plan holders in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, and Utah who have Medicare Advantage plans with UnitedHealthcare.

An additional 1.3 million seniors across nine states with Medicare Advantage plans with Medicare supplemental (Medigap) insurance will also lose their access to the SilverSneakers program. States affected by this move include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin. Although the benefits were optional with UnitedHealthcare, millions of seniors nonetheless took advantage of the option to visit gyms and fitness centers for exercise.

Beginning next year, UnitedHealthcare will instead offer seniors with Medicare Advantage supplemental policies will get 50 percent off memberships at thousands of gyms across the country, telephone access to wellness coaches and access to various online communities and health-related resources. Seniors with UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plans can join Renew Active, the company’s health and fitness program which offers a network of over 7,000 locations members can visit for no additional cost and even qualify for evaluations from personal trainers and online brain-training programs.

The Trump Administration recently announced its intention to give private Medicare plans the power to negotiate drug prices with insurance companies in hopes of lower the the costs of vital medicines that seniors rely on to live healthier lives. Currently, private Medicare health plans under Medicare Part D must cover all or “substantially all” drugs in six “protected” classes, such as HIV treatments, antidepressants and cancer drugs, regardless of cost.

The Administration’s stance is that because insurance companies are required by their agreements with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Studies (CMS) to fully cover these medications, there is little incentive for the pharmaceutical companies that produce these drugs to lower prices for consumers. Part of the proposal would allow health insurance plans to exclude some of the protected drugs that see prices increases beyond the pace of inflation and new formulations not considered a “significant innovation” compared to the original.

“The lack of any ability for Part D plans to manage drugs in the protected classes has allowed the pharmaceutical industry to command high prices on protected class drugs in Part D, without patients getting a good deal,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement.

New York City has seen a rapid increase in the number of individuals working as in home health aides as the city’s population continues to age. Unfortunately, many of these in home health service workers are older people themselves, earning low wages and relying on government services to survive as their own health continues to decline from performing hard work and aging.

Naturally, most seniors wish to preserve their independence and often turn to home health workers to perform cooking, cleaning, and other chores that may be more difficult at an advanced age. Home health workers are vital to the healthcare needs of seniors who do not need or wish to enter into a nursing home or other skilled care facility before it may be necessary or otherwise not cost feasible for any reason.

Experts studying the issue describe New York’s impoverished home health aides as a new underclass, often working long hours without prospects of  finding new and better paying work outside their current field. Sources calculate that some of these employees work for at little as $7 to $8 per hour, adding up to around $25,000 which does not even get close to a living wage in New York City.

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