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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Studies (CMS) recently made a pair of announcements regarding changes to some of the important services the agency offers to millions of seniors across the country. Both of which aim to improve customer experience for CMS enrollees and help combat the threat of identity theft against those seeking vital medical treatments paid for in part by the federal government.

To help protect seniors from identity theft, CMS has begun phasing in new Medicare cards that no longer display enrollees’ Social Security numbers. Pennsylvania residents will be among the first to receive the new cards that assign each person a randomly generated eleven-digit number.

Social Security numbers are vital for accessing key financial information, medical records, and legal documents and should a Medicare enrollee’s card fall into the wrong hands, it could result in a serious case of identity theft. The new cards are tied directly to existing accounts so those who receive the new cards will have all their medical information will still be available with their doctors.

If you have a beloved elder who currently needs or will eventually need long term, in-home health care, you need to know about new changes to federal labor laws that may not only raise the cost of these services but potentially alter quality aspects. In addition to federal labor and wage laws, state and even local laws may impact what you pay for in home health care and who provides it.

When a person suffers from dementia, alzheimer’s, or or another cognitive health condition, he or she will likely need the aid of a home health care aide to provide even the most basic of care needs. For many years, home health care providers who also lived in the patient’s home were subject to different portions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which made them exempt from overtime and would essentially earn less than minimum wage because the individual was expected to be on call even during the evening.

However, a recent legal decision determined these in-home health care workers were not overtime exempt and must be paid one and a half times their average hourly wage when working more than 40-hours per week. This meant that it became economically feasible for many families to maintain constant care to their loved one from a familiar person that could be counted on to provide attentive, individualized service to the patient.

The Trump administration recently issued a directive to revoke the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for tens of thousands of immigrants from poverty stricken countries living in the country, many of whom who have found roles in the home healthcare market. With the cost of in-home and assisted living facility growing every year, the change could potentially add to those costs and put seniors and the disabled in a more difficult financial situation.

Approximately 59,000 Haitians came to live in the United States after the 2010 earthquake which devastated the country. Nursing homes and in-home care providers are already reporting staffing shortfalls as immigrants who found employment in their sectors have returned home for fear of forced deportation after losing their legal status. Even despite the threat of deportation, many immigrants working in nursing homes and as in-home health aides do not stay long in these jobs as they find professions in much higher paying sectors of the economy.

In Boston, Massachusetts for example, some elder care providers are speaking out about the selfless, hard work that their immigrant employees living on TPS status perform for long hours and modest pay. With many coming from nations where the witnessed humanitarian crises and seek to give back as part of the aid they themselves received in their times of need.

The dream of Americans is to age with dignity and independence while enjoying their golden years with family and friends and avoiding the need for any type of long term institutionalized care. However, trends in aging show that more and more Americans these days are relying on some type of intermediate institutionalized care before eventually moving into a nursing home to receive the attentive services they need.

However, despite receiving an estimated $10 billion in federal funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Studies (CMS), states encounter little oversight from regulators over the quality of care residents receive. Furthermore, over half the states do not report “critical incidents” to the federal government that include unexplained deaths, abuse, neglect or financial exploitation. All of that is according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Advocacy group Justice for Aging issued its own response to the GAO report to highlight the lack of accountability from many states and facilities receiving CMS funding. The directing attorney for Justice in Aging went as far as to point out that even among the 22 states that do provide the federal government with data on critical incidents the information is hard for the public to obtain and may not even illuminating enough.

The new tax laws taking effect in 2018 give both individuals and couples even more flexibility to plan for their estates and ensure the largest possible part of their estate goes to beneficiaries on a tax-free basis. While the changes will remain in effect until 2025, families should start formulating estate plans now in order to take the greatest advantage possible of the reforms and craft the best possible plan for the future.

The tax reform bills substantially increases the individual estate and gift tax exemption from $5.6 million to approximately $11.2 million and up to $22.4 million for a married couple. After December 31, 2025, the numbers will revert back to their 2017 numbers adjusted for inflation. However, law makes no changes to the 40 percent tax rate currently imposed on transfers in excess of the exemption amount.

With the new changes, wealthy individuals and couples should consider immediately making large gifts or create trusts to maximize their federal estate and gift tax exemptions. Having the ability for married couples to transfer up to $22.4 million can benefit multiple generations of family members and avoid any future additional wealth transfer taxes. Furthermore, those who have already expended their gift tax exemptions prior to the end of 2017 will now have an additional $11.2 million to work with.

With massive winter storms sweeping across the country, older adults and their loved ones need to take special precautions against conditions that can lead to potentially serious accidents or adverse medical conditions. Even in areas of the country where most of us may already be used to frigid temperatures, this year’s particularly extreme weather can take its toll on some of our most vulnerable citizens.

First and foremost, it is always a good idea to check in on our elderly relatives, neighbors, and friends during especially cold weather. Because older people lose heat from their bodies faster than younger people, it can be more difficult for elders to tell how cold they may actually be and taking prescription medication can further desensitize elders to colder temperatures.

Cold weather can bring icy precipitation that can leave not only roads slippery but also stairs and sidewalks so folks need to take precautions and wear non-skid shoes and weatherize any assistive devices like walkers. Take the time to shovel driveways, sidewalks, and stairs and lay ice-melting solutions down further prevent slips and falls. If you or your loved one has a medical condition like a heart condition, osteoporosis or trouble with balance may need to hire someone to clear driveways and sidewalks.

A recent article by the New York Times covered some of the trends in aging and the economy that could have a tremendous impact on how families, particularly women and millenials, care for elder family members in the future. While it is no secret an increasing percentage of America will become older with the wave of Baby Boomers entering their golden years, the societal and economic impacts are less discussed and more profound.

According to data cited in the article, an estimated one in five working age adults in the U.S. is retired, approximately 15 percent of the population. Of those retirees, as many as 14 million adults may not be able to live independently and require some sort of in-home or skilled nursing care to survive.

Experts studying the issue believe the burden of caring for older family members may be one reason by women have less earning power over all than men. The article points out that about a quarter of women 45 to 64 years old and one in seven of those 35 to 44 are caring for an older relative.

Starting January 1, 2018, most employees who work in New York State for private employers will be eligible to take paid family leave to care for a newborn child or a sick family member. If you are a public employee working for the state, your employer may choose to offer paid family leave so check to see if your office is eligible.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the law in 2016, giving New Yorkers the country’s strongest and most comprehensive policy for paid family leave. As a result of the bills passage, working families will no longer have to choose between caring for their loved ones and risking their economic security.

New York’s Paid Family Leave provides job-protected, paid time off so workers can:

Most of us understand we are supposed to save for our retirement but many still make the mistake of underestimating the cost of long term healthcare should we develop a serious medical condition or be unable to live independently. While the estimates for both in-home and assisted-living care can be staggering, some basic planning for the future can go a long way towards reducing the financial burden of living comfortably while receiving the vital medical care you need in your later years.

According to recent estimates, living in an assisted living facility can cost more than $43,000 per year and living in a nursing home can cost more than $83,000 or even $92,000 for a private room. The financial answer for some can be purchasing long-term care insurance to help offset the enormous cost of years of long term care at an assisted living facility.

For people living in their 50’s, the time to save for healthcare costs is right now. While yearly premiums can cost as much as $3,400 for a married couple, those premiums will seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of thousands of dollars in out of pocket costs seniors who do not qualify for Medicaid funded nursing home and assisted living facility care.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently put the country on alert, warning that this year’s flu season and the H3N2 virus could be one of the worst in recent years as hospitals experience record setting hospitalization rates. Physicians for the CDC warned Americans over the age of 65-years old are being hospitalized at a higher rate than any other segment of the population and elders need to take care to ensure they do not fall victim to complications with the virus.

CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald cautioned that although infection rates appear to be peaking, many more Americans will be diagnosed with the flu in the coming weeks before flu season ends across the country. While recent years have been categorized as “active” flu seasons, where large numbers of people become sick, this year is expected to be “severe” with an unusually number of patients being diagnosed with some form of the flu virus.

Fortunately, this year does not appear as though it will be as bad as the 2015 flu season where infection rates were as high as 29.9 people out of every 100,000. The flu typically hits populations at the ends of the spectrums, the very young and the very old, with at least 20-children succumbing to the virus this season so far. The only silver lining to these tragedies is that the numbers are far less than in years past, 110 last year and 92 in 2016.

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