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November 2018 Columns

Savvy Senior – November Columns

  1. What You’ll Pay for Medicare in 2019
  2. How to Capture Your Elder Loved Ones’ Story
  3. When You Need Help Caring for an Aging Parent
  4. How to Get Veterans’ Funeral and Burial Benefits

What You’ll Pay for Medicare in 2019

Dear Savvy Senior,
I know there will be a small 2.8 percent cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits next year but what about Medicare? What will our Medicare Part B monthly premiums and other Medicare costs be in 2019?
Curious Jim

Dear Jim,
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently announced their cost adjustments for 2019, and you’ll be happy to know that the standard Medicare Part B monthly premium for most beneficiaries starting in January will be $135.50, a modest increase of just $1.50 per month over 2018’s standard premium.

There are, however, a small group of Medicare beneficiaries (about 2 million people) who will actually pay less than $135.50 because the 2.8 percent cost-of-living increase in their Social Security checks will not be large enough to cover the full premium increase.

Thanks to the Social Security Act’s “hold harmless” provision, Medicare cannot pass along premium increases greater than the dollar increase in their Social Security checks.

In addition, there are also a small group of high-income beneficiaries (about 3 million people) that will pay higher Part B premiums because their income is above $85,000 as a single, or $170,000 as a married couple filing jointly.

Medicare uses modified adjusted gross income from your tax return from two years ago to determine your premiums, which means that 2019 Part B premiums are determined by 2017 income.

So, if your income was $85,001 to $107,000 (or $170,001 to $214,000 if filing jointly), your monthly premium will increase from $187.50 to $189.60.

Monthly premiums for singles with an income of $107,001 to $133,500 (joint filers with income of $214,001 to $267,000) will rise from $267.90 to $270.90. And premiums for singles earning $133,501 to $160,000 ($267,001 to $320,000 for joint filers) will increase from $348.30 to $352.20.

If you had higher income than that, your monthly premium for 2018 was $428.60. In 2019, there will be an extra surcharge tier for people with the highest income.

If your income is between $160,001 and $499,999 ($320,001 to $749,999 for joint filers), you’ll pay $433.40 per month. Single filers with income of $500,000 or more ($750,000 or more for joint filers) will pay $460.50 per month.

If you fall into any of these high-income categories and you’ve experienced certain life-changing events that have reduced your income since 2017, such as retirement, divorce or the death of a spouse, you can contest the surcharge. For more information about contesting or reducing the high-income surcharge, see “Medicare Premiums: Rules for Higher-Income Beneficiaries” at SSA.gov/pubs/EN-05-10536.pdf.

In addition to the Part B premium increases, the annual deductible for Medicare Part B, which covers physician services and other outpatient services, will see a mild bump from $183 to $185 in 2019. The deductible for Medicare Part A, which covers hospital services, will increase from $1,340 in 2018 to $1,364 in 2019.

For more information on all the Medicare costs for 2019 visit Medicare.gov and click on “Find out how much Medicare costs in 2019,” or call 800-633-4227.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.
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How to Capture Your Elder Loved Ones’ Story

Dear Savvy Senior,
I am interested in making a video of my 82-year-old parents’ life story/legacy and how they want to be remembered. With the holidays approaching, I thought this could be a neat gift to my older siblings, but I could use some help. What can you tell me?
Youngest of Five

Dear Youngest,
A personal recording of your parents’ life story could be a wonderful holiday gift and something you and your family could cherish the rest of your lives. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

What You’ll Need
Your first step is to find out if your parents are willing to make a legacy video, which would entail you asking them a number of thoughtful questions about their life in an interview format in front of a video recording device. If they are, all you’ll need is a smartphone or camcorder and a list of questions or prompts to get them talking.

Recording Equipment
If you have a smartphone, making a video of your parents’ story is simple and free. However, you may want to invest a “smartphone tripod” to hold the phone while you conduct the interview, and a “smartphone external microphone,” which would improve the audio quality. You can find these types of products at Amazon.com for under $20.

Most smartphones today have good quality cameras and have the ability to edit/trim out the parts you don’t want. Or you can download a free video-editing app like Magisto or Adobe Premiere Clip that can help you customize your video.

If you want a higher quality video, consider purchasing a HD camcorder. Sony, Panasonic and Canon are the top-rated brands, according to Consumer Reports. These can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars, up to $1,000 or more.

Questions and Prompts
To help you prepare your list of questions for your parents’ video interview, go to “Have the Talk of a Lifetime” website at TalkofaLifetime.org. This resource, created by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council, offers a free workbook that lists dozens of questions in different categories.

Some of these include: earliest memories and childhood; significant people; proudest accomplishments; and most cherished objects. This will help you put together a wide variety of meaningful, open-ended questions.

Old photos of your parents, their family members and friends are also great to have on hand to jog your parents’ memory and stimulate conversations.

After you select your questions and photos, be sure to share them with your parents ahead of time so they can have some time to think about their answers. This will make the interview go much smoother.

Interview Tips
Arrange an interview time when your parents are rested and relaxed, and choose a quiet, comfortable place where you won’t be interrupted. You may need several sessions to cover everything you want.

When you get started, ask your parents to introduce themselves and ask a warm-up question like “When and where were you born?” Then ease into your selected questions, but use them as a guide, not a script.

If your parents go off topic, go with it. You can redirect them to your original question later. Think of it as a conversation; there’s no right or wrong thing to talk about, as long as it’s meaningful to you and your parents.

Also, be prepared to ask follow-up questions or diverge from your question list if you’re curious about something. If you’d like to hear more, try “And then what happened?” or “How did that make you feel?” or “What were you thinking in that moment?”

And end your interview with some reflective questions, such as “What legacy would you like to leave?” or “How do you want to be remembered?”

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.
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When You Need Help Caring for an Aging Parent

Dear Savvy Senior,
Where can I turn for caregiving help? I help take care of my 78-year-old mother and work too, and it’s wearing me to a frazzle.
Exhausted Daughter

Dear Exhausted,
Taking care of an aging parent over a period of time – especially when juggling work and other family obligations – can be physically and mentally exhausting. But help and resources are available.

To help you determine and prioritize the kinds of help you need, a good first step is to make a list of everything you do as a caregiver, big and small. Note the amount of time each one takes every day, week or month. Identify the times when you need help the most and which tasks others might be able to do for you, like making lunch for your mother when you’re at work.

Then list the types of care needed, such as simple companionship or doing active chores, like food shopping. Once you determine this, here are some tips and places you can reach out to for help.

Caregiving Help
If you have siblings or other loved ones close by, schedule a family meeting, in person or by phone, to discuss specific tasks they could provide. See if friends, neighbors or faith group members could help too.

You should also investigate resources in your mom’s town. Many communities offer a range of free or subsidized services that help seniors and caregivers with basic needs such as home delivered meals, transportation, senior companion services and respite services, which offers short-term care so you can take an occasional break. Call your Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 for contact information) for referrals to services available in your community, or for respite services see ARCHrespite.org/respitelocator.

If you can afford it, you may want to hire someone part-time to help with things like preparing meals, housekeeping or even personal care. Costs can run anywhere from $12 up to $25 per hour. To find someone, ask for referrals through your mom’s doctor or area hospital discharge planners, or try websites like Care.com, CareLinx.com, CareFamily.com or CareSpotter.com.

Financial Aids
If your handling your mom’s financial chores, make things easier by arranging for direct deposit for her income sources, and set up automatic payments for her utilities and other routine bills. You may also want to set up your mom’s online banking service, so you can pay bills and monitor her account anytime.

Or, if you need help, hire a daily money manager (AADMM.com) to do it for you. They charge between $25 and $100 per hour.

BenefitsCheckup.org is another excellent resource to look for financial assistance programs that may help your mom, particularly if she’s lower-income.

Technology Assistance
To help you keep tabs on your mom when you are away at work or if she lives alone, there are affordable technologies that can help.

For example, there are medical alert systems (like Bay Alarm Medical, BayAlarmMedical.com), which provide a wearable “help button” that would allow your mom to call for help anytime she needed it.

Or, you could install a video-monitoring camera (like Lighthouse Al, Light.house/elderly-care) that lets you check in on her anytime via your smartphone or computer. These cameras have built-in motion and sound detection that will let you know when something is detected, and two-way audio that will let you talk and listen to her.

There are even websites (like LotsaHelpingHands.com) that can help you more easily coordinate care with other family members.

Insurance Questions?
If you have questions about Medicare, Medicaid or long-term care, your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) offers free counseling and advice on these issues. Call 877-839-2675 or visit ShiptaCenter.org to locate a nearby counselor. You can also get help through the Medicare Rights Center, which staffs a help-line at 800-333-4114.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.
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How to Get Veterans’ Funeral and Burial Benefits

Dear Savvy Senior,
Does the VA provide any special burial benefits to old veterans? My dad, who has late-stage Parkinson’s disease, served during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.
Only Child

Dear Only Child,
Most U.S. veterans are eligible for burial and memorial benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration. Veterans who were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable are eligible.

To verify your dad’s discharge, you’ll need a copy of his DD Form 214 “Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty,” which you can request online at Archives.gov/veterans.

Here’s a rundown of some of the different benefits that are available to veterans that die a non-service related death.

National Cemetery Benefits
If your dad is eligible, and would like to be buried in one of the 136 national or 111 grant-funded state and tribal VA cemeteries (see www.cem.va.gov/cem/cems/listcem.asp for a list), the VA provides a host of benefits, at no cost to the family, including a gravesite; opening and closing of the grave; perpetual gravesite care; a government headstone or marker; a United States burial flag that can be used to drape the casket or accompany the urn (after the funeral service; the flag is given to the next-of-kin as a keepsake); and a presidential memorial certificate.

National cemetery burial benefits are also available to spouses and dependents of veterans.

If your dad is cremated, his remains will be buried or inurned in the same manner as casketed remains.

Funeral or cremation arrangements and costs are not, however, taken care of by the VA. They are the responsibility of the veteran’s family, but some veteran’s survivors are eligible for burial allowances, which are explained below.

If you’re interested in this option, the VA offers a pre-need burial eligibility determination program at www.cem.va.gov/pre-need or call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.

Private Cemetery Benefits
If your father is going to be buried in a private cemetery, the benefits available include a free government headstone or marker, or a medallion that can be affixed to an existing privately purchased headstone or marker; a burial flag; and a Presidential memorial certificate.

Funeral or cremation arrangements and costs are again the responsibility of the family (some burial allowances may be available), and there are no benefits offered to spouses and dependents that are buried in private cemeteries.

Military Funeral Honors
Another popular benefit available to all eligible veterans buried in either a national or private cemetery is a military funeral honors ceremony. This includes an honor guard detail of at least two uniformed military persons, folding and presenting the U.S. burial flag to the veteran’s survivors, and the playing of Taps by a bugler or an electronic recording.

The funeral provider you choose will be able to assist you with all VA burial requests. Depending on what you want, certain forms may need to be completed which are always better to be done in advance.

For a complete rundown of burial and memorial benefits, eligibility details and required forms, visit www.cem.va.gov or call 800-827-1000.

Burial Allowances
In addition to the burial benefits, some veteran’s survivors may also qualify for a $300 burial allowance (or $780 if hospitalized by VA at time of death) and $780 for a plot, to those who choose to be buried in a private cemetery. To find out if your dad is eligible, see Benefits.va.gov/benefits/factsheets/burials/burial.pdf.

To apply for burial allowances, you’ll need to fill out VA Form 21P-530 “Application for Burial Benefits.” You need to attach a copy of your dad’s discharge document (DD 214 or equivalent), death certificate, funeral and burial bills. They should show that you have paid them in full. You may download the form at VA.gov/vaforms.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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