Savvy Senior Columns for May

Below are the four”Savvy Senior” columns from May.  Again this month, the columns largely deal with the ongoing coronavirus crisis. 

Savvy Senior – May Columns
1.    How the Coronavirus Relief Law Helps Retirement Savers and Retirees
2.    Do Pneumonia Vaccines Protect Seniors from Coronavirus?
3.    Grocery and Meal Service Delivery Options for Seniors Sheltering in Place
4.    What Older Diabetics Should Know About Coronavirus
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How the Coronavirus Relief Law Helps Retirement Savers and Retirees

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about the retirement account changes that Congress recently passed in response to the coronavirus crisis?
Seeking Answers

Dear Seeking,
Tucked into the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, that President Trump signed into law in late March were a series of changes that can help retirement savers in need of cash, as well as help preserve the retirement savings accounts of current retirees while the stock market is down. Here’s a rundown to how three provisions in the CARES Act might help you, or someone you know.

Hardship Withdrawals
Normally, if you took money out of an employer-sponsored retirement plan or IRA before 59 ½, you’d be hit with taxes and a 10 percent tax penalty on that amount. But the CARES Act waives the early distribution penalty on up to $100,000 of such distributions in 2020 for what the law calls “affected individuals.” You are, however, still on the hook for income taxes on any amounts withdrawn, but the new law allows you to pay them over three years.

To qualify for this penalty-free hardship withdrawal, you must either have been diagnosed with coronavirus (COVID-19), have a spouse or dependent diagnosed with it or experienced adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, having work hours reduced, being unable to work due to a lack of child care due to COVID-19, or closing or reducing hours of a business you owned or operated if you had COVID-19.

Bigger Loans
The CARES Act will also allow you to take larger loans against the money you’ve saved in your 401(k) or 403(b) during the six-month period after the law was implemented, which was March 27. IRAs do not allow loans.

Normally, you can borrow only up to $50,000 or 50 percent of your vested account balance, whichever is less. The CARES Act will double that: up to $100,000 against the amount you’ve saved in your plan.

Borrowers typically have five years to repay a loan or the amount will be treated as a distribution and taxed. But you also need to know that if you leave or lose your job, you may be required to pay back the balance early, or owe taxes and, possibly, an early-withdrawal penalty.

This prevision also helps those with an existing 401(k) loan by allowing them to delay repayments that are due in 2020 for one year.

Suspended RMDs
Starting in 2020, individuals who turn 72 are required to take annual mandatory distributions from their tax-deferred 401(k)s and IRAs. In prior years, this requirement kicked in after savers turned 70½ years of age.

This is known as the required minimum distribution or RMDs.

The CARES Act suspends RMDs for 2020, including those for inherited IRAs, which means you can skip taking your required distributions this year if you wish.

The one-year waiver of RMDs will help retirees, who would otherwise have been forced to base their minimum withdrawals for 2020 on their account balances as of Dec. 31, 2019, when the stock market was near record levels. It will also give the market time to recover before resuming distributions in 2021.

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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Do Pneumonia Vaccines Protect Seniors from Coronavirus?

Dear Savvy Senior,
Do currently offered vaccines against pneumonia provide seniors any protection against the coronavirus disease? I’ve always been bad about getting vaccinated, but this coronavirus pandemic is causing me to change my thinking.
Pro-Vax Patty

Dear Patty,
This is a great question. Because the coronavirus (COVID-19) attacks the lungs and respiratory system, many readers have asked whether the pneumonia vaccines, which are administered to millions of patients each year, might protect someone if they contract the coronavirus.

But unfortunately, the answer is no. Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus.

This virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are in the process of rapidly developing a vaccine against COVID-19, but it is expected to take at least a year before it’s ready.

Having said that, you should also know that there are several other important vaccines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all seniors should get up to date on after the coronavirus pandemic dies down. Here’s a rundown of what they are, when you should get them, and how they’re covered by Medicare.

Flu vaccine: While annual flu shots are recommended each fall to everyone, they are very important for older adults to get because seniors have a much greater risk of developing dangerous flu complications. According to the CDC, last year up to 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died because of the flu – most of whom were age 65 and older.

To improve your chances of escaping the seasonal flu, this September or October consider a vaccine specifically designed for people 65 and older. The Fluzone High Dose or FLUAD are the two options that provide extra protection beyond what a standard flu shot offers. And all flu shots are covered under Medicare Part B.

Pneumococcal vaccine: As previously stated, this vaccine protects against pneumonia, which hospitalizes around 250,000 Americans and kills about 50,000 each year. It’s recommended that all seniors, 65 or older, get two separate vaccines – PCV13 (Prevnar 13) and PPSV23 (Pneumovax 23). Both vaccines, which are administered one year apart, protect against different strains of the bacteria to provide maximum protection. Medicare Part B covers both shots if they are taken at least a year apart.

Shingles vaccine: Caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash that affects more than 1 million Americans every year. All people over age 50 should get the new Shingrix vaccine, which is given in two doses, two to six months apart. Even if you’ve already had shingles, you should still get this vaccination because reoccurring cases are possible. The CDC also recommends that anyone previously vaccinated with Zostavax be revaccinated with Shingrix because it’s significantly more effective.

All Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover shingles vaccinations, but coverage amounts, and reimbursement rules vary depending on where the shot is given. Check your plan.

Tdap vaccine: A one-time dose of the Tdap vaccine, which covers tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) is recommended to all adults. If you’ve already had a Tdap shot, you should get a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) booster shot every 10 years. All Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover these vaccinations.

Other Vaccinations
Depending on your health conditions, preferences, age and future travel schedule, the CDC offers a “What Vaccines Do You Need?” quiz at www2.CDC.gov/nip/adultimmsched to help you determine what additional vaccines may be appropriate for you. You should also talk to your doctor during your next visit about which vaccinations you should get.

To locate a site that offers any of these vaccines, visit VaccineFinder.org and type in your location.

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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Grocery and Meal Service Delivery Options for Seniors Sheltering in Place

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend some good grocery and/or meal service delivery options for seniors? My 78-year-old mother has always shopped for herself, but since the coronavirus pandemic hit the grocery store shelves are always half empty, and she’s getting more fearful of leaving the house.
Parent Helper

Dear Helper,
There are numerous grocery and meal service delivery options available to help seniors stay safe at home during this pandemic, but what’s available to your mom will depend on her location and budget. You should also be aware that because of demand, many grocery and meal delivery services are overwhelmed right now, so some services in your mom’s area may be greatly delayed or temporarily unavailable. That said, here are some good options to look into.

Grocery Delivery Services
Today, there are a variety of websites and apps that allow you or your mom to shop for groceries and other household goods without having to step foot inside a store.

Most of these services offer memberships (fees usually run around $100/year), which will get you or your mom free deliveries on orders over $30 or $35. Or, they’ll charge a flat delivery fee, which typically cost around $8 to $10.

Depending on where your mom lives there are numerous grocery delivery services like Instacart (instacart.com) and Shipt (shipt.com), which work with a wide variety of grocery retailers, including national and local chains and are widely available throughout the U.S. They use independent-contractor shopper/drivers to pick up orders in stores and deliver them to you.

You should also check into Walmart’s online grocery delivery or pick-up service (grocery.walmart.com), which is available in hundreds of locations across the U.S.; Amazon Prime Now (primenow.amazon.com), which is offered in many U.S. cities; Peapod (peapod.com) that’s available in 24 metro markets; and FreshDirect (freshdirect.com) which serves the New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. areas and a few other select cities in the northeast.

Meal Delivery Services
If your mom still enjoys cooking, another convenient option to consider is meal kit delivery services like Home Chef (homechef.com), Sun Basket (sunbasket.com) or HelloFresh (hellofresh.com).

Meal kits are subscription-based services that will send your mom a box containing fresh, pre-portioned ingredient items for that kit’s recipe. All she’ll need to do is combine the ingredients (some chopping, and slicing may be required) and cook it. Most meal kit services run between $8 and $12 per meal.

Or, if your mom wants a break from cooking, a great alternative is to set her up with a ready-made meal delivery service like Mom’s Meals (momsmeals.com) or Silver Cuisine (silvercuisine.com). Both of these companies, which cater to older adults, offer a wide variety of healthy, fully prepared meal choices (just heat and eat), that accommodate a host of dietary needs for those managing diabetes or needing heart-friendly and/or lower-sodium meal options.

Mom’s Meals, which run $7 per meal plus delivery, arrive fresh and will last up to 14 days in the refrigerator. Silver Cuisine meals are delivered frozen and cost $12 or $13 per meal.

You should also find out if there’s a senior home delivery meal program in your mom’s area. Meals on Wheels is the largest program that most people are familiar with, but many communities offer similar programs sponsored by other organizations that go by different names.

To find services available in your mom’s area, visit MealsOnWheelsAmerica.org, which offers a comprehensive directory on their website.

Most home delivered meal programs across the U.S. deliver hot meals daily or several times a week, usually around the lunch hour, to seniors over age 60. Weekend meals, usually frozen, may also be available, along with special diets (diabetic, low-sodium, kosher, etc.). Most of these programs typically charge a small fee (usually between $2 and $6) or request a donation, while some may be free to low-income seniors.

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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What Older Diabetics Should Know About Coronavirus

Dear Savvy Senior,
My husband and I are both in our late sixties and have diabetes. We would like to find out if our diabetes increases our risk of getting the coronavirus.
Concerned Diabetics

Dear Concerned,
Currently, there’s not enough data to show that people with diabetes are more likely to get coronavirus (COVID-19) than the general population. But the problem for diabetics is, if you do happen to contract the virus, your chance of developing serious complications are much higher. This is especially true if your diabetes isn’t well-controlled. Here’s what you should know.

Diabetic Risks
Health data is showing that about 25 percent of people who go to the hospital with severe COVID-19 infections have diabetes. One reason is that high blood sugar weakens the immune system and makes it less able to fight off infections. Your risk of severe coronavirus infection is even higher if you also have another condition, like heart or lung disease.

If you do get COVID-19, the infection could also put you at greater risk for diabetes complications like diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which happens when high levels of acids called ketones build up in your blood.

Some people who catch the new coronavirus have a dangerous body-wide response to it, called sepsis. To treat sepsis, doctors need to manage your body’s fluid and electrolyte levels. DKA causes you to lose electrolytes, which can make sepsis harder to control.

How to Avoid COVID-19
The best way to avoid getting sick is to stay home as much as you can. If you have to go out, keep at least 6 feet away from other people. And every time you come back from the supermarket, pharmacy or another public place, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.

Also wash your hands before you give yourself a finger stick or insulin shot. Clean each site first with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

To protect you, everyone in your house should wash their hands often, especially before they cook for the family. Don’t share any utensils or other personal items. And if anyone in your house is sick, they should stay in their own room, as far as possible from you.

The CDC also recommends that you stock up on medications and diabetes testing supplies to last for at least a month. The same goes for grocery supplies and other household necessities.

Also know that Medicare is now covering the cost of telehealth visits, so if you have questions for your doctor, you can ask by video chat or phone instead of going into the office.

If You Get Sick
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are a dry cough, fever, or shortness of breath. If you develop any symptoms that are concerning, call your doctor about getting tested.

If you find that you have contracted COVID-19, the first level of care is to stay home and check your blood sugar more often than usual and check your ketones too. COVID-19 can reduce your appetite and cause you to eat less, which could affect your levels. You also need more fluids than usual when you’re sick, so keep water close by, and drink it often.

You should also know that many over-the-counter medicines that relieve virus symptoms like fever or cough can affect your blood sugar levels one way or the other. So, before you take anything check with your doctor.

And be aware that if you start experiencing severe shortness of breath, high levels of ketones or DKA symptoms like severe weakness, body aches, vomiting or belly pain, you need to see your doctor or get to an emergency room right away.

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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