Free Services for Seniors or Their Caregivers

Most seniors these days are living on limited incomes from sources that may include Social Security, a small pension or maybe some other form of government assistance. With few resources at their disposal, finding services for free or discounted prices is vital.

There are likely many of these types of services available through your local Office for the Aging (the name of this government agency may be different in your local area, i.e. Division of Senior Services) or local charities such as Lions Club or Meals-on-Wheels, or on the Internet through sites like ElderCare.gov.

However, in my opinion, the most rewarding of these freebies for seniors and their caregivers – things like free hearing aids and free dentures – will be more difficult to come by. From my experiences as a caregiver, I have compiled a list of these types of services and provided a roadmap and examples for how to find them.

Free or Discounted Services for Seniors and Their Caregivers

  1. Benefits Counseling
    How many times have you, either as a senior or as a caregiver, wrestled with trying to figure out what type of help was available to you? There is free counseling available through your local Office for the Aging that can provide this type of assistance and point you in the right direction to receiving the help you need.

    You can get answers regarding health insurance, food stamps and other services through these counselors.

  2. Adult Day Care
    Adult day care centers can be run by a government entity, or through a local charity or house of worship. The purpose of these senior centers is to provide a safe place to socialize and have a hot meal in a protected setting. These adult day care centers are ideal for seniors who cannot remain alone, but are not in need of the care that a nursing home provides.

    If you go through your local Office for the Aging, they will probably be able to direct you to such a day care center, let you know if there is a charge for the facility and what the eligibility requirements are.

    As for the fees associated with these facilities, if the facility does in fact charge a fee they are normally quite nominal and are just there to help the center cover its own costs for meals and operating costs like utilities.

    As for the eligibility requirements, that will depend upon the capabilities of the staff at each individual facility. As an example, some adult day care centers will only accept those who are continent because they will not have the supplies to change adult diapers. Other facilities may require a certain amount of mobility for those attending (i.e. they are able to get out of a wheelchair on their own or with minor assistance). It is really ‘hit or miss’ because each facility will have their own requirements.

    When initially contacting the Office for the Aging or the local charity, give them as much information upfront regarding both the fees (if you are only looking for a free facility) and the physical condition of the applicant. This way they can act as a filter to point you in the right direction.

  3. Dentists That Accept Medicaid
    Due to the problems of billing and getting paid by the government, there aren’t many dentists that accept Medicaid, but a few do. This means that a senior with no dental insurance may still be able to get the dental care needed…you just might have to travel to get it.

    To find a dentist in your state that accepts Medicaid, contact your state Department of Health, but keep in mind that you may have to travel out of your way to get these services. For example, in my home state of New York, the state Department of Health website lists about 40 dentists that accept Medicaid. That’s not a great number for a state with a population of 19,500,000. On Long Island, where I live, there are only two.

  4. Free Dentures
    As incredible as it may seem, it is possible for low-income seniors to receive a free set of dentures. In addition to calling your Office for the Aging to see if they know of a source, here are two additional places to look into:

    Your State Dental Association: here you will be able to access free or low-cost dental programs. As an example, one of my customers contacted the Ohio Dental Association and was then directed to Dental Options (in Ohio). She discovered her mother was eligible and will soon be getting the help she needs. While these services will vary based on your location, the place to start is with your state dental association.

    Dental Colleges: while not free, if there is a local dental college in your area you could get a substantial discount on dental care.

  5. Elderly Pharmaceutical Assistance Program (EPIC)
    EPIC is the name of the State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program in New York. New York is one of the 23 states that have such a program (the other 27 canceled their programs after the Federal government instituted Medicare Part D). If you live in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, Vermont, Washington State or Wisconsin, you have access to another means of assistance to obtain your prescription medications.

    Income requirements vary from state to state, so you will have to check with your state administrators to determine your level of eligibility, but this can be a great way for seniors to save on their prescription drug costs.

  6. Low Cost Prescription Drugs
    Despite the advent of Medicare Part D, and certain state run assistance programs such as EPIC (outlined above), there are still many seniors that cannot afford their medications.

    This is why most manufacturers of prescription drugs provide assistance for those who cannot afford their medications. A comprehensive list of these programs is provide by the Partnership for Prescription Assistance as well as the steps to follow to apply for assistance.

    Another cost saving strategy is to make the switch to generic drugs. According to the Food and Drug Administration, “Generic drugs are important options that allow greater access to health care for all Americans. They are copies of brand-name drugs and are the same as those brand name drugs in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics and intended use.” Generic drugs cost about 50 to 80 percent less than their brand name equivalents, so it makes all the sense in the world to speak with your doctor about making the switch.

  7. Family Caregiver Support Programs
    These programs are often offered through the government, or volunteer organizations. Either way, as a caregiver, you can be provided with respite care by volunteers, as well as counseling and Support Groups to ensure your physical and emotional wellbeing. These services are designed to supplement, not replace, the efforts of the family in caring for a loved one.
  8. Free Cell Phones or Discounted Phone Service
    LifeLine is a federal government program for qualifying low-income consumers designed “to ensure that all Americans have the opportunities and security that phone service brings, including being able to connect to jobs, family and emergency services.”

    LifeLine assistance provides one free or discounted phone (either landline or wireless cell phone) per household. To qualify, seniors will likely have to be on some form of government assistance, such as Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Social Security, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Visit LifelineSupport.org to see if you qualify and to find participating companies in your state.

    I was able to get my mother a free cell phone within five days of her being approved for Medicaid, after providing a picture of my mother’s Medicaid award letter (yes, I know it is shocking for the government to move that quickly). The only drawback to the program is the type of phone that you are sent. My mother can use it but it has smaller buttons that can make it confusing. I would prefer for her to have a larger handset with larger buttons, but this is working for the moment.

  9. Free Phone for Hearing Impaired
    A new service that is (at least temporarily) being funded by the FCC, called CaptionCall, provides free phones to those with medically recognized hearing loss.

    The way that this phone works is simple. A screen on the phone instantly takes the words being spoken and puts them onto a screen on the phone so that hearing impaired individuals can read what is being said. You can learn more at CaptionCall.com/Caregiver (and click on Promotions) for more information.

  10. Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)
    This used to be called Food Stamps, but is now known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). You can apply through your state Office for the Aging, or Elder Affairs Department.

    Each state has slightly different requirements based upon income, but what I have found is that most states have a website (www.mybenefits.ny.gov in my home state of New York) where you can set up an online account and, based upon your age, zip code, income and residence status, you are then directed to all of the benefits that you are eligible for.

    Once you are approved, the maximum monthly benefit depends upon the size of your family, from $200 all the way up to $1,500.

  11. Other Free Food Services
    In addition to programs such as SNAP, there are many nutrition programs, offered either by local charities or local governments that can provide seniors with a nutritious meal (typically lunch) and the opportunity to socialize.

    Check with your local Office for the Aging to see what programs are available in your area. In my county, there are 33 such nutrition sites that seniors can attend and, in some cases, transportation is provided.

    There are also websites that have listings of local food banks where qualifying individuals can receive free food. The best food bank search engine is at Feedingamerica.org. Simply plug in your state and a listing of locations and the types of services offered at each food bank will pop up.

  12. Free Hearing Aids
    Buying a new hearing aid can run into the thousands of dollars, so it’s no wonder that seniors are hard pressed to pay for these devices. But I have found that there are a few ways to obtain free hearing aids. Some will be new, and others may be used, but they will all be free.

    First, try your local Lion’s Club. Most chapters either operate or know of a local hearing aid bank that can match needy seniors with recycled hearing aids.

    Another approach is to seek out clinical trials of new hearing aids. Contact hearing aid manufacturers and see if you can volunteer for a trial. When the trial is over, you typically get to keep the hearing aid. I recently saw a commercial from one hearing aid manufacturer that was advertising for people to participate in trials, so they are open to this idea.

    You will have to medically qualify for the trial and you may have to contact several manufacturers until you find one that works for you. You may also get put on a waiting list. Regardless, this can be a powerful way for very low income seniors to receive a free hearing aid.

  13. Free Legal Help
    When my mother had her heart attack and I started the Medicaid application process, I quickly realized that there would not be any money to pay our mounting bills. So I called my local Office for the Aging and they put me in touch with a local law school that operated a Senior Law Center for low income seniors like Mom.

    They wrote a letter to the creditors on my behalf asking for the debts to be forgiven. With this letter I attached a letter from the nursing home detailing Mom’s prognosis. That was 14 months ago, and I haven’t heard from the creditors since, so I guess that ‘no news is good news.’ I did receive one confirmation letter, from Wal-Mart, that the debts were forgiven. The others have not contacted me yet, so I am hopeful that they’ve written the debts off as bad debt.

    These types of law centers won’t represent you in a large scale, but they can be invaluable in drafting a simple will, certifying a POA or health care proxy, or drafting a letter to creditors.

    If your Office for the Aging is unaware of a local resource for such help, another place to look would be the Lion’s Club. Many of the members of the Lion’s are attorneys and local business leaders who may be able to help you find a pro bono attorney to handle something like this.

  14. Free Medical Alert System
    We have all seen the television commercial with the elderly woman in the bathroom saying, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” That’s what a medic alert system is for. It is a waterproof pendant that is worn around the neck or wrist, that works in conjunction with a wireless phone attachment. In an emergency, the wearer presses the button to be connected with the monitoring service and speaks into the pendant.

    The actual system is totally free, even the shipping. The monitoring service does have to be paid for, but that is normally around $30 a month.

    One thing I would advise you to consider when choosing a medic alert company. Make sure that the company you choose does NOT outsource its central station monitoring service. When your loved one hits that button, you want a trained, competent professional who can calmly contact emergency services and stay on the line with your parent until help arrives.

    There are many medical alert products out there, such as, LifeStation and Rescue Alert, that offer this type of service.\

  15. Free Walkers or Rollators
    A walker will run you around $40 (rollators are a little more expensive). That can be a lot of money for a cash-strapped senior. If you are looking for a discounted or free walker, try thrift stores such as Goodwill, which operates stores throughout the country and has very reasonable prices. Hospitals and nursing homes may periodically dispose of reliable, used equipment that may be ideal for you.
  16. Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP)
    Through your local or state Office for the Aging, you can apply for assistance either in the form of weather upgrades to your residence – such as added insulation in the attic to improve the energy efficiency of your home (this is known as the Weatherization Assistance Program) – as well as direct cash assistance based upon your income level.

    One not widely known fact about HEAP is that it is available to both homeowners and renters, making it more widely accessible for low-income seniors.

  17. Ombudsman Services
    For caregivers of nursing home patients, the state ombudsman’s office is there to address issues with the care of their loved ones. You can think of the ombudsman as similar to a union rep. They will investigate complaints on your behalf to insure that nursing home residents are being treated fairly.

    I previously wrote about my own experience with nursing home neglect against my mother and how I brought in the state ombudsman to investigate the issue.

    If you feel there is an issue of neglect or abuse of a nursing home resident, getting the contact information is easy. This information must be prominently displayed in the lobby of all nursing homes, along with the website and phone number to call for help.

  18. Residential Repair Services
    Need some minor work done around the house, but can’t afford the labor? Many Offices of the Aging run a residential repair service where seniors can have minor work done to their home or rental at no labor cost.

    NOTE: You will have to pay for supplies, but the labor is free from the volunteers.

  19. Silver Alert Program
    Caregivers of seniors with dementia are often concerned about a loved one wandering or getting lost, especially if they are driving with dementia. There are many ways to combat this. One way is through a Silver Alert program, which is a public notification system in the United States to broadcast information about missing persons – especially seniors with Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, or other mental disabilities – in order to aid in their return.

    Silver Alert and similar programs vary greatly by state. The way the Silver Alert program works in my local area is as follows:

    The caregiver will preemptively enroll their loved one by contacting the local police department and filling out a form identifying the senior and giving a physical description, as well as any medical information you wish to disclose.

    Your parent will then be issued a Silver Alert bracelet that will have a unique ID number and instructions for anyone who locates them to call a non-emergency police number. This way they can be safely returned home without compromising any personal information on the part of the senior or caregiver.

Regards,

ElderLawNews

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“My mom is in a nursing home and I noticed some bruises and sores. I think they are bedsores—what should I do?”

Bedsores are often a sign of neglect and sometimes a sign of abuse. The first thing you should do is speak to a nurse on duty and begin to remedy the situation. Be aware that the nurse may not have a full understanding of these injuries and you will likely need the attention of a wound care specialist and medical doctor. If you have a cell phone take some pictures of the wound for documentation. Bedsores and Pressure Sores, also known as Decubitus Ulcers can progress quickly and can be deadly. They occur when someone is immobile and there is not adequate blood flow. Then the affected tissue dies and an ulcerated sore develops. In a nursing home, hospital or other care facility it is their responsibility to check and turn the patient regularly. There are laws in place that protect patients and you should know that these injuries are not the fault of the patient. The patient is the victim. If a loved one you know is suffering they may have a significant, financially rewarding lawsuit. Read more about this on our website, http://www.RaphanLaw.com.

As an Elder Law firm we see these cases often. Whether malpractice, abuse or neglect it is simply unjust for it to happen to an innocent victim. Do not put off addressing the issue. Call me for a free consultation (212-268-8200, 800-278-2960) or even to just guide you through the process of getting the proper medical and legal attention.

Visual Stages of Bedsores:

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Read our Frequently Asked Bedsore Lawsuit Questions here>

By Brian A. Raphan, Esq.

Top 10 Elder Law decisions of 2016

Below, in chronological order, is ElderLawAnswers’ annual roundup of the top 10 elder law decisions for the year just ended, as measured by the number of “unique page views” of our summary of the case.

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1. Medicaid Applicant’s Irrevocable Trust Is an Available Resource Because Trustee Can Make Distributions

An Alabama appeals court rules that a Medicaid applicant’s special needs trust is an available resource because the trustee had discretion to make payments under the trust. Alabama Medicaid Agency v. Hardy (Ala. Civ. App., No. 2140565, Jan. 29, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

2. Trust Is an Available Asset Because Trustees Have Discretion to Make Distributions

A New York appeals court rules that a Medicaid applicant’s trust is an available asset because the trustees have discretion to make distributions to her. In the Matter of Frances Flannery v. Zucker (N.Y. Sup. Ct., App. Div., 4th Dept., No. TP 15-01033, Feb. 11, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

3. Medicaid Applicant Who Transferred Assets in Exchange for Promissory Note May Proceed with Suit Against State

A U.S. district court holds that a Medicaid applicant who was denied Medicaid benefits after transferring assets to her children in exchange for a promissory note may proceed with her claim against the state because Medicaid law confers a private right of action and the Eleventh Amendment does not bar the claim. Ansley v. Lake (U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Okla., No. CIV-14-1383-D, March 9, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

4. Mass. Court Bridles at Allegations in Request for Reconsideration in Irrevocable Trust Case

In a strongly worded response to a Medicaid applicant’s request for reconsideration of an unsuccessful appeal involving an irrevocable trust, a Massachusetts trial court strikes the applicant’s pleadings after it takes great exception to the tone of the argument.  Daley v. Sudders (Mass.Super.Ct., No.15-CV-0188-D, March 28, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

5. Caretaker Exception Denied Because Child Did Not Provide Continuous Care

A New Jersey appeals court determines that the caretaker child exception does not apply to a Medicaid applicant who transferred her house to her daughter because the daughter did not provide continuous care for the two years before the Medicaid applicant entered a nursing home. M.K. v. Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services (N.J. Super. Ct., App. Div., No. A-0790-14T3, May 13, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

6. State Can Place Lien on Medicaid Recipient’s Life Estate After Recipient Dies

An Ohio appeals court rules that a deceased Medicaid recipient’s life estate does not extinguish at death for the purposes of Medicaid estate recovery, so the state may place a lien on the property. Phillips v. McCarthy (Ohio Ct. App., 12th Dist., No. CA2015-08-01, May 16, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

7. Attorney Liable to Third-Party Beneficiary of Will for Legal Malpractice

Virginia’s highest court rules that an intended third-party beneficiary of a will may sue the attorney who drafted the will for legal malpractice. Thorsen v. Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Va., No. 150528, June 2, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

8. Nursing Home’s Fraudulent Transfer Claim Against Resident’s Sons Can Move Forward

A U.S. district court rules that a nursing home can proceed with its case against the sons of a resident who transferred the resident’s funds to themselves because the fraudulent transfer claim survived the resident’s death. Kindred Nursing Centers East, LLC v. Estate of Barbara Nyce (U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Vt., No. 5:16-cv-73, June 21, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

9. Irrevocable Trust Is Available Asset Because Medicaid Applicant Retained Some Control

New Hampshire’s highest court rules that a Medicaid applicant’s irrevocable trust is an available asset even though the applicant was not a beneficiary of the trust because the applicant retained a degree of discretionary authority over the trust assets. Petition of Estate of Thea Braiterman (N.H., No. 2015-0395, July 12, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

10. NY Court Rules that  Spouse’s Refusal to Contribute to Care Creates Implied Contract to Repay Benefits

A New York trial court enters judgment against a woman who refused to contribute to her spouse’s nursing home expenses, finding that because she had adequate resources to do so, an implied contract was created between her and the state entitling the state to repayment of Medicaid benefits it paid on the spouse’s behalf. Banks v. Gonzalez (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Pt. 5, No. 452318/15, Aug. 8, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

Feel Free to contact me to see how any of these decisions may affect your personal situation.

-Brian A. Raphan, Esq. 

Is It Better to Remarry in 2017 or Just Live Together?

Finding love later in life may be unexpected and exciting, but should it lead to marriage? The considerations are much different for an older couple with adult children and retirement plans than for a young couple just starting out. Before deciding whether to get married or just live together, you need to look at your estate plan, your Social Security benefits, and your potential long-term care needs, among other things. Whatever you decide to do, you may want to consult with your lawyer to make sure your wishes will be carried out.

Here are some things to think about: 

  • Estate Planning. Getting married can have a big effect on your estate plan. Even if you don’t include a new spouse in your will, in most states spouses are automatically entitled to a share of your estate (usually one-third to one-half). One way to prevent a spouse from taking his or her share is to enter into a prenuptial agreement in which both spouses agree not to take anything from the other’s estate. If you want to leave something to your spouse and ensure your heirs receive their inheritance, a trust may be the best option.
  • Long-Term Care. Trusts and prenuptial agreements, however, won’t necessarily keep a spouse from being responsible for your long-term care costs or vice versa. In addition, getting married can have an effect on your or your spouse’s Medicaid eligibility. If you can afford it, a long-term care insurance policy may be a good investment once you remarry.
  • The Family Home. Whether you are getting married or just living together, before combining households you will need to think about what will happen to the house once the owner of the house dies. If the owner wants to keep the house within his or her family, putting the house in both spouse’s names is not an option. On the other hand, the owner may also not want his or her heirs to evict the surviving spouse once the owner dies. One solution is for the owner of the house to give the surviving spouse a life estate. Once the surviving spouse dies, the house will pass to the original owner’s heirs.
  • Social Security. Many divorced or widowed seniors receive Social Security from their former spouses, and remarriage can affect benefits. If you are divorced after at least 10 years of marriage, you can collect retirement benefits on your former spouse’s Social Security record if you are at least age 62 and if your former spouse is entitled to or receiving benefits. If you remarry, you generally cannot collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ends (whether by death, divorce, or annulment). However, if your are a widow, widower or surviving divorced spouse who remarries after age 60, you are entitled to benefits on your prior deceased spouse’s Social Security earnings record.
  • Alimony. If you are receiving alimony from a divorced spouse, it will likely end once you remarry. Depending on the laws in your state and your divorce settlement, alimony may end even if you simply live with someone else.
  • Survivor’s Annuities. Widows and widowers of public employees, such as police officers and firefighters, often receive survivor’s annuities. Many of these annuities end if the surviving spouse remarries. In addition widows and widowers of military personnel may lose their annuities if they remarry before age 57. Before getting married, check your annuity policy to see what the affect will be.
  • College Financial Aid. Single parents with children in college may want to reconsider before getting married. A new spouse’s income could affect the amount of financial aid the college student receives. Some private colleges may even count the combined income of a couple that lives together if they commingle their expenses.

Seeking long-term care? How your local Ombudsman can help…

    • OMBUDSMAN: What is the Program/Service   Via www.aging.ny.gov

      Educating, empowering and advocating for long-term care residents. The Ombudsman Program is an effective advocate and resource for older adults and persons with disabilities, who live in nursing homes, assisted living and other licensed adult care homes. Ombudsmen help residents understand and exercise their rights to good care in an environment that promotes and protects their dignity and quality of life.
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      The Ombudsman Program advocates for residents by investigating and resolving complaints made by or on behalf of residents; promoting the development of resident and family councils; and informing government agencies, providers and the general public about issues and concerns impacting residents of long-term care facilities.

      Mandated by the federal Older Americans Act, in New York the Ombudsman Program is administratively housed at the State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA), and provides advocacy services through a network of 36 local programs. Each local Ombudsman Program is lead by a designated ombudsman coordinator who recruits, trains and supervises a corps of volunteers, currently more than 1000 statewide. These certified volunteers provide a regular presence in nursing homes and adult care facilities are available to help residents with questions and concerns about their care and living conditions.

      Conversations with the ombudsman are confidential and residents or other persons can register a complaint anonymously. Ombudsmen handle a wide variety of complaints involving quality of care, residents’ rights, discharge, medications, lost or stolen items, dietary issues, and quality of life concerns. Ombudsmen can also provide information and consultation about how to choose a facility and how to pay for long-term care.

    • Who is Eligible?

      While the program serves all residents of licensed long-term care facilities regardless of age.

    • Is There a Cost?

      Ombudsman services are provided free of charge.

READ ABOUT PROTECTING YOUR ASSETS FOR YOUR FAMILY WHILE GETTING THE CARE YOU NEED

How to Manage Higher Health Insurance Costs in 2016

There are ways to mitigate the effects of cost increases.

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Via US NEWS & WORLD REPORT By Aug. 5, 2015

If you have health insurance, there’s a good chance you’ll pay more for it in 2016.

Health care and health insurance costs increase year to year, like most expenses. Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, growth in premiums has mostly slowed (as has the rise in health care costs overall), while your share of expenses – like deductibles – has increased. For several reasons, increases in both premiums and other out-of-pocket costs are expected in the coming year.

You can cope with these cost increases by understanding how they’ll happen and what you can do to mitigate their effects. How they affect you depends largely on where you get your insurance.

Employer-Based Health Insurance

About half of all Americans receive health insurance through an employer, less than in years past. Although having a job with health insurance is a perk, that doesn’t mean the benefit comes cheap.

Employer-based insurance premiums have grown relatively modestly over the past few years, according to Sabrina Corlette, senior research fellow and project director of Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. This is due, in part, to slower growth in health care costs, but also because employers are shifting other costs to their workers, a practice known as “cost-sharing.”

For instance, the number of workers with a health insurance deductible grew from 55 percent in 2006 to 80 percent in 2014, and the average deductible more than doubled, from $584 for individual coverage to $1,217, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Further, more employers are offering only plans with high deductibles.

In 2016, if you receive your insurance through your job, you may see modest premium increases and are likely to see increased cost-sharing, like bigger deductibles.

Depending on the size of your employer, you will likely have a few plan options at open enrollment time, which is usually in the fall. Here are some tips for choosing the right health plan to help keep costs in check:

● Opt for a smaller provider network (HMO) or a high-deductible plan if you’ll feel the pinch in premiums. Both of these options could reduce your monthly costs. Remember, these plans have trade-offs. In an HMO, you have less freedom to go to the doctors of your choice. With a high-deductible health plan, you’ll cover more of your health care costs upfront until your insurance starts picking up the tab.

● Choose a higher premium plan like a PPO if the thought of that big deductible scares you. These plans may have higher monthly costs, but allow you greater freedom to visit the doctors you want without such high out-of-pocket expenses.

● Take advantage of health spending accounts no matter your plan choice. These accounts allow you to set aside pre-tax dollars for out-of-pocket medical expenses, and they’re usually taken directly from your paycheck. The two most common types are health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts. HSAs are available only to people with high-deductible plans, but have benefits over FSAs because you are able to carry your unused balance from year to year. With FSAs, if you don’t use the money you’ve allocated to the account, you’re likely to lose it at the end of the year.

“Marketplace”-Based Health Insurance

During the second open enrollment period of the ACA, an estimated 11.7 million people had selected or were automatically re-enrolled in health insurance plans on the federal and state marketplaces, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Recent media coverage of planned 2016 premium hikes refers to plans purchased by individuals on these health care exchanges. But these reports don’t tell the whole story.

“The data that’s out there about 2016 premiums is a little deceiving,” Corlette says. “And that’s because, in most states, the only rates that have to be posted right now are those that are proposed to be over 10 percent increases.” Insurance companies projecting more modest increases, therefore, don’t have to share that publicly, creating a skewed sample.

But, Corlette says, that doesn’t mean there won’t be premium increases. They’re driven largely by rising prescription drug costs, insurers having a clearer picture of their policyholders’ health care needs and the end of temporary “risk mitigation” programs that gave cash incentives to insurers for approving everyone.

In 2016, if you buy your insurance on state or federal health insurance marketplaces, you’re likely to see both increased premiums and cost-sharing. But unlike employer-based coverage, increased premiums on these plans are often offset by subsidies.

The solution, as with employer coverage, lies in shopping carefully.

● Reapply for the premium tax credit or health care subsidies. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates 87 percent of people purchasing marketplace plans receive this financial assistance to help lower premium costs. Updating your income information each year will ensure you’re getting the maximum allowable benefit.

● Be flexible and willing to part with your current plan. As costs change, the government may label another marketplace plan the “benchmark,” or the plan to which subsidy amounts are tied. If the price of your current plan goes up and another goes down, that lower-priced option may be deemed the benchmark. By switching plans, you’ll likely avoid cost increases altogether.

“The subsidy is almost like a gift card,” Corlette says. “So if you take it and stay in your same plan, even though that plan has gone up, yes, you’ll be paying more. But if you take it and go shop for a lower-priced plan, you should be fine.”

● Apply for Medicaid or CHIP coverage if you have children. If you make too much to qualify for Medicaid, your children could still be eligible for it or for The Children’s Health Insurance Program. Both are designed to provide health insurance to children at no or low cost. Eligibility varies by state, income and family size. In some states, children in a family of four could be eligible even if the household adjusted gross monthly income is as much as $6,000 or $7,000.

Stay Calm

When you’re reading about potentially dramatic health care cost increases, 2016 doesn’t seem so far off. Take this time to understand what is and isn’t working for you on your current plan and what your other options are. This way, when open enrollment comes around, you’re prepared to make savvy decisions about your health care.

Medicaid’s Gift to Children Who Help Parents Postpone Nursing Home Care:

In most states, transferring your house to your children (or someone else) may lead to a Medicaid penalty period, which would make you ineligible for Medicaid for a period of time. However, there are circumstances in which transferring a house will not result in a penalty period.

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One of those circumstances is if the Medicaid applicant transfers the house to a “caretaker child.”  This is defined as a child of the applicant who lived in the house for at least two years prior to the applicant’s entering a nursing home and who during that period provided care that allowed the applicant to avoid a nursing home stay.  In such cases, the Medicaid applicant may freely transfer a home to the child without triggering a transfer penalty.  Note that the exception applies only to a child, not a grandchild or other relative.

Each state Medicaid agency has its own rules for proof that the child has lived with the parent and provided the necessary level of care, making it doubly important to consult with your elder law attorney before making this (or any other) kind of transfer.

Others to whom a home may be transferred without Medicaid’s usual penalty are:

  • Your spouse
  • A child who is under age 21 or who is blind or disabled
  • Into a trust for the sole benefit of a disabled individual under age 65 (even if the trust is for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant, under certain circumstances)
  • A sibling who has lived in the home during the year preceding the applicant’s institutionalization and who already holds an equity interest in the home

For more on Medicaid’s asset transfer rules, click here.

Appeals Court Upholds Class Certification of Nursing Home Residents Seeking Community-Based Alternatives

A U.S. Court of Appeals upholds a district court ruling that granted class certification to a group of disabled nursing home residents who complained of a lack of Medicaid-funded community-based alternatives.  In re District of Columbia, (D.C. Cir., No. 14-8001, June 26, 2015).
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The plaintiffs, a group of disabled nursing home residents receiving Medicaid-funded long term care, sued the District of Columbia for allegedly violating its obligation, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, to provide services to the disabled in the most appropriate, integrated setting. The plaintiffs filed a motion seeking class certification, asserting that they were all similarly situated nursing home residents who wanted to live in the community but were forced to remain institutionalized against their will.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the motion for class certification, finding that alleged systemic deficiencies, such as the District’s failure to offer sufficient discharge planning or to provide residents with meaningful choices of community-based alternatives to nursing home care, were sufficient bases upon which to certify the class.

The District filed a petition for permission to file an interlocutory appeal of the district court’s ruling certifying the class.  The District argued that the lower court committed manifest error by failing to identify policies or practices that were common to all members of the class and that were amenable to class-wide resolution.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagrees and upholds the class certification.  The court concludes that it was not manifest error for the lower court to find the allegations of systemic deficiencies in the program sufficient to establish a class of plaintiffs.

For the full text of this decision, click here.

ELDER ABUSE: FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION FOR $797,000

Another case handled by Brian A. Raphan, P.C. was on the Cover Page of the New York Law Journal last week.

I was appointed as Special Referee by the Supreme Court of the State of New York to perform a forensic review of Nassau County attorney Martha Brosius’ handling of a senior citizen’s financial affairs. Brian uncovered many undocumented and improper financial transactions and filed his detailed analysis to the Court.  As a result of my report, criminal actions were commenced against attorney Brosius, which ultimately led to a guilty plea. Brosius now faces 6-12 years behind bars.  Of course, she will lose her license to practice law.  Another win for the good guys!

The article is provided below.

*As appeared Front Page of the New York Law Journal 6/25/15,

By Andrew Denney, The New York Law Journal

ATTORNEY ADMITS TO TAKING $797,000 FROM CLIENTS

A Long Island elder law attorney has admitted to embezzling more than $797,000 from her clients over a four-year period, the Queens District Attorney’s Office announced on Tuesday.

elder abuse, district attorney

Martha Brosius, 52, of Brosius & Associates of Great Neck, appeared Tuesday before Acting Supreme Court Justice Helene Gugerty and pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree grand larceny and one count of scheme to defraud, according to a news release from Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s Office.

“The defendant has admitted to breaching her fiduciary duty and unjustly enriching herself at the expense of her client,” Brown said in the release. Brosius was indicted for the offenses in 2013. Her clients included a 77-year-old man who had been deemed mentally incapable and for whom Brosius served as legal guardian, as well as two brothers who retained Brosius to sell their deceased father’s estate and establish a special-needs trust for their disabled sister, who was the sole heir to the father’s estate.

Brosius is scheduled to appear before Gugerty on Aug. 12 for sentencing. Gugerty has indicated that her prison sentence would range between four and 12 years. Brosius is a graduate of the St. John’s University School of Law and was admitted to the bar in 2003. According to the Office of Court Administration website, she has not been publicly disciplined. Her guilty plea will subject her to mandatory disbarment.

Assistant District Attorneys James Liander and Yvonne Francis appeared for the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

• • •

“Improper use of an adult’s funds, property, or resources by another individual is elder abuse. This includes, but is not limited to, fraud, embezzlement, forgery, falsifying records, coerced property transfers, or denial of access to assets.”  

TO REPORT FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION OF ELDERS IN NY STATE Click Here. Or Call 844-697-3505

FOR THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S PRESS RELEASE Click Here.

Careful…Gifting To Family Can Affect Medicaid Eligibility

By Matthew S. Raphan, Esq.  Attorney at The Law Offices of Brian A. Raphan, PC

View image | gettyimages.com
View image | gettyimages.com

Every so often a client says to me, “I’ve been gifting money to my children and grandchildren so I can apply for Medicaid.” While gifting may offer benefits to you and your family, if you think you may someday apply for Medicaid benefits, you should be aware that giving away money or property can interfere with your eligibility.

Under federal law, if you transfer certain assets within five years prior to applying, you may be ineligible for Medicaid benefits for a period of time. This is called a transfer penalty, and the length of the penalty depends on the amount of money transferred. (This waiting period can also be costly as you may pay for your care out of your own pocket.) Even small transfers can affect eligibility. Although federal law currently allows individuals to gift up to $14,000 a year without having to pay a gift tax, Medicaid still treats that gift as a transfer.

Any transfer that you make, however nominal, may be scrutinized. For example, Medicaid does not have an exception for gifts to charities. If you make a charitable donation, it could affect your Medicaid eligibility down the road. Similarly, gifts for holidays, weddings, birthdays, and graduations can all trigger a transfer penalty. If you buy something for a friend or relative, this could also result in a transfer penalty.

Some people have the notion that they can also go on a spending spree for themselves or family. Not so fast. Spending a large sum of cash at once or over time may prompt the state to request documentation showing how the money was spent. If you don’t have receipts showing that you received fair market value in return for a transferred asset, you could be subject to a transfer penalty.

While most transfers are penalized, certain transfers are exempt from this penalty. For example, even after entering a nursing home, you may transfer any asset to the following individuals without having to wait out a period of Medicaid ineligibility:

  • your spouse;
  • your child who is blind or permanently disabled;
  • a trust for the sole benefit of anyone under age 65 who is permanently disabled.

In addition, you may transfer your home to the following individuals (as well as to those listed above):

  • your child who is under age 21;
  • your child who has lived in your home for at least two years prior to your moving to a nursing home and who provided you with care that allowed you to stay at home during that time;
  • your sibling who already has an equity interest in the home and who lived there for at least one year before you moved to a nursing home.

Before transferring assets or property, check with us or your elder law attorney to ensure that it won’t affect your Medicaid eligibility.

For more information on Medicaid’s transfer rules, click here.

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