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What changes in the ACA mean for my aging parents

Learn about your aging parent's options in the face of potential changes to federal programs.

If you’re caring for an aging parent, you’ve probably got your pulse on changes in health care policies that could affect your parent’s care. 

Changes in healthcare and social security could mean changes in your parent’s access to resources that help pay their medical bills and provide income.

Planning how to best care for your aging parents means thinking about which programs your parents currently benefit from and knowing their options if these programs change.

Here’s how potential changes to federal programs could affect your aging parents and some alternative options to support their healthcare and financial needs.

Food access and nutrition

According to NPR, hundreds of thousands of seniors who live in their own homes aren’t getting the nutrition they need.

Malnutrition can be serious for your aging parent. It can increase their risk of weakened bones, fractures, and lower their immune system.

Federal food-delivery programs like Meals on Wheels helps many seniors who are living at home receive the nutrition they need to stay healthy.

But if your older parents currently benefit from Meals on Wheels, cuts to funding sources that support Meals on Wheels could affect the program’s reach in the next few years. 

Decreased funding for this senior food delivery program could mean your older parent doesn’t receive the same amount of nutritious food they need to stay healthy.

What you can do: There are many other in-home meal delivery and even drop-in chef programs that can provide fresh, healthy meals to your elderly parents. 

These other programs may not be as affordable as Meals on Wheels since Meals on Wheels operates on a sliding-fee scale based on your parent’s income.

If your aging parent lives on their own, you can support their nutrition by prepping healthy meals for the week ahead.

Your parents can freeze these meals and then microwave them throughout the week to have a hearty meal on-hand. This can help lessen their risk of accidents in the kitchen with large heavy pots or hard-to-reach items.

Health care changes

As your parents age, their health care needs will more than likely become more intensive. And paying for their medical bills can become a major challenge.

Even if your parent is eligible for government-funded health care programs like Medicare, their bills may still take a chunk out of their wallet: a 65-year-old healthy couple could realistically expect to spend $266,600 throughout their retirement just on the premiums for a Medicare plan. 

And this figure doesn’t even include out-of-pocket expenses or long-term care costs.

If your parent is enrolled in Medicare Part A or Part B, they’ll likely see premiums, deductibles and copays over time.

If your aging parents are eligible for Medicare Part B and are in a higher-income bracket, high-income enrollees will be charged even more for premiums starting in 2018.

A current health-care bill being debated by lawmakers aims to slow down per-capita Medicaid spending to the rate of inflation, starting in 2025. 

This means Medicaid coverage won’t match the quick rate at which health care costs are rising — which can eventually amount to budget slashes to the program.

What you can do: Shopping for an individual health care plan on the private exchange can help you find a plan that suits your elderly parent’s needs and isn’t dependent on federal funding.

Social security

Chances are, your aging parent is part of the 66 million social security recipients across the country.

Here’s a quick list of changes in social security in 2018, and how they could affect your aging parent:

  1. The average monthly benefit for social security recipients will rise by about $25.
  2. Although social security enrollees will see an annual cost of living adjustment of a 2% increase, increases in Medicare premiums in 2018 could overtake this additional payout.
  3. Seniors who are turning 62 in 2018 will have to wait until an older retirement age than current social security beneficiaries to receive their full retirement benefit:
    1. The full retirement age for seniors born 1956 is 66 and 4 months.
    2. For seniors born in 1955, it’s 66 and 2 months.
    3. For seniors born between 1943 and 1954, it’s 66 years old.
    4. The full retirement age will continue to increase in 2-month increments until it reaches age 67 for everyone born in 1960 or later.
  4. The Social Security Administration stopped mailing paper checks to everyone under 60 years old. If your parents want to check their earnings history or get an estimate of future benefits, they’ll need to create an online account.

Social Security won’t last forever. According to the Social Security Administration’s 2016 report, social security funds could be drained by 2035. After that, the system will only be able to pay out 79% of the current benefits.

Why the drain in funds? Longer life expectancies, a smaller working-age population and a growing number of retirees all attribute to dwindling social security across the country.

By 2035, the number of Americans 65 and older is estimated to grow from 48 million to over 79 million. This means more people will be receiving social security benefits, but fewer people will be paying into the program.

What you can do: A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a way for your parent to save money for medical expenses in retirement. 

Helping your parent open an HSA may be the ticket to managing their medical costs in retirement in the face of shrinking social security and the rise of health care premiums.

An HSA is a tax-advantaged savings account that your parent can use to pay for qualified medical expenses. As long as your parents are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan, they can qualify for an HSA.

You and anyone else can contribute to your parent’s HSA, and your parent can keep seeing their favorite doctor or specialist. They can use their HSA to pay for expenses like medication and procedures. 

Sometimes Medicare and social security aren’t enough to cover your aging parents’ health care needs. If your parent is strapped with a medical bill that they can’t afford, don’t let them sit on the bill until it’s overdue.

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.
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