GOP Tax Plan Could Deal Blow to Seniors Paying for Long-Term Care

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The tax plan put forward by the Republican-led House of Representatives would eliminate many current deductions, and getting rid of one of them in particular could deal a serious financial blow to seniors and individuals with disabilities. The plan proposes eliminating the medical expense deduction, a change that will especially affect those needing long-term care.

Currently, taxpayers can deduct certain medical expenses from their income taxes if the expenses add up to more than 10 percent of adjusted gross income. These expenses can include health insurance premiums, deductibles, nursing home fees, home health care costs and even assisted living fees, if a doctor certifies that the individual must live in the facility due to health care or cognitive needs.

While most taxpayers don't have health care expenditures exceeding 10 percent of their income, many seniors and others with disabilities do. According to the IRS, 8.8 million households -- almost 6 percent of tax filers -- claimed medical deductions in 2015. The AARP estimates that 74 percent of those who take the deduction are age 50 or over and half have incomes of $50,000 or less. 

"It tends to be mostly … older people who do not have long-term care insurance, and end up in a nursing home," Richard Kaplan, a professor who specializes in tax policy and elder law at the University of Illinois College of Law, told CNBC. “For people who are receiving long-term care and are paying for it themselves, this is going to be a huge deal.”

For them, having the deduction can mean that they do not run out of funds and have to rely on Medicaid, or are at least able to postpone applying for Medicaid. Eliminating the medical expense deduction will likely mean that more people will spend down their assets more quickly, requiring them to apply for Medicaid. In addition, adult children who pay for their parents' care can sometimes use the deduction. For more information about how ending the medical deduction might affect you, click here.

In addition to eliminating the medical expense deduction, the tax bill cuts corporate tax rates. The bill’s proponents argue that the tax changes will unleash huge economic growth that will result in higher tax revenue. However, if the bill’s supporters are wrong and the growth in tax revenues is not as large as hoped, the reduction in tax revenues will likely cause sharp cuts in government spending or an increase in budget deficits, or both. A reduction in spending could affect seniors and individuals with disabilities through cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Section 8, Meals on Wheels, and food stamps.

The tax proposal would benefit a small number of wealthy seniors by eliminating the estate tax. Under the proposal, the estate tax exemption will be increased from $5.45 million to $10 million for individuals dying in 2018 through 2023. After 2023, the estate tax will be eliminated completely. The Tax Policy Center estimatesthat only about 0.2 percent of estates pay any federal tax under current rules.

The House’s tax plan is not final, and the Senate plan preserves the medical expense deduction.  The two bills, if passed, must be reconciled.

For an AARP fact sheet on Medicare beneficiaries who spend at least 10 percent of their income on out-of-pocket medical expenses, click here.

Why You Should Use a Lawyer for Medicaid Planning

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Many seniors and their families don't use a lawyer to plan for long-term care or Medicaid, often because they're afraid of the cost. But an attorney can help you save money in the long run as well as make sure you are getting the best care for your loved one.

Instead of taking steps based on what you've heard from others, doing nothing, or enlisting a non-lawyer referred by a nursing home, you can hire an elder law attorney. Here are a few reasons why you should at least consider this option:

  • No conflict of interest. When nursing homes refer the families of residents to non-lawyers to assist in preparing the Medicaid application, the preparer has dual loyalties, both to the facility that provides the referrals and to the client applying for benefits. To the extent everyone wants the Medicaid application to be successful, there's no conflict of interest. But it's in the nursing home's interest that the resident pay privately for as long as possible before going on Medicaid, while it's in the nursing home resident's interest to protect assets for the resident's care or for the resident's spouse or family. An attorney hired to assist with Medicaid planning and the application has a duty of loyalty only to the client and will do his or her best to achieve the client's goals.
  • Saving money. Nursing homes can cost as much as $15,000 a month in some areas, so it is unusual for legal fees to equal the cost of even one month in the facility. It is not difficult to save this much in long-term care and probate costs. And most attorneys will consult with new clients at little or no cost to determine what might be achieved before the client pays a larger fee.
  • Deep knowledge and experience. Professionals who work in any field on a daily basis over many years develop both the depth and breadth of experience and expertise to advise clients on how they might achieve their goals, whether those are maintaining independence and dignity, preserving funds for children and grandchildren, or staying home rather than moving to assisted living or a nursing home. Less experienced advisers, however well intentioned, can't know what they don't know.
  • Malpractice insurance. While we should expect that every professional we work with will provide outstanding service and representation, sometimes things don't work out. Fortunately there is a remedy if an attorney makes a mistake because almost all attorneys carry malpractice insurance. This is probably not the case with other advisers in the Medicaid arena.
  • Peace of mind. While it's possible that when you consult with an elder law attorney, the attorney will advise you that in your situation there is not much you can do to preserve assets or achieve Medicaid eligibility more quickly, the consultation will provide peace of mind that you have not missed an important opportunity. In addition, if obstacles arise during the process, the attorney will be there to work with you to find the optimal solution.

Medicaid rules provide multiple opportunities for nursing home residents to preserve assets for themselves, their spouses and children and grandchildren, especially those with special needs. There are more opportunities for those who plan ahead, but even at the last minute there are almost always still steps available to preserve some assets. It's always worth checking out whether these are steps you would like to take.

Private Nursing Home Prices Skyrocket

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The median cost of a private nursing home room in the United States has increased to $97,455 a year, up 5.5 percent from 2016, according to Genworth's 2017 Cost of Care survey, which the insurer conducts annually. Genworth reports that the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $85,775, up 4.44 percent from 2016. The rise in prices is much larger than the 1.24 percent and 2.27 percent gains, respectively, in 2016.

The price rise was slightly less for assisted living facilities, where the median rate rose 3.36 percent, to $3,750 a month. The national median rate for the services of a home health aide was $22 an hour, up from $20 in 2016, and the cost of adult day care, which provides support services in a protective setting during part of the day, rose from $68 to $70 a day.

Alaska continues to be the costliest state for nursing home care, with the median annual cost of a private nursing home room totaling $292,000. Oklahoma again was found to be the most affordable state, with a median annual cost of a private room of $63,510.

The 2017 survey was based on responses from more than 15,000 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health facilities and home care providers. The survey was conducted by phone during May and June of 2017.

As the survey indicates, nursing home care is growing ever more expensive. Contact Pierro, Connor & Associates today to learn how you can protect some or all of your family's assets. In addition, EverHome Care Advisors, a service of PCA, can help you remain independent longer.  

For more on Genworth’s 2017 Cost of Care Survey click here.

Things They Don’t Teach You in School – Planning to Live Beyond 65

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Plan For Your Future

With the school year back in full swing, it’s the perfect time for grown-ups to get a lesson or two in smart retirement planning. Maybe your children are off to college and you’re trying to care for parents, work full time – and plan for the future? Or, perhaps you’ve been concerned about preserving assets so you can pay for long-term care in these financially rocky times. If these scenarios sound familiar, you’ll want to listen to a Life Happens Radio podcast.

Lou Pierro is joined with geriatric care manager Katherine Rosenblatt, LMSW, who works with EverHome Care Advisors, a program offered by Pierro, Connor & Associates.  They start the show by discussing life expectancies, and how those aging predictions have changed legal and care planning throughout our lifespans.

Many years ago, 64 or 65 was considered the “retirement age,” and our culture did not plan for life expectancy to expand. Families were more centrally located, allowing for relatives to care for loved ones. Today, people are working well into their 70’s, and many families are dispersed all over the country, making it even more crucial to start planning for the future now.

Who Pays for Long Term Care?

A major topic discussed on the Show revolved around the assumption that Medicaid pays for long-term care. In reality, a majority of the time it does not. The national average for nursing home care is $140,000 to $150,000 per year, so it’s necessary to start devising ways to pay for that healthcare.

Lou and Katherine described the benefits of services like EverHome Care Advisors. When someone receives Medicaid, they seldom have an advocate who understands his or her specific needs. People are dealing with hospitals, doctors and providers that all have the same “bottom line.” At EverHome, Katherine is the client’s personal advocate, working tirelessly to get in place an individualized plan for aging. She understands the language of health care professionals, making the process smoother and less stressful.

To listen to the podcast, click here. More information about EverHome Care Advisors can be found by clicking here.