Top 17 Articles of 2017

From the passing of the RAISE Family Caregivers Act to offer much-needed support to caregivers, to Trump’s tax overhaul, we covered a lot of ground in 2017. It was a year that included a massive data breach, the ACA almost being repealed, and amazing new technological innovations to help seniors age-in-place. At the Farr Law Firm, we adopted some new pets (Critter Corner staff members), including Magic the Bunny and Bebe the Cat. And we grew with the addition of an experienced estate planning attorney, Kathy Limjoco, and a new office assistant, Danny Bonner.

To celebrate the new year, we’ve ranked our 17 most popular articles from 2017. Check out the list to see the year’s highlights and remind yourself of the most important issues of the past year, and tell us what you’d like to see next year. And as always, thank you for reading our newsletter and blog! We are here to educate and to make a positive difference in your life and the lives of those you love!

17. What is the Difference Between a NORC and a NOSS? – Many seniors wish to age safely in their homes and neighborhoods, and others hope to downsize to a smaller place. Among the many initiatives to facilitate aging in place, two prominent community-centered models that have emerged are Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) and Naturally Occurring Support Systems (NOSSs), both of which have “naturally” developed to address the discrepancy between how communities are designed and what older adults need to age in place.

16. Overcoming the Fear of Death – Many people don’t like to think about or talk about death, but it’s almost impossible to know what a dying person’s wishes truly are unless the issues have been discussed ahead of time and included in incapacity planning documents, including Advance Directives. Talking about death with those close to us is not about giving up on life, but a way to ensure greater quality of life when faced with a life-limiting illness or tragic accident.

15. Tax Overhaul: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for Seniors – Congress has ushered through the first major tax overhaul since Ronald Reagan was president. The measure, which President Trump signed into law earlier this month, is about to change the lives of millions of Americans, including seniors. As the bill recently became a law, this article describes the good, the bad, and the ugly that seniors (and some not-so-senior folks) can expect.

14. Medicare Doesn’t Care About Home Care – One of the greatest gaps in Medicare coverage is that it does not help to pay for home-based long-term care, or any long-term care for that matter. According to the Center for Medicare Advocacy associate director Kathleen Holt, allowable benefits are broader than most people realize, but “it doesn’t matter what’s actually covered, because home health agencies routinely decline to provide even the skimpier services that Medicare publicizes to Medicare enrollees who request them.” This article describes some issues seniors have encountered when it comes to Medicare and home care.

13. Why Don’t ALL Nursing Homes Offer This? – Alzheimer’s patients sometimes wander, which can be dangerous. Security systems, such as the Stanley Healthcare WanderGuard Controller and Exciter, are designed to monitor exits to prevent a resident from leaving a nursing home facility unescorted. Locating technology, such as this, allows even wander-prone residents to have the freedom to move within the facility to access services, including communal areas such as the cafeteria, hair salon, recreation areas, etc. At the same time, the technology ensures that staff can find the residents if required.

12. Simplifying the Medicare Process – A recent analysis of AARP’s helpline data confirmed that many people are struggling to navigate the complexities of the Medicare program and to afford their coverage. The report, “Medicare Trends and Recommendations: An Analysis of Call Data from the Medicare Rights Center’s National Helpline,” recommends laws requiring earlier and more detailed information to newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries, as well as other policy changes. This article offers tips for finding your way through Medicare once you’re 65 or older.

11. These are Responsible for 40% of All Injury Deaths – Organized efforts to prevent outdoor falls by older adults, sadly, have been somewhat neglected, as most research has focused on falls occurring in the home or hospital environment. Up to now, little research has been available about the contexts in which outdoor falls occur, how features of the external environment can present as risk factors for outdoor falls, and which outdoor falls are more likely to lead to injury and/or fear of falling. A new study, conducted through New York University and published in the journal Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, focused solely on the outdoor fall experiences of older adults. The findings are being used to develop and pilot an outdoor fall prevention program.

10. This Virginia Law Makes It A MUST to Do Medicaid Planning for Married Couples – According to the “doctrine of necessaries,” a law in Virginia (Va. § 8.01-220.2), spouses have liability for the emergency “necessary” medical treatment for the other, including follow-up care as long as they are not separated. In other words, as long as the marriage subsists, the financial resources of both spouses should be available to pay a creditor who provides necessary goods and services to either spouse. This is one of the reasons why Medicaid Planning is so important for married couples.

9. Key Elder Law Dollar Amounts – These are figures for 2018 that are frequently used in the elder law practice, including the figures for Virginia Medicaid spousal impoverishment, the Federal long-term care insurance deductibility limits, Medicare premiums and co-pays, Social Security Disability, and Supplemental Security Income.

8. What Happens When a Long-Term Care Insurer Goes Belly Up? – In many cases, long-term care insurance companies underestimate the true cost of coverage and they are struggling now to make good on all their promises. This article describes how, in most cases, an insurer in a similar situation will quietly find a buyer, and policyholders may not know what happened, or care, as long as their claims are paid.

7. The Ugly Side of Hospice Care – A Kaiser Health Care investigation found that the hospice care that people expect — and sign up for — sometimes disappears when they need it most. In fact, families across the country have called for help in times of crisis and have been met with delays, no-shows, and unanswered calls.

6. Supreme Court Rules that the Bare Minimum Isn’t Enough/Planning for an Uncertain Future – The United States Supreme Court recently made it easier for parents of special needs children to ensure that their children receive an appropriate education. In fact, in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, a unanimous Supreme Court made it very clear to educators that they are required to educate a disabled child more than just enough to help them “get by.”

5. Bill to Support 40 Million Caregivers Becomes Law – Informal caregivers provide invaluable support for their loved ones every day. Each year, unpaid family caregivers provide 37 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at an estimated $470 billion — as much as the combined annual sales of Apple, Hewlett Packard, IBM and Microsoft. Recently, legislation to establish a federal strategy to address the needs of family caregivers became law. The Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage, or RAISE Family Caregivers Act, recognizes the tremendous need for caregiver support and calls for the development of a national strategy to support family caregivers. The law makes it easier to coordinate care for a loved one, get information, referrals and resources, and improve respite options so family caregivers can reset and recharge.

4. 575,000 People Are Using This Medicare Benefit. Are You? – Doctors are now talking to seniors and their loved ones about advance care planning on a regular basis. In fact, end-of-life consultations are now being paid for by Medicare, and being used by more than a half a million people. Last year, the first year health care providers were allowed to bill for advance care planning discussions, nearly 575,000 Medicare beneficiaries took part in the conversations, according to Kaiser Health News. Nearly 23,000 providers submitted about $93 million in charges, including more than $43 million covered by Medicare. This was much higher than expected. In fact, it was almost double the 300,000 people the American Medical Association projected would receive the service in the first year.

3. Please Stop Feeding Me! – Nora Harris, who passed away earlier this year, has turned into a central character in the ongoing debate over advance directives and dementia, and voluntary stopping eating and drinking (VSED). The issue at the center of the controversy is whether patients with dementia and other progressive diseases can stipulate in advance that they want oral food and liquid stopped at a certain point, hastening death through dehydration. This article discusses some of the issues that affect whether or not VSED is ethical and legal.

2. How to Avoid 3 Scams Following the Massive Equifax Data Breach – 143 million American consumers had their sensitive personal information exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. This article discusses how to avoid three scams resulting from the breach.

1. What Happens to Debt When We Die? – When it comes to debt, there are many factors that can affect repayment after death, such as where you live, the types of loans you have, as well as who applied for them and whether anyone else co-signed or gave a personal guarantee. While it’s not pleasant to think about your eventual demise, it’s necessary to know if your debt could be passed onto another person. This article describes what happens to different types of debt when we die.

Thank you for making these our top 17 stories of 2017. We promise many new and exciting things to come in 2018! We also hope you will consider taking the advice that these articles offer. Please consider attending one of our monthly seminars in Fairfax and, as always, if you or a loved one are nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, or if you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your planning documents reviewed in the past several years), please call us for an initial consultation. Happy New Year!

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-143
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.