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It’s Summer, now what?

When we were younger, our summers, and holidays even, were defined by the school calendar.  However, even if we and our children are long out of school, this is still a good time to practice some solid money-saving tips that will more than offset the increased utility costs.

Let’s start by ensuring that we are maximizing our comfort.  Wear light colored cotton clothing and sheets.  Ensure your ceiling fans are set to the counter-clockwise setting, this works to cool the room during summer.  Try to run your clothes dryer and dishwasher at night so that less heat is generated during the daytime.  Be sure to turn down your water heater.  Also, block the sun at the hottest part of the day with blinds.

This is a good time of year to buy fresh produce and eat plenty of salads – you will enjoy the variation in your diet and by not cooking, will limit the additional heat in your home.  On a hot summer day, nothing is more refreshing than simple water and if you want to add some flavor, squeeze a bit of lemon or add a slice of cucumber.

If you are retired, then you already know that one great way to save money on travel is by taking advantage of last minute travel deals.  Subscribe to a number of discount travel sites and have your passport handy and be prepared for some exotic travel options at a moment’s notice and at a savings.

One of the best ways to save money over the summer is by taking advantage of the numerous free activities hosted by nearly all towns and cities.  Local community centers, universities, newspapers, websites would be great resources to find free and local events.  Some public libraries will even offer free classes or programs.  Not to mention the numerous opportunities for free online classes.

This is a great time of year to work in the garden and generally spend more time outdoors.  Just bringing lunch to the park is an adventure and can make any meal feel more special.

 

 

How housing alternatives can combat isolation in seniors

We posted recently about what a mental and physical toll isolation takes on all of us, and particularly the senior population.  Many communities offer classes that cater to the interests of seniors, others have facilities and programs designated to improve their quality of life.  Many organizations offer rides to and from medical appointments, still others deliver food and other necessities.  We even wrote recently about a senior crisis help line, Friendship Line, the only 24 hour line devoted entirely to senior citizens.  The research has been clear and we are taking notice.

A unique and comprehensive way this is being addressed in some cases is through varied housing models.  In some cases, young people that cannot afford housing, are offered subsidized housing in senior communities in return for a particular amount of time assisting and engaging with the other senior residents.  This particular model seems to be gaining ground as many countries and facilities are trying this out.  Still others are experimenting with hosting preschools in senior centers, pairing up seniors with disadvantaged youth, or simply reaching out to seniors for help in the community.  While some residents may be unable or uninterested in the distraction, it is abundantly clear that the overwhelming majority find these programs a success.

Whether it is out of financial need or for physical support, we have seen a recent trend of multigenerational households.  This goes far beyond the sandwich generation that is providing support to their parents and still raising children, or to the grown children that move back home before they enter the real world.  This is about some families making the decision to live together and share family duties as a lifestyle.  According to Pew Research, multigenerational living was at a 12% low in 1980 and a current high of 60.6 million as of 2014.  It is clear that this trend shows no signs of letting up.

So, the House of Representatives just passed healthcare reform, now what?

On the 4th of May the House passed Obamacare “Repeal and Replace” by a narrow two vote margin.  What happens next?

We all know it goes to the Senate, but what exactly does that mean.  First, it will go through Senate Committee where they will have a chance to modify or accept the entire bill as presented.  However, we already know that the Senate is working on their own version, even on Thursday a number of Republican Senators met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to discuss what they would like to see included in their version.  It is highly unlikely that the Senate version will be the same as that passed by the House.

And, if Senate Republicans pass their own version of a health-care overhaul, it will have to be reconciled with the House version, creating complications. And if getting House conservatives and moderates to pass their initial measure was a challenge, it could be next to impossible to get enough of them to sign on to whatever the Senate decides to pass.

On top of that, “Senate budget rules require a CBO score that proves the legislation will not increase the deficit after 10 years.”  So, the Senate has the task of passing legislation that will be acceptable to a majority of the Senators that also may not increase the deficit in the long term.  Forget about the fact that the House will need to vote on any bill that differs from the version they only passed by two votes.

Bottom line, Obamacare Repeal and Replace is not a done deal.  We need to keep watching this over the coming weeks.

Why pets are good for us

Ask anyone, young or old, if they think that their pets contribute to their well-being and you will get a resounding YES!  Well, it looks like science has finally caught up with what we have known all along.  Pets make us healthier, happier, more active, less lonely and stressed, have more friends, the list can go on and on.  What we don’t need science to tell us is that we love our pets and that they contribute to our well-being.

There have been numerous studies recently that tout the benefits of having a pet.  Historically, we have looked at the benefits for chronic pain to terminal illness.  The recent spate of studies shows that research is finally starting to see the benefits for all of us in all stages of life.  There was a recent feature in the Veterinary Record cites the benefit of pet ownership for many aspects of childhood development, as well as childhood autism.  http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/174/11/269.full?keytype=ref&ijkey=y6acdH39ofJAOyY

 

There was a recent survey from American Pet Products Association which concluded that 68% of American households have a pet with most of these households considering the pet part of their family.  http://americanpetproducts.org/Uploads/MemServices/2013_14NPOS_TOC.pdf

 

Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says the recent  research does not just address families or children, but that there are numerous benefits to retirees who have pets.  In a recent interview with USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/09/02/owning-pets-in-retirement/14436947/ he listed a number of documented benefits.  From lowering blood pressure to forcing retirees to be social and exercise to companionship to someone to give your day focus, these are all benefits that come from pet ownership.  For retirees or others living alone, a pet becomes someone to talk to, to care for, to think about and someone to greet you when you come home. 

 

“the amendment helps us get to consensus”

Paul Ryan admitted today that the new amendment is being received favorably, but wont say how close Republicans are to the 216 votes.

The amendment to the repeal and replace Obamacare bill, introduced by Tom MacArthur (R – NJ) on Monday has taken significant steps towards a majority vote.  Today has been a frenzy of activity, with an endorsement by the conservative Freedom Caucus.  There is even support among some Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer (D-NY.)  This has proven to be a challenge for the moderate Republicans, who do not want to be left out of this major legislation as the bill gets closer to a passing vote.

It appears that there is something in this amendment for everyone.  The Conservative Republicans are in support of language that would allow states to apply for waivers for people with pre-existing conditions.  The Democrats are in support of the White House’s agreement to continue to pay for the healthcare insurer subsidies, called cost-sharing reductions, which help to make up the cost differences for lower income people.

While no moderates have switched from No to Yes as of this writing, it is clear from the activity today that the work here is not done.

What is the status of healthcare reform?

After the recent failures of the GOP attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, it is clear that the future of healthcare reform is up in the air.  Here are a few of the issues that seem to be on the GOP short list for reform.  Getting the plan paid for seems to be the priority, rather than changing coverage.  Many popular provisions are not touched by any of the popular reform proposals, including allowing children up to 26 to remain covered by their parent’s insurance, support for Medicare expansion and preexisting coverage guarantees.

One of the issues is that the GOP wants to stop the state and federal subsidies for the lowest income plan members which will make some of the plans cost prohibitive to offer.  The insurers have only two months to decide if they will continue to provide a plan in the exchanges for 2018.  If they stay in, premiums are likely to rise considerably which will result in many people to drop out due to costs.   And if they don’t, then we will see states and localities having fewer and fewer options for their residents.

Another issue is the mandate.  The reform plans all include plans to loosen restrictions on waivers for the individual mandate.  Without the mandate many who feel that they don’t need insurance would simply opt out of coverage.  Again, causing fewer people to get coverage and thereby spreading the costs over a smaller pool of people.

Bottom line is that we need to figure out how to pay for healthcare coverage.  Even the CBO has provided estimates if the current health care law does not change that indicate that our deficit will increase to over 10 trillion within the next ten years.  So, while we would love to have quality low cost healthcare coverage, we clearly have not gotten there yet.

 

Medicare is incredibly confusing!

Although most of us are aware of the four primary parts to Medicare, there are actually 10 different “letter” plans.  In addition to the plans, there are also Medicare Supplement Insurance policies (also called Medigap policies) that exist to cover gaps not covered by Medicare.  And there are plenty of gaps.  For instance, Plan A covers hospital visits, Plan B covers the Doctor, Plan C is a combination of A & B, and Plan D is for prescription drugs.  The other plans can be found on Page 10 and 11 of this great resource, “Choosing a Medigap Policy.”

Unfortunately, medical insurance does not get easier as we get older.  In fact, since it begins to take a greater and greater share of your income, it clearly is one of the most important decisions you will make.  Many experts suggest you review your plan every year and adjust accordingly.  However, it is not that simple, as some of the medigap policies go up in price considerably if you don’t lock them in when you are 65.

Another resource, My Medicare Matters, helps you determine which of the Medicare plans you actually need.  Once you figure that out, then it is a bit easier to think about which medigap policy would work for you.  However, you first need to find out which medigap policies are available in your area.

After you have made your decision, quickly look through some of the local government resources in your area to see if you qualify for other programs in your state or locality.

 

 

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