Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Health care reform could come at the expense of seniors

Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery has an important article in the Sept 30 Washington Post, “after blog to public option, Senate committee turns to bill’s cost for elderly,” link here.

Max Baucus (D-MT) has become concerned that the bill will sometimes impose new tax burdens on the elderly by limiting tax deductions for certain medical expenses. But Republicans are challenging Baucus, on the theory that the elderly are already privileged and politically powerful. The bill would raise $21.7 billion over the next decade, about half from seniors over 65 (including me).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Can heart pacemakers be jeopardized by household technology?

Does having a pacemaker (for arrhythmia, or some kinds of irregular heartbeat) make it dangerous to be around microwaves or household electronics? Generally no, although on major site says that the microwave should be operating properly. But the site says to watch for big electric power transformers outside, electric arc welding and working on an automobile ignition system (probably the computerized diagnostic system for cars with all its codes is no problem).

The site is called The Arrthymia Service: Getting a Pacemaker, web URL link here.

Although the operation is relatively simple, there are many medical contraindications.

The American Heart Association has a longer discussion of the issue here. Cell phones are safe, but there is concern that the industry could introduce new frequences that make them less safe. Anti-theft or security systems in cars and homes might pose a problem in some circumstances, as could MP3 receivers, as detailed there. The link is this.

Attribution link for p.d. Wikipedia picture of pacemaker insertion wound.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rapidly increasing use by unemployed baby boomers: early retirement can cause almost immediate Social Security operating deficit

Stephen Ohlemacher of the AP has a story, reproduced on Walletpop today on AOL, “Early retirements strain social security,” link here.

Previously this blog has reported the likelihood that some naysayers have predicted that Social Security will run a deficit in 2010, and add to the federal deficit. Now it’s real. A major reason is that the number of people taking “early retirement” at age 62 has risen sharply, largely because of recession, which may cause rapidly increasing unemployment for older workers in proportion to youngsters. Another factor is the increase in disability claims.

There aren’t any plans to reduce benefits, but it’s obvious that cutting back on early retirement could gain steam as a proposal.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Street fair in VA presents Philips elder remote monitoring system

At a street fair hosted by the Virginia Hospital Center today (see drama blog), Dutch technology company Philips was offering an information kit on another home alert device called Philips Lifeline. The link is here.

There is a questionnaire and self-assessment “Is it time for a medical alert service”? The survey starts with the question as to whether you are alone for several days, especially at night.

Again, in some states, in some situations, it actually can constitute legal neglect if people in certain situations of disability are left a home alone. Not all people can comply with the “requirement” to wear a monitor medial alert button.

In the second picture, look at the depiction of lungs damaged by emphysema and cancer associated with cigarette smoking, in front of the Virginia Hospital Center, Arlington VA.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Michael Moore: How to keep social security solvent until 2087 (it's simple!); also, "dead peasant" life insurance

Michael Moore appeared on ABC’s “The View” today, and pointed out a very simple fact about social security. The first $110000 (approximately) is subject to a flat FICA social security tax (self-employed pay more out of their own pockets). Moore says that if all income (for the rich) was taxed at the same rate, the Social Security trust fund would last until 2087! (Refer to Sloan's predictions of quick catastrophe on previous posts.)

Moore is promoting his movie “Capitalism: A Love Story” and yes, he is decrying “socialism for Wall Street”.

I’ve always wondered this. Even back in the mid 1970s, when I worked in New York City for NBC as a computer programmer, I looked forward to the day, usually in September, when I had paid the FICA taxes for the year and my paycheck represented a “raise” for the rest of the year.

He talked about "dead peasant" life insurance policies, where companies make themselves beneficiaries of life insurance policies that the living people don't know about. Here's an article back from 2003 on the "dead peasant" problem.

Moore, himself well-off but viewed by many people as representative of the extreme left, has criticized our "survival of the fittest" mindset and yet one of his film companies is named "Dog Eat Dog".

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Democratic Senators (Baucus) try to muzzle Humana on speaking out and "misleading" seniors on proposed health care reform!

There is a brawl going on with an action taken by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) , by issuing what amounts to a a “cease and desist” letter to Humana for allegedly attempting to mislead seniors who receive Medicare Advantage products into believing that pending health care legislation (like the Baucus bill) will cut their benefits. CMS apparently took this action at the urging of the Montana Democratic Senator (Max Baucus). The best link for this story seems to live on the US Senate’s own website, here. Medicare beneficiaries often get account statements from CMS (as do I).

On ABC World News Tonight on Tuesday Sept. 22, Z. Bryon Wolf reported that HHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) was investigating where Humana and perhaps other insurance companies selling Medicare Advantage were breaking federal law. The link is here. ABC reports that Humana was told to stop sending letters and to remove certain materials from its website. Am I breaking federal law by giving a link to Humana here? Come and get me. ABC News had fun with this one.

Republicans naturally accused Baucus and HHS and CMS for unconstitutional attacks on (corporate) free speech, possibly affecting the livelihood of agents and insurance company employees (don’t tell leftist Michael Moore about this!)

In 2005, Humana approached me about becoming a life insurance agent, as did New York Life. I did not pursue it, as I am not the kind of person to go out and manipulate families (or especially other seniors) into buying products that may not always be in their best interest when looked at objectively. I was also approached in Minnesota in 2003 by PrimeVest, about a plan to sell conversion of whole life to term life. “We’ll give you the words” they said. I’d rather do the analysis, get to the truth, and write the words myself! Let somebody else manipulate people. But then, if you have a family to support, you fight for them, and that means manipulating people to sell to them, sometimes.

I would think that this was a skit on Saturday Night Live if it weren't real. Seth Meyers will have fun with this one. This time the Democrats get egg on their face. But maybe it really isn't funny.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Alzheimers increasing even faster than expected worldwide; there is help for seniors to keep driving

Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News, as did many other media outlets, reported on the staggering increase in dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (dementia can be of the “Alzheimer’s type” and not be full-blown) predicted, up to 115 million cases worldwide by 2050. The increase will be worse in the developing world as North America has already experienced some of its peak due to the demographics, and the cost to Medicare and Medicaid in the U.S. will be $20 trillion.

Social conservatives are likely to blame the breakdown on the emotional cohesiveness of the extended family as exacerbating dementia in some elders.

However, the NBC report depicted a college professor getting early Alzheimer’s. People in intellectually demanding lives and with more independence in mid life may be more resistant, but this is unclear, and it may leave others abandoned.

ABC World News Tonight reported on a service that re-educates and tests seniors as to their ability to continue driving, taking some of the psychological or moral responsibility from the caregivers. The World Newser link is here. It's still tacky for a caregiver to unplug a distributor cap.

In the Monday Sept. 21, 2009 issue of The Washington Times, Andrea Billups has a story “Obama Health Care Plan Angers Seniors”, link here, although the main issue seems to be that seniors fear that Medicare will be cut and care will gradually become more rationed (as it is in Britain to some extent).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

State Medicaid programs try moving people from nursing homes back into real homes

John Leland has a front page story in The New York Times on Saturday, Sept. 19, “States help aged leave nursing homes for homes of their own,” link here.

A few states, such as Pennsylvania, are trying to authorize the use of Medicaid for caregiving services for people who move back to private homes, where they will perceive that they have more freedom, privacy, and dignity. In-home care, if it does not have to be 24 hours, can cost states less than nursing home beds. But use of in-home care could become predicated on the availability of family members to share it, and it may be difficult to compare the cost to the taxpayer accurately.

In the news story, it seems that many patients who moved back in to real homes were relatively younger, and had some specific but treatable problems like diabetes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Married men should be especially wary of taking social security too early

Daily Finance offers another one of those “10 most” lists (oh, no, not that again), “10 Top Retirement Mistakes”, by Daniel Solin, link here.

He says that men tend to be overconfident in their investing skills. But a couple of his pointers are really interesting. One is, don’t retire too early. If you can keep working at least until your mid 60s or even 70. Another, don’t take social security too early, at 62. The problem is particularly acute for men who are married and who were sole breadwinners. Their wives may significantly outlive them and become impoverished by the spousal survivor’s benefit as a significantly lower amount for lifetime when taken at 62.

He also says, not all bonds are safe (just look at the 2008 crash), and don’t remarry without a prenuptial (whatever family values say). He warns against not having a current will, and he makes some interesting points about annuities.

Read this one. Today AOL made a good find.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How many SSA numbers are there now? Quiz show contestants: know the blogs

Today (Wednesday Sept. 16), “Who wants to be a millionaire” had a $250000 question, how many social security numbers have been assigned since the Social Security System was invented in the 1930s? The answer was 457 million, choice A. I guessed 575 million, as did the help line. The contestant took his $100000.

Sooner or later, there will be a quiz question based on something in one of these blogs. I’m pretty sure that “don’t ask don’t tell” has appeared on Jeopardy as an answer. Maybe they’ll come up with COPA, reputation defender, asymmetry, free entry, filial responsibility laws, defined benefit plans, defined contribution plans, social security offset, social security bridge as answers to “creative” questions. Maybe even “do ask do tell”. Stay tuned. If you want to go on a quiz show, study the blogs.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sloan answers readers questions on his dire warnings about Social Security

Allan Sloan has an important column on Social Security in The Washington Post on Tuesday, Sept. 15, “The Readers Speak”, link here.

He answers some questions about his Fortune column this summer (Saturday’s post). He says that illegal immigrants do not hurt social security – in fact, they probably help it because they pay FICA taxes through employers and don’t receive benefits.

He thanks a reader for reinforcing one of his points, that social security still is an inter-generational social insurance plan (that’s how it started with FDR, so it’s hard to transition out, because some people who receive benefits never paid in). He also stands by raising the retirement age to 70.

What would happen to people already in the 62-69 range if that were done suddenly? (I’m 66.) We could be pressured into doing things we don’t want to have to do. Promises get broken.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Are seniors at risk in the health care policy debate?

Is there a “geriatric gap” in the health care debate? Are Republican fear-mongerers responsible for it? The “Week in Review” in the New York Times has an article by Adam Nagourney, “Politics and the Age Gap: The ‘don’t mess with Medicare club is a bit exclusive: Its members have it; they’re not embracing change.” The link is here and the original article appeared Sept. 12.

Barack Obama was not as effective with seniors as with younger voters in 2008, and the GOP has been able to perpetuate the idea that seniors will be asked to make more “sacrifices” (all it "rationing" if you must -- we always "ration" care to some extent) because, well, they’ve had their turn already, it seems – as if health care were like calling hands for questions in a forum. (And Obama had said, just before the inauguration, that the road for kicking the can is at a dead end.) And in just the past few days particularly grim predictions about Social Security and Medicare have been renewed, as if both approach a “9/11”. But, in fact, some of the very leading edge life-extending treatment for some seniors probably would not have been available as soon in Britain or Canada – the US “single payer for seniors” system probably is more generous than European systems, at least in making care available. Yes, for cities like Detroit and Buffalo, even Minneapolis, hospital care for Canadian patients is a growth industry. It’s surprising that the GOP is not even more vocal than it is about “family solidarity” as something that helps justify sacrifices for the extremely ill. Outside of a few places (like some columns in the Washington Times), we don’t see that point made so often. It probably will get made more often in the future.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Social Security's 9-11: It will run a deficit in 2010, according to some experts: means testing coming?

Well, I wonder if September 11, 2009 will be remembered as 9-11 for Social Security. That’s what Bill Fleckenstein of MSN Money will have you believe, with an alarming op-ed that greeted Dell users on IE signon (if they go to Dell’s MSN site) early today. The article is “Social Security cruch coming fast,” link here.

Allen Sloan, senior editor of CNN’s and Fortune’s Money column, has a piece dating all the way back to July 30, 2009, “The next great bailout: Social Security: Fortune's Allan Sloan takes a look at the troubled retirement program, why it's more important now than ever - and how lawmakers can repair it.” Link here. Sloan says that Social Security will start running a deficit as early as 2010, not 2015 as forecast a few months ago.

Sloan offers a complicated discussion of the way the accounting for the Social Security trust fund really works. He says that it is really a social insurance program, funded by a regressive tax, to make one generation pay for its parents. It’s not a Cato defined Ponzi scheme.

He offers some solutions at the end, including increasing the tax base, raising the retirement age to 70 (we’re living “too long”), reducing benefits somewhat for high end people (that sounds like means testing – this is social insurance, not an annuity) and change the law requiring 75 year solvency.

It’s pretty complicated.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

AARP Bulletin is online in PDF format; note the article on the "failure" of "early retirement"

The AARP now makes its Monthly Bulletin available online in PDF format, with the September 2009 issue here.

On p 18 there appears a major article on the “failure” of the early retirement habits of the past, “No Rest for the Weary”, by Carole Fleck. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers 65 to 69 rose 25% between 2000 and 2008; for 70-74 it rose 32%, 75-79 it rose 38%, for over 80 it rose 67%. The article depicts one woman who worked for the Department of Homeland Security until 92. Barbara Walters once presented a financial planner who was still working at 94. Walters will be 80 herself on Sept. 25.

The reasons for the change are demographic: longer life spans, and debt. The social security, Medicare and pension systems did not envision the quick runup in life spans (due in large part to medical technology but also due to better habits, such as cessation of cigarette smoking) when they were designed, and even fifteen years ago employers often “bought out” people at age 50 to avoid the permanent high salaries.

The main Bureau of Labor Statistics reference with tables is here.

Monday, September 07, 2009

In economic downturn, most people actually leave 401(k)'s alone!

The Wall Street Journal this weekend offered a perspective in Jason Zweig’s “Intelligent Investor” column, reporting that most 401(k) investors pretty much left their portfolios alone during the Crash of 2008. The link for the column is here. The specific “best title” is “Why do investors sit tight in 401(k)’s?”

There are plenty of explanations of the Suze Orman variety, but a lot of it comes from younger investors able to play the “dollar cost averaging” game. This is (or was) a time to build up your future retirement portfolio with cheap stocks.

I remember December 2001, shortly after my own “layoff” and “forced retirement” arrangement with severance (and, by the way, there is a lot written on the web today about negotiating the best severance – look for it) that I was talking to somebody at Merrill Lynch (the old company) when he, talking me through Morningside, said “well, it sounds like you’re a conservative investor, and you won’t be working.” I was 58 then, but pretty soon I was working, sort of.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Life insurance companies want to securitize "viatical" settlements, gambling on life spans: a moral question about end-of-life?

Jenny Anderson writes a rather shocking front page story for the Sunday Sept. 6 New York Times in which Wall Street plans to offer “viatical” settlements of life insurance policies for ill or largely elderly people, the “securitize” the policies into bonds. The bondholders would lose out if the people live longer than expected, which is becoming increasingly likely given the way medicine progresses, where it is sometimes easier to prolong biological life for its own sake than it is to preserve quality of life and activity.

This sort of device has been developed before for people with AIDS (back in the 1980s) but we could see insurance agents and salesmen approaching seniors with such concepts in the future. It’s a bit hard to take.

The online version of the story is “Wall Street Pursues Profit in Bundles of Life Insurance”, but the print version is titled “New exotic investments emerging on Wall Street: Packaging life insurance policies, despite fallout from mortgage crisis”, with the link here.

As I've noted before, I was approached in 2005 by a couple of life insurance companies to become an agent (given my twelve years in information technology in insurance -- which doesn't mean I would want to sell it, sorry). Imagine how I would feel trying to sell a client on some kind of securitizable bet on his life. I think it's ghastly. It's all manipulation.

Also, today, The Washington Times has a lead op-ed by Dr. Robert L. Fine, “A model for end-of-life care? Texas law balances interests of patient and doctor”, link here. This is a discussion of the Texas Advance Directives Act of 1999. However, an earlier op-ed in this paper (discussed in the August 11 2009 posting, with Aug. 19 “update”) had been very critical of the Texas law.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Obama announces new initiatives to make it easier to save for retirement: are they substantial?

President Obama today (Saturday, Sept. 5) in his weekly address, announced initiatives to make it easier for many families to save for retirement. The best source is the text of his address at the White House site, here.

The initiative would (1) facilitate automatic enrollment into 401K programs (2) help workers or families save their tax refunds automatically (including the purchase of savings bonds) (3) enable workers to convert unused vacation into retirement savings (4) simplify the language in tax saving policies.

The PDF file for the "Retirement Security for American Families" plan is here.

I like the name of the president’s site, simply “The Blog” (that's a "g" and not a "b"; no Steve McQueen or Paramount Pictures, please).

In the picture, I appear to be about three inches shorter than the president.

Friday, September 04, 2009

AARP compare positions of two Virginia gubernatorial candidates on seniors' issues

The AARP Magazine, for the Sept/Oct 2009 issue, offers an issues comparison of the two candidates for governor of Virginia: R. Craigh Deeds (D), and Bob McDonnell (R). According to this link, McDonnell, despite the controversy of a 1980s master’s thesis at a biblical college, leads.

Surprisingly, the two agree with each other and with AARP on almost all positions that affect seniors.

The issues were (1) that small employers should set up retirement plans for employees (2) universal health care, even if from the private sector (3) more support for delivery of long-term care services at home (4) legislation requiring financial institutions to report elder abuse to Adult Protective Services or to police.

Deeds says that he wrote the federal legislation that offers a $500 tax cut for family caregivers who keep relatives at home, although taking advantage of that requires some comingling that may not work for everyone. McDonnelll says that he hired a caretaker for five years in home (not every family can afford that) before “outsourcing” to a nursing home.

The website did not seem to have the full article online.

On p. 41 of the issue, there is a presentation on community service by seniors, "Cool Ways to Give Back". Some of these suggestions are more intimate or personal than what could work for me.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

More on how different states treat retirees

I see that I gave reference to the variations among states in retiree well-being in July 2008 with a Walletpop article based on Kiplinger, but I thought I should pass along the original Kiplinger reference for 2009-2010. Mary Beth Franklin is the author of the piece ”Tax-Friendly Places to Retire,” link here.

She lists the states with no state income tax, and two states that tax only dividend and interest income over certain limits. (Hint: Harry Browne, libertarian activist in the 1990s, lived and “retired” in Tennessee.)

There are some subtleties in how some states tax pension income, with regard to private v public employer pensions, and especially public employers in other states.

California is said to be a difficult state for retirees.

I can recall back in the 1950s through 1970s that my father used to subscribe to the printed, usually about 16-page, "Kiplinger Washington Letter".