Managing a Loved One’s Health Care: Advice for the New Year

If you are a caregiver to a Medicare beneficiary, you’ve already got a lot on your plate, so planning ahead for some of the changes in store for your care recipient’s healthcare (before they happen) can be invaluable. Whether it’s managing their expenses or researching best care practices, it always helps to know what to anticipate.

First, there may be new costs on the horizon. Depending on what kind of Medicare supplement or Advantage plan your loved one has, you may need to anticipate paying out much more in deductibles at the beginning of 2017. The Medicare Part B deductible this year is $183 and the Part D deductible can be as high as $400. The Part A Deductible also increased to $1,316 this year. If you are managing the affairs of both your parents, they could be looking at a large surge in expenses right at the start of this year.

In general, I often advise against Medicare beneficiaries using automatic deductions as a method to pay premiums. That way, when premiums for drug plans or supplemental insurance increase, you aren’t suddenly left wondering why everything is so expensive.

However, you may want to consider these kinds of automatic deductions. This payment method makes one less thing that you have to pay attention to as a busy caregiver. If the Part D premium for your loved one isn’t too high, you might want to think about simply sending one payment for the entire year so that you no longer have to worry about it.

The beginning of the year is also a good time to make sure that all your loved one’s preventive services are up to date. Conflicting information in the media about mammograms, pap smears and PSA tests for older individuals makes it hard to know what tests are necessary and when. You definitely want to make sure that your care recipient’s primary care provider (PCP) is doing regular screenings for cognitive decline and depression.

It is also important to make sure the PCP understands the interactions of pharmaceuticals in older adults as well. Too often elders are prescribed benzodiazepines, SSRIs and other medications which are often not advisable for older adults. Seniors are also often given excessive doses of anesthesia during operations, leading to temporary behaviors that mimic dementia (known as delirium). It is important that you talk to your PCP about these concerns, and ensure that your loved one is getting the safest possible care.

Keep in mind also that, if your loved one is enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan but you both decide it is not a good fit, you should take advantage of the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period. This period lasts January 1 through February 14. During this time, beneficiaries can drop their Advantage plan, revert to Original Medicare and even join a Part D plan.

Your willingness to be a caregiver is one of the greatest gifts you can give your family and society. But, this responsibility can also become overwhelming and frustrating. Planning ahead, asking appropriate questions and taking sound advice can be crucial to starting your 2017 off right!

Author: Margaret Johnson Ware