Monday, March 13, 2017

Maximizing Your HSA Account

Use These Tips to get the most out of your HSA dollars

Millions of Americans with high-deductible health insurance plans rely on health savings accounts to help them manage the costs of health care. If you're among them, you know how important it is to maximize the value you get out of every HSA dollar.

If you don't yet have an HSA, you may qualify for one if you receive health insurance through an employer-sponsored plan with a high deductible. Individuals may qualify if their deductible is at least $1,300, and families may qualify with a deductible of at least $2,600, according to the IRS. With an HSA, you can deposit pre-tax dollars into the account to pay for certain health and medical-related expenses - up to $3,400 for an individual and $6,750 for a family in 2017.

While there are approximately 17 million HSAs currently in use in the U.S., insurance industry watchers predict that number could rise significantly as the federal government again addresses health care reform, the Boston Globe reports.

You can maximize the value of your HSA in several ways, including:


  • If you're at risk for arterial or heart disease, you and your doctor may decide preventive screenings are in order. Screening proactively can help catch warning signs of trouble before a more serious problem develops. However, most insurers won't pay for preventive screening for arterial health.
  • You can use your HSA dollars to schedule vascular health screening through Life Line Screening. You don't need a doctor's referral to schedule a simple, safe and painless ultrasound to detect possible plaque buildup in arteries - a leading factor in stroke and heart disease. Life Line Screening tells you the price of the screening up front and offers appointments in convenient locations throughout communities. Visit www.lifelinescreening.com to learn more and schedule an appointment.
  • The cost of a "life alert" type emergency medical alert system is an eligible medical expense.  Use your HSA or FSA to pay for your medical alert system.  Check with your provider first, as they may deem the medical alert system eligible when prescribed and/or supported by a physician statement.
  • Keeping track of HSA-eligible expenses can be challenging, but budgeting software can help. Numerous free programs are available online. Most HSA providers also offer online access and digital tools to help you monitor your account, track saving and spending, and better understand the tax impact of your contributions.
  • If your employer doesn't provide vision insurance, you can use HSA funds to pay for eye exams, corrective lenses and even Lasik surgery. Studies show regular vision care is an essential component of overall health, and helps not only preserve your eyesight and eyes, but can also help detect other serious health problems.
  • Only about half of American workers have dental insurance through their employers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For those who do have dental insurance, it typically does not cover all expenses. Yet dental health is intrinsic to overall health. You can use HSA money to pay for dental care, including exams, X-rays, braces, dentures, fillings and oral surgery.
  • Smoking is one of the most damaging things you can do for your health, and your HSA dollars can help you kick the habit. Smoking cessation treatment is a qualified medical expense that can be paid for through health savings accounts. When you quit smoking, your body immediately begins to repair the damage caused by smoking, and you reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer, according to the American Lung Association.

"Smoking is associated with multiple chronic diseases, so quitting is one of the best things you can do for your overall health," says Dr. Andrew Manganaro, chief medical officer at Life Line Screening. To help people understand their personal risk, Life Line Screening offers a program called "6 For Life" that outlines an individual's risk for six chronic diseases and includes blood tests.

Although controlling your weight is another important factor in overall health, few health plans will cover any kind of weight loss program. However, a doctor-prescribed weight loss program aimed at treating a specific disease such as obesity, high blood pressure or heart disease can be paid for with HSA money.

Your health savings account comes with many benefits and cost savings and tax breaks are just two of them. More importantly, when used wisely, your HSA can help you achieve better health.

- Article courtesy of BPT

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

8 Medication Management Tips for Caregivers

Use these 8 simple steps to help seniors, caregivers better manage their medications.

When it comes to medication use, seniors take more prescription and over-the-counter drugs than any other age group, and they are most likely to experience problems because of their medications.

Modern medicine can work wonders. However, in order to be effective, medicine needs to be taken safely, according to prescribing guidelines, and patients and health care providers need to be vigilant about the dangers of drug interactions.

The average American senior takes five or more prescription medications daily, and many of them can't read the prescription label or understand the prescribing instructions, according to the National Council on Patient Information and Education.

"Unless they reside in a senior living community or have another form of assistance, it can be very difficult for seniors to manage their own medications," says Kim Estes, senior vice president of clinical services for Brookdale Senior Living. "A lot of factors make medication management a challenge for seniors, including the sheer number of prescriptions many of them take in a day."

Medication Management challenges

While doctors prescribe medication to treat a range of chronic conditions from arthritis to diabetes and high blood pressure, seniors may find managing their medications difficult for multiple reasons:

  • Many meds and many prescribers - Seniors who are on multiple medications are often prescribed to them by multiple doctors, who may or may not be aware of other medications the senior is already taking. Taking a large number of medications can increase the risk of a drug interaction that harms seniors' health, rather than helps them.
  • Adverse side effects - If a medication makes a senior feel ill, he or she may stop taking it.
  • Lack of knowledge - If they don't understand exactly what the medicine is supposed to do for them, seniors may feel they don't need it and discontinue use.
  • Physical challenges - Age-related physical challenges such as hearing or vision loss, dexterity issues or trouble swallowing can make it difficult for seniors to take their medications as prescribed.
  • Cognitive challenges - Seniors with memory loss or dementia may forget to take their medications as prescribed.
  • Cost - Even with Medicare and supplemental health insurance, many medications can come with a hefty price tag. Seniors may not be able to afford a medication their doctor prescribed.

Medication management made easier

"Fortunately, seniors and their caregivers can take some fairly easy steps to help them better manage their medications," Estes says. "These steps take a little time and effort, but they can go a long way toward helping seniors use their medicines more effectively."

vial of life medical information form
  • Most seniors take five or more medications a day, and those with severe health issues or who are in the hospital may take significantly more than that. Make a list of every medication you take, what it's for, and what the pill actually looks like.
  • Make a checklist of all your medications. Every time you take a prescription, note the date, time and dosage on your checklist.  Medical Care Alert offers a free Emergency Medical Information form to list your medications, and other critical health info.
  • If you have trouble reading the labels on your prescriptions or can't open the bottle, ask your pharmacist to provide your medicine in easy-to-open containers with large-print labels.
  • Make a plan for getting your prescriptions. You may decide to schedule a drive to the pharmacy every month on a certain day or have someone drive you there. You may also find an online pharmacy that can deliver your prescriptions to your home.
  • When you go to the doctor, take your list of prescriptions with you, especially if you're seeing him or her for the first time. Your list will help the doctor know what medications you're already taking.
  • Work with your doctors to see if you can reduce the number of pills you take by consolidating medicines. For example, if you take a pill to reduce water retention and a medication for high blood pressure, some prescription drugs combine both types of medicine into a single pill.
  • A study by the University of Arizona found that having a pharmacist on a senior's care team helped keep seniors safer and improved their ability to take medications as prescribed. Keep all your prescriptions with one pharmacy and get to know the pharmacists who work there. Your pharmacist may be able to help you spot potential drug interactions.
  • Technology can help you remember to take medications on time. Set an alarm on your cellphone or download an event reminder app on your smartphone to help you remember when it's time to take your medicine.

"With a little planning and help, seniors and their caregivers can better manage their medications to ensure seniors get the most benefit out of their prescription treatments," Estes says.

- Article courtesy of BPT

Thursday, January 26, 2017

5 things life insurance companies don't always tell you

A life insurance policy can be the difference between financial security and disaster for families whose primary bread-winner passes away unexpectedly. 

A significant loss of income can leave uninsured families struggling to pay bills, including final expenses. This is particularly serious when you consider that nearly half of all Americans don't have enough emergency savings to cover three months worth of expenses, and more than a quarter have no emergency funds at all, according to a Bankrate survey.

Still, life insurance isn't the answer to all of life's financial challenges, especially if you buy a policy without fully understanding how it works, or what life insurance can and can't do for you.

Here are five things your life insurance company won't always tell you about life insurance:


1. Not everyone needs life insurance.

While most people can probably benefit from having life insurance, it's not for everyone.
For example, most financial experts agree the majority of people don't need to buy life insurance for their kids. The purpose of life insurance is basically to: replace lost income (most kids have no income); pay final expenses (they're likely to be manageable); or accrue cash value. You may think a whole life policy could give your child money toward his or her education once the policy matures.
However, there are other ways to save for a college education that offer tax benefits a whole life policy doesn't.

Likewise, if you're a young worker with no dependents and no debt, you might not need life insurance right now. You could put what you'd spend on premiums into your retirement savings. Or, if you're older with no dependents and already have a legacy set aside for your descendants, you might choose other types of investments.

However, anyone who has debt and dependents could probably benefit from having life insurance protection.

2. Online tools can help you figure out how much life insurance you really need.


Years ago, people relied on their insurance agent or company to advise them on how much life insurance to buy. The internet has made it easy to know exactly how much death benefit you really need.

Online tools and "robot advisors" have become very useful resources for helping consumers figure out how much life insurance is appropriate for their unique circumstances. A quick web search for "life insurance calculator" will yield numerous results, including calculators not provided by insurance companies or anyone in the insurance industry. For example, personal finance websites Yahoo Finance and Nerd Wallet both offer life insurance calculators.

3. No single "best" type of policy fits everyone.


Life insurance comes in three basic types: term (the cheapest kind, it has an end date), whole (costs more, has no end date, accrues cash value and premiums are fixed) and universal (also permanent and accrues, but with premiums that can vary). Insurance agents are happy to sell you any kind of policy, but of course their commission rewards are greatest when they can sell you more expensive policies.
Each type of life insurance has advantages and drawbacks for different people, depending on a lot of factors like your age, health, why you need life insurance, and how long you need it. To ensure you're getting the best value, understand the policy and how it works for you before you buy.

4. Your term life policy doesn't (always) have to end.


Term life is cheapest because it has a definitive end date. Term life aims to provide insurance for when you most need it, such as until your kids finish college. However, most term policies sold today are convertible - at the end of the initial term you can either continue with a new term (at a higher rate), or convert the term policy to whole life (also at a higher rate).

5. You may be able to sell your term policy for cash.


If you're a senior and you own a convertible term policy that will soon expire, you may think your choices are limited simply because there was no "cash value" built up in the policy over the years. Your life insurance company is unlikely to tell you otherwise and, in fact, many insurers prevent their agents from informing you of any alternatives to either letting the policy expire or converting it to a more expensive new policy. But the truth is that you may be able to unlock the value in your policy by selling it to outside investors for a lump-sum cash payment.

According to the Life Insurance Settlement Association, in the right situation, a policyholder can turn a term life policy into cash in their hands, provided that it is able to be converted to a new policy and has a death benefit of at least $100,000. By selling your life insurance policy, you can avoid higher premium costs and generate some cash to help fund your retirement.

- Article courtesy of BPD

Monday, January 23, 2017

Changing the end-of-life care conversation

Having a conversation about end-of-life care and advance directives may not be the easiest conversation you'll ever have, but it is one of the most important.

Hospice and palliative care services help people with illnesses no longer responding to curative treatment face death on their own terms, most often at home or in a familiar setting. No matter where a person chooses to receive these services, hospice staff can guide them and their families through difficult decisions surrounding end-of-life care.

Many families feel overwhelmed when told by a physician that a loved one has six months or less to live. A physician may use the terms "palliative care" or "hospice care," which often raises questions about the details regarding these services.

Both hospice and palliative care are patient- and family-centered health care options that address physical, emotional and spiritual pain. Hospice is limited to terminally ill patients who meet Medicare's eligibility requirements and focuses on enhancing comfort and quality of life during the final months of life - without curative intent. Palliative care is available regardless of the diagnosis and may or may not include curative options along with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness. Families of patients in hospice care gain access to caregiver education and training, help with difficult decisions, respite care, and bereavement services, among others.

There is no "One size fits all"

Hospice and palliative care can be delivered at home, in a nursing home, a dedicated hospice facility or an acute care hospital. These services have come a long way since the first U.S. hospice facility opened in Branford, Connecticut in 1974.

According to Joseph Shega, MD, senior vice president and national medical director for VITAS Healthcare, the nation's leading provider of end-of-life care, "we started as pioneers in this area of health care about four decades ago and it has been gratifying to see how the practice of hospice and palliative care has truly transformed the way people think about and manage end-of-life experiences." He explains that "it's so important to preserve comfort, respect and dignity in the face of terminal illness."

A growing number of Americans are choosing to access hospice services, which are covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance. In 2014, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) reported nearly 2 million Americans received hospice care, and according to AARP, among those 50 to 64 years old, 71 percent want to "age in place," in their own homes. When people are in control of where and how they face the end-of-life, they can focus more time on experiencing meaningful moments with loved ones.  A monitored medical alert system can help a loved one live at home longer, with the ability to get help at the press of a button in an emergency.

How to start "The conversation"

If you were unable to speak for yourself, do your loved ones know what kind of medical care you would want? Do you know what they would want?

Despite the topic's importance, only 27 percent of Americans report having talked with their families about end-of-life care. The best way to make your medical wishes known is to create an advance directive and share it with your family and your doctor.

Have the conversation and don't wait for a crisis. Failing to communicate healthcare choices can lead to anguish, family conflicts and unintended costs that can result when patients no longer can tell their loved ones what kind of care or which "heroic measures" they would accept or reject.

Talk to your loved ones-briefly, in depth, frequently, lightly, seriously-about your wishes. We suggest using milestone events-wedding, anniversary, birthday, retirement, graduation, downsizing move, family holiday-to hold "what if" conversations with loved ones. Keep it light but heartfelt. You may be surprised: letting your loved ones know your wishes could start a frank conversation among the generations about terminal illness, funerals, religious beliefs and other end-of-life concerns.

If you or a loved one is ready to talk about end-of-life care options or would like to find out more about hospice care or how to start the conversation, VITAS can help.
Visit www.vitas.com/hospicemonth or call 1-877-531-6798.

- Article courtesy of BPD

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What to do when a senior loved one wanders

Virtually all parents have experienced the terror of looking up from what they were doing only to realize their child has wandered off. 

Your pulse races, your heart pounds and you can't relax until your child is back in sight. As children grow up, they learn to stay put - or at least let you know where they're going - and your fears fade.

However, if you become a caregiver for a parent, grandparent or other loved one with dementia, you may find yourself having the same fear if your loved one begins to exhibit a concerning symptom of dementia - getting lost or wandering.

The Alzheimer's Association says six out of 10 people with Alzheimer's experience episodes of wandering. The behavior can take many forms, from leaving the house without telling anyone to leaving and then becoming too disoriented to find their way home. Wandering can also occur at night, when a person with Alzheimer's gets out of bed and wanders inside the house - or more concerning, goes outdoors - in the dark.

"Wandering is one of the potentially most dangerous symptoms of dementia," says Juliet Holt Klinger, senior director of dementia care for Brookdale Senior Living. "The Alzheimer's Association notes that up to half of those who wander will suffer serious injury, or even die, if not found within 24 hours. It's important for caregivers to understand why and how wandering happens, when it occurs and what they can do to prevent or minimize occurrences."

Why wandering occurs

To understand why your loved one may be wandering, look for a pattern, Holt Klinger advises. Does he wander at a particular time of day or night? Is she trying to communicate with you? Do they have an unmet physical or psychological need, like being hungry or thirsty, or feeling lonely? Is an undiagnosed medical problem, such as a urinary tract infection, prompting the person to get out of bed at night?

Sleep patterns change as we age, and those changes can be pronounced and concerning for people with dementia. Your loved one may get up during the night because he or she has trouble sleeping. People with Alzheimer's may wake in the middle of the night and get confused, thinking that it is time to get up and go somewhere, such as work or running errands.

Wandering safety tips

Observing when and why your loved one wanders can help you take steps to keep him or her safe. Common coping strategies for night-time wandering include:

  • Help people with Alzheimer's differentiate between day and night by making sure they're exposed to plenty of natural light during the day. This can help circadian rhythms that dementia disrupts and age-related changes in sleep patterns.
  • Encourage at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, but not within four hours of bedtime. Exercise can keep people more awake and alert during the day, and promote better sleep at night.
  • Discourage daytime sleeping by keeping people with Alzheimer's engaged in meaningful activity. Allow a good balance between activities and rest.
  • Avoid serving alcohol, caffeine or large meals as bedtime approaches.
  • Encourage a bathroom visit right before bedtime.
  • Avoid screen time (white light) directly prior to bedtime and use amber colored night lights which do not disrupt REM sleep patterns.
  • Practice relaxation methods like a short, light massage, warm bath, hot milk or herb tea, or reading aloud. These activities are soothing and can help a person calm down for better sleep.
  • For extreme wandering concerns, consider investing in a medical alert monitoring system that will alert you when a loved one gets out of bed at night.

For daytime episodes of wandering, try:


  • Hiding car keys. This can prevent loved ones from leaving the house, getting in the car and losing their way. If your loved one's car operates with a key fob, removing the battery or distributor cap may be another option.
  • Keeping doors locked. Some people with Alzheimer's are unable to operate locked doors. At the very least, a locked door may provide a delay long enough for a caregiver to intervene.
  • Equipping doors with an alarm to signal when it is opened. This can be as simple as putting a bell on the door.
  • Staving off wandering impulses by taking your loved one for frequent walks outdoors.
  • Occupying your loved one with a relatable, doable task that provides a sense of purpose. For example, if someone worked in an office, give her papers to organize. If he loves animals, have him brush the dog.

"Sometimes, despite your best efforts and precautions, wandering can remain a concern," Holt Klinger says. "If that happens, it may be time to consider a move to a senior living community that specializes in caring for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias. Brookdale's Clare Bridge communities are secured and designed to promote a sense of independence, safety and purpose."

- Article courtesy of BPT

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Holiday Entertaining? Make it EASY

Holiday entertaining tips guaranteed to help hosts impress guests

The holiday season is packed with social events big and small. What makes some more memorable than others? The extra thought and special touches from the host or hostess.

Cookbook author and entertaining expert Gaby Dalkin recently teamed up with the Paper & Packaging - How Life Unfolds campaign to share how you can make a big statement this season with surprisingly little effort. These five entertaining tips are guaranteed to help you create a one-of-kind party, leaving guests impressed and full of holiday spirit.

Conquer holiday stress with to-do lists


To reduce stress, stay organized and ensure you maintain a merry attitude, use printed templates to create handwritten holiday party to-do lists.

"I start my to-do lists weeks before the celebration and break them down by day," Dalkin says. "A few days before the big event, I stock up on beverages. Two days before I buy all the shelf-stable ingredients. The day before, all the produce goes into the fridge, and I make any sauces or appetizers that can rest in the fridge overnight without being affected. And then, the day of the party is broken down by the hour. If you're making a roast, start it in the morning. A salad can be prepped ahead of time and dressed before serving."

Elevate gifting with personalized presentation


Nearly half of Americans feel that gift presentation enhances the gift they give or receive, according to a Paper and Packaging Board survey. That means if you want to impress, don't skimp on gift presentation.

"I grab a few rolls of brown kraft paper and make it special," Dalkin says. "If I'm sending a present to someone who loves food, I'll grab some stamps with fun food on them and stamp the paper so it's customized for that individual. If it's my younger niece, I'll stamp it with some hearts. These small gestures make a big impact."


Use a creative approach to assigned seating 


Assigned seating is particularly helpful when entertaining large groups. It takes the guesswork out of sitting down to dinner and keeps the evening flowing smoothly. It's also an easy way to add festive style to the tabletop.

"If I'm entertaining for more than 10, I'll make little fold-over name tags out of cute cardstock," says Dalkin. "I'll punch a hole in the paper name tag and weave in a bit of rosemary, paper ribbon or a fresh flower to give it an extra pop."

Add pizazz with a Champagne bar


The survey also found that for approximately half of Americans, a cocktail bar stands out as a key component for an unforgettable holiday party.

Add an easy yet elegant touch to any holiday gathering by setting up a Champagne bar. Simply chill a few bottles, place on a bar cart and add bowls of fresh berries and carafes of fresh squeezed juices. Include handwritten cardstock labels near each ingredient so your guests can mix and match to their hearts' content.

This no-fuss station encourages guests to make their own cocktails at their leisure, giving the host extra time to catch up. Plus, Dalkin adds, "I've found that Champagne bars are often one of the most photographed elements of the night."


Send guests home with a little something homemade


Frozen cookie dough is one of the trendiest homemade gifts of the year. Just whip up your favorite batch of dough, tightly wrap it in parchment paper and freeze. Then add some holiday ribbons, a personalized paper label and handwritten baking instructions.


"Recipients can slice and bake at their leisure and file the recipe card for years to come," says Dalkin. "You can make the same thing for everyone, or perhaps a few different batches to suit any sweet tooth. I think of it as a gift that keeps giving."