Thursday, June 28, 2012

How the Affordable Healthcare Act Affects You

The Affordable Heathcare Act has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and is the law of the land.  While millions of people have been able to obtain insurance under it, some for the first time, many other people are confused about how it will affect them.  If you are interested in reading the full text of the Healthcare Act, you can find it on the government's website at  It has detailed information that will pertain to people of all ages.  However, below are some key provisions that will be of interest to those of us who are 50 and older.

If You are on Medicare

If you are already on Medicare, it means that you now qualify for a yearly wellness visit and other preventive services for free, including no-cost screenings for cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases.  There will be better discounts on drugs for senior citizens. Improvements will be made to care for seniors after they leave the hospital. You may also receive help if you need to stop smoking. On regular Medicare, there will be no co-payment or deductible for screenings such as:

Bone mass measurement
Cervical cancer
Cholesterol and other cardiovascular screenings
Most colorectal screenings
Diabetes screenings
HIV screenings, if requested
Prostate cancer screening

You should also be able to get free flu shots, pneumonia shots and the hepatitis B shot.

If you are in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you need to check with your provider for information about their benefits.  However, Medicare Advantage Plans are required to provide the same minimum benefits as regular Medicare and, in some cases, may even be better.

If you have a Medicare Supplement Plan, you will have basic Medicare plus whatever additional benefits your supplement plan provides.

Whatever type of Medicare you have, you may also want to supplement your insurance with a vision and dental plan.  Most Medicare plans do not include these benefits; you must purchase a separate plan for them.

If You are Not Yet on Medicare

For those people over the age of 50 who are still working and not yet old enough for Medicare, the Affordable Healthcare Act was completely implemented by January 1, 2014.  Here are some of the significant changes taking place:

Small Business Health Insurance Tax Credits to make it easier for small companies to provide insurance for their employees.

Federal matching funds that help states cover more people on Medicaid.  Unfortunately, some states have opted out of accepting these matching funds, which means that insurance is unnecessarily expensive for middle class residents of those states.  Some states, however, are beginning to change their minds and reducing the barriers to accepting the matching funds.  You will have to check with insurance representatives in your state to see if you could be eligible for financial assistance with your premiums.

A program to provide financial help for employment based insurance plans so they can continue to cover people who retire between ages 55 and 65, as well as their spouses and dependents.

You cannot be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition.

Young adults can now stay on their parent's insurance plan until they are 26 years old.  This has been a tremendous help to young adults who are in graduate school, student teaching or doing internships for little or not pay.

No deductible, co-pay or coinsurance payment for certain preventive services such as mammograms and colonoscopies.

Insurance cannot be cancelled if you get sick.

Insurance cannot be dropped if you participate in a clinical trial.  (Personally, I didn't know this was even possible before.  My husband has been participating in a clinical trial of a drug for chronic kidney disease.)

No annual or lifetime limits on your insurance coverage.

Children cannot be denied insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Women will no longer be charged more for their health insurance.

Insurance companies have to justify premium increases and show that a significant portion of the premiums they collect are going to provide healthcare benefits.  This requirement seems to work better in some states than others.  In some states, like California, the Insurance Commissioner cannot block premium increases.  Some state legislators are working to change this.

Expansion of community health centers; incentives to increase the numbers of doctors, nurses and other heathcare professionals.

There are many more details than could possibly be included in this blog.  Although there remain glitches in the Healthcare Act and people who still fall through the cracks, millions of uninsured people have obtained insurance through it and this trend is expected to continue in coming years.

If you are interested in learning more about health issues affecting senior citizens, changing family relationships, where to retire or financial planning, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this page to find links to hundreds of additional useful articles.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Independent Travel vs. Guided Vacations

Baby Boomers love to travel.  From the time we hit college age, we began exploring the world and many of us plan to continue to do so after retirement.  Now, however, we have become a little older and wiser.  Boomers are no longer quite as willing to buy a Volkswagen Westfalia camper and travel around Mexico for a few months, as my husband and I did in the mid-1970's. 

Instead, we want to travel efficiently, affordably, safely and comfortably, while exploring new areas of the world.  At the same time, we want the freedom to try new things and explore interesting places on our own.  Is it possible to do both?

Independent Travel vs. Guided Vacations

Like most Baby Boomers, the majority of the trips my husband and I have taken involved independent travel.  In addition to our lengthy trip to Mexico, we have gone on road trips through every state in the continental United States and several provinces of Canada.  We have also visited several countries in the Caribbean and Europe and enjoyed a number of trips to Hawaii.  During most of those trips, we simply booked our own travel arrangements and hotels, and wandered around our destination.  Once, we spent a week in Paris casually strolling the boulevards, visiting sidewalk cafes, majestic cathedrals, and breathtaking museums.  We have done for shorter period of time England, Switzerland, Germany and all the other states and countries we visited.

However, we have also taken two guided vacations, which is simply the new, modern term for group tours.  The first was a employer sponsored trip to Banff, Canada.  We loved having everything organized for us with very little effort on our part, but we didn't take another guided vacation for years. 

In our late 50's, we signed up for a Princess Land Tour of Alaska, prior to a Princess Cruise.  It was an absolute delight.  All our travel plans, hotels, transportation, etc., were taken care of.  We put our luggage outside our hotel door early each morning, and it was whisked away before we had breakfast.  When we arrived at the next hotel, our luggage was waiting in our room.  It was so wonderful not to have to carry it around!  We could order whatever we wanted off the menu in the Princess Lodges where we stayed.  

We were a bit worried that we would be forced to spend every minute with the group, but that didn't happen at all.  At Mt. McKinley (Denali), my husband spent the day riding in a school bus through a national forest looking for bears and other wildlife, while I attended a Ranger lecture, and relaxed at the resort.  The next day, we went together into the little town of Talkeetna and took a float trip down the river.  Look at the picture above.  That's me in the blue hat; my husband is to the left.  No one else from our tour group went into Talkeetna.  They spent the day doing other things.  We all saw each other that evening at dinner, and shared our various experiences.

That was not the only day we spent doing our own thing during the tour.  We strolled around Anchorage and Fairbanks on our own, and in other locations we had a choice of several activities.  We never felt rushed, stressed or bored.  It was nice to be able to do whatever we wanted, without having to worry about the mundane things like luggage, hotels and transportation.  According to an article in the AAA Westways Magazine, June 2012, guided vacations are the new trend in tour groups.  The tour operators take you to the various areas, and suggest a variety of activities.  However, you have the freedom to choose what you want to do.  In my opinion, this will be the preferred way to travel as we get older.

Worried About Bed Bugs?

As we plan other trips around the United States, one of our daughters recently told us about the Bed Bug Registry!  I promised I would mention it in any travel articles I write.  If you are making hotel reservations anywhere in the United States, you can go to and see if there have been complaints about bed bugs at that hotel.  Anyone who has stayed at a hotel and had a problem with bed bugs is invited to leave a comment at the registry.  Hopefully, this will force hotels to deal with the problem, and protect all of us from accidentally stumbling into a hotel that has a serious problem.

Happy traveling!

If you are interested in learning more about travel issues, where to retire in the United States or overseas, financial planning, medical issues and changing family relationships, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Frightening Facts About Retirement

Are you planning a picture perfect retirement?  Do you dream of spending your Golden Years with paint brush, fishing pole or golf clubs in hand?  Although undoubtedly the day will come when you will have to stop working, whether you want to or not, your financial well-being may not be as comfortable as you had hoped.

According to Yahoo!Finance, in an article from U.S.News entitled "8 Scary Retirement Facts," the 2007 decline in the economy caused havoc for the retirement plans of substantial numbers of aging Baby Boomers.  Sadly enough, their financial problems may be even more severe because our life expectancy continues to climb, even as their savings dwindle.

Scary Facts About Retirement for the Baby Boomer Generation

Here are a few facts from the U.S.News article that you may want to consider as you work on your retirement nest egg:

1.  Today, one in six senior citizens is living below the poverty line, which is $22,350 for a family of four, and even less for a single person.

2.  Currently, there is one working age adult between the ages of 15 and 64 for every five senior citizens.  By 2050, the ratio will change to one working age adult for every three seniors.  There will be fewer working people to support us, and we will be living longer than ever!

3.  The number of senior citizens will more than double from 40 million to 89 million by 2050.  This will put a huge strain on the economy.

4.  Right now, the median cost of an assisted living facility is $3,300 a month.  In California, where I live, I have read estimates of $6,000 a month.  In Alaska, it is $6,813 a month.  Today, assisted living is not affordable for people who are living solely on Social Security.  This will become an even greater problem as we Baby Boomers age.  While Medicaid is often the payer of this expense for many low and moderate income retirees, this is one more burden that will be placed on the government and working adults.  Those who do not qualify for Medicaid will have to pay these costs out-of-pocket.

5.  The economic losses of a few years has already taken a toll on people who are age 55 and older.  This age group accounts for approximately 20% of all bankruptcies, often because of medical expenses.  Surprisingly, older Americans also have more credit card debt than younger adults.

6.  Baby Boomers will need to have more savings in the future than ever, just to survive during their retirement years.  For many people, their lack of savings will mean they will need to work much later in life than they had planned.  This will not be easy for the numerous Baby Boomers who lost their jobs during the recession, often forcing them to take their Social Security benefits earlier than they had planned.

7.  While some Baby Boomers do know that we need to save more, it appears that the message is not getting through to many Americans.  According to a 2009 Career Builder survey, over one-third of Americans admitted that they do not contribute to retirement accounts.

8.  Age discrimination continues to make it hard for senior citizens to find and keep jobs.

All this information may seem discouraging.  However, it is meant to be more of a warning to those who want to make sure they have done everything possible to prepare for their retirement.  Preparing for retirement certainly brings to mind the old saying, "Hope for the best and prepare for the worst!"  The better prepared we are, the more likely we will manage to have a comfortable retirement when the time comes.

If you are looking for information about financial planning, where to retire, medical concerns and changing family relationships, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this article to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Heat Related Deaths in Seniors

Did you know that over 1,000 people die each year from heat related deaths, and most of them are over the age of 50?  According "UCI Health," a publication from the University of California at Irvine, seniors are especially vulnerable to heat related illnesses.

What is particularly said about this cause of death is that most of the time they are entirely preventable. Unfortunately, many seniors don't recognize when they are suffering the symptoms of a heat related illness ... until it is too late.

Causes of Heat Related Illnesses

As we get older, we perspire less.  In addition, our blood vessels have a reduced capacity to constrict and expand.  These two factors make it harder for our bodies to cool themselves, and makes us more vulnerable to the effects of heat.  If you have diabetes, heart disease or chronic kidney disease, you may be at an even greater risk.  Sometimes, older people also  feel cold, even when it is hot outside.  These factors can all spell trouble for us as we age.

About four years ago, when my husband was in his early 60's, he was playing golf in Palm Springs on a hot June afternoon.  When he returned to our hotel room, he was shaking, and felt dizzy and nauseous.    We immediately recognized that he was suffering from heat exhaustion.  He took a shower, drank some water, relaxed in our air conditioned room, and the symptoms subsided.  Later  that evening he got a massage, which also helped cool him down.  If his symptoms had not gotten better quickly, or had gotten worse, we would have had to seek medical help.  Now when he plays golf in the desert, he only plays in the early morning.  He learned his lesson!

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke?  Everyone needs to be able to recognize when they may be overheated, even if they are not sweating and thing they are OK.  The symptoms are:

rapid pulse
dry mouth
excessive thirst
fainting in extreme cases. 

If you have been exposed to high temperatures and experience any of these symptoms, go into an air conditioned space, wipe yourself down with cool water and, if the symptoms do not subside quickly, contact a doctor immediately!

How to Stay Safe in Hot Weather

Here are a few common sense steps everyone should take to stay safe when the weather is hot outside:

Use air conditioning in your home, if possible.
Use air conditioning in your car, even for short distances.
Go to a mall, library or senior center if you don't have air conditioning in your home.
Drink water and other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic liquids, even if you are not thirsty.
Avoid excessive heat whenever possible, even for short periods of time.
Stay out of the sun.
Avoid strenuous activities in the heat (like playing golf).
If you are outside, wear a hat, light clothing, and sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

Take care of yourself, and live to enjoy your retirement!

If you are interested in other health issues that could affect you in retirement, or topics that include where to retire, financial planning and changing family relationships, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Best Places to Retire Outside the US

I recently wrote a post about the advantages of retiring in the country of Panama, and I have also written posts about the most affordable places to retire and the sunniest places to retire in the United States.  Now it's time to broaden our horizons and consider some places where Americans are moving overseas in order to retire overseas.

While moving to another country is not to be taken lightly, it is not an unusual decision.  Currently, over 600,000 Americans are receiving their Social Security checks in another country.  This figure does not include those people who have their checks deposited into a bank in the U.S., and use ATMs to withdraw it in other countries.  This is especially popular for people who only live overseas part of the year ... a growing trend. has recently compiled a list of countries that are affordable, beautiful, have good health care and that welcome retiring Americans. 

Here is the AARP List of Best Places to Retire Abroad:

Argentina:  Buenos Aires is called the Paris of South America.  It is an elegant, European style city.  Rents in neighborhoods that are popular with ex-pats range from $800 - $2200 a month.  It is a sophisticated city for people who want to live in an affordable, upscale urban area.

Belize:  Formerly known as British Honduras, this Central American paradise is famous for its beaches and beauty.  The official language is English.  Retired persons can be put on the fast tract to residency.

Costa Rica:  The outlying towns in Costa Rica have temperate climates, exceptional beauty, lovely beaches and misty rain forests.  A friend of one of our daughters moved to Costa Rica from New York City three years ago to teach school, and has decided to stay permanently.  She constantly tells us how lucky she feels to live in Costa Rica.  She and her husband live comfortably on less than $2000 a month.

France:  The Mediterranean region of France is particularly popular with American retirees.  The Languedoc-Roussillon area in the Southwest is more affordable than many other regions, yet it is only three hours from Paris by high-speed rail.  In fact, living in Europe is very appealing because it is so easy to use the rail system and travel all over the continent and into Great Britain.

Italy:  In this country famous for its art, culture and beaches, Tuscany has long been popular with Americans.  However, Tuscany has become quite expensive, so now ex-pats are discovering LeMarche on the Adriatic.  Here you will find lovely vineyards, fabulous beaches, and snow-capped mountains, as well as amazing food. 

Mexico:  When my husband and I were young,we seriously considered moving to an American community in the Lake Chapala region of Mexico, in the mountains between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta.  Since then, however, we have been to Puerto Vallarta several times, and have heard that this beautiful city on the sea is drawing more retirees than ever.  Real estate is a bargain, compared to similar locations in the United States, and you can enjoy the gorgeous beaches and modern amenities.  Other areas of Mexico are also still popular with foreign retirees, including Lake Chapala, which still has a thriving American community, and San Miguel de Allende.  In fact, San Miguel has a bustling community of American ex-patriots and boasts retirement communities, assisted living facilities, hospitals and more.

Nicaragua:  The dollar goes particularly far in Nicaragua, making this one of the more affordable choices for American retirees.  While the capital city of Managua is rundown, the historic city of Granada or the resort town of San Juan del Sur are both lovely and affordable.

Panama:  I wrote a blog post specifically about retiring in Panama just a few weeks ago.  That article mentioned that many American retirees are moving to the affordable beach communities that are some distance away from the capital of Panama City.  This AARP article mentions the advantages of moving to the mountain village of Boquete as another possibility in Panama.  One aspect that Americans in Panama appreciate is that the U.S. dollar is the official currency in Panama, which makes it easy to handle your finances.

Portugal:  Retiring in Portugal can feel a bit like going back in time, with its castles and cobblestone streets.  However, you can also find plenty of golf courses, beaches and popular resorts, so you do not need to do without modern amenities.  Portugal is also less expensive than other areas of Western Europe.  The town of Cascais seems to be particularly popular with retiring Americans.

Spain:  Many American retirees are attracted to the quaint villages and spacious beaches in the Costa del Sol region of Spain.  There are currently some exceptional real estate deals in Spain, which makes it particularly affordable for relocating Americans.  There is no sales tax, and property taxes are very low.  There are golf course, hiking clubs, and a large ex-patriot community.

If there are other countries that you believe would appeal to retiring Americans, feel free to mention these places in the comments section below.

If you are interested in additional information about where to retire in the US or overseas, financial planning, medical issues that could arise, and changing family relationships, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this page to find links to hundreds of additional articles on these topics.

You may also be interested in reading one of the following articles:

Americans Retiring in Panama
Why Retire in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands or Guam
Live in Ecuador Comfortably on Social Security
Retiring in Luxury to Hua Hin, Thailand

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