2019 Will Bring Social Security Beneficiaries the Biggest Increase in Eight Years

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The Social Security Administration has announced a 2.8 percent increase in benefits in 2019, the largest increase since 2012.  The change will put an additional $468 anually in the pocket of the average retired beneficiary.

Cost of living increases are tied to the consumer price index, and an upturn in inflation rates and gas prices means recipients get a boost in 2019. The 2.8 percent increase is higher than last year’s 2 percent rise and the .3 percent increase in 2017. The average monthly benefit of $1,422 in 2018 will increase by $39 a month to $1,461 a month for an individual beneficiary, or $468 yearly. The cost of living change also affects the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax, which will grow from $128,700 to $132,900.

And there is more good news: Unlike last year’s increase, the additional income should not be entirely eaten up by higher Medicare Part B premiums. The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B enrollees will increase only $1.50 to $135.50.

For 2019, the monthly federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment standard will be $771 for an individual and $1,157 for a couple.

Most beneficiaries will be able to find out their cost of living adjustment online by logging on to my Social Security in December 2018. While you will still receive your increase notice by mail, in the future you will be able to choose whether to receive your notice online instead of on paper.

For more on the 2019 Social Security benefit levels, click here.

DOWNLOAD OUR FREE ELDER LAW GUIDES > Click here

The Law Offices of Brian A. Raphan, PC

7 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10001

www.RaphanLaw.com

Worst States If You’re Caring For An Aging Parent

Via FA-Magazine  

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Some states make it harder for those caring for an aging parent, according to a new survey. 

Caring.com conducted a national survey to determine which states offer the best overall cost of living, and accessibility to senior support programs and resources for caregivers. 

While some states were praised for providing an affordable and helpful environment for caregivers, other states inevitable ended up at the bottom of the list.

“It hasn’t always been so expensive, but the cost of caring for our parents is so out of control now that it has the capacity to actually bankrupt families,” Jim Miller, a senior advocate and author of SavvySenior.org, said in the report. “I think that’s why it’s so important to consider these costs far in advance of needing to provide care so you’re prepared instead of panicked.”

These 10 states, in descending order, were deemed the most expensive for caregivers by Caring.com:

10. Maine

While the state is expensive for seniors, the availability of senior care support and services ranked 13th overall. The median cost for a home health aide was $4,500 more than the national average. Nursing home expenses were $24,00 more than the national average, according to caring.com.

 

9. New Hampshire

The state ranked 44th for cost of living. Costs for a nursing home stay for a year were over $100,000, well above the national average. The state did rank well for offering accessible senior programs and caregiver resources.

8. Delaware

For your aging parent to live in a nursing home in Delaware, expect to pay the median price of $127,750. The state ranked 28th in the survey for senior and caregiver programs and support.

 

7. New York

Earning a good rank for senior support and services, the state offers numerous resources for caregivers and seniors. While the costs for a home health aide and assisted living are competitive, the median for a nursing home is well above the national average by over $40,000.

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Medicaid Applicants & Home Care: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Clarifies Penalty Period Start Date

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has clarified when a transfer penalty begins for Medicaid applicants who are seeking home and community-based services. The penalty period begins when the applicant would begin receiving services were it not for the penalty period.

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After Congress passed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA), CMS issued a guidance letter that a penalty period would not start to run until the date the “individual is eligible for Medicaid and is receiving institutional level of care services” [emphasis added]. But home and community-based services only become “services” once applicants are enrolled in the state’s waiver program and Medicaid is providing coverage. This caused a “Catch-22” for Medicaid applicants who were applying for home and community-based waivers: The penalty period would not begin to run until the applicants began receiving waiver services, but the applicants could not begin to receive waiver services until the penalty had run.

On April 17, 2018, CMS finally issued a new guidance letter, changing the start date of the penalty period to the date the “individual is eligible for medical assistance under the State plan and would otherwisebe receiving institutional level [of] care services” (emphasis added). This means that an applicant for home and community-based services will be eligible once the applicant meets the financial and non-financial requirements for Medicaid eligibility and the level-of-care requirements.

8 Common Mistakes in Medicaid Planning>

 

What’s the Difference Between Medicare and Medicaid in the Context of Long-Term Care?

Although their names are confusingly alike, Medicaid and Medicare are quite different programs. Both of these programs provide health coverage, but Medicare is an “entitlement” program, meaning that everyone who reaches age 65 and is entitled to receive Social Security benefits also receives Medicare (Medicare also covers people of any age who are permanently disabled or who have end-stage renal disease.)

Medicaid, on the other hand, is a public assistance program that that helps pay medical costs for individuals with limited income and assets. To be eligible for Medicaid coverage, you must meet the program’s strict income and asset guidelines. Also, unlike Medicare, which is totally federal, Medicaid is a joint state-federal program. Each state operates its own Medicaid system, but this system must conform to federal guidelines in order for the state to receive federal money, which pays for about half the state’s Medicaid costs. (The state picks up the rest of the tab.)

Medicare and Medicaid Coverage of Long-Term Care

The most significant difference between Medicare and Medicaid in the realm of long-term care planning, however, is that Medicaid covers nursing home care, while Medicare, for the most part, does not. Medicare Part A covers only up to 100 days of care in a “skilled nursing” facility per spell of illness. The care in the skilled nursing facility must follow a stay of at least three days in a hospital. And for days 21 through 100, you must pay a co-payment. (This is generally covered by Medigap insurance.) In addition, the definition of “skilled nursing” and the other conditions for obtaining this coverage are quite stringent, meaning that few nursing home residents receive the full 100 days of coverage. As a result, Medicare pays for less than a quarter of long-term care costs in the U.S. In the absence of any other public program covering long-term care, Medicaid has become the default nursing home insurance of the middle class. Lacking access to alternatives such as paying privately or being covered by a longterm care insurance policy, most people pay out of their own pockets for long-term care until they become eligible for Medicaid. The fact that Medicaid is a joint state-federal program complicates matters, because the Medicaid eligibility rules are somewhat different from state to state, and they keep changing. (The states also sometimes have their own names for the program, such as “Medi-Cal” in California and “MassHealth” in Massachusetts.)

Both the federal government and most state governments seem to be continually tinkering with the eligibility requirements and restrictions.

This is why consulting with your elder law attorney is so important. As for home care, Medicaid has traditionally offered very little — except in New York, which provides home care to all Medicaid recipients who need it. Recognizing that home care costs far less than nursing home care, more and more states are providing Medicaid-covered services to those who remain in their homes. It’s possible to qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. Such recipients are called “dual eligibles.” Medicare beneficiaries who have limited income and resources can get help paying their out-of-pocket medical expenses from their state Medicaid program.

READ THE TOP 8 MEDICAID PLANNING MISTAKES>

Benefits for Older New Yorkers

Many public programs are available to seniors in need.  The New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) provides a guide to benefits and entitlements for older New Yorkers.

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Most of the agencies listed have automated answering systems needing touch tone responses from the caller. There may be a waiting time of up to several minutes, depending on the agency. The time may be longer to reach an operator, if using a rotary telephone.

ACCESSNYC can help improve your access to benefits. ACCESSNYC is a free electronic information and screening tool that allows people of all ages to identify and screen their eligibility for over 30 City, State and Federal human service benefit programs.

Seniors can visit http://www.nyc.gov and search for “Access NYC” to screen their eligibility for several of the programs listed in this booklet. These include SNAP, Medicaid, HEAP, and the Senior Citizen’s Rent Increase Exemption and Veterans’ Exemptions.

Based on information you enter into the system, ACCESS NYC will help fill out some of the applications to make the process easier. It will also provide information on agency office locations that are near you. The tool is available in seven languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Haitian Creole, and Arabic.

Download The NYC.gov Benefits Guide here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dfta/downloads/pdf/publications/Benefits1017.pdf

For more information call 311 or visit: www.nyc.gov

 

Social Security Beneficiaries Will Receive a 2 Percent Increase in 2018

In 2018, Social Security recipients will get their largest cost of living increase in benefits since 2012, but the additional income will likely be largely eaten up by higher Medicare Part B premiums.

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Cost of living increases are tied to the consumer price index, and an upturn in inflation rates and gas prices means recipients get a small boost in 2018, amounting to $27 a month for the typical retiree. The 2 percent increase is higher than last year’s .3 percent rise and the lack of any increase at all in 2016. The cost of living change also affects the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax, which will grow from $127,200 to $128,700.

The increase in benefits will likely be consumed by higher Medicare premiums, however. Most elderly and disabled people have their Medicare Part B premiums deducted from their monthly Social Security checks. For these individuals, if Social Security benefits don’t rise, Medicare premiums can’t either. This “hold harmless” provision does not apply to about 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries: those enrolled in Medicare but who are not yet receiving Social Security, new Medicare beneficiaries, seniors earning more than $85,000 a year, and “dual eligibles” who get both Medicare and Medicaid benefits. In the past few years, Medicare beneficiaries not subject to the hold harmless provision have been paying higher Medicare premiums while Medicare premiums for those in the hold harmless group remained more or less the same. Now that seniors will be getting an increase in Social Security payments, Medicare will likely hike premiums for the seniors in the hold harmless group. And that increase may eat up the entire raise, at least for some beneficiaries.

For 2018, the monthly federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment standard will be $750 for an individual and $1,125 for a couple.

For more on the 2018 Social Security benefit levels, click here.

What effects will repealing Obamacare have on Medicare?

What effects can repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, have? While repealing Obamacare will have implications for millions of younger people covered by the insurance, it will also affect Medicare beneficiaries.

To begin with, the ACA requires insurers to provide free preventative care coverage to Medicare beneficiaries. Without that requirement, seniors may end up having to pay for many preventative care services.

In addition, the ACA reduced prescription drug costs under Medicare Part D and phased in an elimination of the infamous “doughnut hole.” The doughnut hole is the period of time in which seniors are responsible for 100 percent of the cost of prescription drugs. Under the ACA, the percentage seniors pay for drugs while in this coverage gap was capped at 50 percent starting in 2011 and is supposed to continue dropping until the doughnut hole is eliminated completely in 2020.  (For more on how the ACA addresses the doughnut hole, click here.)

A little–known fact about the ACA is that it contains provisions designed to strengthen Medicare. Repealing the ACA may eliminate those provisions, potentially destabilizing Medicare.  The ACA also established programs to reduce Medicare waste, fraud, and abuse. Thanks to these measures, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Medicare hospital insurance fund is projected to remain solvent eleven years longer than before the ACA was enacted.

These factors combined with the fact that millions of near-seniors aged 50-64 could lose coverage, leaving them in poorer health when they become eligible for Medicare, could raise future Medicare costs for existing beneficiaries.

Hopefully the best parts will be kept in place if a new plan is enacted.

Four Social Security Myths Debunked

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There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the Social Security system. Here are four common myths and the truth about how Social Security works and its future prospects.

Myth 1: You Should Collect Benefits EarlyThis is one of the biggest Social Security myths. In 2015, more than half of Social Security recipients began collecting benefits before their full retirement age (66 for those born between 1943 and 1954), potentially costing themselves thousands of dollars in additional benefits. If you take Social Security between age 62 and your full retirement age, your benefits will be permanently reduced to account for the longer period you will be paid.

On the other hand, if you delay taking retirement, depending on when you were born your benefit will increase by 6 to 8 percent for every year that you delay, in addition to any cost of living increases. There are a lot of factors that go into the decision as to when to take Social Security benefits, but if possible it is usually better to wait until your full retirement age or older.

Myth 2: Your Money Goes into an Account with Your Name on It

When you pay into Social Security, the money is not set aside in a separate account, as with a 401(k) or IRA. Instead, your contributions are used to pay current recipients. When you start receiving benefits, people paying into the system will be paying your benefits.

Myth 3: Social Security Will Be Out of Money Soon

Many young people believe the Social Security system will run out of money before they have a chance to collect anything. Currently, the Social Security trustees predict that the trust fund will run out of money in 2034. Politically, it seems unlikely that Congress and the President would let this happen. Changes will likely be made to the system by either raising taxes (such as by lifting the cap on income subject to Social Security tax), reducing benefits for high-income individuals, increasing the retirement age, or doing something else that will allow Social Security to be fully funded. However, even if the trust dries up and there isn’t enough money to pay all the promised benefits, people will still be paying into the system and Social Security will be able to pay at least 75 percent of benefits.

Myth 4: If You Haven’t Worked, You Cannot Collect Benefits

If you haven’t worked outside of the home, you will not be able to collect Social Security benefits on your own record, but you may be able to collect them based on your spouse or ex-spouse’s record. Spouses are entitled to collect as much one half of a worker’s retirement benefit. This rule applies to ex-spouses as well, as long as the marriage lasted at least 10 years and the spouse applying for benefits isn’t remarried.

To learn more about Social Security, click here.

For Free Elder Law Guides, click here.

Testamentary Trust & MEDICAID…

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Testamentary Trust Qualifies As SNT Despite Support Language

The Supreme Court of Connecticut rules that the state Department of Social Services improperly denied a Medicaid application after counting assets in a testamentary trust that should have been considered exempt because, the court holds, the trust was a discretionary supplemental needs trust, not a support trust. Pikula v. Department of Social Services (Conn., No. SC 19533, May 10, 2016).

John Pikula died in 1991, leaving behind a testamentary trust for the benefit of his daughters.  The trust gave the trustee the ability to use the trust income and principal for the daughters “as the trustee may deem advisable for [their] maintenance and support”.  In 2012, one of Mr. Pikula’s daughters, Marian Pikula, entered a long-term care facility and applied for Medicaid.  The Department of Social Services (DSS) denied Ms. Pikula’s application, alleging that the assets in the testamentary trust constituted a countable support trust.

Ms. Pikula appealed DSS’s decision, arguing that her father had intended to create a supplemental needs trust and that the discretionary language in the trust met the requirements of such a trust because Ms. Pikula could not compel payments from the trust for her support.  She was denied at an administrative level and on appeal to the trial court.  The Connecticut Supreme Court transferred Ms. Pikula’s appeal from the intermediate appellate court.

The Supreme Court of Connecticut reverses the trial court.  The court determines that “the fact that the trustee is only required to use as much income as he ‘may deem advisable’ to provide for [Ms. Pikula’s] maintenance, indicates that the testator intended for the trustee to have complete discretion in determining what, if any, of the income was to be used for [Ms. Pikula’s] maintenance.”  The court goes on the analyze the circumstances behind the creation of the trust, and it reasons that because the trust was established with a modest amount of money, it was clearly not intended to be used for Ms. Pikula’s long-term support.

Feel free to contact me for information about the type of Trust to suit your needs.

Regards,

Brian

www.RaphanLaw.com

8 Things Seniors Should Remember at Tax Time

April 15th is approaching and it is time to begin crossing T’s and dotting I’s in preparation for paying taxes. As tax time draws near, you want to make sure you file all the proper forms and take all deductions you’re entitled to. Following are some things to keep in mind as you prepare your tax form.

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  • Gifts. Did you give away any money this year? The gift tax can be very confusing. If you gave away more than $14,000 in 2015, you will have to file a Form 709, the gift tax return. This does not necessarily mean you will owe taxes on the money, however. Click here for more information.
  • Medical Expenses. Many types of medical expenses are tax deductible, from hospital stays to hearing aids. To claim the deduction, your medical expenses have to be more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income.  (For taxpayers 65 and older, this threshold will be 7.5 percent through 2016.) This includes all out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions (including deductibles and co-pays) and Medicare Part B and Part C and Part D premiums. (Medicare Part B premiums are usually deducted out of your Social Security benefits, so be sure to check your 1099 for the amount.) You can only deduct medical expenses you paid during the year, regardless of when the services were provided, and medical expenses are not deductible if they are reimbursable by insurance. Click here for more information.
  • Parental Deduction. If you are caring for your mother or father, you may be able to claim your parent as a dependent on your income taxes. This would allow you to get an exemption $4,000 (in 2015) for him or her. Click here for more information.
  • Long-Term Care Insurance Premiums. Premiums for “qualified” long-term care policies are treated as an unreimbursed medical expense. Long-term care insurance premiums are deductible for the taxpayer, his or her spouse and other dependents. Click herefor more information.
  • Social Security Benefits. Although Social Security benefits are generally not taxable, people with substantial income in addition to their Social Security may pay taxes on their benefits. If you file a federal tax return as an individual and your “combined income,” including one half of your Social Security benefits and nontaxable interest income is between $25,000 and $34,000, 50 percent of your Social Security benefits will be considered taxable. If your combined income is above $34,000, 85 percent of your Social Security benefits is subject to income tax. Click here for more information.
  • Home Sale Exclusion. Married couples can exclude from income up to $500,000 in profit on the sale of a home ($250,000 for single individuals). If a surviving spouse sells the home, he or she can still claim the exclusion as long as the house was sold no more than two years after the spouse’s death. Click here for more information.
  • Elderly or Disabled Tax Credit. Some low-income elderly or disabled individuals are entitled to a special tax credit. To be eligible, you must meet income limits. For more information, click here.
  • Tax Refunds. Getting a federal tax refund should not affect your Medicaid or Social Security benefits. For a year after recieving a tax refund from the federal government, the refund will not be considered income or resources for SSI or Medicaid purposes. You can also transfer the refund within a year without incurring a penalty. For more information, click here.
The IRS’s Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program offers free tax help to taxpayers who are 60 and older. For more information, click here. The IRS also publishes a Tax Guide For Seniors.

Additional Free Guides For Seniors>

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