The woman sat with her aging mother-in-law across the desk from the oncologist. In front of the two women were 13 prescription bottles lined up in a row. Through tears of frustration the younger woman leaned forward, waved at the row of brown bottles with white prescription labels, and pointed her finger at the oncologist. “This can’t be right. My mother-in-law is feeling worse, not better – she’s confused and tired all the time. She shouldn’t be on this many drugs. Somebody isn’t paying attention!”
In this actual anecdote, the oncologist listened and agreed. He promptly took the older woman off several of her 13 overlapping prescriptions (some of which were counteracting the effects of others) and her quality of life rapidly improved. In this woman’s case, multiple medical providers had prescribed multiple prescriptions without carefully checking to see what else the patient was already taking. Had the daughter-in-law not intervened, a medical disaster could have ensued.
Here at AgingOptions we often hear variations on this story of adult children stepping in to assist aging parents (or other loved ones) with their medical care. This is especially important when your senior loved one is on Medicare. To help our Blog readers and radio listeners with this issue, we found this fairly brief article that appeared last week on the website NextAvenue, entitled “Tips for Helping Aging Relatives with Their Health Care.” It offers three simple ways to help caregivers manage a loved one’s Medicare-related issues and to guide them as they make the most out of doctors’ visits. Taking an active role in your loved one’s care can dramatically help improve their quality of life, particularly as they become more frail and perhaps less able to handle complicated details and medical instructions on their own.
The article is written by a woman named Allison Renneke who works for a firm that helps clients manage Medicare and Medicaid issues. She writes in NextAvenue from her personal experience with her own parents. “If, like me, you help take care of a loved one on Medicare, you know it can be stressful,” says Renneke. “Whether you’re just starting to realize mom or dad may need some help managing their care or you’ve been doing it for a while, there are steps you can take to make the process easier on everyone — you, your loved one and their health care team.”
Before sharing her three tips, Renneke deals with the question of timing: if Mom or Dad seems to be doing fine with their medical care, should you try to step in now, or wait a while? Her advice is emphatic: don’t wait. “I recommend getting a head start now,” Renneke states. “If you wait until there’s an actual medical emergency, it can be difficult to get all the information you need in the heat of the moment. And it’s one less thing to worry about when emotions are running high.” From our experience dealing with hundreds of similar situations, we concur that early involvement is far better than procrastinating until a medical crisis strikes.
The three tips suggested by the NextAvenue article are fairly basic, yet we have found in our interactions with families that these relatively simple steps are too often overlooked. These are the very type of issues we address when we conduct a family conference for our clients, something we strongly recommend to deal with a wide range of retirement-related issues that can arise. Here are Renneke’s top three recommendations.
- First, she writes, “become an authorized representative” for your loved one. Having this status in place allows the health insurance company to share information with you about your loved one’s health insurance plan, including the Explanations of Benefits. You can more easily gain access to details about bills and premiums. Renneke says that every health insurance company has its own process for becoming an authorized representative, so you should contact the appropriate insurance provider to get the process started.
- Renneke’s second tip is to research the details of your loved one’s health plan. Once you’re an authorized representative, the insurance company will provide everything you need to know about mom’s or dad’s insurance coverage. Take the time to ask questions or search the internet to clarify any terms you’re unsure about. You’ll also want to make a copy of your relative’s insurance member identification card so you’ll have access to important phone numbers and other relevant data.
- Finally, Renneke recommends you make a list of all the doctors your loved one is consulting and the medicines they are taking, including names and dosages of all prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. As an authorized representative you should be able to get relevant information from your loved one’s pharmacy or from Medicare if your loved one has Part D drug coverage. (Request what’s called a Part D Explanation of Benefits.) As a precaution you had also better double check the list against what’s actually in mom’s or dad’s medicine cabinet to make sure you didn’t overlook anything. Renneke includes a sample of a spreadsheet she uses for her own family member to help keep track of all this information.
We think the NextAvenue article contains some good and helpful information – but as is so frequently the case, it doesn’t really go far enough. Retirement planning that is really valuable and useful has to consider all the critical aspects of growing older. Medical care is clearly one of those aspects, but so is a solid financial plan, a well-crafted legal plan, a carefully thought-out housing plan, and even a family communication plan. Fortunately, there’s one type of over-arching plan that blends all these five together into one seamless strategy: an AgingOptions LifePlan. When it comes to retirement planning that is truly comprehensive, there’s nothing else like it.
We invite you to find out more by attending a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich. These popular events take place at locations throughout the area. For dates, times and online registration, click here for our Upcoming Events tab, or call us during the week. We’ll look forward to meeting you!
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)