Caregiving for an aging parent may stretch the budget as well as the caregiver's endurance -- that is, if you aren't aware of scores of federal, state and even local government programs.
Access to assistance is as close as your computer, and, in most cases, you can apply online. Start by accessing two sites:
www.Govbenefits.gov - Gather up all the information you can on your elderly parent's health, disability, income, wealth (as in property owned), whether a military veteran, education level and more. Access this site and answer every question that you can. Then, push the button and, within minutes, the site will respond with a list, details and access information for many, even scores, of beneficial government programs, supplements and/or services.
www.Benefitscheckup.org - This non-profit site will ask many of the same questions but may report added programs, details and contacts.
Here is a guide to the top 10 programs everyone who is caring for an aging parent should know about.
There is more to Medicare than just the Part A hospital and Part B medical insurance coverage. If your aging parent is 65 or older and collecting Social Security, the insurance premiums are deducted from monthly benefits. Part D prescription drug coverage is subsidized by Medicare through payments to private company insurers who then fund an average of 90 percent of the cost of prescription drugs. If your parent is considered low income, receiving only Social Security, Medicare may subsidize all but about $10 of the monthly premiums. Ask and you may find a great cost saving for your parent.Medicare: www.medicare.gov Medicare Part D
2. Social Security
If your parent's Social Security benefits were earned based on lower-paying jobs, and if the benefits are the only source of income, there may be a larger monthly benefit available by applying for its Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The program may be operated federally or in conjunction with your state government. The welfare-based Medicaid program is also administered through the Social Security Administration, though the operation may be directed by your state government.
3. Administration on Aging (AoA)
The AoA administers many national programs and services for elders, including health insurance counseling, legal assistance, protection from elder abuse and long-term care. The banner on the website has a link to Elders and Families, your starting point. This section also offers a specific link and service For Caregivers (see the left hand column.)
4. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
If your aging parent is a military veteran and has a service-related disability, you may be able to apply for an increase in benefits, particularly if the disability has worsened over time. If he or she needs continuing medical care because of the disability, an application for medical benefits, hospitalization and prescription drugs may be submitted. There are several types and levels of VA compensation and pension programs. The VA has been slow in processing claims the past few years, but there is continuing pressure by Congress and the Administration to speed up its service.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1966 provides your elderly parent privacy of his or her medical records. It is a regulation and restriction program on health care providers. The protection should be of concern to you and other family members because, unless your parent signs a form designating each of you as approved to discuss your medical concerns with the physician, he or she cannot do such, even if you prove your family connection. Better sooner than later, access the HIPAA website for the information and forms, or secure the forms from a physician, and file copies with every health care professional involved in your parent's care. HIPAA.gov
6. United States Department of Justice
If your parent has a disability, particularly with physical movement, learn about the Americans With Disability Act administered by the U.S. Department of Justice. Its ADA website offers briefings and cost-free publications on the regulations to grant universal access to the disabled.
7. Food and Drug Administration
Your aging parent is probably taking five to as many as 10 different prescription drugs, perhaps prescribed by different doctors. As caregiver, you should be aware of every one of the drugs, know its mission in the body and, particularly the side effects and conflicts with other medications. You want to watch for a danger known as polypharmacy. The federal Food and Drug Administration offers a giant database on every drug approved by the agency, listing active ingredients, purpose or mission of the medication, dosing recommendations and the side effects and conflicts.
8. Your U.S. Senator
Every senator has a staff specialist on elder affairs, programs and services, probably in major cities of your state plus in Washington, D.C. The staff person can both advise and advocate for benefits or services for your parent. Know that bureaucrats listen immediately to an aide for a United States Senator.
www.senate.gov (Click the Senators link)
9. Your Congressional Representative
Most Representatives in the United States Congress also have staff specialists on elder affairs, programs and services and can provide both information and advocacy.
www.house.gov (Click the Representatives by State link)
10. Area Agency on Aging
There is a federally-mandated Area Agency on Aging in your county or city. This agency is staffed by professionals who know every elder program and service, including available funding sources, in your area. Staff is often aided by volunteers who serve as drivers for transport and Meals-on-Wheels, for respite services and other duties. Gather up the same information you collected for the two sites detailing the national, and even state, programs for which your parent may qualify and make an appointment to meet with a counselor at the Area Agency on Aging. The staff person can advise regarding programs and qualifications and even help prepare the necessary applications and documentation. Often, the counselor will even call a recommended agency, program or service to advise that your application is headed their way. Access your Area Agency on Aging through your telephone book and call the office for an appointment, at which time you should also ask if they have a website that you can access in advance of an in-person visit.
Using these resources, caregivers can gain a world of vital information as well as increased income and services for their aging parents. And you just may find caregiving less stressful and demanding.