Caregiving for an aging parent may stretch your budget as well as your endurance. That is, if you aren't aware of scores of federal, state and even local government programs that can help you make ends meet.

Access to assistance is as close as your computer, and, in most cases, you can apply online. Start by visiting two sites:

Benefits.gov: Gather all the information you can relating to your elderly parent's health, disability, income, assets, military service, education level and more. Visit this site and answer every question as accurately as you can. After submitting your answers, the site will respond with a list of government programs, supplements and services, including details and eligibility information.

www.Benefitscheckup.org: This non-profit site run by the National Counctil on Aging will ask many of the same questions as the site above, but may report additional programs, details and contacts that may fit your situation.

Here is a guide to the top 10 programs everyone who is caring for an aging parent should know about.

1. Medicare

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, their 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 and receiving only Social Security, Medicare may subsidize all but about $10 of the monthly premiums. This option may provide substantial cost savings for your parent.

2. Social Security

If your parent's Social Security benefits were earned based on lower-paying jobs, and if the benefits are their only source of income, there may be a larger monthly benefit available by applying for the 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 help with long-term care. The navigation bar on the home page has a link to Help and Resources, your starting point.

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.

5. HIPAA

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.

6. United States Department of Justice

If your parent has a disability, particularly with physical movement, learn about the Americans with Disabilities 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 a few 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 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 are knowledgeable about elder programs and services, including available financial 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 notify them 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.

In Summary

Using these resources, caregivers can gain access to a world of vital information as well as increased income and services for their aging parents. These programs can provide added support that may help reduce caregiver stress.

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