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Planning key to healthy older folks

(ran PT SP NP editions)

All our lives, we turn to friends and family when we need help. Those needs can be emotional, financial, medical or spiritual. As the familiar passage says, "When there was only one set of footprints in the sand, I was carrying you."

Now, as seniors, sources we have to draw on to fulfill our needs have changed. The friends we had are not always available. The family we created has now created its own family with its own needs, or may live far away. The medical assistance we always had in the past has suffered from cutbacks, is spread thin and has become costly.

So we are forced to make choices and sacrifices _ at a time when we can least afford to sacrifice care.

If you have money, you may be able to afford a maid to attend to your personal needs, a housekeeper to prepare meals and clean, someone to run errands. If your money is gone, you have Medicaid. Who or what do the rest of us rely on?

We plan. We find out what is available when we need it and figure out how that help can be provided. One way is to insure yourself for your future. Insurance is available for many needs, from personal to medically necessary.

If you need help with activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, personal hygiene, getting around, eating), Medicare defines it as "custodial care" and does not cover it. Medically necessary care includes intermediate and skilled care, for which Medicare provides an extremely limited benefit.

Long-term care insurance may cover specific levels of care or all levels of care. Coverage may be for a short recuperation or a long rehabilitation. The insurance can cover care in your home or care in a facility, or both.

Insurance that covers care in a facility (commonly referred to as nursing home coverage) is usually designed to pay for skilled-care facilities, which most but not all nursing homes are. Some insurance policies for home care also provide benefits for facilities that are not approved for skilled care.

Long-term care insurance policies have options and riders available for many additional coverages within the policies, such as benefit increase, premium return, spouse survivor and death benefit. With the demand for coverage so great, and the new tax breaks available to owners of qualified insurance plans, the cost has become very competitive.

Eligibility and appropriateness of long-term care insurance is determined by interview and review of health history _ and your personal needs and wants. For more information, contact the Area Agency on Aging at (813) 576-1533 and request long-term care insurance counseling.

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This monthly column is provided by the Area Agency on Aging for Pinellas and Pasco counties. It is written by local experts and members of the agency's Information and Referral Advisory Council. Additional information is available by calling the Senior Helpline and requesting this month's free Senior Help Kit. The number in Pinellas is 576-1533; in Pasco, (800) 861-8111.

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