Gunning Daily News

3 Things Every Patient Should Know when Dealing with the Health-Care System

January 17, 2014 10:09 pm

With millions of people newly covered by health insurance, and 11,000 more becoming eligible for Medicare every day, more people will be visiting doctors and hospitals.

And while that’s a positive, patient advocate Ruth Fenner Barash warns that the U.S. health care system is not always the benevolent safety net many people believe it to be. It can be abusive, incompetent, callous toward patients – and worse.

“Patients and their loved ones cannot blindly turn themselves over to this massive, technology-based system and trust that it will care – or take care of them,” says Barash, who shares lessons learned from extensive health-care experiences in a new book, “For Better or Worse: Lurching from Crisis to Crisis in America’s Medical Morass.

Her cautionary tale traces the long medical journey her husband, Philip, endured with her as his advocate. She discovered mismanagement and excess, useless interventions and a sometimes complete disregard for pain – even when there was no hope of healing.

“I learned a great deal from our experience, and with so many people now gaining access to health care, I want others to benefit from what I’ve learned,” she says. “You can navigate the system; you just have to know how.” Barash offers these suggestions for patients and their loved ones, whether it’s a trip to the doctor for a checkup or a diagnosis of a catastrophic illness.

• Avoid the emergency room – for your own sake.  Emergency rooms were developed with the idea that few people would use them – most people would see their physician. But as health care costs rose, they became a primary care facility for those without insurance or the money to pay for services out of pocket. “Patients and their families were not expected to spend a long time in the E.R. – presumably, they would be seen quickly and either admitted to the hospital or treated and released – so they’re not designed for comfort,” Barash says. “They’ve become very crowded, especially in cities, and patients might wait for hours sitting in hard plastic chairs in the waiting room. For someone who’s sick or injured, this can be torture.” Sick people usually are not isolated, so waiting rooms also teem with germs, she notes.

• Be skeptical – question everything.  Too often, we take the first thing we’re told as gospel, Barash says. “If you have the luxury of time, take some of that time to think things through, to research and get second opinions,” she says. Research your physician’s connections. When you’re referred to a specialist, ask why that particular person. If you live in an area with a large academic community, ask around about the physicians and health-care providers with the best reputations. Who has the most experience in a particular niche? Who’s doing the most promising research? How many times have you performed this procedure and what is your success rate?

• Ask what it costs – no matter who’s paying. Our health-care system is absurd in the number of useless consultations, diagnostic procedures and interventions it foists on patients, Barash says. Whether our hospital bills are fully covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance, or we’re paying a portion ourselves, we must all include cost in our discussions with health-care providers. “Part of the blame for having the most expensive health-care system in the world goes to us, the individuals, who don’t question purchases or shop for prices as we would for groceries, clothing, or furniture,” Barash says.  “If a test or consultation is ordered, understand why. Is it really necessary? You can say no!”

Finally, Barash says, we all must come to terms with the fact that death is a given.

“My husband’s problem, and the problem many of us may be doomed to face, is the seemingly endless getting there – a dying we don’t want.”


Word of the Day

January 17, 2014 10:09 pm

License. A privilege or right granted to a person by a state to operate as a real estate broker or salesperson.


Q: How Does Refinancing Work?

January 17, 2014 10:09 pm

A: With a refinancing, you pay off an old loan on your home and take out a new one, usually at a lower mortgage interest rate. To refinance, you will generally need to have equity in your home, a good credit rating, and steady income. You can borrow a percentage of the equity to cover remodeling costs, debt consolidate, and college tuition.

When you refinance, you will incur all the closing costs that go along with getting a new mortgage. So unless you're doing extensive renovations and can get a mortgage interest rate at least two points below your current loan rate, you may want to select another financing option.


7 Steps for Baby Boomers to Secure Their Financial Future

January 17, 2014 10:09 pm

Each generation handles their finances a bit differently, due to economic influences, technology and more. When it comes to baby boomers, a lack of planning and very poor insurance coverage suggests a significant risk for delayed retirement or outliving retirement assets. Below are 7 steps baby boomers can take to secure their financial future, courtesy of Financial Finesse.

Run a retirement calculator.  As Boomers approach retirement age, many have no idea whether they’ll actually be able to afford to retire since less than half of them have run a retirement estimate. Fortunately, many employers offer tools like Financial Engines, Schwab’s GuidedChoice, or our own retirement estimator that provide a projection of your retirement income and how much more you may need to save to achieve your goals.

Don’t forget to factor in health care costs. With Fidelity estimating that a 65-yr old couple will need $220k on average to cover health care costs in retirement, medical expenses will be a big part of that calculation. This is even more true if you plan to retire before you qualify for Medicare at age 65 since you may have to foot the entire bill. If you don’t have access to retiree health care coverage, you can purchase insurance on the new exchanges without having to worry about pre-existing conditions and depending on your taxable income, you may also qualify for tax subsidies that can significantly reduce your cost of insurance.

Catch up on tax-advantaged savings plans. The bad news is that less than 30% of Boomers are on track for retirement. The good news is that they are generally in their peak earning years, many are empty nesters and some have even paid off their mortgages so this can be a great time to make up for lost savings. If you turn 50 or older this year, you can take advantage of catch-up provisions in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. For your employer-sponsored plan, this means you can save an additional $5,500 on top of the standard $17,500 IRS limit for 401(k) or 403(b) deferrals. For an IRA, you can deposit an additional $1,000 on top of the standard $5,500 IRA contribution limit for 2014. (If you neglected to contribute to an IRA last year, there’s still time since you have until 4/15/14  to make your 2013 IRA deposit.) If you’re eligible to contribute to an HSA and are age 55 or older, you can contribute an extra $1k in addition to the $3,300 limit for individuals and $6,550 limit for families in 2014. (HSAs can be used tax-free for qualified medical expenses and penalty-free for any purpose after age 65.)

Consider alternative retirement strategies. If you don’t have enough time to save for your retirement goals, you may want to think about other ways to supplement your retirement income or reduce your expenses in retirement. Some options include working in retirement, paying off your mortgage, downsizing, purchasing an immediate annuity, moving to an area with a lower cost of living (maybe even overseas), and getting a reverse mortgage.

Downshift your investment strategy. If you have accumulated a hefty retirement account balance, you may find that your investment earnings outweigh your contributions so a good investment strategy is crucial. While the recent performance of the stock market may make it tempting to be more aggressive or take gains and get out of the market altogether, neither market timing approach has been shown to be consistently successful in the past. Instead, you’ll want to maintain a balanced portfolio that gradually becomes more conservative as you get closer to retirement. This is easiest with a target retirement date fund, which is a one-stop shop that does that automatically and is increasingly available in employer-sponsored plans. For a more customized portfolio, you might be able to get face-to-face financial advice or guidance through your employer or by hiring your own financial advisor.

Don’t let education expenses jeopardize your retirement. Before raiding your retirement accounts to help children or grandchildren, you might want to consider ways of minimizing college costs and explore all the options for low cost student loans. If you can afford to help with college bills without hurting your retirement, IRAs can be used penalty-free for qualified education expenses and appreciated stocks can be gifted to a child and taxed at the child’s capital gains rate when they sell it (unless they’re subject to the kiddie tax).

Protect your wealth. College costs aren’t the only threat to your retirement assets. After not saving enough for retirement, lack of wealth protection was the Boomers’ biggest vulnerability. Whether you’re already on track for retirement or feel you don’t have much wealth to protect, you should make sure you have adequate liability and long term care insurance. Otherwise, a single lawsuit or nursing home stay can wipe out a lifetime of saving and investing. Long term care insurance is particularly important to purchase before age and deteriorating health could make it unaffordable.

Source: Financial Finesse


Spruce up Your Home This Year

January 17, 2014 10:09 pm

(BPT) - Making a New Year's resolution is common, and many people set goals for ways to improve themselves. If you have set a goal to lose weight, learn a new skill or get promoted, congratulations. But while you are striving to attain your personal goal, have you ever thought of setting a goal to refresh your home in a way that will have your friends talking?

Setting a home improvement goal is more common than you may think and you can make a dramatic improvement to your home with a complete remodel. You can take on several smaller projects - any time of the year - that will leave you loving your home all year long. Here are a few ideas to get you going.

* A fresh coat of paint. Nothing reinvents a room like a fresh coat of paint. Yet many people put off painting a room because they can't afford professional painters and they don't have time to do the job themselves. But you can achieve that professional quality finish at a fraction of the time and cost by visiting RentalHQ.com and renting your own paint sprayer. Use your sprayer to add a neutral color, which provides visual appeal and works with most furniture patterns, leaving you plenty of decorating options.

* Change hardware. Faucets and cabinet hardware can quickly date a room. Replacing hardware can add beauty to your kitchen without adding a lot of extra cost. Be sure to find knobs and pulls that are the same size as the existing ones so you don't have to re-drill the cabinets. Do this for any furniture and in any room for an instant decor face-lift.

* Replace old tile. Outdated tile can make a bathroom look old and dull. Replacing it with new tile that is in style will give the space a rich, modern look. Tiling is a DIY project that anyone can tackle with the right tools. Rent the necessary items like a tile stripper, a tile saw and a mortar mixer to keep your costs down.

* Update curtains and blinds. Textiles play a major role in the overall decorating scheme of a room. New window treatments offer an inexpensive way to introduce bold color and patterns for an instant refresh. Pair your new curtains with decorative throw pillows for a striking impact to the living room.

* Recreate your flooring. If your carpet doesn't need to be replaced but it could use a little refreshing, cleaning your carpets will do the trick. If you can't afford to hire professional carpet cleaners or you feel like taking on the project yourself, renting a carpet cleaner can give your carpets the professional look you've been dreaming of. And if you have hardwood floors that need to be refurbished, renting a floor sander is an excellent first step for this project.

Home improvement projects do not have to include a complete overhaul to provide a new look. These smaller projects will dramatically improve your home all year long. To learn more about the tools you can rent for your next project and to see more ways those tools can help you, visit rentalhq.com.


Be Ready for Emergencies with These Preparedness Tips

January 17, 2014 10:09 pm

Earthquakes, fires and other emergencies strike suddenly, so it's important to have a handle on your emergency preparedness skills and knowledge.

SoCalGas offers these safety tips:

Before an emergency

  • Know where your gas meter is located and keep a 12" or larger adjustable wrench with your emergency supplies, near your building exit or next to your gas meter shut-off valve. Do not store the wrench on the gas meter or other gas piping. Even in the case of an earthquake or other emergency, turn off your gas meter if you smell gas, hear gas leaking or see other signs of a leak —and ONLY if it is safe to do so.
  • To help prevent your water heater from moving or toppling in an earthquake, strap it firmly to the wall studs in two places —the upper and lower one-third of the tank— with heavy bolts and metal strapping. Be sure to place the lower strap at least four inches above the thermostat controls. Kits are often available at your local hardware store and we recommend having a licensed, qualified professional install it for you.
  • Check safety devices, such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, to ensure that they are functioning properly.
  • Call a licensed, qualified professional to inspect your furnace and other gas appliances for safe operation and to make any needed repairs. Make sure flexible connectors are not subject to damage or passing through floors, walls or ceilings.

After an emergency

  • Do not turn off gas to the meter unless you smell gas, hear the sound of gas escaping or see other signs of a leak —and only if it is safe to do so. If you turn off gas to the meter, leave it off. Do not turn it back on yourself. Interior gas piping and appliances must be inspected for possible damage before service can be safely restored.
  • For safety, a shut-off valve should be installed at every gas appliance, and may be required by state and/or local codes. If a leak occurs at a specific appliance, the valve will permit you to turn off the gas at the appliance rather than shutting off all gas service at the meter. Some valves require a wrench to turn them.
  • Check your water heater and furnace vents. If the venting system becomes separated during an earthquake or other event, it could leak hazardous fumes into your home. Do not operate your appliance unless it is properly vented.  Signs of an improperly vented appliance may include moisture on the inside of windows or an unusual odor when the appliance is in operation.
  • DO NOT ignite a flame or use any electrical appliances, light switches or other devices that can cause a spark until you're sure there are no gas leaks.
  • Use flashlights —NOT lanterns, matches or candles— to examine buildings, as flammable gases may be inside.

Source: http://socalgas.com/safety/preparation.shtml.


Word of the Day

January 17, 2014 10:09 pm

Market price. Actual selling price of a property.


Q: Are Seller-Paid Points Deductible?

January 17, 2014 10:09 pm

A: For the buyer, yes, but not the seller – even though the seller pays them. Since January 1, 1991, homebuyers have been able to deduct points paid by the seller whereas, previously, they could only deduct the actual points they paid on the home loans themselves. 


5 Steps to Take toward Financial Independence in 2014

January 16, 2014 11:42 pm

The New Year is a great time to make some positive changes in your financial life.  While Americans are good at creating resolutions, we often find them difficult to keep.  We resolve to lose weight, save money or end bad habits, but few of us stick with those plans for long.

If your goal is to be financially independent, and it should be, you need to make some changes in 2014 that you’ll stick with for the rest of your life.  Here are a few suggestions for small resolutions that can have a significant impact on your financial future:

·        Spend less than you earn. If you take home $1,000 per week, you cannot spend more than $1,000 per week. That seems simple, but a survey released by Bankrate.com in 2013 found 76 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.  Resolve to live on a budget that’s below your means.  You will never be able to out-earn your capacity to spend, so get your spending under control this year.

·        Credit cards are a last resort. Spending less than you earn will cause your savings to grow.  The savings account will be there when the car breaks down or the washing machine goes out, so you don’t have to turn to credit to handle the emergency. Most Americans are not prepared financially for any type of unexpected financial burden. Your goal should be to have three to six months of living expenses set aside in a liquid account for emergencies. 

·        Invest for financial independence. This is not the same as saving for retirement. The goal here is to get to the point financially where you no longer have to work to support yourself.  Set aside some of the money you’ve worked for today.  Allow it to accumulate and grow so one day that money will be working for you.  Start by controlling spending so you have money to save and invest.  Continue the process until the return on your investments exceeds what you earn by working.  Financial independence gives you the freedom to choose to continue working, change jobs, work part-time or not at all.  It is the ultimate financial goal. 

·        Pay less in taxes. Anyone looking for a place to cut expenses might start with their own tax return.  Too many Americans pay more taxes than they should.  Take advantage of tax retirement accounts through work and health savings accounts, if they’re offered.  There are tax credits available for children, higher education, dependent care and retirement savings.  Many of these credits go unclaimed each year.  Resolve to minimize your income taxes this year and put the savings into your new financial plan.

·        Make a plan. Baseball great Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you wind up someplace else.” This is especially true if you want to be financially independent. You need a short-term financial plan for controlling spending -- a budget. You also need a long-term plan that establishes the level of savings you maintain, a plan to get out of debt and an investment plan that will take you to financial independence. The plan becomes your road map. There will be detours along the way; your goals and plan will need adjusting as you progress in life. Keep working at it. Don’t be distracted by outside influences you can’t control. You don’t want to get to the end of your working career only to find you haven’t saved enough to maintain your lifestyle and you still have a mortgage on your home.

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, said “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”  Financial independence may seem like a thousand miles now, but start the journey in 2014 is taking the first step.


Top 10 Home Staging Tips

January 16, 2014 11:42 pm

If you're looking to sell your home quickly, it's necessary to amp up your home staging skills. Whether you hire a professional or DIY, take into account the following budget friendly staging tips provided by www.SureFit.com.

Consider curb appeal

You may not have the funds for a professional landscaper, but homeowners should make sure lawns are freshly mowed, leaves raked, and paths cleared. Scrub the front door, porch, railings and steps, pick up a new mailbox and welcome mat, and add a fresh coat of paint where needed. Add seasonal potted plants and a bench to the entryway to welcome visitors into a clean, fresh and relaxing space.

Forgo Family Photos

You may consider it the crown jewel of the living room, but future buyers will see outdated family photos as years of wear and tear. Clear the room of family portraits and other items that say "you don't live here" to potential buyers.


What Once Was Old, Should Be Newly Slip-covered

No need to splurge on new furniture and home assets when your budget is already tightened up, especially in the midst of a move. Cover up outdated, worn and loud furniture with neutral colors. SureFit.com offers a wide variety of products, with over 130 styles of fitted and tailored slipcovers, as well as throw rugs and even coordinating curtains and dining room sets to make your home décor look like new.

Rearrange Refresh

Arrange the room in a conversational way. You may have preferred for every piece of furniture to face the television, but potential buyers will appreciate more of an open room vignette.

Kitchen Clean Up

Kitchens play a big part in home resale value, so make sure buyers are impressed. Spend extra time scrubbing, cleaning and de-cluttering, and make sure counters are clear of appliances. Re-stain shabby cabinets, replace any mismatched hardware, add fresh cut flowers, turn on lights and open curtains for a clean, bright and attractive gathering space.

Let in Some Air

Keep stuffiness and odors at bay by opening windows for at least 10 minutes prior to showing. Go easy on the air freshener, but bring in fresh cut flowers for a natural look and smell.

What’s Behind Door No. 3?

While shoving everything into a closet has been your go-to cleanup plan since your teen years, potential buyers will undoubtedly look behind every door in your home. Keep bedroom, linen closets and storage spaces neat and tidy to avoid any embarrassing surprises.

Scrub until It Sparkles

Clean bathrooms until they look like the model sets at Home Depot. Signs of use, like soap scum and toothpaste stuck to the sink, will turn buyers off. Replace any outdated fixtures with sleek and modern ones, and add fresh cut flowers to help with aroma and appearance.


Sleep Tight

Keep bedrooms neutral, comfortable and spacious. Buyers want to picture themselves relaxing here, so use soft colors, light scents and earth tones to “set the mood.” Make bedrooms appear larger by limiting items in the room to a bed, dresser and small seating area for the Master Bedroom. Update any outdated bedding and use a lavender oil diffuser to keep relaxation a priority here.

Better Backyard

Outdoor living spaces have become exponentially more important to potential buyers. Treat your back deck or patio like any other room in your home. Scrub down patios, touch up worn fences and banisters, and make sure your yard is free of clutter. A few decorating touches can make your space much more than just a “backyard.” Cover a worn picnic table with a bright tablecloth and replace worn chair cushions with new ones.

Source: www.SureFit.com