As the Coronavirus Pandemic escalates across the globe and in the United States it is the senior population that has been impacted the hardest. Not only are they the most vulnerable to the adverse health consequences of the dangerous virus, but they have also taken a very hard financial blow with the precipitous drop in the stock market and destabilization of the economy.
Seniors and their families can do a number of things to be safer and ease the financial impact of this rapidly unfolding situation with no clear resolution in sight.
Here is a 5 Point Coronavirus Safety Plan for Seniors:
1) Health: We all know that hygiene is a critical preventive measure including hand washing, avoiding touching your face, and sanitizing surfaces. “Social Distancing” and “Staying in Place” have become important new additions to our lifestyle because avoiding contact with infected patients is the surest way to avoid becoming infected. It is also important to stay healthy by making sure you are getting sleep, eating healthy, exercising, and keeping yourself busy with purposeful activities.
Other opportunities to protect your health include: taking advantage of ‘senior-only’ shopping hours at grocery stores and other retailers (Whole Foods, Market Basket, Albertsons. Stop and Shop, Target, Walmart, etc.—check stores online for listings near you). Food delivery services can also bring you meals from restaurants, or grocery orders can be placed with many stores online for delivery direct to your curbside or door.
2) Safety in Long-Term Care: Despite the tragic deaths that occurred at the Life Care Center’s nursing home in Kirkland, Washington the nursing home industry has been working around the clock in every community to protect their residents. Nursing homes are vigilant for influenza, pneumonia and other viral outbreaks and are actually very adept at preventing and quarantining spread form the moment an infection is detected. These care providers understand their residents are always among the most vulnerable and take great caution with hygiene, food and medical treatment. None the less, since the outbreak took off, the nursing home industry has been in daily coordination with the CDC at the state and national level, has for the most part ended outside visitation, quarantine protocols and wings are in place, deliveries of food and supplies are being made curbside, and staff are operating at the highest possible levels of caution to prevent infection entering or spreading through a facility.
If you have a loved one in a nursing home, do not go visit. Stay in touch remotely through a cell phone, computer, or through the staff. It is critical that nursing homes remain isolated from outside contamination.
3) Financial: A key area of health for seniors is their financial health. The Coronavirus outbreak has had a significant impact on the bottom line for seniors across the country. People have watched the stock market drop, wiping out a significant percentage of their holdings and income. But it is important at times like these to not “panic-sell” and lock in your losses. This situation is fluid and unfolding at a rapid pace. Markets are waiting to see how fiscal policy is implemented from Washington D.C., and that could bring about stabilization and then recovery in the not too distant future.
In the meantime, there are still safety nets and even financial opportunities that can help seniors in particular. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments remain unchanged. Income from annuities remain guaranteed and unchanged. Money in banks is protected by the FDIC which guarantees $250,000 per depositor. Disability income from SSDI or disability insurance incomes remain unchanged. And financial opportunities for seniors, particularly those with impaired health and need for care, exist that should be considered.
Veterans could be eligible for the Veteran’s Aide and Attendance Benefit which can provide up to $2,000 a month towards long-term care supports and services for the veteran and/or their spouse.
A HECM (reverse mortgage) line of credit can be taken out by anyone age 62 and older to establish a credit line against the equity of their home. The credit line can be drawn only as and when needed, and there are no monthly payment obligations for as long as the borrower is living in the home. With the Fed reducing rates to historic lows, now is the time to look at re-financing your mortgage to reduce your monthly obligation.
For the owners of life insurance, there are a couple of options to get liquidity from this asset. If the owner wants to keep the policy in-force, they can take out a policy loan for upwards of 90% of the cash surrender value. If the policy owner does not want to continue paying premiums to keep the policy in-force, they could use a Life Settlement to sell the policy under tax-favorable conditions for a percentage of their death benefit today (and be relieved of paying anymore premiums).
Also, don’t forget that the tax deadline has been extended from April to July 15!
4) Scams: With so much distress and confusion being caused by the rapidly unfolding events of the Coronavirus outbreak, everyone needs to be on high alert for online and phone scams that have started taking advantage of this situation. Seniors in particular have proven to be prime targets for scammers, and their heightened level of concern could make them more susceptible than most to these malicious tricksters. Be on the lookout for emails coming to you from the CDC asking you to open a link or download a list telling you where positive coronavirus cases are in your area. Watch out for emails offering health advice from experts. Many appear to claim they are coming from Wuhan, China, that you can download. Also, be on the lookout for emails posing as coming from your workplace asking you to open a link or download company announcements or procedures. These are all “phishing” emails that once you click through, the scammers will infiltrate your computer. And once they have gained access, your computer will be infected with malicious software (malware) that can do things such as hijack and hold your computer hostage for ransom, steal your personal information and identity, or hack into your bank accounts and credit cards.
5) Fake news: Coronavirus is getting 24-7 coverage in newspapers, TV, radio and online. Mixed into the information coming from reliable sources such as the CDC, WHO, CMS, hospitals and academia, is a flood of misinformation or “fake news”. People need to be very careful to not accept information without confirming its validity by checking statistics from the websites of these reliable resources and stick to real journalism. Don’t fall for conflicting statistics and attempts to minimize the severity of the outbreak by comparing it to car accidents, the flu, or other outbreaks. The danger is people can be lulled into underestimating the danger and letting their guard down. Also, it has been reported that hostile foreign powers to Western Democracies are using this situation to flood social media with misinformation, memes, videos and inaccurate data to create chaos and mistrust among the populace. An important part of protecting yourself during this crisis is staying well informed with reliable, trustworthy sources of news and information.
We are currently experiencing an unprecedented crisis in our nation’s history. No one is sure yet how long this will last or what the outcome could be. But, for the most vulnerable members of our population, they can protect their health and finances by following smart health practices, not making unwise financial decisions, and being on the lookout for scams and bad information.