Monday, February 21, 2011

Sucessful Retirees Need Three Kinds Of Health

                      Be healthy. A television anchor I once listened to used this simple but sagacious                         sign off to his program. Health is a condition we should all strive for but for retirees health is an even bigger factor as age increases the chances of  health problems and a short-circuiting of  retirement’s pleasures. There are three types of health essential to any retirement: physical, financial, and mental/spiritual.

                                         Physical Health

                        Are you feeling ill? Well, if you are, hopefully that’s  not because you’re reading this blog, and ,of course hopefully you’re not feeling ill at all, but absence of illness at the moment does not, unfortunately, mean one is healthy. As I pointed out in another blog;; in order to be healthy one has to know at least three numbers. The first number is blood pressure and you want to keep the top number below 140 and the bottom number below 90. For maximum health we should try to keep the top number below 120. The second number is cholesterol. The key numbers here are 240 and 200. If your cholesterol level reaches 240 you are considered to have high cholesterol, and below 200 is considered best for maximum health. The third number is blood sugar. The trenchant number here is 100. Normal blood sugar is considered below 100 and a number between 101 and 125 is considered pre diabetes . So what can we do about these “darn” numbers?

                      Well we could just sit in the front yard with a glass of ice tea and contemplate those numbers. Though I myself enjoy occasionally drinking ice tea, sitting in the yard and contemplating; that alone is not likely to lower any of those numbers. The answer is basically pretty simple: eat right  get the proper exercise and keep our stress level under control. So what does that mean “eat right’ ; well it means about what our Mom told us all those years ago “eat your fruits and vegetables”. Nutritionists who study such things tell us we should eat between 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. I know, I know, that’s easier said than done but we could at least try to eat some fruits and vegetables a day . Of course eating right also means less sugar, salt and fat, so a daily lunch of a Big Mac, French fries, and a large coke is probably not so great an idea though ,since I’m a great believer in “good ole Aristotle’s” idea of moderation, I think an occasional splurge is probably not too sinful.

                     Exercise is another must, which means put that glass of ice tea down and do something . The exercise you choose should be something you enjoy so you’ll make it a habit. That might include riding your bike, swimming, running or walking. Though I myself am a long time jogger( over 50 years now) as I get older I become more convinced of the simple advantages of walking. One great way to motivate ourselves is to buy a pedometer, which is under 5 dollars and will add up your number of steps each day. Take 9,000 steps and you’ll have those numbers heading in the direction you want.

                                                       Financial Health

                       So just what is financial health? Financial health for retirees means we have enough resources to live comfortably, meaning we can choose whether our vacation will be a cruise  to the Caribbean or a flight to  Disney World rather to choose between food or medical care. Those who write on finances often say retirement funds should come from social security, a private pension if available from your work and investments. For retiring Texas teachers that means our TRS annuities, 403 b investments and social security for those eligible for it. If you are considering retirement but aren’t sure yet, my advise is to set up an appointment with TRS in Austin and make sure  exactly how much you will receive from you TRS pension. This will allow you to know exactly how much you will need to take in the future from you 403 B , savings and part time work, if necessary, or desired.

                       In addition to your annuity, investing your money wisely is another necessity for financial health. Let me repeat again I am most assuredly no financial advisor but I do have a suggestion. Learn as much as you can about investing even if you later decide to hire a financial advisor. I have a further unsolicited piece of advise ; my greatest teacher on investing is a website called ,a group of successful investors who follow the philosophy of the founder of Vanguard, John Bogle. That philosophy includes asset allocation  investing in low cost index funds and avoiding attempts to beat the market. Visit the site, read for yourself and I think you’ll find yourself much better informed even if you don’t accept the Bogleheads advice on the best route to reach financial health.

                                                          Mental/Spiritual Health

                            Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness but the ability to adapt to life’s ups and downs, find some balance in our life and managing our emotions. One of the advantages for we retirees is that we have lived a long time and have had a lot of practice at all those skills. Speaking of managing emotions, we are really talking about what the writer Daniel Goleman calls emotional intelligence, the ability to understand our emotions ( Am I feeling gluttonous or do I really need that second piece of cheesecake) and managing those emotions so they help us meet our goals whether physical, financial or mental health.

Mans Search For Meaning. Many of us find that meaning best through religion, but there are other ways of reaching spiritual health including volunteering in such activities as Habitat For Humanity or Wounded Warriors, or some passionate hobby whether gardening or golf , or best a combination of all these.

                                                   Your Turn

                                  You are now invited, heck I’ll even beg you to join in on the conversation and leave a comment below.

                            1. How do you handle the three types of health

                            2.  Do you have another type of health  other than those mentioned that you would like to comment on.

                            3. Any comment, suggestion even criticism ( Be nice though) you would like to leave                  

                                        How To Leave Your Comments

                       1. Scroll to the bottom of this page and click on comments

                       2.  A new page will appear for your comments
                            Click on Publish your comment

Friday, February 18, 2011

Retired Texas Teachers Get A Tax Increase

            Last month President Obama and the leaders of Congress proudly announced they had “ saved Americans from  a tax increase” Surprise! Surprise! Apparently the President and Congress should have said” We have saved everyone but the retired Texas teachers from getting a tax increase”. That’s what we found out recently when our new annuity checks had been reduced by $50.

            According to the Texas Retired Teacher Association ( the reason for the annuity reduction was that “though the Bush era tax cuts were extended” some of the “ tax brackets were extended”. In other words out taxes were increased! Another factor mentioned was that the program called “Making Work Pay” was allowed to expire. In other words our taxes were increased!

                                                   Can This Be Changed

               The TRTA suggests that we should write our Congressman and “ let them know that the tax increase is making a bad situation worse” given that there has been no cost of living increase for10 years for teacher retirees in Texas. ( notice TRTA is asking you to write your Congressman in  Washington, not your state legislator as the tax increase is a national action not on the state level).  While the chances that Congress will give retired teachers back the tax loss are slim and none and slim just left town, the TRTA suggestion is undoubtedly  still worthwhile just to plant in our Congressman’s mind the problems we face as Texas retired teachers ,especially with no cost of living adjustment . I do have one other suggestion though, and that is we ask our Congressman to vote to pass the proposed legislation that would tax us only on the income after  our health insurance is deducted. In other words if a retiree has an annuity of 3000 dollars a month and pays 300 dollars a month in TRS premiums the retiree would be taxed each month on 2700 dollars rather than the full $3000.  This would at least offset the new tax increase. I have more discussion of this in my earlier blog The Texas Legislature And TRS Hold That Line.

                                                                        Your Turn

                    My blog is shorter than usual today, mercifully so some might say. LOL! I would be greatly pleased to hear from you on the following and anything else you would like to comment on

                  1. Has your annuity been decreased? If you would like to tell us, by how much?

                  2. Do you have any other suggestions to alleviate this problem this problem?

                  3. Any other comments you would care to make.

                                                                                  How To Comment

                                1.Scroll to the bottom and click on ‘‘comments”

                                2. A new page will come up with a block for you to write your comments.

                                3.  Click on “publish your comments“

                                                                         Thanks For Visiting


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Seven Questions And Answers About Medicare And TRS Care

                            Texas teachers were ‘‘ present at the creation” of Medicare. President Lyndon Johnson who, signed the Medicare bill into law  in 1965 ,was a Texan and a former Texas teacher. Another bit of historical info is that the first Medicare card was given to  former president Harry Truman who was present at the signing ceremony and had been a committed supporter of the idea of health insurance for the elderly. The purpose of Medicare was to provide health insurance to the elderly( senior citizens was not yet widely used ,so we were still just ‘‘the elderly”)  Most  retired Texas teachers will, at least at some point in their lives, be a beneficiary of Medicare; so the purpose of  today’s bog is to look at some questions tra retirees might have about Medicare and it’s relationship to TRS Care, and hopefully provide some answers.

                               1. W hat Are Medicare Part A B C And D ? The bill signed into law in 1965 created Medicare part A and then Medicare part B; the two together are sometimes called “original Medicare”. Medicare part A is called hospital insurance and covers inpatient hospital care,  inpatient care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care and some home health care. Long term custodial care or nursing home care were not provided  for in the original  Medicare nor or they covered today. Medicare part B is called medical insurance and covers doctor’s bills , outpatient care, and some home health care. Notice that doctor’s bills are paid separately  in part A and B , so if you go into a hospital your care in the hospital , nurse care, tests, food etc., will be paid by part A while any doctor visits while you are there may be paid by Part B. Part C is often referred to as Medicare Advantage and though paid for by Medicare is administered by private insurance companies , usually as HMO’S or PPO’S. Medicare Part D IS The Medicare prescription plan enacted in the 2003 Medicare Reform Act. This program is again paid for by Medicare but administered by private companies. TRS Care already has a prescription drug program  administered by Caremark and advises their retirees on Medicare that they are usually better off staying with the TRS prescription drug plan.  

                          2. Should Someone With TRS As His Primary Medical  Insurance Enroll In Medicare?  Absolutely. W hen a retiree reaches 65, TRS assumes that the retiree has Medicare and pays accordingly. So for example if you go in the hospital or to a doctor TRS will assume that Medicare is paying 80 per cent of your expenses and TRS will pay the other 20 per cent minus the deductible. A person with a total doctor bill of $ 40,000  but who had not applied for Medicare when she became eligible  would find TRS assumed Medicare had paid 80 percent and would pay only $8000 leaving the retiree to pay the other $32,000!

                      3. How Do I Apply For Medicare?  If you are already on Social Security you will be contacted 90 days before your 65th birthday. However if you are not on social security ,but only on TRS , you will need to contact Medicare or Social Security yourself  to enroll. I found this out the hard way as I am not on social security but only retired on TRS. I waited to hear from Medicare and finally 30 days before my 65th birthday I called Medicare and found out that I was the one responsible for calling and enrolling. ( Another lesson I learned from my call was that the folks at Medicare are very nice, but  you should have something to read, perhaps Gone With The Wind ,because you will wait a long time on the line)  So unless you enjoy trying last minute heroics, I suggest calling Medicare at least 90 days before your 65th birthday. Medicare will then send you the appropriate enrollment forms.    

                    4. Is Medicare Free?  The Noble Prize winning economist Milton Friedman wrote a book called There’s’ No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. This is certainly true of  Medicare. Start off with the fact that Medicare will pay only 80 percent of your total medical bill. In addition Medicare has premiums ;  most  Medicare recipients will not pay a premium for part A because they have paid into the system for their 40 quarters, but the premium for part B is currently $110.50. Medicare part A has a deductible of  $1,100
and Medicare part B has a deductible of $155 per year. Oh well, who expected a free lunch anyway?

                 5. What About Medigap? Medigap policies are private insurance policies that pay most or all of the amount not paid by Medicare. Since Medicare only pays 80 percent and medical bills today can quickly run to $ 50,000 or more, most retirees could quickly fine their savings vanished “ without a trace” . So though Medigap policies can be expensive they are certainly worth the expense if you have a large medical bill, an eventuality none of us can be sure we can avoid.  If you choose a private Medicare part C  plan mentioned above  you will not need a Medigap policy.

              6. Is TRS a Medigap Policy? Although TRS does not consider themselves a Medigap policy they act much like one as they pay most of the 20 per cent Medicare does not pay. I have found TRS to be a good secondary plan, though fortunately I have not yet had any serious medical bills.

             7. Should I Get A Medigap  Advantage PlanTRS Care. Many Medicare Advantage plans provide dental and vision coverage which traditional medicare does not. None the less, if you are on Medicare and your spouse is still using  TRS Care as the primary insurance: beware! This is true in my personal case. I could actually get some better options price wise by using a Medicare Advantage plan. However when I called TRS the person I talked with said that since my wife was eligible for TRS Care only because  she was my spouse, that if I chose a Medicare Advantage plan I would no longer be on TRS Care and therefore my wife would no longer be eligible.                                              

                                            Your Turn

                                 I thank you for reading this far. Now I would appreciate your thoughts. If you have any Medicare TRS questions you would like to discuss or if you would like to add anything or correct any of my answers please feel more than free to do so.

                                       How To Comment

                                     To comment, just scroll to the bottom of this page, find the orange “comment’’, click and then a new screen will appear with a square for your comments. Thanks in advance.