NEW YORK / MarketWatch / Personal Finance / Spending & Saving / May 12, 2011
You may start by firing your doctor
This past week, I’ve been dealing with the loss of my father and helping my mother cope with her loss.
As some of you know, it’s an incredibly painful experience — and it’s even worse if you’re dealing with an overstretched health-care system
Like a lot of older folks, Dad faced a series of medical issues. First, he had knee surgery. Once back home, he fell, leading him to return to rehabilitation. But while there, he developed pneumonia.
What made it more challenging is that Mom didn’t feel the primary doctor was responsive or available, which caused a delay in treatment. Even the nurse said the doctor spread himself too thin.
Don’t let this happen to you. There are things you can do to make sure your loved one gets better care.
Fire your doctor
What people don’t realize is that they can fire their doctor, Mom said.
True. Just because you’ve been assigned a doctor — in a hospital emergency room for example — doesn’t mean you have to stay with them.
“We should approach our relationship with our doctors like we do a relationship with anyone else,” said my sister-in-law and long-term health care expert and consultant Christine Openshaw.
“Sometimes we spend more time interviewing a potential painter than a doctor, so talk to your physician early. Ask questions like: what are your philosophies? What kind of care do you provide? If you’ve had an issue and they’re not responsive, they tell you it’s all in your head, don’t encourage you to get another opinion, or don’t offer multiple solutions, it may be time to change doctors.”
There are times this might make sense, like when your loved one is taken to the emergency room of a hospital. There, you might get assigned the doctor on call, who may now be the physician responsible for coordinating your loved one’s care. But are they right? Are they available? And is there a doctor who’s more familiar with your history and needs, as my mother later discovered?
Name your home-care provider
Just like lenders that rely on their preferred title companies, so too might a doctor recommend an in-home care provider when the time comes. But just as with a doctor, remember that if you don’t like the first person or company sent to your home, you can usually request another.
In our case, my mother demanded to use a home-care provider she had previously used — a company that continued to check in on Dad’s health over the months. If you’ve had a good experience with one, it might be wise to stay with them, even if that means questioning your doctor’s recommendation.
“The dignity they gave him made all the difference,” Mom said of the hospice care.
Make your end-of-life plans now
My mother said she didn’t want her children to go through with her what we had to with our father.
Let’s face it: we put off the conversation. It’s not easy. But it’s really important — for the sake of those around you — that you discuss the many details that you’d typically never think about, from life support to feeding tubes. Dad’s condition meant he had to be fed through a tube in his stomach to keep him going — something Mom had never even considered.
Hospitals often have nurse hotlines or social workers available who can help. So ask for a discharge planner or social worker to educate you about options.
Shop your costs
This one’s especially touchy because everyone has different views about how to care for a loved one after death. And your friends and relatives may quickly impart their own opinions about how you should handle things, even suggesting that going the less expensive route may be the wrong route. All the more reason to talk things through in advance.
And be mindful of costs: companies know there are profits to be made amid your grief. My Dad wanted his remains cremated, and the costs ranged from a high of $3,500 down to $700. You might just be paying for posh buildings. We found a place that was on the reasonable side at $700, handed the services on their grounds, and provided both pick up and delivery of the remains — something few did.
Review long-term care insurance needs
Many people, my mother included, have paid a hefty price for long-term care insurance. “If there’s one thing I would’ve changed there,” she said, “it’s the 90-day waiting period.”
But shortening the waiting period so your coverage begins in, say, 30 days, comes with a much higher premium, as one insurance agent told me. If you have limited means, the best policy is usually the one with a 90-day waiting period and a lifetime benefit, but the waiting period can be a real trauma for some.
However, there are ways to make the waiting period start sooner. For instance, State Farm’s insurance policies count even just one hour of care on one day as the beginning of your waiting period, so long as the patient cannot perform three of five daily living activities.
The loss of a loved one is hard enough. By planning ahead, you can focus on your family and less on the logistics and financial aspects.
Jennifer Openshaw is CEO of SuperFutures. A nationally known commentator and author of “The Millionaire Zone,” she is also founder of Family Financial Network. Email her firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @superfutures.
Copyright © 2011 MarketWatch, Inc
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A passionate advocate for families and working Americans,
Jennifer Openshaw is author of the hit new book,
THE MILLIONAIRE ZONE, and is seen regularly on America's most-watched shows -- from Dr. Phil, Oprah and Good Morning America to CNN and CNBC.
As a proven entrepreneur and powerful voice for "the little guy," Jennifer knows that ordinary people often have limited resources, but unlimited aspirations. Her life's mission is to share her secrets of how successful people get rich, and empower middle-income Americans to reach their financial dreams as well.
Jennifer has lived her own "rags to riches" story, getting her first job as a maid in a motel when she was 14 years old to help support the family. Since then, she's gone on to start several successful ventures and was named a "Mover and Shaker" in Silicon Valley by the San Jose Mercury News.
Through her segments on ABC Radio, columns at MarketWatch and AOL, and her work as CEO of Family Financial Network, Jennifer has entertained, inspired and empowered millions of Americans.