Portugal – Europe’s California With Castles

My wife and I spent two weeks in Portugal on a self-guided road trip for which we had https://www.toursforyou.pt/ arrange our hotels and rental car, suggest sites we might visit and arrange select guided tours, wine tastings and a boat ride along the way.

I call Portugal, Europe’s California because it is west coat, has fine beaches, great wine and food, a diversity of landscapes north to south and very mellow people, most of whom speak English.   Portugal is a good deal smaller than California, only about the size of Indiana, and you can see a lot of it in a two week visit.

What, of course, differentiates Portugal from California is a rich history that goes back thousands of years with a native Celtic people who were in turn overrun by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans and Moors.  Portugal fought with Spain for many years to win and keep its independence and was, for a time, a major maritime power with colonies in South America, Africa, India and Asia.   It seems as if each major city and almost every small hill town has a castle or castle ruin.

We were able to fly direct from Philadelphia to Lisbon on American.  The flight is a bit shorter than most to Europe because, at Europe’s western edge, Portugal is closer to the U.S. than much of the continent.  In two weeks we saw a good deal of Portugal, with the notable exception of the southern coast and resort area of the Algarve.

Our itinerary began in Lisbon(3 nights), where we picked up a car and drove southeast through Evora to an excellent hotel near Monsaraz called Sao Lourenco do Barrocal located on a large wine estate and farm that has been in the same family for over 200 years (3 nights).   From Monsaraz we turned north traveling to Belmonte where we stayed at a posada hotel created from a former convent – Convento de Belmonte (2 nights).   We then continued north to the Douro Valley where we stayed at the Wine House Hotel on a high-quality, small-production wine estate – Quinta da Pacheca (2 nights).    From Quinta da Pacheca we drove west along the Douro River and over the mountains to Porto, where we stayed at Flores Village Hotel & Spa (2 nights) before driving south, stopping at Coimbra, and heading back to the Lisbon airport where we stayed one night at Hotel Tryp Aeroporto before catching our flight home.   All of our hotels were quite good, with Sao Lourenco do Barrocal and the Wine House Hotel standing out above the rest (See Trip Advisor reviews for more details).

Portugal’s two main cities, Lisbon and Porto are both located on major rivers (the Tejo or Tagus in Lisbon and the Douro in Porto) at the point were they enter the Atlantic Ocean.   Lisbon, the capital is a city of about 500,000 people in a metro area with about three million.

Lisbon from overlook

Lisbon is a city of hills with enough elevation changes that there are elevators and funiculars to get you from one neighborhood to another.

Barrio Alto

The center of Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake and tidal wave in 1755 and was quickly rebuilt with new housing, shops and offices and wider boulevards.  While the City center (Baixa) is attractive, the older hillside neighborhoods of Alfama and Barrio Alto retain their smaller scale buildings with whitewashed walls, orange tile roofs and narrow winding streets.

Lisbon has a cathedral, numerous churches, some good museums (notably the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum) and a wide main boulevard with upscale shopping (Avenue Liberidade) but much of its charm is found in the neighborhoods, small shops, some very good restaurants and the surrounding communities of Sintra, Estoril and Cascais, the latter both fronting the Atlantic.

Among the things we most enjoyed in Lisbon were the fanciful Pena Palace in Sintra, the coastal cities and outstanding sea bass we ate near Cabo da Rosa, Europe’s westernmost point, our evening listening to Fado (Portuguese blues) and the Gulbenkian museum.    We had a car and driver to take us to Sintra and the coast and for a half day tour of Lisbon but could have used one more day in the city for sight seeing and shopping.

Pena Palace

We had our rental car, a Vovo V40 diesel hatchback delivered to our hotel to save us having to come back to pick up our luggage after getting the car.   Portugal drives on the right, using standard international road signs and Google Maps on our phone worked well.   I order a GPS with the rental car because I read cell phone coverage might not be good in rural Portugal but the Garmin GPS that came with the car was useless outside major cities and cell coverage was fine everywhere.  Stick with Google Maps and order enough on your international data plan to cover using your phone as a mapping tool.

Heading southwest from Lisbon we visited Evora, the largest city in the dry and hot Alentejo.   We found Evora to be a bit over-hyped and the large free parking lots that reportedly ring the old city to be very poorly marked.    We ended up driving into and parking in the old part of the City – just remember to pay the meter.    Evora does contain some well preserved Roman features include a temple, a bath being excavated under town hall and an ancient aqueduct.  The cathedral and its museum are also worth seeing.

Roman Temple, Evora

From Evora we continued southwest past the walled town of Monsaraz to Sao Lourenco do Barrocal, an outstanding resort on a large wine estate and farm.   Monsaraz is a well preserved walled town and castle with some nice shops, including a very good pottery and painting gallery called Galerie Monsaraz operated by a husband/wife team of local artists.  We enjoyed our dinner at Restaurante Sabores de Monsaraz, which is a quirky locally owned restaurant where we had black pork with pearl onions and cod Bacalhau à “Sabores de Monsaraz” (see Trip Advisor for review).    While the staff struggles with English and it is a small, authentic Portuguese restaurant, Sabores de Monsaraz does have a slick website on which you can make reservations.

Ducal Palace, Vila Vicosa

We enjoyed the pool, cafe and restaurant at Sao Lourenco do Barrocal and took day trips to nearby sites such as Monsaraz, Villa Vicosa, where we highly recommend the Ducal Palace, and Sao Pedro do Corval where the locally made pottery is plentiful but pretty mundane.

From Sao Lourenco do Barrocal we traveled north to Belmonte, stopping along the way at Castelo de Vide.   Both Castelo de Vide and Belmonte were interesting to us because of their once significant Jewish populations and the history of these communities documented in museums.   The Portuguese Inquisition began in 1497, five years later than in Spain. No meaningful Jewish population remains in Castelo de Vide but it features a large former Jewish quarter and what is reported to be the oldest synagogue in Portugal, now housing a small but well done museum.   Belmonte also had a large Jewish population.  Its Jewish museum was being renovated when we visited in July, 2017 but had some exhibits set up in a nearby storefront.   What’s remarkable about Belmonte is its community of Marrano, or secret Jews, that survived from the Inquisition to today, only emerging from secrecy in 1989 and building a modern operating synagogue.   We liked our hotel in Belmonte (Convento de Belmonte) which is a wonderful renovation of an historic convent but the hotel seemed a bit understaffed (See Trip Advisor).

Heading north from Belmonte to the Douro Valley we stopped at the now abandoned walled town of Marialva, which we enjoyed but is only worth a visit if you are passing by.  As you head north toward to Douro, the land becomes more mountainous and greener and the Douro Valley itself is one of the most attractive landscapes you will see anywhere.

Douro River Valley

The Douro Valley is all about wine, is the only place you can make port wine according to the EU and is the oldest officially recognized wine region, predating those in France.   In the Douro we stayed at the Wine House Hotel on the Quinta de Pacheca wine estate and we highly recommend the hotel, its restaurant and the wine at Quinta de Pacheca.  We also enjoyed a boat ride on the Douro by FeelDouro Yaatch Charters and a tour and tasting at Quinta do Seixo, a large commercial wine estate operated by Sandeman.   We enjoyed the tour and the wine much more at Quinta da Pacheca.

We traveled from the Douro Valley to Porto by taking small winding roads along the river and over the mountains, a beautiful but somewhat harrowing ride, and the only place I thought Google Maps let us down since there were major highways options.    Porto is a wonderful old city of about 215,000 (less than half the population of Lisbon) but with a metro area population of 2.4 million, which is closer to Lisbon’s size.  Navigating Porto’s warren of narrow streets is a chore, so you want to get out of your car as quickly as you can.    We liked our hotel in Porto, Flores Village Hotel & Spa, in part because it was on a delightful pedestrian only street very near City center.   However, that meant after 10 am we had to leave our car in a nearby parking garage and transport our luggage to the hotel.

Porto from Vila Novo de Gaia

In Porto, we had a half day guided tour and also time on our own to explore the city and enjoy its character, shops and restaurants.   We had two excellent meals in Porto at DPO Porto by chef Rui Paula and Cantinho do Avillez by Michelin star chef Jose Avillez.    Porto, like Lisbon, is a very hilly city with some magnificent churches and vistas, particularly the view of Porto from Vila Novo de Gaia, across the Douro.

Before leaving Porto, we took a full day tour to the Minho or Costa Verde, which is the portion of the country north of Porto.   This is beautiful country and we particularly enjoyed the ancient city of Guimarães, where Portugal was founded, the magnificent shrine at Bom Jesus do Monte and the city of Braga.    If you get to Porto, take at least a day and explore theses areas (See photos).

Guimaraes

Bom Jesus de Monte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We return to Lisbon via Coimbra with its university dating from 1290 and a library that looks like it belongs in a Harry Potter novel.  The Hotel Tryp Aeroporto is just an airport hotel but did its job with quite good service and surprisingly good food, so I would use it if I needed a stay at the Lisbon airport.

University of Coimbra

We found Portugal to be an interesting, charming and thoroughly enjoyable vacation spot and would highly recommend it.

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Financial Planning For Retirement

As with most articles on my blog, this one started with a conversation with a friend.   The friend recently turned 60 and is starting to seriously think about retiring from a professional position.   He is thinking about a range of options: fully retiring at age 62, shifting to part-time with his firm and delaying retirement until 65 or 66, or continuing to work full-time until 65 or 66.   From a lifestyle perspective, my friend would like to retire sooner, rather than later, but wants to feel confident about having enough financial resources for he and his wife to live comfortably throughout their retirement.

Health Insurance

It may seem odd to start a discussion of financial planning for retirement with health insurance but Presidential executive actions to not enforce the requirement for mandatory insurance coverage and leave uncertain the fate of some insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA/ObamaCare) have already disrupted the individual insurance market.   Republican proposals to repeal and replace ObamaCare are creating further uncertainty in the insurance market for individuals and, if enacted, are expected to significantly increase the cost of coverage for older, pre-Medicare age, individuals.     One CNN report on the Senate bill as of June 27, 2017 shows the cost of ACA Silver Plan coverage increasing from $1,800 to $8,300 because the proposed Republican legislation allows insurers to adjust rates by age and reduces insurance coverage.   Until things are settled in Washington, it will be very difficult for any individual contemplating retirement before age 65 (when Medicare kicks in) to determine if individual health care insurance will be available and at what cost.

The best advice for now for someone considering retirement is to work full or part time until age 65 in order to retain employer-based health insurance coverage or confirm that you can purchase coverage through your employer using COBRA benefits and retire up to 18 months before turning age 65.   The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time under certain circumstances such as voluntary or involuntary job loss, with the individual paying the full cost of insurance.

Savings/Investments

When considering how much savings/investments you will need for retirement there are two issues to consider.

  1. Will your savings/investments generate enough income to allow you to live comfortably and
  2. Will the income from your savings/investment last long enough if you have a very long life?

Generating Enough Income

Popular guidelines for retirement income suggest that you should have sufficient income to replace about 70% to 85% of your pre-retirement annual after tax income to live comfortably in retirement but some more recent thinking suggests your income needs will not decrease that much in retirement as travel and entertainment, recreation expenses will offset reduced income use for business clothing, commuting costs, etc. (See Kiplinger Article).

Rather than focusing on your pre-retirement income, I believe most of those contemplating retirement prefer to focus on pre-retirement expenses to determine if they will be able to afford the lifestyle to which they are accustomed when they retire.   If you plan a major lifestyle change in conjunction with your retirement, like moving to a different community or buying a vacation home, you will need to adjust your expenses, and potentially your taxes, to account for these major lifestyle changes. Looking at actual spending, perhaps over a couple of years, with adjustments for any major lifestyle changes, should provide a solid basis for estimating your expenses in retirement.

The most widely used tool for determining the income that your savings/investments will generate is the 4% rule.   As explained in a CNN Money article (CNN Money Article), “The basic mechanics of the 4% rule are pretty simple. You start with an initial withdrawal of 4% of savings and then increase the dollar amount of that first withdrawal by inflation each year to maintain purchasing power.

So, for example, if you have a nest egg of $500,000 and inflation is running at 2% a year, you would withdraw $20,000 the first year of retirement, $20,400 the second year, $20,800 the third and so on. This regimen results from research done in the early 1990s by now retired financial planner William Bengen. After testing different withdrawal rates using historical rates of return for stocks and bonds, Bengen concluded that 4% was the highest withdrawal rate you could use if you want your savings to last 30 or more years.

Some experts have suggested, however, that a 4% withdrawal rate might be too ambitious given today’s low bond yields and lower projected returns for stocks.  For example, Wade Pfau, a professor of retirement income at The American College, says that retirees should probably limit themselves to an initial withdrawal rate of 3% or so if they want a high level of assurance (although not a guarantee) that their savings will support them for at least 30 years. For more on how much lifetime income one can expect to get through inflation-adjusted withdrawals, income annuities and other methods of creating income based on current market conditions, check out Pfau’s Retirement Income Dashboard (Pfau’s Retirement Dashboard).”

Many financial firms also offer retirement planning services, some of which use a range of alternative models to estimate retirement income needs. One I have used personally in the past is from TRowePrice at TRowePrice Retirement Planner.

I continue to find the 4% rule works well provided you maintain a portfolio that includes stocks as well as presently low yielding bonds and have adequate cash reserves to stay invested through market downturns.   But one common mistake many pre-retirees make is failing to adjust pre-tax retirement income when comparing it to post-tax retirement expenses.   While some retirement income is tax sheltered and some state’s do not tax certain retirement income, be sure to remember that most of your retirement income will be subject to Federal, state and local income tax, even Social Security, and typically taxes are a big enough expense that it will be worth consulting a financial planner or your tax accountant to make sure you get your post-retirement tax calculation right.

Assuring Enough Income For A Long Retirement

A 65-year-old woman has a 68% chance of living to 80 and a 28% chance of living to 90. And a 65-year-old man has a 58% chance of living to 80 and a 17% chance of living to 90.2  (BLS Spending Patterns Of Older Americans).  And these are averages for the entire population. A physically fit, more affluent senior who enjoys better medical care and diet than average and is less likely than average to smoke can expect to live longer than the above statistics suggest.   As a result, a healthy, affluent baby boomers retiring today should assume 30 – 40 years of life in retirement – living to age 95 or 105 if retiring at age 65.

Assuming you are not spending beyond your means and have sufficient savings under the 4% rule to pay for your post-retirement expenses, there are two primary risk areas that might cause a retiree to outlive their savings:

  1. A large unexpected expense, most likely the cost of institutional care for yourself or your spouse for a prolonged period, or
  2. A significant market downturn from which your savings are unable to recover.

Long-term care insurance can protect you against much of the risk of prolonged institutional care but the ideal time to purchase such a policy was when you were in your 50s. It may be cost prohibitive to purchase such a policy at or near retirement age.   My wife and I have policies through Lincoln National Life Insurance Company that we purchased when I was 53 and my wife 52.   These used a lump-sum up-front payment to purchase as annuity that pays the premiums for a long-term care insurance policy while also offering a death benefit if the LTC insurance is not used. The mechanics of this are complicated but I like the idea that the payment amount was locked in at the beginning. If you do not have long term care insurance, you may want to build an additional cushion into your retirement savings to “self-insure” against this risk.   Setting aside $150,000 to $200,000 when you retire that will grow with inflation, which is enough to cover up to 24 months in an assisted living facility, should provide reasonable protection against you or a spouse requiring institutional care in the future (See The Cost of Care and other posts on this blog for more information on the cost of care, what Medicare, Medicaid and the VA will pay for and the cost of institutional vs. at-home care).

My preferred method for guarding against the adverse impact of a market downturn is to have a larger than recommended cash component to my savings/investments that will allow me to draw cash in lieu of stock principal for more that a year in the case of a significant market downturn and to use Social Security in lieu of a commercial annuity product to assure long-term income. Many financial planning websites will recommend an annuity to assure continuity of income into very old age.   While an annuity purchased from a financially sound and reputable company can assure long-term retirement income, the combination of high up-front fees and current low interest rates make commercial annuities less attractive to me, although I am using one in conjunction with my LTC insurance policy.

For a senior with a sufficient savings / investment portfolio to be able to afford retirement, I believe Social Security offers the most attractive option to create the type of guaranteed income that an annuity offers. Social Security pays an inflation-adjusted retirement benefit for as long as you live. A Social Security benefit for someone who contributed the maximum to the system retiring in 2017 at age 66 (Full Retirement Age) is $2,687 per month but will rise to $3,538 per month if you defer collecting Social Security benefits until age 70.  And this higher benefit will continue to grow with inflation over time. If you have sufficient savings to be able to defer collecting Social Security Benefits until age 70, I believe Social Security offers the most cost-effective way to create a guaranteed annuity-like investment stream for your very old age.

Asset Allocation

A CNN Money asset allocation model suggest a mix of 65% bonds, 20% large cap stocks, 5% small cap stocks and 10% foreign stocks for someone 3 -5 years from retirement with a medium risk tolerance and some flexibility about when income is received CNN Money Asset Allocation Wizard.  This is consistent with the financial maxim that the percentage of bonds in your portfolio should equal your age.

However, T Rowe Price’s asset allocation model recommends 50% – 65% stock, 25% – 35% bonds and 5% – 15% short term liquid assets for someone about to retire at age 65.   Within the stock portion of the portfolio, TRowe recommends 15% – 19% international/global stocks, 7% – 10% U.S. mid/small cap stocks and 28% to 36% U.S. large cap stocks.   Within the bond portfolio, TRowe recommends 5% – 7% international bonds, 2% to 4% high yield bonds and 18% to 24% investment grade bonds TRowePrice Asset Allocation Tool.

I believe thinking about and consciously deciding on an asset allocation for your retirement savings/investment portfolio is one of the most important things an investor should do with their portfolio on an annual basis.   Many financial publications and mutual fund companies offer asset allocation models and it may be helpful to consider several and understand what is driving them to help you make a good asset allocation decision for your own portfolio.

My own allocation is a bit closer to the TRowePrice model with 51% equities including a small amount of alternative investments, 32% bonds and 17% short-term cash-equivalent investments.   My bond allocation includes a significant amount of tax-exempt municipal bonds and, in my mind, the higher allocation to cash offsets the potential market risk of a larger allocation to equities while allowing me to benefit from dividend yields that are in many cases higher than bond yields and from potential stock price appreciation over time.   My stock portfolio includes a healthy dose of individual income producing stocks, exposure to Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) through an index fund and some individual stocks and a managed bond portfolio in which I own individual bonds rather than bond funds. I see a real advantage to owning individual bonds over a bond fund because, absent a default, you can hold individual bonds to maturity and protect your principal while the value of a bond fund can fluctuate with market conditions and the actions of other fund investors.

Good Advisors

As my bio under “The Blogger” heading above indicates, I worked for 15 years as a stock analyst with Legg Mason and Stifel Nicolaus and was recognized seven times as a Wall Street Journal All-Star analyst. While I have the skills to manage my own investments I work with a full service investment advisor at Stifel, Nicolaus & Company to manage my portfolio and in recent months have shifted from a commission based to fee based compensation structure as Stifel, like many other firms, has implemented the fiduciary rule.

The focus of many investors today is on minimizing investment fees and purchasing low cost index funds or exchange traded funds (ETFs) over using full service advisors and owning actively managed funds or individual stocks. Understanding and minimizing the fees on your investment portfolio is important and there is a lot of investment analysis that passive investments have outperformed most active managers and individual stock pickers.   However, I continue to see value in a full service advisor and a degree of active management, particularly if you have a larger amount of investments.

The key advantages I see to a full service advisor/active management include:

  • Keeping all or almost all your investments in a single place.   This makes it much easier to understand and monitor your asset allocation and will be extremely helpful to your spouse and other surviving relatives if you die or are incapacitated. Some low-cost brokers and funds companies offer a broad enough array of investment options and can provide some advisory services over the phone or in person in the event of a death or impairment but not the same personalized attention as an experienced broker or fee advisor in my view.
  • Index funds may do less well in a more volatile market.   We are approaching 10 years of unprecedented low interest rates and market stimulus from central banks throughout the world.   In this low-volatility, interest/stimulus driven, broad-based post-downturn stock market rally passive investments have outperformed.  But with index funds and the entire market more highly valued and influenced by a relatively small number of mega-market-cap stocks, like Apple and Amazon, will index funds continue to outperform when and if the market and investors are tested by a significant correction and increased volatility?   I can’t predict the future, but believe there is a case to be made that the underlying assumptions that have allowed passive investments to outperform may change and again create an opportunity for value-based investing and active management.
  • You may need an active manager to buy individual bonds.   As noted above, because owning individual bonds provides greater principal protection than a bond fund, I prefer to own individual bonds.   The only practical way to do this may be to work with an active bond manager because buying bonds as individual, particularly tax-exempt issues, can be difficult. In addition, I want to hold individual bonds through a single account with my other investments for administrative convenience and to keep down overall fees.
  • A good advisor can save you from yourself.   Much has been written in recent years on the psychology of investing. One of the most difficult things for even experienced investors to do is to keep one’s nerve when the market is selling off and potentially even buy on dips.   An experienced and trusted advisor can help you keep your nerve in a market downturn and help protect you against following the herd. A good advisor can also protect you against being lazy in a good market by periodically adjusting your asset allocation and culling your portfolio in a tax-efficient manner.

I hope these ideas for evaluating and managing your financial resources for retirement are helpful and will be happy to respond to questions and comments.

I formerly worked at Legg Mason Wood Walker, Inc. and at Stifel Nicolaus & Company, Inc. and previously had some of my investment portfolio with T Rowe Price Investment Services, Inc.  I do not currently receive and do not expect to receive in the future remuneration from any of these companies.

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On the page “What Is Retirement” (see link above on the banner of this blog) I propose a new definition for retirement as “The period of one’s life when one shifts from working primarily for the means of earning income to working primarily for the satisfaction of producing a purpose or result while devoting additional time to recreation, education and leisure activities.” to replace the current Oxford English Dictionary definition of ”The period of one’s life after leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.”

Today’s New York Times has an article entitled “Working Longer May Benefit Your Health https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/business/retirement/working-longer-may-benefit-your-health.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=0

While ultimately concluding that the scientific evidence is inconclusive about whether working longer benefits your health, The New York Times article says the answer tends toward yes and asserts this is true not just for more highly educated, healthier adults in more fulfilling jobs but for many types of jobs that keep the mind active and provide networks for social interactions.

The headline of The New York Times article seems to imply a choice between working full-time and full-time retirement but most of those cited in the article as working past retirement age have shifted from full-time to some type of part-time employment or consulting.    My experience, and that of many well-educated friends, shows them most satisfied in a partial retirement lifestyle where part-time work, consulting or a challenging volunteer position offers the mental stimulation and social networking opportunities that The New York Times article asserts benefit seniors’ health.    I believe seniors, their employers and society in general all benefit from meaningful part-time, consulting and volunteer experiences and that we will see more and more baby-boomer seniors in these partially-retired positions going forward.

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Most seniors and their families see the monthly cost of a senior housing facility as much higher than the monthly cost of living at home with family care, or even with part-time or full-time home healthcare.   But the math that most seniors and families use to make this comparison assumes no implied cost for occupying a home without a mortgage, much less paid care than is provided in a seniors housing facility and places no value on the companionship and social interaction that a seniors housing community can provide.

This analysis, using data from a variety of sources, attempts to make a fair apples-to-apples comparison, before and after taxes, of the cost for a senior living at-home without care, living at-home with a modest amount of paid care and living in an independent living, assisted living or memory care facility.

The chart below shows the comparison on a pre-tax basis of living at home with a modest level of care to the cost of various types of seniors housing communities.   Bottom Line – The cost of living in a $150,000 home with even a modest level of home healthcare can easily exceed the cost of an independent living community and approaches the cost of assisted living.  In addition, a senior living at home with part-time care does not get the companionship and social interaction that a seniors housing community can provide and which many studies show are beneficial for a senior’s mental acuity and well being.

Please read below for details and I welcome your comments and questions.

 

THE COST OF A SENIOR HOUSING COMMUNITY

The cost of various seniors housing settings is easy for seniors and their families to see because most facilities charge a monthly fee for housing and care.   The average monthly cost for this care according to a recent survey by the National Investment Center for the Senior Housing and Care Industry (NIC) is as follows:

  • Independent Living – $3,076 per month
  • Assisted Living – $4,722 per month
  • Memory Care – $6,082 per month

To these costs, we need to add some additional expenses for a senior living in a seniors housing community for social and entertainment activities, transportation and non-housing living expenses.   I have estimated these at half the estimated cost of someone living at home based on data from the “A Place for Mom.com” website, at a total of $475 per month.  I assume half the cost of a senior living at home for someone living in seniors housing because many of these services are provided in a typical seniors housing facility and are included in the monthly rate. I add another $183 per month for a senior living in a seniors housing community for utilities, cable television, wifi and phone and renters insurance. Adding a combined $658 per month for things like phone, cable TV, some outside meals, transportation and other living expenses to the monthly fee for seniors housing communities brings the total monthly cost for living in senior housing rounded to the nearest $100 to:

  • Independent Living – $3,700 per month
  • Assisted Living – $5,400 per month
  • Memory Care – $6,700 per month

 

AT HOME LIVING AND HOME OPERATING COSTS

When the total monthly cost for senior housing and care at the above settings are compared to the out-of-pocket costs for a senior living in a $150,000 home without a mortgage they certainly appear formidable.     A Place for Mom estimates the monthly out-of-pocket cost for a average senior living at home (in a home we assume is worth about $150,000) without a mortgage to be approximately $2,400, broken down as follows.

Maintenance costs $272
Utilities including phone and cable $265
Property Taxes $149
Property Insurance $78
Three meals per day $494
Housekeeping services $118
Emergency alarm system $50
Transportation $715
Social and entertainment $235

It is this $2,400 figure (or something lower because the senior in question has curtailed her social, entertainment and transportation expenses) that most seniors and their families compare to the $3,700 to $6,700 monthly cost of facility-based senior housing and care.   Therefore, seniors and their families generally see facility-based care as 50% to 275% more expensive than having a senior live at home.

But the above comparison ignores the value of the house in which a senior is living and ignores the cost of caregiving and the socialization benefits that a senior would receive if she were living in a seniors housing facility.   Let’s deal with each of these separately.

 

ESTIMATED HOUSING COSTS FOR $150,000 HOME

To account for the value of the home itself, I estimate implied rent (essentially an estimate of the amount you could earn from renting the house) using a 7% cap rate on the assumed $150,000 value of the home, at $875 per month ($150,000 x .07 / 12), which seems very modest for many U.S. housing markets.

When you combine the above monthly costs for home maintenance, taxes and operation and living expenses of $2,400 per month with the implied rent, we get an estimated monthly housing and living cost for a senior living in a $150,000 home of $3,275 (approximately $2,400 for living and home operational expenses, plus $875 in implied rent).

From the above analysis you can see that the cost of living expenses, home maintenance and operation and implied rent/housing costs for a senior living on one’s own $150,000 home, calculated in what I believe is a conservative fashion, is nearly 90% of the average cost of a senior living in an independent living facility.   And in the independent living facility the senior is getting much more interaction with other people, much more socialization and mental stimulation than most seniors get when living at home alone.

 

ESTIMATED HOUSING COSTS FOR $500,000 CONDOMINIUM

Doing the same math for a senior living in a $500,000 condominium yields estimated monthly living and home operating expenses of $4,449 broken down as follows:

Condo Fees $2,000
Maintenance costs
Utilities including phone and cable $165
Property Taxes $542
Property Insurance $130
Three meals per day $494
Housekeeping services $118
Emergency alarm system $50
Transportation $715
Social and entertainment $235

The implied rent calculation for a $500,000 condo is $2,917 per month ($500,000 x 7% / 12). Combining monthly living and home operating expenses with the implied rent for a $500,000 condo indicates a total monthly cost of living at home, including implied rent, without care at approximately $7,400.

When the above figure is compared to the cost of seniors housing, you can see that the estimated monthly cost of a senior living in a $500,000 condo is almost twice the cost of independent living and 36% higher than the cost of assisted living. You can argue that comparing the cost of a $500,000 condo with the average cost of seniors housing is an unfair comparison because these facilities would cost more in an expensive real estate market. But I believe the calculation on a $500,000 condo is fair for the Baltimore market, where I Iive, and I believe it is fair to say that when a true apples-to-apples comparison of housing, home operation and living costs for senior is made to the cost of living in a seniors housing facility, the difference is smaller than most seniors and families realize before even taking into account the cost of care.

 

HOME CARE COSTS

From the above analysis, we see that the cost of a senior remaining at home is less than the cost of any type of seniors housing community, even independent living, for a senior in a modest $150,000 home.   However, as soon as any degree of paid home healthcare is provided the cost advantages of living at home disappear.

According to A Place For Mom and other surveys conducted by insurance companies offering long term care insurance, the cost of in-home care ranges from $14 – $24 per hour.   Certainly at the lower end of this range we are talking about a companion or an aid, not a trained nursing. If you assume only four hours of care per day and only five days per week with family providing care on weekend, the monthly cost of this much home healthcare would range from $1,120 ($14 x 4 hours x 5 days x 4 weeks) to $1,920 per month ($24 x 4 hours x 5 days x 4 weeks).   If we use the average of these two figures, the monthly cost for four hours of home healthcare five days a week is $1,520.

When you add the cost of four hours of home care during the week to the cost of housing noted above, the monthly cost of housing plus a modest level of home health would be approximately:

$150,000 Home $4,800
$500,000 Condo $8,900

No cost is assumed for family care on weekends.

As the chart at the beginning of this post indicates, as soon as a modest level of home care, in this case four hours per day five days a week, is added to the cost of a home, home operation and living expenses, the cost of living at home with home care, even for a modestly priced home, easily exceeds the cost of independent living and is nearly 90% of the cost of an assisted living facility.

 

TAX CONSIDERATIONS

In general terms, healthcare costs exceeding 7.5% of income of a senior’s income are deductible. This includes long term care costs if the senior is chronically ill and is is being cared for pursuant to a plan of care prescribed by a licensed health care practitioner.

If a family member younger than age 65 is paying for care, healthcare costs exceeding 10% of the income of the family member paying for care are deductible.   This can apply to home care prescribed by a licensed health care practitioner but not a senior’s housing costs while living at home.

In a seniors housing facility the cost of healthcare provided in assisted living or a memory care facility that exceeds 7.5% of income may be deductible if required by a senior’s medical condition and it is possible that the full cost of facility-based care including housing component may be deductible if living in such a facility is considered essential for medical reasons.   See IRS Publication 502 https://www.irs.gov/publications/p502/ar02.html for more information and consult with an accounting professional for more complete information.

 

AVAILABILITY OF GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE

While many people believe it does, Medicare does not pay for long-term custodial care at home or in a seniors housing facility.   It may pay for short-term home health, therapy or nursing care at-home or in a facility if is prescribed by a physician in response to a particular medical need.

Medicaid will pay for long-term custodial care in skilled nursing facility but only after all other resources are exhausted.   Some states have waiver programs that allow Medicaid to be used for assisted living and memory care or at-home community-based care, but as is the case with nursing home care, Medicaid will pay only after all other resources are exhausted. In addition, the last proposed Republican repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act included significant cuts to Medicaid that could potentially reduce the availability of Medicaid funds for long term care for seniors.

Veteran’s benefits include increased Veteran’s Aids and Attendance Pensions payment for care in a seniors housing or long term care facility under certain circumstances and seniors who qualify for Veteran’s benefits should investigate this option.

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Machu Picchu & Peru Exceeded Expectations

It has been almost two years since I wrote about a vacation.   In the interim we have traveled to the Pacific Northwest, visited Hilton Head twice and done a Midwest Road Trip that took us to Pittsburgh, Chicago, Lake Michigan, Detroit and Niagara On The Lake Ontario for the Shaw Festival.   While each of these was enjoyable, none seemed novel enough for a blog post.

In February 2017, my wife and I took a 10-day guided tour of Peru.   The trip was sponsored by two universities, my alma mater Johns Hopkins and North Carolina State University, and was operated by Odysseys Unlimited, well known for its small group tours featuring very good hotels and excellent guides. While the tour was limited to 24, we only had seven in our group, perhaps because others realized February is the rainy season in the Andes.   The name of our trip was Treasures of Peru and you can find the detailed itinerary and hotels listed on the Odysseys Unlimited website https://odysseys-unlimited.com/tours/central-south-america/treasures-peru .

The tour covered five parts of Peru – Lima, Cusco, The Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, along with less significant sites along the road from Cusco to the Lake.   Machu Picchu is obviously the big draw and, as described below, it did not disappoint. But the beauty of the mountainous country of Peru, the colors of its abundant textiles, fruits and vegetables, its ancient art (what’s left that the Spanish did not carry off) and architecture, and the character and warmth of its people were benefits we had not expected.  The photo below at La Raya Pass is the one that I believes best captured the color and physical beauty of Peru.

Farbics + mountain

Peru is the third largest country in South America, with a population of 30 million, a third of whom live in Lima.     The country has an amazing range of climate and topography, from coastal desert along the Pacific Coast to the high peaks and plateaus of the Andes to Amazon jungle.

The Andes are the second highest mountain range in the world behind the Himalayas, with a number of peaks ranging over 20,000 feet. Many cities and towns in Peru are at 8,000 feet above sea level or higher.     The climatic and topographic diversity within Peru is great for crops and scenery but complicates packing for travel because in the summer the temperature can be in the 80s or higher in Lima and in the 40s or lower at night in the highlands with bright sun at altitude during the day.   As noted above, winter in the northern hemisphere is summer in the southern hemisphere, which means warmer weather but more rain in the Andes highlands. We packed rain gear every day but were very fortunate to have only a few instances of daytime rain affecting our trip.

Reaching Peru is relatively easy from the U.S. with 6 – 6.5 hours direct flights to Lima from Miami and other southern cities.     Our tour used Latam airlines, a Peruvian carrier, from our flight from Miami to Lima and for flights within Peru from Lima to Cusco and Lake Titicaca back to Lima.   Latam flies modern Boeing and Airbus planes with fine service in coach but connecting to Latam in Miami requires travelers to exit the domestic airline terminals and go through security again to check in for Latam. If going to Peru again, I would consider using American Airlines, which also has multiple flights to Lima, to fly from Miami to Peru in order to eliminate one very long walk with luggage and a second security screening in the Miami airport from the trip.

Lima is a large, diverse city, with a road network and transit system that has not kept pace with the city’s growth.   Lima was developed beginning in 1535 by the Spanish after their conquest of the Incas. Today, you will see a lot of gritty one and two story concrete buildings around the city along with some very attractive upscale neighborhoods (Miraflores) near the Pacific, and historic areas with attractive colonial era buildings and parks.

Lima is a great food city and has a number of historic buildings and museums worth visiting but everything takes time to get to because of the congested traffic.   We particularly enjoyed the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, which features an extensive private collection of Incan and pre-Incan art including a large ceramics collection.   The museum also has lushly planted grounds, a very nice restaurant that opens the its gardens and two high quality museum shops (See photo below). We had hoped to try one of Lima’s world-class restaurants while in the City but just did not have the time or energy between our late night flight in and very early flight to Cusco on our second morning.

Museo Rafael Larco Herrera

Cusco is a city of nearly 500,000 people that was the historic capital of the Inca Empire. It is located near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range at an elevation of 11,200 feet.   To ease our acclimation to high altitude our itinerary moved us quickly through Cusco and onto the Sacred Valley formed by the Urubamba River, which is below 10,000 feet, and returned us to Cusco after our tour of the Sacred Valley and visit to Machu Picchu.

We took Acetazolamide/Diamox starting a day before we were flying to Cusco to ease our transition to high altitude and did not have any significant problems.   Most hotels also offer supplemental oxygen for guests that request it, which I used one night, and coca leaves and coca tea are freely available, which is also supposed to help with altitude sickness.   Coca leaves are used to make cocaine but it takes a very large quantity of the leaves to make a small amount of cocaine, so you are getting only trace amount of cocaine and mild stimulant by sucking on the leaves or drinking the tea. Our travel doctor warned of one patient who had a heart attract after drinking coca tea but most of our tour group use leaves or tea in limited quantities with no ill effect.

The historic core of Cusco (see below), which is likely where you will stay and tour in the City except while entering or exiting, is quite charming and includes colonial era scale and charm, in many cases built over earlier Inca foundations and first floor walls. Notable sights in Cusco include: the Church of Santo Domingo built on the site of the former Inca temple called Qorrikancha (Golden Courtyard), Sacsayhuaman (an immense Inca ruin of religious and military significance, and a number of churches, museums and shopping areas in the City center.

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We had an excellent dinner in Cusco at restaurant called MAP, which is located in the courtyard of the Museo de Arte Precolumbina just a few blocks off the main square. A neighbor who lived in Peru for nine years recommended MAP. In Cusco we visited and had lunch with a local family and during the meal we tried guinea pig (cuy), which is consider a delicacy in the Peruvian Andes and tastes a lot luck duck.

The Sacred Valley (see below), less well known to tourist than Cusco or Machu Picchu, is very scenic and contains a number of sites including Ollantaytambo and the village of Chinchero with its women’s textile cooperatives.   We particular liked our hotel create from a former monastery in Yucay, the Sonesta Posada del Inca, which has extensive gardens. We also found the textile making demonstration at one of the woman’s cooperatives in Chinchero to be both interesting and fun and a good place to buy right from the makers (See below).

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Both the train and inca Trail to Machu Picchu leave from Ollantaytambo and run to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu.   Belmont operated the train we took, the same company that runs the Orient Express, and the ride on the narrow gauge railroad along the Urubamba River is very picturesque.   We stayed over one night in Aguas Calientes at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu, an excellent and eco-friendly hotel.   The advantage of staying over is you get two opportunities to visit Machu Picchu, one in the afternoon and one in the morning before most of the tourists arrive by train.   Because the site is crowded and the weather and fog can be very different day to day, two opportunities to visit the sight are much better than a few hours one crowded afternoon.

No matter how many photos you have seen of Machu Picchu, it is much more impressive in person than in the photos.   The site is reached by a 20 minute bus ride on a switchback road from Aguas Calientes or by a hiking trail up 1,600 feet from the river valley floor.   Separated by surrounding peaks by steep ravines, Machu Picchu itself includes two peaks (Machu Picchu – old mountain and Huayna Picchu – young mountain and fills a saddle of land between the two.   The site itself includes agricultural terraces, religious buildings, a central plaza for ceremonies and a residential portion.   It is best to see it with a guide because it is something of a warren of trails and stairs and individual buildings with the site are not marked or interpreted for visitors.

Terrace at MP

MP from above

After leaving Machu Picchu and doubling back to Cusco, our tour took us by bus from Cusco to Puno and Lake Titicaca.   There are a number of sites along this seven hour route including: Andahuaylillas featuring a remarkable church (Inglesia de San Pedro), Raqchi featuring interesting Incan ruins, and the 14,330 feet high La Raya pass shown in the opening photo above.   We saw little of Puno, or the even grittier and more congested city of Juliaca.   We stayed at the very nice Hotel Liberator that sits on a peninsula jutting into Lake Titicaca and has its own boat dock.   The Floating Islands of Uros are a popular stop for tourists (see below) and we also visited Isla Taquile.   Lake Titicaca is interesting but less so than many other sites we visited.

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The Cost of Care

Raw Cost of Care

The chart below shows the average monthly cost of care for skilled nursing (nursing home), memory care (dementia), assisted living and independent living facilities in the Baltimore/Washington region for 2015.    It also shows the cost for 24 hour / 7 day a week home health aide care and 24/7 home health aide care supplemented by 7 hours each week of registered nursing (RN) and licensed practical nursing (LPN) care in an attempt to replicate the level of care an individual might receive in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility.  cost-of-care

The monthly cost in 2015 of facility-based care in the Baltimore/Washington region ranges from $2,912 in an independent living facility to $5,659 in a one bedroom unit in an assisted living facility to $6,234 in a memory care facility, and $9,990 to $11,270 for care in a skilled nursing facility (nursing home) in either a semi-private or private room.   For a resident needing assistance with three or more activities of daily living (bathing, transferring, etc.), or with any significant degree of dementia, an independently living facility would probably not provide adequate care without supplemental home healthcare, so the effective range for the monthly cost of care for a senior needing a moderate to significant level of assistance in a specialized seniors housing and care facility in the Baltimore/Washington region in 2015 was $5,659 to $11,270.

To see description of the various types of senior housing and care facilities see my page Senior Housing Options http://wp.me/P64zBK-w.

Home health aides cost $21.73 per hour in 2015, and would cost $14,603 monthly if provided on a 24/7 basis assuming no differential for night shifts.   A licensed practical nurse was $53.94 per hour and a registered nursing was $77.88 per hour.   In the above example, I assumed an hour a day of both LPN and RN care in addition to 24/7 home health aide care to estimate the monthly cost of care equivalent to that delivered in a skilled nursing facility to be approximately $18,294 per month.   Many families care for seniors with a combination of care by family members supplemented with limited time by home health aides or other paid caregivers.   While this type of arrangement can result in lower cost than facility-based care, it is clear that the cost to provide 24/7 aid and nursing care at home far exceeds the cost of obtaining such care in an assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing facility.    Even when less than 24/7 paid care is provided the cost of facility-based vs. home care is often closer than families expect once the cost of utilies,  home upkeep and forgone rent or sales proceeds are considered.

The other big advantage to facility-based care over 24/7 home care, even if you can afford it, that I believe many families overlook, is socialization.   Seniors being treated at home, even by the most dedicated family caregivers and aides, spend a lot of time isolated from human interaction.   At well-run senior housing and care facilities, interaction among the residents and between residents a diverse group of staff provide more interpersonal and intellectual interaction and stimulation than can be achieved at home, which can be very important for a seniors’ mental health and emotional well being.

Planning For The Future Cost of Care

If the raw cost of care and learning that the government will not help you pay for it (See prior post “The Government Will Not Pay For You Long Term Care”) are not sobering enough, seniors and families trying to plan for long term care need to understand the probability of needing such care, the likely duration of such care, and its future cost.   I hope to explore these issues more fully in a future post on long term care insurance and other financing options.  But to illustrate the future cost of care for planning purposes here, I have assumed an average length of stay (LOS) for skilled nursing and assisted living  care of 24 month, 36 months in memory care and 39 months in independent living.  I have then assumed 2.5% inflation for 35 years because the average entry age in to an assisted living or skilled nursing facility is about 85 and the time many people start seriously considering long term care insurance is age 50.

future-cost-of-care

In the table above, the average monthly costs for 2015 in the Baltimore/Washington Region are mutiplied by an assumed LOS in months to get the cost for an expected episode of care.    The future value of this expected episode of care is then calculated for 2050 assuming you are thinking about this today at age 50 and planning for costs when you are 85 and are more likely to enter an assisted living or skilled nursing facility.   The LOS assumed above are averages and at two years probably a bit high for long-stay custodial skilled nursing care.  The average LOS are about right for assisted living and independent living based on actual turnover rates in buildings today.    I did not find good data on memory care facility LOS but it is widely recognized to be higher than assisted living because some residents enter at younger ages with early onset Alzheimers and are in better physical condition.   When planning for an individual’s need to finance long term care it may be appropriate to plan for longer or shorter lengths of stays and look at the probabities of  these  but I believe  these averages are useful to illustrate the order of magnitude of possible future long term care costs.

I assume 2.5% inflation to estimate the future cost of long term care.   The 2.5% inflation factor is about where costs have been increasing in recent years but with increasing wage pressure and inflation expectations higher now that Donald Trump is President-elect, other higher inflation assumptions may be appropriate.

The bottom line is that a 50 year old today might reasonably plan for between $300,000 and $600,000 of long term care costs (an average of $516,483 for AL through private room skilled nursing) and expected to spend this amount over a two – three year period beginning around 2050.

Technical Notes

New York Life, which is a long term care insurance provider affiliated with AARP, has an online cost of care calculator that is updated annually.   New York Life’s 2015 Cost of Care Survey was designed and implemented by Long-Term Care Group (LTCG), the nation’s leader in long-term care administration services. Each year LTCG surveys thousands of Skilled Nursing Home, Home Health Care and Assisted Living Facility providers to collect cost of care data. The cost of care averages are calculated from over 30,000 different providers at the national, state and metropolitan statistical area level.   Other cost of care calculators, including one from Genworth Financial, are also available online.

The figures above are for the Washington / Baltimore Region and are somewhat higher than the national average.   I supplemented and verified the LTCG survey data with information from the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing and Care Industry’s NIC-MAP database, which surveys seniors housing and nursing care properties on a quarterly basis (see http://www.nic.org).   I used NIC-MAP data for the Baltimore region, which shows the cost for skilled nursing facility care and care in an assisted living facility 7% – 8% lower than the LTCG survey but similar enough to confirm the LTCG survey data.    NIC-MAP is also able to provide pricing data for independent living and memory care / dementia facilities, which I incorporated in my analysis.

 

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The Government Will Not Pay For Your Long Term Care

Too many middle and upper income consumers still believe that Medicare, Medicaid or some other government program will pay for their long term care or the long term care of other elderly family members.

Medicare, the Federal healthcare program for those age 65 and over, pays for hospital care (Part A), physician care (Part B) and prescription drugs (Part D) and is often combined with private Medicare supplemental insurance to help cover copays. Some consumers opt for a Medicare Advantage (MA) /managed care plan (Part C) in lieu of Fee for Service Medicare that combines A, B and D benefits and may add other benefits in exchange for a restricted network of providers. Medicare will cover home health care or care in a skilled nursing or other post-acute care facility but only after a three-day inpatient hospital visit (observation status doesn’t count). While some MA plans may waive the mandatory 3-day hospital visit and provide home health or skilled nursing care to avoid a hospital stay, Medicare only pays for home health or skilled nursing care on a short-term basis to avoid or recover from an inpatient hospital visit. The basic Medicare Fee For Service benefit for skilled nursing care is for a maximum of 100 days in a given year only after a 3-day inpatient hospital stay, with only 20 days fully funded and the remainder with a 20% co-pay and only as long as the patient is progressing toward recovery. Long term custodial care for a senior who needs assistance with the activities of daily living, at home or in a facility, is not covered by Medicare.

Under the Medicare hospice benefit, Medicare will provide comprehensive palliative care but only for those (1) whose hospice doctor and regular doctor (if you have one) certify that you’re terminally ill (with a life expectancy of 6 months or less) (2) accept palliative care (for comfort) instead of care to cure their illness and (3) who sign a statement choosing hospice care instead of other Medicare-covered treatments for your terminal illness and related conditions.   Hospice care is provided under the Medicare Fee for Service Part A even if you are a member of a MA plan.    The Medicare hospice benefit offer comprehensive in-home or in-institution care for those expected to live six months or less.  It is an extremely valuable, and still somewhat underused, benefit but it does not provide long term custodial care.

Medicaid, the joint Federal / State program that pays for medical care for the poor will pay for long term care in a skilled nursing facility or in a home and community based setting, which in some states includes assisted living facilities. However, there are strict income and asset tests for Medicaid, which in Maryland are an individual income of approximately $12,000 or less ($16,000 or less for a couple) and assets of no more than $4,000, $6,000 for a couple. A spouse is generally allowed to exclude a home from the asset test and his/her retirement savings but all joint savings and investments would have to be spent down to at least $6,000 before Medicaid benefits can be used and states have become increasingly good about looking back at least three years to see that assets have not been distributed to other family members to meet the asset test. These tests effectively exclude middle and upper income individuals and families from using Medicaid for long term care without first exhausting the large majority of their savings. Medicaid may also limit which facilities and programs you can use since not all assisted living facilities or home health agencies accept Medicaid patients.

With this post, I hope to kick of a series of posts on the issue of Paying for Care that will provide information on the cost of care and strategies for funding it through savings or long term care insurance.

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Ten Takeaways From NIC Conference

The Fall conference of the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing and Care Industry (NIC – www.nic.org) was held in Washington, DC from September 14 to September 16, 2016.   This is the largest industry conference for seniors housing and care.

I moderated a panel entitled “Somewhere Over The Rainbow: Where Winning Post Acute Strategies Attract Investors. “   Panelists included: Benjamin Breier, President & CEO, Kindred Healthcare, Inc.; Larry Cohen, CEO, Capital Senior Living Corporation; George V. Hager, Jr., CEO, Genesis HealthCare, LLC and Andy Smith, President & CEO, Brookdale Senior Living.

When I served as an equity analyst I would spend almost my entire time at NIC conferences in private meetings with companies and investors.   As a retired analyst, blogger on seniors housing and care and session moderator, I had many informal conversations with operators, industry organization staff, lenders and investors, a few scheduled meetings and attended more of the actual conference sessions.

My ten takeaways from the 2016 Fall NIC Conference are:

  1. Record Attendance – Guarded Optimism – NIC’s Fall Conference at the Marriott Marquis Hotel next to the Washington Convention Center had a record reported attendance of 2,700. Senior housing operators are guardedly optimistic, with asset prices still high, reasonably positive operating metrics and only spotty reports of rising labor costs.   There is some caution about overbuilding but that threat may be receding (see below).   Skilled nursing and post-acute care operators are struggling with top-line revenue pressure and big transition to value-based purchasing.
  2. Capital Plentiful But Diversifying – Capital for seniors housing property acquisitions and renovation remains readily available as does investment capital for experienced senior housing operators to grow their businesses.   HUD financing is still very attractive for skilled nursing but, with the underperformance of some skilled nursing and post-acute care operators, REITs are diversifying to limit their exposure to these subsectors. Ventas led this charge with its CCP spinoff and new investments in hospitals and university-tied biotech. HCP has announced its intension to spin off its skilled nursing holdings into QCP and Welltower has also announced a desire to reduce its exposure to Genesis.
  3. Construction Lending Standards Tightening – NIC’s in-house economist Beth Mace and NIC’s bluebook featuring key industry trends note a tightening of lending standards for new seniors housing construction as reported by surveys of loan officers.   If true, this may help limit widespread overbuilding of assisted living properties, about which I have expressed concern.   Other conversations I had during the Conference seemed to support NIC’s view that underwriting standards for new seniors housing projects are tightening.   Some finance types I spoke believe the cutback in senior housing construction lending is driven by a broader cutback in lending for multi-family construction projects rather than lenders making a specific determination that seniors housing is becoming overbuilt.
  4. Good and Some Less Good Development Continues – Despite the cutback in lending, many seasoned senior housing operator/builders are continuing to develop projects in markets in which is it is difficult to develop and for which the approval process may have been 3-5 years.   There appear to be a smaller number of projects still being developed by inexperienced players with money from community banks and smaller equity investors and hopefully tightening lender standards will further weed out more of these types of projects in the future.
  5. NIC Continues to Built Its Value For Skilled Nursing & Post-Acute Care – Since adding skilled nursing data to its NIC-MAP data service a number of years ago and adding a Spring conference with more skilled nursing focus, NIC continues to build its data and content for skilled nursing and post-acute care providers and is at the forefront of educating senior housing operators about the convergence of seniors housing and post-acute care.   As post-acute care transitions from a fee-for-service to value-based purchasing, NIC appears well positioned to help educate investors and attract investment capital for this portion of the industry, as it has previously done for seniors housing.
  6. Post-Acute & Senior Housing Providers Have Opportunity to be “Strategic Aggregators” – Former HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt opened the NIC Conference by providing an overview of the broad changes occurring in the U.S. healthcare system with a focus on the shift to value-based purchasing.   Mr. Leavitt believes the shift to value-based purchasing increases the risk that senior housing and post-acute care providers become commoditized fee-for-service price-takers.   But Leavitt also believes that senior housing and post acute care companies that serve significant numbers of patients in their facilities and programs have the opportunity to aggregate patient lives and serve as general contractors making value-based purchases themselves rather than just being price-takers in a value-based payment world.   While the shift to value-based payment is slow and fragmented, Mr. Leavitt quoted Bill Gates as saying, “Don’t overestimate what will happen in the next two years or underestimate what will happen in the next 10.”   He foresees continued consolidation through both mergers and acquisitions and additional joint ventures among operators.
  7. Major Post-Acute Operators Generally Agree With Leavitt – The four publicly traded senior housing and post-acute care operators who participated in my panel are clearly frustrated as they function in a fee-for-service world (Only 1-2% of their revenue is now truly value-based) while pivoting their organizations to profit from value-based payments.   These large operators are pursuing a wide range of strategies to provide post-acute care and adapt to value-based payments (from senior housing operators contracting out all post-acute services, to focusing on being the preferred provider for a few segments of post-acute care, to being a comprehensive provider of all services – LTACHs, IRFs, SNFs, home health, rehab therapy and even hospice – in select markets).   Two common themes appear, however.   Major post acute care providers are positioning themselves to be strategic aggregators and value-based purchasers and major senior housing operators believe offering post-acute services within their buildings themselves or through third parties will be key in continuing to attract and retain senior housing residents.   Most operators are also looking to increase their concentration in select markets.
  8. Managed Medicare Rate Pressure Slowing – NIC reports that the downward pressure on Medicare managed care (Medicare MA) rates to skilled nursing operators slowed in 2Q16 and it will be interesting to see if relentless downward pressure on SNF rates and length of stay from Medicare managed care providers is really beginning to subside. This would be very good news for skilled nursing operators.
  9. Importance of Data/Information Systems Growing – Both post-acute care operators and senior housing operators providing, or contracting with others to provide, post-acute care within their facilities are seeing an increased need for data to measure outcomes in order to make the case to ACOs and other bundlers of post-acute patients and in order to take a more active role themselves in managing patient lives.     Data to predict future performance of facilities in a value-based purchasing world is also key to underwriting future investments for sophisticated investors, like Formation Capital, since past performance alone of a skilled nursing or post-acute care facility may be a poor predictor of how it will perform in a broader value-based purchasing environment.
  10. NIC-Map Making Some Important Strides – NIC-MAP has expanded to an additional forty metro markets for its traditional data reporting and is adding two important products – actual monthly rent, occupancy and turnover information for a national sample of 250,000 senior housing properties and actual monthly rates by payer source and occupancy for a smaller but growing sample of skilled nursing properties.   These are national surveys electronically reported from operator’s actual month end data and NIC hopes to grow these samples.   This will allow NIC to be much more accurate and timing on rent and other key financial metrics on a national basis and provide benchmarking data to participating operators and other industry participants.
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A Wall Street Journal article on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 entitled “Can This Brain Exercise Put Off Dementia?” hitp://on.wsj.com/2arSPfA reported on the results of a new study, called “ACTIVE” for Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly, that were presented the previous Sunday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto, the world’s largest gathering of Alzheimer’s researchers.    The article immediately attracted attention within a group of my close Baby Boomer friends who have known each other since elementary school.  The New Yorker also published an article on the same study on July 24, 2016 http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/could-brain-training-prevent-dementia.

According the Journal “The study results showed that speed training—computer exercises that get users to visually process information more quickly—beat out memory and reasoning exercises, two other popular brain-training techniques sometimes suggested for improving cognitive function and reducing dementia. Researchers found that a total of 11 to 14 hours of speed training has the potential to cut by as much as 48% the risk of developing dementia 10 years later.”

As reported by the WSJ, the ACTIVE study, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Nursing Research, included 2,832 healthy subjects, ages 65 to 94, at six study sites around the U.S. Participants were randomized to get one of the three cognitive-training programs or be in a control group.  Since 1998 the study has received a total of $33.8M in funding and is still in touch with all but 4o of the original participants.

Prior to release of the ACTIVE results there was no evidence that computerized brain training had any effect on cognitive ability or dementia prevention.   The New Yorker cites a consensus statement by more than 70 academics in 2014 that “playing brain games has been shown to improve little more than the ability to play brain games.”  And in January of this year the Federal Trade Commission fined Luminosity, the largest and best known provider of brain games, two million dollars for making unsubstantiated claims of cognitive improvement for its games.   Thus, the large and well-funded ACTIVE study is likely to provide a big credibility boost for the use of computer mind stimulation games to combat cognitive decline and dementia.

The speed training component of the ACTIVE study used a computer game in which, for the briefest instant, two images appear, one in the middle and one on the periphery of the screen (see below).   The computer then prompts you to identify whether the central image is a little car or little truck along with which edge the second image appeared.   The more accurate you get, the more quickly the images appear and the more complex the background becomes.

Double Decision Image

Double Decision is a more user friendly version of the speed training game used in the ACTIVE research that was acquired by Posit Science, of San Francisco, in 2007 and is now part of the company’s BrainHQ online service, a cognitive-training program. A monthly subscription, which includes access to Double Decision, is $14 a month, or $96 a year. Posit Science says the company intends to file a medical-device application to the Food and Drug Administration based on the recent clinical trial findings.

After reading the WSJ article my friends and I were immediately tempted to purchase Double Decision through the Brain IQ service, as would any Boomers concerned about their future cognitive abilities.   However, our group of friends includes Mitchell Clionsky, Ph.D. who is a clinical neuropsychologist and has worked extensively on dementia testing and evaluation.   Dr. Clionsky, or Mitch as we know him, pointed out that, unfortunately, these kinds of stories hit the news with some regularity, always look really great, but sometimes aren’t.

Mitch points out that the ACTIVE research was presented at AAIC as a talk. It has never been subjected to peer review or published in a journal, which the WSJ and The New Yorker also mention. In other words, lotsa sizzle, maybe not so much steak. It also defies reason that 10 sessions of training would impact cognitive functioning 10 years later.  Finally, the 48% difference in the frequency of dementia in the ACTIVE study is the calculation of decline from a conversion rate after 1o years of 14% for healthy adults with an average initial age of 73 to a conversion rate of 8% for the subgroup undergoing computerized speed brain training for 10 hours and receiving just four more hours of training. In a large group this is statistically significant. However, it may be less meaningful when applied to individuals.

Mitch is hoping that there is something to the ACTIVE research and looks forward to a replicated study, with a more varied dosing schedule of exposure to training, and better measures of cognitive functioning 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10 years later. In the meantime, he thinks it the impact of using computerized speed training exercises on dementia are way overblown.

Mitch believes it would be better for us Boomers to take home the message: Don’t retire entirely or, if you do, stay mentally and physically active (by writing a blog, playing golf and exercising for example). Get yourself a cool gaming station and play some intense shoot em up games or other video games that require lots of visual processing and reaction time. That way, at least you will be having fun. Control your diet, keep your BMI at about 25, don’t drink too many margaritas at one sitting, take a 30 minute walk every day.

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Posted in Alzheimer's, Dementia, Lifestyle Choices, Senior Housing Innovation | 2 Comments »

On Monday June 6, 2016, The “Ask Encore” column by Glenn Ruffenach in the Wall Street Journal responded to a question from a reader about “what features, at a minimum, should be added to our current home or incorporated in a new home so that we can stay in our home as we get older.”   The columnist’s response identified three resources to make a home accessible and adaptable for seniors.   These included:

These all appear to be useful resources and the Wall Street Journal column cites the Harvard Study as saying five features, in particular, that make for safe and acceptable homes are: no-step entries; single-floor living; switches and outlets reachable at any height; extra-wide hallways and doors and lever-style door and faucet handles.   The Harvard Study indicates that 90% of existing homes have one of these features but that only 57% have more than one.

Research (AARP United States of Aging Survey, 2012) indicates that 90% of seniors would prefer to stay in their own home vs. moving to a seniors housing community and I have no doubt that for some seniors making adaptations to an existing home or buying a new home with adaptable feature may allow them to defer a move to seniors housing for some period of time.  However, because of most seniors’ strong bias toward staying in an existing home, I see far too many seniors resisting a move to seniors housing even when this would be more beneficial for their health, their finances and their families.

I believe it is important for a senior and her or his family to also consider other issues when considering whether to modify an existing home vs. moving to a seniors housing community. Chief among these are (1) the location of one’s existing home, (2) the age and medical conditions of the residents, (3) access to companions and support services, and (4) the cost of maintaining a home.  The key points I want to make are:

  • seniors and their families need to think through how making accessibility improvements to a home will meet a senior’s physical and mental health needs over time, not just at a single point in time, and
  • staying vs. moving should be considered in light of the full occupancy and care costs for each alternative.

Location

Location is important for the resident, her or his family and other formal or informal caregivers. Too often, seniors of advancing age become increasingly isolated in their homes because they are not located where public transportation, taxi or Uber-like services are readily available. If this is the case, as a senior’s ability to drive diminishes, which it invariably does, a senior’s ability to visit friends, see medical professionals, attend social, educational and civic events will be restricted with negative implications for their physical and mental health. If they are living alone, studies have show poor diet and social isolation can take a heavy toll. Technology may be able to reduce these isolating effects in the future but is not yet able to overcome all the location issues noted here.

Location is also important for family members and other formal and informal caregivers. If you live hundreds of miles from your children or if your home is not readily accessible in good and bad weather to formal and informal caregivers, a home modified to be accessible for a senior may still prove unable to meet a senior’s needs over time as their physical or mental health deteriorates and caregivers are needed.

Age and Medical Condition

The age and medical condition of residents is also important to consider when thinking about whether to modify one’s home or move to a retirement community. Physical limitations, such as needing a walker, shower grab bars, lever door handles can help extend the ability of an existing home to accommodate a senior. But, if a senior is 85 or older or has medical conditions that will escalate over time, the benefit of these types of improvements may be short lived and fully modifying a home for a wheelchair equipped senior – completely flat floors, wider doorways, larger baths with turning radius for a wheelchair can get very expensive. In addition, if a senior has early signs of dementia, this condition too is likely to deteriorate over time and may require a more secure setting with full time care at some point, which an individual’s home cannot provide.

Access to Companions and Support Services

The cost to bring qualified caregivers and other support services into one home can quickly exceed the cost of a seniors housing community if care is required on a 24/7 basis. It can also be difficult for a senior or their family to manage care and home maintenance services and to monitor the quality of care delivered in a senior’s home, particularly if the family does not live nearby.   The availability of qualified caregivers varies with geography, with access to public transportation and with population density tending to improve the availability of care.

Cost of Maintaining A Home

When comparing the costs of staying in one’s home vs. moving to a senior housing community, seniors and their families too often view the cost of staying in one’s home as only including the cost of making accessibility modifications and do not fully consider the cost of part-time or full-item care, the cost of taxes and maintenance, or the income that can be generated from investing proceeds from the sale of a home. This sticker shock of a $2,500 to $6,000 per month fee for seniors housing may seem a lot less daunting when one makes a accurate assessment of the costs of staying at home.   It is also important to understand that the average length of stay for an 85 + senior in assisted living is about two years, so $150,000 in home sales proceeds is usually sufficient to fund an average stay.

There is some additional discussion of housing options and issues to consider when moving to seniors housing on this blog www.robustretirement.com.  The American Seniors Housing Association also has a new website Where You Live Matters with a lot of information for seniors considering whether to stay in their existing homes or move to a retirement community, including cost calculators.    Specific posts on this website that may be of interest include:

 

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Posted in Finance, Lifestyle Choices, Senior Housing & Care | 1 Comment »