Long-term care insurance deductible limits raised

Long-term care insurance is one way to protect your assets in retirement. The plans often pay for half of the cost of care in a nursing home, for example.
For the 2020 tax year, the deduction limits have increased, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.
Age 2020 $ 2019 $
40 or less 430 420
40-49 810 790
50-59 1,630 1,580
60-69 4,350 4,220
70+ 5,430 5,270

These deductions are available under the medical care expenses that are not reimbursed during the tax year and exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. Your adjusted gross income (AGI) is your taxable income minus adjustments such as contributions to a traditional IRA, according to TurboTax. That means most people won’t be able to claim medical expenses as a tax deduction at all, until they retire.
Unreimbursed medical expenses can include preventative care, surgeries, dental and vision care, psychological care, prescription medications and medical devices such as glasses, contacts, false teeth and hearing aids.
Here is an example of a medical deduction from efile.com:
AGI is $40,000 and your medical expenses are $5,000. In 2019 and 2020, you can deduct 7.5 percent of unreimbursed medical expenses. So, multiply $40,000 by 7.5 percent. The result is $3,000. That is how much you can deduct. So, $2,000 of your $5,000 medical expenses are not deductible.
Keep in mind these deductions are not applicable to linked benefit policies, such as life insurance and annuity policies.

COVID-19 vaccine could save many lives, despite rampant myths

Most people know by now that Bill Gates is not going to give you money or a free computer if you respond to a Facebook post.
He’s also not going to give you a secret microchip in a COVID-19 vaccine. This is one of the many myths madly circulating about a COVID-19 vaccine that have prompted about a quarter of Americans to say that they would decline a vaccine when it becomes available.
The Gates myth started in March 2020, when a widely shared article announced, incorrectly, “Bill Gates will use microchip implants to fight coronavirus.” Gates actually said in an interview that digital certificates could be used to show who has recovered, who has been tested and who received the vaccine. According to the BBC, one study, funded by The Gates Foundation, suggested that a special invisible tattoo mark could be used to show who has been vaccinated. Like a small pox vaccination scar, it would not be tracked and personal information would not be entered into a database.
Even so, the Microsoft billionaire does not control public health policy in the U.S.
Another myth in high circulation is that a DNA-based vaccine will genetically modify humans.
According to Mark Lynas, a visiting fellow at Cornell University’s Alliance for Science group, no vaccine can genetically modify human DNA.
In an interview with Reuters, Lynas said that the DNA in DNA vaccines does not integrate into the cell nucleus, so there is no genetic modification. When cells divide, they will only include your natural DNA. But DNA-based vaccines are promising for COVID-19 because DNA sequences could match the required bits of genetic code in the virus.

Consider disability insurance for unexpected illness or injury

Everyone knows a little about Social Security Disability, but not many working people realize it is very difficult to get. Only about 30 percent of the applicants are approved, and the system is cash strapped.
Still, becoming even temporarily unable to work is a very real problem. According to the Social Security Administration, one in four 20-year-olds will experience a disability for 90 days or more before they reach age 67. Suddenly, paying rent, making a car payment, even buying groceries will depend entirely on non-work resources. In the short term, maybe you could rely on savings, if you have them. Disability that lasts longer than 90 days becomes increasingly difficult.
One solution is disability insurance.
There are two kinds: Short-term and long-term.
According to Nerd Wallet, both types replace a portion of your monthly income up to a cap.
Short-term disability insurance typically replaces 60 to 70 percent of a base salary. It will pay out for a few months, or maybe even a year, depending on the policy. It has a short waiting period, sometimes just two weeks, after you become disabled and before benefits are paid.
Long-Term coverage replaces 40 to 60 percent of a salary and benefits end when disability ends. It may have a cap on the number of years, or it may end at retirement age. The waiting period usually is longer: up to 90 days after disability before benefits are paid.
Rates vary according to age, smoking, income, occupation, gender (women usually pay more because they file more claims) and other factors. The annual price ranges from 1 percent to 3 percent of annual income.
As the work force ages and Americans live longer with diseases such as cancer, disability rates are rising. People aren’t always able to keep working.
Some things an individual should consider when buying a policy:

  • Check to see if disability insurance is available at work.
  • Find out what conditions are covered as a disability under the policy.
  • If the policy covers you for “own occupation,” it protects you if you can’t perform the specialized tasks of your career. “Any occupation” coverage will not pay if you can still work in any occupation at all.
  • To save money, lengthen the time before benefits kick in rather than limiting the period during which you can receive payments.
  • Choose long-term disability over short-term disability.
  • Check to see if a policy you buy at work is portable or convertible so you can take it with you to another job.

Out of quarantine: What we need first

If you have just been in isolation for months (or someone you care for has), some basic human needs will have to be renewed upon social opening.
– Touch. The deprivation is real. It often doesn’t require a full-on massage, but all people need the connection of touch. Light, caring touches on the back and shoulders mean a lot. Hugging and holding communicate love, trust, and well-being. Often the people who touched us the most are gone.
– Shared laughter. Think of the funniest stories you remember about childhood, vacations, silly moments, even frustrations and disappointments — what can you laugh about now that didn’t seem so funny then. Laughing together is part of being known to each other and being known is one of the best parts of being human.
– Eating together. We certainly don’t have to go to a restaurant to enjoy a shared meal! A light dinner with family and friends is a simple pleasure that boosts spirits and forges connections.
– Foot care. Two or three months alone in the house can take a toll on feet. Get to a podiatrist or a pedicure place for toenail cutting and moisturizing. A lot of time spent in bed can result in pressure sores on the heels. Check for sores, especially if you or your patient are diabetic.
– Hair care. Nearly everyone joked about needing a haircut during quarantine and lockdown, but with things opening up, it’s time to get out and fix up for both pleasure and health.
– Enjoying nature. Getting out. Just getting out of the house, especially if it means being able to sit in a park, see flowers and plants, breathe in the trees around you. These things renew the spirit and connect people with the earth.

Vaccine technologies: Why a Covid vaccine will take months, not centuries

The smallpox virus raged among humans for 10,000 years before a leap of insight led to the vaccine that killed it forever. The insight took about 300 years to develop.
Today, in the wake of the Covid crisis, drug companies throughout the world are experimenting with vaccines. One company, Moderna, took 42 days to create an experimental vaccine.
Why so fast?
The most obvious reason is the research infrastructure: Laboratories, drug companies, medical systems — systems we take for granted — have never before been available on such a wide scale. Humans are in the era of science and technology.
Still, of the seven known coronaviruses, there are no known human vaccines.
According to Johns Hopkins Senior Scholar Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, the key to the new rapid development of vaccines is new vaccine platform technologies. Writing in leapsmag.com, Adalja says these platforms use the same building blocks to make more than one vaccine. Using the basic platform, researchers are able to, in effect, switch out one targeted virus (or bacteria or other organism) like a person switches out a video game cartridge. One example of that is the ebola vaccine, which uses another virus as a platform with the ebola protein inserted.
A variety of different approaches are being used to create a Covid vaccine. Moderna is using an RNA approach. Inovio is using a DNA model in which genetic material is injected into the platform and human cells translate it into a viral protein. At that point the immune system makes antibodies.
Other approaches include nanoparticles (by Novavax), while other companies try to adapt an avian coronavirus vaccine.
According to Adalja, a coronavirus vaccine could possibly confer protection against other human coronaviruses, eliminating their use as a biological threat in the future.
And, even curing the common cold.

One virus was the scourge of humans

As bad as Covid-19 has been, it is not even close to the worst viral disease that has swept humanity.
That honor probably goes to smallpox, a disease so toxic that it wiped out entire populations, killing up to 500 million people in the 20th century alone. It was especially deadly for children, killing up to 80 percent. Survivors of any age were left disfigured, blind, or both. After exposure, symptoms began within a week to 19 days. High fever, fatigue, aches, and vomiting appeared first, followed by red sores on the face, hands, arms, and, finally, trunk of the body. These sores left deep, pitted scars on survivors.
According to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control, the Covid virus kills between 0.26 percent and 0.4 percent of infected people. Smallpox killed no less than 20 percent and up to 60 percent in some populations.
According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, the earliest written accounts were from China in about 400 BC, but possibly earlier.

The good news
Today smallpox is gone. The last case in the U.S. was in 1949 and the last case in the world was in 1978. Today the only remnants of smallpox are the light scars left by vaccinations on people born before the 1980s. In 1979, it was declared eradicated after massive inoculation campaigns on every continent. It is thought to live only as a sample in three labs in the world.

First vaccinations
For more than a thousand years, people knew that once a person contracted smallpox, they would ever after be immune. This knowledge led to the first genuine vaccinations.
In China, as early as 400 BC, smallpox scabs were ground up and injected into the noses of healthy people.
The first western experimentation was in 1789 by English doctor Edward Jenner, who found that a similar virus, cowpox, could protect humans. The technique, which used fluid from an active smallpox sore, was scratched into the skin or vein.
The technique was not perfect. People contracted a fever and perhaps some sores but recovered. However, there was a risk of contracting the active disease.

Buying and selling in the temporary normal

With all of this extended time spent homebound recently, many of us have discovered a new truism: if you have to be quarantined, you might as well do it in your dream home.

No matter what — the season, the economy, even a virus — people will continue to buy and sell houses. It’s only the process that changes. And buyers and sellers who can adapt and pivot are the ones who come out ahead.

Fortunately, real estate professionals are already adept at strategies that could prove especially helpful this year, as COVID-19 dominates the news.

Think: technology. Virtual tours will likely increase in popularity. Buyers were already screening houses online before seeing them in person, and a thorough virtual tour could dramatically increase the number of eyes on your property.

A 2018 report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said that 46 percent of buyers found a virtual tour very useful, while 74 percent used the internet to search for homes. Among millennials, that figure leaped to 92 percent.

Some other accommodations this year could include:

  • Sellers may request more hand-washing. Another NAR survey, this one in March, found that more sellers were requesting that visitors wash their hands or use sanitizer. (Some may also request the use of booties, a commonplace request already.)
  • Open houses may limit the number of people inside a home at one time – which probably makes for a more pleasant walk-through anyway.
  • Technology can also aid in brokering a deal. Already, contracts are regularly sent via email and signatures can be gathered online. Expect more of this.
  • Those who attend open houses in the coming months are more serious buyers, as the tire-kickers have opted to stay at home.

Get some social distance with a bike ride.

It’s commuting and fitness melded together: Faster than walking and as much exercise as jogging. It lets you enjoy the scenery, which, depending on your time in quarantine, could mean a lot.

If you aren’t already a regular rider, you’ll want to ease yourself into cycling. Begin with half-hour rides every other day or three days a week. And practice your basic skills in an empty parking lot. Learn to shift gears without wobbling and to look over your left shoulder while steering straight ahead.

When you take to the roads, always ride with traffic, ride in the street on the right. Use hand signals and obey all the traffic rules.

Buying a bike
If you decide that you like riding, you may want to get a new bike. Be sure to shop for one that suits your normal riding distance. Traditional 3-speeds are good for short rides, and 10-speeds are best for longer rides. Then there are all-terrain bikes that provide an all-purpose alternative.

When riding to work, put your belongings in a backpack or tie them down in a basket or rear carrier. Carry a tool kit to fix flat tires.

You’re never too old to take up cycling and benefit from it for the rest of your life. Studies at the University of California at Davis compared three forms of exercise: Jogging, bicycling and tennis. Middle-aged sedentary men were assigned to one of the three activities for 30 minutes a day three times a week. After 20 weeks, the joggers and cyclists had an equal improvement in endurance, and both groups lost a substantial amount of body fat.

When riding after dark, make sure you have lights on the bike, reflective tape on your helmet, and wear light-colored clothing.

How do we move on from coronavirus and get back to work?

Today we know every member of the workforce is extremely valuable because when we went home in March, everything fell apart.

The stock market (and our retirement savings), our incomes, companies, and a good slice of our dreams, at least in the short term. Not to mention our friends and family who suffered with the virus that has been the top of our minds.

But now that we see the end of the virus in sight, what do we do?

People have different ideas

Harvard Business Review recommends the following:

  1. Test every worker — Open the parking lots and make sure every person is well.
  2. Certify patients as ready to work (and not shedding virus.)
  3. Employers, retailers, restaurants, even friends and neighbors insist on verification that each person is virus free. Everyone maintains social distancing.
  4. States would optimize the plan.

Meanwhile, the Imperial College of London says stringent controls will be required to keep people safe.

They suggest: Impose social distancing every time admissions to intensive care units spike. Relax when they fall.

Their advice is to do this until a vaccine is discovered, possibly 18 months. So schools would close and social distancing practiced in two month blocks, with one month off.

Meanwhile, until a vaccine is available, everyone mostly stays in quarantine, minimizing social contact.

Under this model, we just accept that restaurants, cafes, sports, gyms, theaters, malls cruises, and airlines basically shut down.

A dour existence in which we live the pandemic daily?

Not everyone is so downbeat.

Most observers think that mass testing is really the main requirement for getting back to work and a social life.

In China, traffic jams and smog are back and sales of housing and cars are ticking upward, according to Foreign Policy.

One problem in China that is slowing a return to growth: People are not spending money, especially on big ticket items. Maybe everyone, everywhere is saving an emergency fund.

Sometimes injury numbers don’t tell the story

Organizations with low numbers of on-the-job injuries can be proud of their record.

But number of injuries alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

Safety expert Don Groover, writing in Safety and Health Magazine, points out that, in dangerous situations, luck plays a part.

Groover gives this example: An observer stands below a worker on a high platform. The worker is using a hammer. The hammer falls and misses the observer. There are zero injuries on the job that day but, the fact is, the observer was lucky, not safe. The exposure to danger was still there.

The key is creating a work environment and a safety culture that recognizes exposure, not just injury.

In that example, you could say that the workers were in error, either because of the way the hammer was used or because of the position of the observer. While that might be true, Groover points out that the pool of exposure points is more important.

“A focus on exposures is a radical departure from a focus on hazards or unsafe actions,” Groover writes.

The key is focusing on the factors that cause vulnerability to dangerous situations before the injuries occur or, with luck, don’t occur.

“When a person is exposed, the outcome is out of their control,” Groover says. They could have good luck — or bad.

The significance of safety exposures becomes clearer when seen over time.

Groover gives the example of a worker who climbs on a unit to install a strap on a shipping container. When he steps back, he stumbles and falls five feet. He is uninjured.

He is lucky, and the company has zero injuries but their exposure, when considered across the system, is huge: An employee climbs up twice for each unit loaded. About 25,000 units are loaded per day, equaling 50,000 exposures per day or 18 million exposures per year.

Given this immense number of possible falls, relying on perfect execution each time from employees reveals a much bigger risk than merely calculating injuries per day.