You've found your dream house in a beautiful location. You see yourself putting down roots, spending the rest of your life there.
But do you picture old age — needing medical treatment for diseases such as diabetes, heart failure or chronic pain? What would happen if you fell, requiring an ambulance?
For most of us, medical services aren't among the top "must-haves" for a retirement area or permanent home. But they should be, say AARP and physicians who specialize in treating seniors.
Because no matter how healthy a person is, everyone still needs a yearly physical and medical tests and access to doctors if they fall ill.
Consider quality care
"Most people [looking for a retirement area] are thinking more about lifestyle, but it's important to keep in mind that even though we are living much longer, we face the possibility of many medical issues, either acute or chronic, and we need access to medical care," said Dr. Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist and author of "How We Age: A Doctor's Journey Into the Heart of Growing Old."
While military families, as well as retirees and their dependents, have comprehensive health care coverage, they still should consider the quality of care and available services, as well as which doctors take Tricare, in places they are considering.
Transitioning veterans must be even more thorough, weighing their health insurance options, applying for Veterans Affairs health coverage if they are eligible, and determining whether they want to go to a VA hospital or clinic or select a home in an area covered by the Veterans Choice program or some other VA community health care program.
Be real about your health
Take stock of your
urrent health and be honest about any risk factors you may have for developing a disease, Agronin said.
Family history plays a role, as does a person's lifestyle, habits and employment. Many former troops, for example, have musculoskeletal injuries that may worsen as a body ages, requiring lifelong treatments and/or pain management.
Or veterans may have a military-related mental health condition that needs regular therapy or treatment. Agronin said finding quality mental health services is difficult in many parts of the country. Choosing an area that offers the type of care you think you'll need is a wise decision, he added.
"Look for what they advertise in terms of specialty care, and make sure what you need is available where you want to go. It could be diabetes. It could be post-traumatic stress disorder," Agronin said.
Other specialists to consider:
- Cancer treatments centers
- Geriatric medicine doctors
Most patients consider the quality of their care to be as important as access — if not more important. Those trying to determine where to live can check out the Medicare.govwebsite, which offers several features for exploring and comparing medical centers, from patient satisfaction surveys and standards indicators to success metrics and cost values.
Look at overall costs
Speaking of cost, military retirees and their families retain their health benefits when the sponsor leaves the service — but cost still counts, especially when it comes to getting the most out of health care dollars paid out under Tricare's catastrophic cap.
For transitioning veterans, exploring the cost of medical care in a prospective location is an absolute must, as costs vary widely from state to state and factor heavily into an area’s cost of living.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on national health issues, offers several resources at www.kff.org for determining the average health care costs in locations, including average cost comparisons by state.
State and federal health exchanges also provide a wealth of information on health care costs for individual states as well as insurance options for those who don’t have access to employer-sponsored insurance programs.
Retirees also should keep in mind that when they become eligible for Medicare, they likely will pay a premium for Medicare Part B, which, along with enrollment in Medicare Part A, is a requirement to use Tricare For Life, the program that acts as a second payer to Medicare.
How much a retiree pays for Medicare Part B is determined by income level — not by location.
Stick close to a VA center or Tricare Prime area?
Transitioning veterans and military retirees with service-connected conditions may also consider whether they want to live near a VA facility to receive health care there.
And military retirees must decide whether they want to live within an area serviced by Tricare Prime, usually near an operating military base, or use Tricare Standard, the traditional fee-for-service health program provided by the Defense Department.
Either way, before signing a lease or buying a house, retirees and their family members will want to know whether Tricare Prime is available to them in their chosen destination or, if they plan to use Tricare Standard, ensure that local providers and hospitals accept Tricare.
Family members' health is another factor
Agronin also recommends that military personnel and retirees consider not only their immediate family's health, but the state of their parents' and in-laws' health, too. The same steps for choosing one's own retirement area or ultimate location should apply to deciding where Mom and Dad spend their final days. Inevitably, they will need care either close to their own homes or at the veteran's location.
"Health care might not be for your readers themselves. It could be for elderly parents and loved ones who might need help," Agronin said. "This is not meant to scare anyone or to suggest they curtail their dreams, but just factor these issues into their planning."
While no one likes to think about aging, it can be done with grace and vitality, Argonin said. And having access to quality doctors and medical services near one's home can contribute to a long, fruitful life, like it did for several of Argonin's patients, who stormed Omaha Beach.
"My average patient currently is about 90, and many are very vigorous, healthy and very much involved in life," Agronin said. "To me, the greatest honor has been working with veterans. Some of the patients I’ve treated are veterans that may have been treated by my grandfather [an Army Air Corps surgeon in Okinawa]. Veterans deserve the absolute best in medical care."