by Kellee Terrell
You don’t have to master the financial trapeze all by yourself.
[The Basics 101]
Many programs provide affordable health care and services. A case worker or social worker at your local AIDS service organization (ASO) or clinic can serve as your ringmaster, guiding you through the process of choosing and applying for benefits. Remember, needing financial assistance is nothing to be ashamed of—these programs and funds were created to help you.
Social Security benefits (SSI or SSDI)
These federal/state benefits are given to individuals who cannot work because they are disabled, such as from HIV, its treatment or various complications.
Medicaid, Medicare, ADAP
Almost 75 percent of people living with HIV in America access one of these federal- and/or state-funded programs for medical care, medications and other health services.
Whether it’s provided through your employer or your own pocketbook, private health insurance generally provides access to a number of primary care providers, specialists and treatments.
Other programs In addition to Social Security and health care coverage, you might need additional help—with the cost of housing, food stamps, utilities, day care and other forms of public assistance, for example—to make ends meet. Your case manager or social worker can help you find solutions to these as well.
[Beyond the Basics]
Some complex financial issues, such as credit card debt and retirement planning, often require specialized advice and guidance from a lawyer or financial counselor. If your local ASO (find one at directory.poz.com) does not keep one on staff, it can refer you to agencies or individuals offering affordable—and sometimes free—help for the following:
For people living with HIV, navigating the workplace can be complicated, especially for those who are not aware of their rights. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is illegal for an employer to terminate a person because of his or her HIV status or fail to reasonably accommodate specific health or medical needs. If you are having questions or concerns about disclosing your status, leaving your job, getting fired, being laid off or returning to work, you can talk about your options with a lawyer or an employment expert.
It provides your family or other loved ones with money after you die—it can help reduce the financial burden your void might leave. And if you’re terminally ill, you may be able to make a viatical settlement—an accelerated death benefits plan—with a trusted company that provides quick cash based on a percentage of your policy value. Group life insurance may be available from your employer. Individual policies from an outside carrier are also possible, but people living with HIV often face application rejections or high premium payments.
Racking up debt—medical bills, credit cards, a mortgage—is easy. Paying it off is the hard part. If you’re in over your head, a credit counselor can help you create a budget and come up with strategies to tame your debt. You may also be advised to contact a credit consolidation company. But Michael Smirlock, a financial pro who works with HIV-positive clients at Iris House in New York City, warns, “Some companies that claim to help you are owned by credit card companies. Do the research and make sure that they have your best interest in mind.”
Long-term savings and retirement
At one time, people with HIV never imagined they would live long enough to retire. But advances in antiretroviral treatment have made retirement increasingly common, thus the need for savings to support life in the golden years is very much a reality. If your job offers a 401(k), take advantage of it—especially if the company matches your contribution. Also consider opening a retirement savings account, such as an IRA, through your bank. “The earlier you can start, the better,” Smirlock says, “because relying on government supplements can be a risky strategy in the end.”
Leaving a will is important no matter how large or small your assets may be. It ensures that after your death your debts are covered and your assets are going to key people in your life. “Dying without a will can be a nightmare,” Smirlock says. “You want your last wishes respected and your loved ones to receive what they are entitled to without having to go through a lengthy and costly process.”
Search: financial planning, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, ADAP, life insurance
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