Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Urgent action needed to prevent changes to Medicaid elibility rules

From NAELA comes this urgent message:

Congress will soon be voting on two bills that will make changes to the Medicaid transfer rules.  These changes could have a profound negative impact on the ability of the middle class to pay for long term care.  The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare,, has established an automated Senior Flash Hotline to provide any easy means for communicating your concerns to Members of Congress.  By calling the Senior Flash Hotline at 1-800-998-0180 callers are automatically connected to their Senators and Representatives and provided an opportunity to urge them to oppose cuts to the Medicaid budget and to oppose changes to the nursing home transfer of assets rules.

The time is now. With added pressure on Congress to find budget cuts to offset the costs associated with the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the situation calls for all of us to take action immediately!

    * Thursday, October 20, the Senate Finance Committee meets on budget reconciliation. Yes, this is this week!!!!
    * Later in October, the House Energy and Commerce Committee meets on budget reconciliation.

If you haven't yet written your representative and senators yet, do so TODAY by clicking here

Because Congress is in session, fax or e-mail your letters to their Capitol Hill offices as soon as possible.  Consider asking your clients to call or write as well.

October 19, 2005 in Medicaid | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Chinese arbitration committee upholds lower retirement age for women than men

In an unusual labor dispute, the arbitration committee of Pingdingshan in Henan Province ruled on Monday against Zhou Xianghua, who accused her employer — the Pingdingshan Branch of China Construction Bank — of sexual discrimination for ordering her to retire at 55.

The committee said in its written ruling that Zhou had failed to provide sufficient evidence and legal basis to support her appeal and would have to bear the total arbitral fee of 420 yuan (US$52).

The committee said its rule was based on the Provisional Regulations on Resettlement of the Old and Weak Cadres. The regulations, promulgated by the State Council, or China's Cabinet, in 1978, specified the retirement ages for women and men employees working for enterprises.

According to the regulations, the age of retirement for women employees is five years less than that of men. If a person has a worker's status, a women's retirement age is 50 and men 55; if a person has a cadre status, a woman retires at 55 and a man at 60.

The committee said it was not its responsibility to judge whether the regulations run contrary to China's Constitution, the Labor Law or related international laws signed by the Chinese government.

Read more in the Shanghai Daily News.

Ed:  with the number of China's elderly expected to reach 400 million by 2040, one would think that later retirement would be encouraged, not prohibited.

October 19, 2005 in Retirement | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

UAW seek court protection for health care benefits cuts

The Washington Post reports:

The United Auto Workers union sought court approval yesterday for its tentative agreement with General Motors Corp. to cut health care benefits for employees, retirees and their families. By law, the company and union must get court approval for cuts in retiree benefits. The court process allows retirees a chance to voice their concerns. If a court approves the cuts, the union would be protected from retiree lawsuits. The details of the health care agreement have not been released as the UAW is in the process of telling its local union leaders and retirees about the plan. The UAW and GM announced the tentative agreement Monday. If the deal is ratified by UAW members, the company said it expects to save $3 billion a year before taxes in health care costs.

Read more here.

October 19, 2005 in Health Care/Long Term Care, Retirement | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Documenting the Justice Gap in America

The Legal Services Corporation  has just released the results of its year-long study "Documenting the Justice Gap in America".   The study documents that 1 in every 2 individuals who qualify for and actually seek assistance from LSC-funded programs are turned away because of a lack of resources. This figure does not include eligible individuals who do not seek assistance. The study also confirms that at least  80% percent of the  civil legal needs of the poor are not addressed.  The  80% figure considers services provided by legal aid and private lawyers, whether pro bono or private attorneys charging full or reduced fees. This figure was based on a review of recent state legal needs studies, and shows that the situation has not improved since the ABA national study of the early 90's. Although private and state funding has increased, federal funding for legal services has declined and the number of individuals eligible for assistance has grown as poverty has increased.    Unfortunately, the study does not break the data down by age, and the case types are not elder-specific, so the report didn't offer clues as to age.

The report is on the LSC website at 
Direct link:

October 18, 2005 in Other | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

CSM calls for cutting the mortgage interest deduction

The deduction for mortgage interest is the "third rail" of tax reform. President Reagan tried to get rid of it in 1986, but real estate interests stopped him. Now, President Bush's tax advisory commission suggests limiting its use. Good idea, I say, and good luck.

The mortgage-interest deduction is bad economic policy. It encourages consumption, rather than saving. People take out big mortgages to free up spending money. (They convince themselves not to worry about all the borrowing because the interest on the loan can be tax-deductible.) An unhealthy economic incentive, the deduction is also expensive. It cost the Treasury $63 billion last year in needed revenues. The entire budget of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development was $35 billion.

Read more (and weep) in today's Christian Science Monitor.

October 18, 2005 in Property Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

NOT elder law: Katie Couric--"A Frat Boy's Dream"

KatieKatie Couric appears on the cover of the next AARP Magazine, even though she's not eligible to join for more than a year.  But, is she not ready for that? The New York Times says she looks "like a frat boy's dream on the cover of the November/December issue of AARP The Magazine" and quotes Today colleague Ann Curry as saying Couric is "too young for that." The cover story, which is also available online, takes a look at the "the most powerful woman on the networks," described as "utterly disarming," and and a survivor of adversity. Check out Katie and the full story at the AARP website.

Ed:  I'll be eligible to join AARP in three years--I wonder when I'll get to be on the cover??

October 18, 2005 in Other | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 17, 2005

IRS's "Tax Counseling for the Elderly" --application process now open for 2006

The 2006 Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Cooperative Agreement application process is now open!

The IRS E-Grants Program

The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program offers FREE tax help to individuals who are aged 60 or older. This cooperative agreement is authorized by Section 163 of the Revenue Act of 1978, Public Law No. 95-600, 92 Stat. 2810, November 6, 1978. This Act authorizes the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to enter into agreements with private or non-governmental public non-profit agencies or organizations, exempt under Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code, that will provide training and technical assistance to elderly individuals in the preparation of their Federal Income Tax Returns. Grant funds are used to reimburse volunteers for out-of-pocket expenses including transportation, meals, and other expenses incurred by them in providing tax counseling assistance at locations convenient to the taxpayers.

For more information see  Publication 1101, Application Package and Guidelines for Managing a TCE Program. In addition, qualifying organizations are able to access web-enabled electronic services to apply for grants under the TCE Program during the application period using The IRS E-Grants Program.


October 17, 2005 in Other | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Under Part D, 24% of elderly will lose coverage of important mental health drugs

From Reuters Health:

On Jan. 1, 2006, several categories of medications will be explicitly excluded from Medicare's new prescription drug benefit, including benzodiazepines, which are listed as an "essential medication" with the World Health Organization. Stephen Soumerai, professor of ambulatory care and prevention in the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention (of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care) published a paper that details the impact this removal will have on society.

Currently, 24 percent of the elderly on Medicare, or 1.7 million people, will lose this coverage completely. The paper reports that negative effects are likely to take place, including withdrawal reactions, seizures, emergency department visits, and hospital admissions because the Medicare patients will not be able to afford these sometimes essential drugs.

Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed and generally safe and inexpensive treatments for anxiety, panic disorder, insomnia, and neurologic and rheumatologic disorders (such as muscle spasms and epileptic seizures).

The study appears in 56 Psychiatr Serv. 1143-1146 (2005)
Subscription/login required.

October 17, 2005 in Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Health Action 2006 Annual Grassroots Conference

Health Action 2006 Annual Grassroots Conference

Hosted By:    Families USA 1201 New York Ave NW #1100 Washington, DC 20005 202-628-3030 RSVP by:    January 26, 2006 at 10:00 am (Eastern Time) 2006_logo

Come to Health Action 2006 where you'll find creative, hard-working advocates like you who are determined to plow ahead on expanded coverage until every one of us has affordable, high quality health care.

Summary of Health Action 2005 Conference Costs: Register on or before January 6, 2006 to take advantage of an early-bird registration fee of $275. After that date, registration will be $325. Registration includes three lunches, continental breakfasts, breaks, a Capitol Steps performance, dessert party, and all program materials. Hotel arrangements: Call the hotel for reservations at 202-347-3000 and tell them you're with the Health Action 2006 conference.

Proposed topics include:    
* Medicaid & SCHIP    
* Medicare    
* Minority & Immigrant Health    
* Media 101
* New Web Technologies    
* Consumer Health Assistance Programs     *

and many more. Get more info about this upcoming conference from Families USA.

October 17, 2005 in Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Familes USA announces two new fellowships

Announcing Families USA fellowships for 2006: Applications are now being accepted for the Wellstone Fellowship for Social Justice and the Villers Fellowship for Health Care Justice.

The Wellstone Fellowship for Social Justice is designed to foster the advancement of social justice through participation in health care advocacy work that focuses on the unique challenges facing many communities of color. Through this fellowship, Families USA hopes to expand the pool of talented social justice advocates from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups, particularly from the Black/African American, Latino, and American Indian communities.  The goals of the Wellstone fellowship program are three-fold:
1.     To address disparities in access to health care;  
2.     To inspire Wellstone fellows to continue to work for social justice throughout their lives;  and   3.      To increase the number and racial and ethnic diversity of up-and-coming social justice advocates and leaders.

Families USA will select one talented and motivated candidate to fill this 12-month fellowship.

The Villers Fellowship for Health Care Justice was created in 2005 by Philippe Villers, Founder and President of Families USA, to inspire and develop the next generation of health care justice leaders.  The goals of the Villers fellowship program are three-fold:

  • To improve access to health care for all Americans, especially for low-income and other vulnerable constituencies;
  • To develop a network of young leaders who share a passion for social and health care justice; and
  • To inspire Villers fellows to continue to work for health care justice throughout their lives.

Villers fellows will be given the opportunity to work on a variety of health care justice issues during their year-long tenure at Families USA in Washington, DC.  They will also be exposed to a variety of different skill sets and an understanding of various advocacy strategies, including producing analytic reports, disseminating effective messages through the media, understanding the workings of the federal legislative process, building successful coalitions, and e-advocacy techniques.

October 17, 2005 in Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

US Government Manual, 2005-06 Edition, Now Available

GpoAs the official handbook of the Federal Government, the United States Government Manual provides comprehensive information on the agencies of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches. It also includes information on quasi-official agencies, international organizations in which the United States participates, and boards, commissions, and committees. The Manual begins with reprints of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.  The latest edition just became available from the GPO.  Access it here. 

October 17, 2005 in Other | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 14, 2005

USA Today discusses common senior scams

In today's issue, an article on common senior scams and how seniors can protect themselves from financial exploitation.  Get it here.

October 14, 2005 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

CSM calls for raising SS full retirement age to 70

From an editorial in today's CSM:

Governments in wealthier nations need to rethink the whole concept of "retire" and adjust their policies to make it easier for older people to keep working, find work, and receive training. Aging need not mean setting limits on one's agility, alertness, and ability to contribute.

In a little-noticed news item last week, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the think tank for 30 industrialized nations, warned that world economic growth will decline to 1.7 percent over the next 30 years if older people aren't encouraged or allowed to work. If nothing is done, the OECD stated, the ratio of nonworking retirees to workers will nearly double in those countries by mid-century. This demographic reality usually draws a simple political response: raise taxes or lower benefits, or both.

In Congress, that way of thinking has led to stalemate on revising Social Security. Both political parties need to discuss a retirement age of at least 70 for both Social Security and Medicare for the next generation.Better yet, it should index the age requirement to rising longevity so this issue can be done with. Americans who turn 65 this year are expected to live four and a half years longer than the typical 65-year-old in 1940. On average, today's Americans spend nearly a third of their life in retirement. And yet three-quarters receive benefits before turning 65. While retirees deserve those benefits, and many are not able to work, the system, indeed the workplace, still needs to change. A Merrill Lynch survey last year found most boomers hope to work in some capacity in retirement.

Read more here.

October 14, 2005 in Social Security | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

China's elders take to courts to get financial assistance from kids

GUANGZHOU: A province with an increasing aged population, Guangdong is seeing a growing number of its elderly turning to the courts. Liu Sanmei, 96, is the oldest person in Shengping Village, Pingyuan County, in eastern Guangdong's Meizhou. Last month, Liu won a lawsuit against her three sons requiring that they provide her with living expenses and share the cost of her medical bills. Pingyuan County People's Court ruled that the men should pay 60 yuan (US$7.4) each to Liu every month starting this month. Liu, who used to live with her third son, took legal action after he built a new house and moved away early this year. After he left, none of her sons came to visit her or gave her any financial support. Liu is one of many of Guangdong's senior citizens who have turned to the law to protect their rights in recent years. According to Ma Jungang, deputy director of the Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Justice, more than 1,200 senior citizens filed cases in the province during the first six months of this year. In 2004, nearly 2,000 elderly people pursued legal action, while around 5,000 sought legal aid between 1997 and 2003.

Read more in China Daily. 

Ed:  China's elderly (65+) population will reach 400 million by 2040. Yikes!

October 14, 2005 in Other | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

SS COLA jumps 4.1% for 2006

More than 48 million Americans will get a 4.1 percent increase in their monthly SocialGovbenefitslogo1 Security checks next year, the largest increase in more than a decade. For the average retiree, it will mean an increase of $39 a month.

The cost of living adjustment, or COLA, was announced Friday by the Social Security Administration. It will be the biggest increase since a 5.4 percent gain in 1991. The increase last January was 2.7 percent.

The inflation adjustment is based on the amount prices - as measured by the Consumer Price Index - have risen in the July-September quarter compared with the same period a year ago. Rising energy costs have driven inflation sharply higher this year, including a record monthly surge in energy costs in September related to the Gulf Coast hurricanes.


Get the SSA's press release.

October 14, 2005 in Social Security | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

CMS misses deadline for Part D assistance website

From SFGate:

Medicare has missed its deadline for setting up an Internet site to help seniors chose among their many -- and confusing -- options for prescription drug coverage. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' online prescription drug information service, featuring a computerized system for comparing different plans, was supposed to be introduced today. Instead, the agency hopes to launch the service Monday, although that date is not certain. Medicare officials said they decided on the delay because of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Monday is considered a "target" date. "We want to make sure there are no bugs in it and, when we do go live with it, it will be ready to go," said Jack Cheevers, spokesman for the Medicare office in San Francisco. "It's an enormously complex task to get all this information entered into this thing." Medicare is offering drug coverage for the first time in its four-decade history under a program that starts Jan. 1. It is the biggest change ever in the program.

The online comparison service, which will be available at, is considered a key aid to seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries who must choose from a complex array of coverage plans that providers began marketing Oct. 1. Enrollees can begin signing up for the benefit on Nov. 15. More than 40 prescription-only drug plans are available in California, as well as plans offered regionally that combine a drug benefit with a health plan. The online information service will prompt beneficiaries to enter the drugs they take and other information. It will then list options, including co-payments and monthly premiums. To assist seniors who are uncomfortable with the Internet, the federal agency will have call-service representatives available at (800) 633-4227 to walk callers through the process of selecting a plan. But because representatives rely on the online tool, that service also will be delayed. This is not the first glitch associated with the rollout of the drug benefit. The agency's 2006 handbook, which is being sent this month to more than 40 million Medicare beneficiaries, contains an error that tells low-income seniors that they can sign up for any Medicare plan and pay no monthly premium, when there are actually a limited number of free plans for those beneficiaries.

These problems are frustrating some advocates for seniors, such as David Grant, director of health policy for Senior Action Network in San Francisco. "They screwed up the 'Medicare & You' handbook," he said. "Nobody knows when this Web site is going to get going. The list of the drugs being covered by these plans keeps getting put off from one week to the next." Grant said he believes these kinds of errors could have been avoided if the government had not been in such a rush to stick to its rollout date of Jan. 1, which was set in 2003.

October 13, 2005 in Medicare | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Not really elder law: Custom Caskets for the Boomer Generation--"Fairway to Heaven"

Give Joe Draeger points for originality. Not many people would look at some logCasketmini_1 furniture and think, "Boy, that stuff would make a great-looking casket." But from such notions businesses sometimes grow. A while back, a group of college students enjoying a few beers got to talking about barbecuing, and one said he thought a grill shaped like a beer barrel would have natural market appeal. Thus was born Keg-a-Que, the signature offering of Keg Products Inc., a small Mequon firm that, 11 years after its founding, is still standing. More recently, a Merrill businessman decided the world needed a gum to make it harder for deer to smell hunters. The result: Gum-o-Flage, a product that sold 75,000 packs in its first season.

So don't immediately dismiss the log-covered caskets that Draeger and partner Bob Diercks, both of Antigo, are selling through their Timber Valley Log Casket Co. They just may strike a rustic chord with families of the nature-loving departed. "It definitely got my attention," Diercks said of his reaction when his longtime friend pitched the idea. "It was something I of course never even dreamed of." Diercks, a 50-year-old former potato farmer, was game for the venture. He did a little research, went to a casket industry trade show in Indianapolis and concluded that the log-casket market was wide open. "(We) hired a couple of carpenters and here we are," he said. "It's done well. We're in five different states throughout the Midwest." The casket box is birch. The trim and handles are ash. The logs on the cover are cedar, Diercks said, because cedar lasts a long time. Fabric choices include "a mossy oak" camouflage pattern that Diercks said was popular. "We always keep them in stock," he said. He said retail prices varied greatly and wouldn't disclose the range, other than to say it was in the middle of the wood casket market. "I think that's justifiable because they're all hand-crafted," Diercks said. Although Diercks and Draeger may be pioneers with logs, specialty caskets have been around for several years, said Jay Kravetz, editor of the Death Care Business Advisor, an industry newsletter. That's in line with a larger trend, driven by the desires of baby boomers, toward more-personalized funerals that are less about mourning and more about celebrating someone's life, he said.

Read more in the Wisconsin State Journal.

October 12, 2005 in Other | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Health insurance, mortgage deductions at risk under panel recommendations

Two of the nation's most popular tax breaks — for home mortgage interest and employer-paid health insurance — should be narrowed, a federal panel appointed by President Bush suggested Tuesday.

The panel's recommendations will be made in a report scheduled to go to the Treasury Department by Nov. 1. In addition, the panel will recommend giving all Americans who pay taxes the opportunity to deduct charitable donations, even if they don't itemize their tax returns.

The most far-reaching proposal previously endorsed by the panel is the elimination of the alternative minimum tax, which would affect 20 million taxpayers next year unless changes are made. But the panel is charged with making revenue-neutral changes, so it must propose raising as much money as the AMT repeal would lose.

Read the rest in USA Today.

Editor's note:  The home mortgage interest deduction is one of only a very few tax breaks still available to the middle class.   It's been around since 1913.

October 12, 2005 in Discrimination | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

New scams aimed at seniors exploit Medicare Part D rollout

Authorities are investigating two possible scams aimed at getting financial information from Medicare patients who are eligible for new prescription drug benefits, U.S. officials said on Friday as they announced new efforts to fight fraud.

Medicare officials said they have feared scam artists would try to take advantage of seniors while companies are enrolling them in the prescription drug coverage that starts in January.

In the two cases under investigation, Medicare patients were asked for bank card information or other financial data. One scheme involved an offer to sell a drug discount card, and the other promised help with the new drug coverage.

Legitimate Medicare drug plans cannot ask for Social Security numbers, bank account numbers or credit card numbers.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said it referred the cases to local law enforcement agencies, which are investigating the reports.

Read more at Reuters Health.

October 11, 2005 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Medicare | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

New scams aimed at seniors exploit Medicare Part D rollout

Authorities are investigating two possible scams aimed at getting financial information from Medicare patients who are eligible for new prescription drug benefits, U.S. officials said on Friday as they announced new efforts to fight fraud.

Medicare officials said they have feared scam artists would try to take advantage of seniors while companies are enrolling them in the prescription drug coverage that starts in January.

In the two cases under investigation, Medicare patients were asked for bank card information or other financial data. One scheme involved an offer to sell a drug discount card, and the other promised help with the new drug coverage.

Legitimate Medicare drug plans cannot ask for Social Security numbers, bank account numbers or credit card numbers.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said it referred the cases to local law enforcement agencies, which are investigating the reports.

Read more at Reuters Health.

October 11, 2005 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Medicare | Permalink | TrackBack (0)