Sunday, October 15, 2017

Social Security Gives-Medicare Takes It Away?

That's similar to the title of a news story on Kaiser Health News  Social Security Giveth, Medical Costs Taketh Away,  reporting on the amount of Social Security is spent by beneficiaries on out of pocket hospital costs. On Friday SSA announced its 2018 figures, including the COLA increase.  However, Medicare's 2018 premium amounts haven't yet been announced, but speculation is that the premium raises will wipe out the COLA increase. The Washington Post reported Social Security checks to rise 2 percent in 2018, the biggest increase in years reports a 2% increase in Social Security for 2018 and noted that "[h]ealth care is their biggest expense, and it's one of the fastest rising costs in America. Medicare Part B premiums are expected to rise in 2018, eating up much of the Social Security increase for some seniors."  Forbes reported similarly in its article, Gotcha! Social Security Benefits Rising 2% In 2018, But Most Retirees Won't See Extra Cash, "many recipients will find most or all of that increase eaten up by a jump in the Medicare Part B premiums deducted from their monthly Social Security checks...."

The Forbes article explains why beneficiaries won't really come out ahead with the COLA increase.

By law, normal Part B premiums are supposed to cover 25% of Medicare's costs for providing doctor and outpatient services.  But about 70% of Social Security recipients have been protected in the past two years by a “hold harmless” provision which provides no increase in Medicare premiums can reduce a Social Security recipient's net monthly check below what it was in the previous year. (Recipients who are considered “high income” and those who don’t have their premiums deducted from Social Security aren’t protected by this hold harmless provision.) Since retirees got no Social Security increase in 2016 and a measly 0.3% hike in 2017, the 70% are now paying an average of $109 a month, instead of the $134 per month premium that would be needed to cover 25% of costs.

While Medicare Part B premiums for 2018 haven’t yet been announced, they’re expected to remain at around $134----meaning the 70% will see about $25 per person---or $50 per couple---of any Social Security benefits increase consumed by higher Medicare premiums.

With open enrollment starting, expect the 2018 premiums to be announced.

 

October 15, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 13, 2017

How Much Should Guardians be Paid?

The National Guardianship Association takes the understandable position that "guardians are entitled to reasonable compensation for their services," while bearing in mind "at all times the responsibility to conserve the person's estate when making decisions regarding providing guardianship services" and in setting their fees.  See NGA Standard 22 on Guardianship Service Fees

Should there be "schedules" for fees, such as hourly fees, or maximum fees? Modern courts often struggle with questions about how to determine fees, and some states, such as Pennsylvania,  have a fairly flexible list of common law (not statutory) factors for the court to consider.  

In a April 2017 trial court opinion in Chester County, PA, for example, the court reviewed $54k in fees for the lawyer appointed to serve as guardian, and another $13k in fees for an attorney the guardians had hired.  According to the court, "Neither had sought leave of court prior to paying these sums out of the principal of the estate; the court learned of this when its auditor reviewed the annual report wherein these payments were disclosed."  The ward in question was 87-years old and a resident in a skilled nursing faciility, with dementia and other health issues.  The court struggled with the bills, commenting the format used was "inordinately difficult to follow" and at least on first review seemed "high for ten (10) months."  For guidance in evaluating the bills, the court did "two things.  It first searched the dearth of cases available for any guidance."  It also called the individuals to discuss the billing formats and learn more about the work completed.  

The Pennsylvania precedent was almost exclusively unpublished opinions, often from trial courts.  The Chester County court recounted some of the history of guardianships, from English times to colonial courts to the present, concluding, "In any event, no reported decisions have been located concerning professional compensation of guardians of the persons.  Apparently, society had no need of their services until more recent times."  

Ultimately, Chester County Court of Common Pleas's Judge Tunnell approved the fees, finding "a number of untoward events which transpired during the year in question," including a serious injury the ward sustained from a fall in the nursing home, additional health related concerns, the decision to relocate her to a different nursing home, and difficulties in selling the home that had remained empty for more than year.  The case had a history of accounting disputes, as evidenced by a 2013 decision by the same judge, although it did not appear anyone had challenged the latest fees reviewed sua sponte by the court  in the 2017 decision.  

In another Pennsylvania opinion, this time from an appellate court but also unpublished, the court observed, apparently with approval, that in Allegheny County, the Guardianship Department in the Orphan's Court uses  "court investigators" to review guardians' requests for payment of fees from the incapacitated person's estate.  See e.g., In re Long, Superior Court of Pennsylvania, February 14, 2017 (not officially reported).  

I'm curious whether our readers have thoughts on "scheduled" fees for guardians?  

October 13, 2017 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Robert Matava Elder Abuse Prosecution Act of 2017: Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act

The Robert Matava Elder Abuse Prosecution Act of 2017, Senate Bill 178, has been sent to the President for signature. Here's the summary of the act:

Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act

TITLE I--SUPPORTING FEDERAL CASES INVOLVING ELDER JUSTICE

(Sec. 101) This bill establishes requirements for the Department of Justice (DOJ) with respect to investigating and prosecuting elder abuse crimes and enforcing elder abuse laws. Specifically, DOJ must:

  • designate Elder Justice Coordinators in federal judicial districts and at DOJ,
  • implement comprehensive training for Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, and
  • establish a working group to provide policy advice.

The Executive Office for United States Attorneys must operate a resource group to assist prosecutors in pursuing elder abuse cases.

The Federal Trade Commission must designate an Elder Justice Coordinator within its Bureau of Consumer Protection.

TITLE II--IMPROVED DATA COLLECTION AND FEDERAL COORDINATION

(Sec. 201) DOJ must establish best practices for data collection on elder abuse.

(Sec. 202) DOJ must collect and publish data on elder abuse cases and investigations. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must provide for publication data on elder abuse cases referred to adult protective services.

TITLE III--ENHANCED VICTIM ASSISTANCE TO ELDER ABUSE SURVIVORS

(Sec. 301) This section expresses the sense of the Senate that: (1) elder abuse involves exploitation of potentially vulnerable individuals; (2) combatting elder abuse requires support for victims and prevention; and (3) the Senate supports a multipronged approach to prevent elder abuse, protect victims, and prosecute perpetrators of elder abuse crimes.

(Sec. 302) DOJ's Office for Victims of Crime must report to Congress on the nature, extent, and amount of funding under the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 for victims of crime who are elders.

TITLE IV--ROBERT MATAVA ELDER ABUSE PROSECUTION ACT OF 2017

Robert Matava Elder Abuse Prosecution Act of 2017

This bill amends the federal criminal code to expand prohibited telemarketing fraud to include "telemarketing or email marketing" fraud. It expands the definition of telemarketing or email marketing to include measures to induce investment for financial profit, participation in a business opportunity, or commitment to a loan.

A defendant convicted of telemarketing or email marketing fraud that targets or victimizes a person over age 55 is subject to an enhanced criminal penalty and mandatory forfeiture.

The bill adds health care fraud to the list of fraud offenses subject to enhanced penalties.

(Sec. 403) DOJ, in coordination with the Elder Justice Coordinating Council, must provide information, training, and technical assistance to help states and local governments investigate, prosecute, prevent, and mitigate the impact of elder abuse, exploitation, and neglect.

(Sec. 404) It grants congressional consent to states to enter into cooperative agreements or compacts to promote and to enforce elder abuse laws. The State Justice Institute must submit legislative proposals to Congress to facilitate such agreements and compacts.

TITLE V--MISCELLANEOUS

(Sec. 501) This section amends title XX (Block Grants to States for Social Services and Elder Justice) of the Social Security Act to specify that HHS may award adult protective services demonstration grants to the highest courts of states to assess adult guardianship and conservatorship proceedings and to implement necessary changes. The highest court of a state that receives a demonstration grant must collaborate with the state's unit on aging and adult protective services agency.

(Sec. 502) The Government Accountability Office (GAO) must review and report on elder justice programs and initiatives in the federal criminal justice system. The GAO must also report on: (1) federal government efforts to monitor the exploitation of older adults in global drug trafficking schemes and criminal enterprises, the incarceration of exploited older adults who are U.S. citizens in foreign court systems, and the total number of elder abuse cases pending in the United States; and (2) the results of federal government intervention with foreign officials on behalf of U.S. citizens who are elder abuse victims in international criminal enterprises.

(Sec. 503) DOJ must report to Congress on its outreach to state and local law enforcement agencies on the process for collaborating with the federal government to investigate and prosecute interstate and international elder financial exploitation cases.

(Sec. 504) DOJ must publish model power of attorney legislation for the purpose of preventing elder abuse.

(Sec. 505) DOJ must publish best practices for improving guardianship proceedings and model legislation related to guardianship proceedings for the purpose of preventing elder abuse.

Note specifically sections 504 and 505.  The text of the enrolled bill can be found here as a pdf.

Stay tuned....

 

October 12, 2017 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aging, Law & Society Collaborative Research Network Call for Papers Due Oct. 16

The next meeting of the Aging, Law & Society Collaborative Research Network is set for June 7-10, 2018 in Toronto as part of the Law & Society Annual meeting.  Here's the info from the announcement: 

The Aging, Law, and Society Collaborative Research Network (CRN) invites scholars to participate in a multi-event workshop sponsored by the CRN as part of the Law and Society Association’s 2018 Annual Meeting. The Aging, Law & Society CRN brings together scholars from across disciplines to share research and ideas about the relationship between law and aging, including how the law responds the needs of persons as they age and how law shapes the aging experience. This year’s workshop will feature themed panels, roundtable discussions, and rapid fire presentations in which participants can share new ideas and research projects.

The CRN encourages paper proposals on a broad range of issues related to law and aging. However, we especially encourage proposals on the following topics:

• Creative, inter-disciplinary and empirical methodologies for studying law and aging;

• Intergenerational relationships, ageism, and intergenerational justice;

• Theoretical frameworks for understanding the law as it relates to older adults;

• Legal responses to dementia;

• Long-term care;

• Elder abuse and neglect;

• Human rights of older adults; and

• Identity and intersectionality in older age.

In addition to paper proposals, we also welcome:

• Volunteers to serve as panel discussants and as commentators on works-in-progress.

• Ideas and proposals for themed panels, round-tables, or a session around a new book.

Proposals are due October 16 (get busy writing). The form for submission is available here http://www.lawandsociety.org/Toronto2018/2018-guidelines.html).  and should be sent by email to Professor Nina Kohn nakohn@law.syr.edu & Dr. Issi Doron, idoron@univ.haifa.ac.il along with a 1000 word abstract and your contact info.

 

 

October 12, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, International, Other, Programs/CLEs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Daughters' Hidden Video Camera In Mother's Nursing Home Documents Caregiver Abuse; 10th Circuit Affirms $1.2 Million Damage Award

The 10th Circuit in Racher v. Westlake Nursing Home Limited Partnership, d/b/a/ Quail Creek Nursing & Rehab Center, affirmed an award of $1.2 million in compensatory damages to the estate of  Mrs. Mayberry,  a 90+ year old resident.  Key evidence included five video recordings, from a camera hidden in the resident's nursing home room by her daughters, that showed:

... [Employee] Gakunga slapping Mrs. Mayberry in the face with latex gloves, wadding up the gloves, stuffing them in Mrs. Mayberry's mouth, and forcibly holding them there as Mrs. Mayberry attempts to push Gakunga's hand away. . . . .  [A second employee] Kaseke is seen in the videos watching this take place. . . . . The videos then show Gakunga and Kaseke roughly lifting Mrs. Mayberry from her wheelchair into bed and Gakunga pushing on Mrs. Mayberry's face in what appears to be an attempt to make her lie down. . . . One clip shows Gakunga pointing her finger at Mrs. Mayberry and apparently scolding her or perhaps threatening her. . . . Finally, the video clips show Gakunga “performing some sort of compressions with both hands to [Mrs. Mayberry's] torso.” . . . .  Plaintiffs assert that this action was intended to force Mrs. Mayberry to empty her bladder so the caretakers would not have to change her diaper as often. . . . .  Quail Creek and the caretakers denied any knowledge of this practice, but acknowledged that there was no medical justification for the action.  

The daughters testified their mother went downhill as a result of the incidents that occurred between February and early April 2012 and that Mrs. Mayberry died in July 2012 "just three months after the abuse was discovered."

One issue on appeal was whether Oklahoma's "statutory limitation on noneconomic damages" of $350,000 was mandatory. Apparently the statutory cap was raised for the first time in a motion to "alter or amend the judgment," 28 days after the judgment was entered in the case and more than a month after the jury trial concluded.   In its September 28, 2017 opinion, the 10th Circuit had an interesting analysis of the interplay between federal rules of civil procedure and the need to "predict" state substantive law in a diversity case,  and "agreed with the plaintiffs that the cap is an affirmative defense that [defendant nursing home] waived."  

October 12, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Changing Thinking About the Look of Aging

The New York Times recently ran an interesting article discussing women's concerns about their appearances as they age. Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon opens with an essay of sorts about women dying their hair to cover the gray. What's the scope of the situation? According to the author, "[a]ging is harder for women. We bear the brunt of the equation of beauty with youth and youth with power — the double-whammy of ageism and sexism. How do we cope? We splurge on anti-aging products. We fudge or lie about our age. We diet, we exercise, we get plumped and lifted and tucked." The author goes on to offer that "[t]hese behaviors are rooted in shame over something that shouldn’t be shameful. And they give a pass to the underlying discrimination that makes them necessary." The author posits the downsides of focusing on appearance and appearance of age not only disempowers women, it "reinforce[s] ageism, sexism, lookism and patriarchy." 

So what is the solution? The author gives these tips "[t]ap into what we know: Getting older enriches us...  [l]earn to look more generously at one another and ourselves.... [r]eject old-versus-young ways of thinking ...  and [c]ome together at all ages and talk about this stuff." The author suggests it's time to get "off the hamster wheel of age denial, share power, and think and act in pro-aging ways."  The author concludes her article with this

We have a choice: we can keep digging the hole deeper, or we can throw away the damn shovel. We can move, if we have the will and the desire and the vision, from competing to collaborating. We can turn it from a conversation about scarcity and loss to one about empowerment and equity. And we can take that change out into the world. The women’s movement taught us to claim our power; a pro-aging movement will teach us to hold onto it.

Thanks to Professor Naomi Cahn for sending us this article.

October 11, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Other | Permalink | Comments (0)

Are Guardianship Court "Oversight" Problems Pervasive?

 During the last several years, I've received calls from around the country about possible guardianship "oversight" concerns. And since The New Yorker article came out last week focusing on guardianship issues in Las Vegas Nevada, I've been getting more calls. The question arises: Is there a pervasive problem with court-appointed guardians for older adults in the United States?  

In my opinion, the answer is "no, not pervasive."  At least, that's my answer if the definition of pervasive is "universal," or omnipresent, or rife, or widespread. In the 20+ years I've been working in elder law, I've unfortunately reviewed a lot of cases of exploitation, but it is comparatively rare that I've been asked to examine a court-monitored guardianship where there was a problem created by inadequate attention by the courts, much less active misconduct by the court or agency. Granted, that is just one law professor's experience.

Still, in my opinion, the oversight problems that do exist within the U.S. are significant, periodic, sometimes recurring or persistent, and often have common elements.  The issues can exist in any county court or fiduciary administrative system. Historically, these courts -- sometimes called probate courts, fiduciary courts, surrogate courts, or orphans courts -- depended on the guardians for management of all issues, once the appointments were made. The judges trusted their appointees to take their fiduciary responsibilities seriously. But, as is sometimes said in international relations, the problem can be how best to "trust, but verify" proper behavior. With more elder boomers, there can be increased need for guardians, and thus more potential for guardians to be monitored.

  • For example, in Maricopa County, Arizona, an investigative news series, that began in 2008 with the reporting of Laurie Roberts for the Arizona Republic, described a number of mishandled older adult guardianships.  In some instances, the family members were so busy arguing about money, that the incapacitated elder was ignored, while his or her estate was diminished to pay fees.  Sometimes the question was whether a "full" guardianship was even necessary.  The problems, once investigated not just by journalists but by the courts, resulted in changes in Arizona guardianship law.
  • In Palm Beach County, Florida, complaints about appointment of a particular individual as guardian in a large number of cases, focused on conflict of interest and claims of favoritism by the court, complaints that came from a number of families. Eventually, in one case challenging the system,  a jury reportedly awarded more than  $16 million against two West Palm Beach attorneys for "breach of fiduciary duties."  The complaints also led to state investigations of Florida's entire oversight systems, and brought three years of legislative changes to Florida guardianship laws.
  • Most recently, two co-founders of a nonprofit guardianship company, Ayudando Guardianship, in Bernalillo County, New Mexico were indicted in federal court in July 2017 with criminal charges including conspiracy, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering.  The company was the appointed fiduciary in hundreds of cases. 

Especially when the Clark County, Nevada cases are included in this list of recent challenges to guardianship oversight systems, concerns about proper and objective oversight are real; without a equally real commitment to more careful selection, training, monitoring and accountability for guardians, the problems can be predicted to increase as the baby boomer generation of seniors get to their 70s, 80s, or 90s.  In 2016, the GAO for the United States responded to a U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging's request for data on "the extent of abuse by guardians," and concluded that "courts lack comprehensive data on older adults in guardianships and elder abuse by guardians, but some courts have limited information."  Unreliable data certainly leaves open the potential for the occasional problems to become pervasive problems.    

Continue reading

October 11, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Update on Florida Nursing Homes Post-Irma

A recent story reports on the Florida governor's statement calling on a state Constitution Revision Commission "to include provisions to protect residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities." Scott Wants Nursing Home Rules In Constitution  reports that the Florida Governor is calling on the Commission "to consider adding 'permanent measures to put patient safety first.'" The constitutional amendments will be voted on in the November, 2018 election.

Meanwhile, the nursing home in Hollywood Florida where the deaths occurred filed suit challenging the state's moratorium on admissions as well as suspension from the state's Medicaid program. Broward Nursing Home Expands Lawsuit Against State  explains that the facility is seeking an injunction.

Stay tuned, there's a hearing on the facility's motion before the end of the month.

October 10, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Books on Caring for Elders

A recent column in the New York Times mentioned several books that focus on caring for elders. Hard-Won Advice in Books on Aging and Elder Care  is written by the columnist who has been authoring a series of columns about Medicaid as Congress focused on health care repeal.  As a result of those columns, some of the comments the author received were recommendations of books for the author to read.  Using the criteria of those books mentioned at least twice, the author read and wrote about 4 books, which the author describes as "in their own way utterly essential reading. Few of us are prepared for the financial and emotional complexities of managing the last several years of our lives. But as we live longer, drain what may prove to be inadequate retirement savings and lean harder on already strained government programs, we’ll probably find ourselves facing ever more challenging questions and unfortunate compromises."  The books he includes in his column are Being Mortal, the 36 Hour Day, A Bittersweet Season and Being My Mom's Mom.

What books might you recommend to your students?

October 9, 2017 in Books, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Emergency Readiness of SNFs

Justice in Aging has released a new issue brief focuses on the emergency readiness of nursing homes. Why Many Nursing Facilities Are Not Ready For Emergency Situations explains the situation in the executive summary: 

Nursing facility residents can be particularly at risk during natural disasters, as has been demonstrated yet again during Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Marie. The hurricanes resulted in death and injury in nursing facilities across the region, including twelve deaths in one Florida facility.

These deaths and injuries, and the desire to prevent harm in the future, have directed renewed attention on emergency preparedness. This issue brief discusses existing federal and state law, and makes recommendations to address gaps in current law.

Federal regulations on nursing facility emergency preparedness were issued in September 2016, and are scheduled for full implementation in November 2017. The regulations address five primary areas: emergency plans, facility procedures, communication plans, training and testing, and emergency power systems.

Unfortunately, these new regulations are inadequate to protect residents, in part because some of the regulatory standards are excessively vague, and in part because the regulations only govern nursing facilities and cannot mandate the broader coordination that would be advisable for community-wide emergency preparedness. Federal, state, and local governments should take additional steps to ensure adequate preparation for the natural disasters that inevitably will envelop nursing facilities and other health care providers in years to come.

The issue brief offers 7 recommendations including requiring  (1) emergency generators, (2) prior  coordination between government, healthcare providers and nursing homes, (3) arrangements for emergency evacuations, (4) local governments to keep the pertinent information "on an ongoing, community-wide basis", (5) governments or providers to create resources designed to help in drafting the emergency plan, (6) governments to mandate outside review of the facilities' emergency plans and (7) federal surveyors to impose appropriate sanctions for those facilities that don't comply with the emergency plan.

 

October 8, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 6, 2017

Guns, Aging & Suicide

The last few weeks have been very tough, haven't they?  As have the last few months, and perhaps even the last few years.  

Many seem to be trying to understand why a 64-year-old "retired" man in the U.S. would assemble an arsenal of weaponry, unleash it on a crowd of innocents enjoying a last few weekend hours of music, and then take his own life.  While it is, on a comparative scale, unusual for a 60+ individual to be involved in a mass shooting, "older men" apparently have a comparatively high suicide-by-gun rate.  While there may be no way to understand the motivation for the most recent murders, there are still reasons to ask whether aging and deteriorating cognitive health can be factors in gun-related deaths.  

In the search for some understanding I read Leah Libresco's opinion piece in the Washington Post:  "I used to think gun control was the answer.  My research told me otherwise." 

In that article, her research on the annual 33,000+ gun deaths in America, led her to several interesting observations and conclusions.  She writes, for example, that the statistics showed her:

  • "Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides."
  • "Older men, who make up the largest share of gun suicides, need better access to people who could care for them and get help."

Libresco's essay sent me in turn to a feature story, part of a FiveThirtyEight series analyzing annual gun deaths, on "Surviving Suicide in Wyoming," by Anna Maria Barry-Jester.  She writes in greater detail about warning signs of deteriorating mental health, especially among older men: isolation, sometimes self-imposed; sleeplessness; depression; anxiety; and unresolved physical health problems. 

As these articles point out, limiting access to guns is appropriate for individuals with suicidal thoughts. That's different than "gun control laws."  And while guns may too often be the means to effectuate "rash desperate decisions," these researchers also suggest the greatest need is for better public awareness and response to warning signs, and for improved diagnosis and access to effective care, including social, mental and physical health care.    

October 6, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Crimes, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Science, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Medicare Hospice Compare Now Available

CMS has announced the availability of Hospice Compare and it is now live! The website is searchable either by the name of the agency or by zip code.  Not only does the website provide general information about hospice, the website provides a consumer checklist, information about Medicare's coverage of hospice care and other useful information. The site allows for comparisons of hospice agencies based on their quality of care.  Check it out!

October 5, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

New Yorker: Article Focuses on Clark County Nevada to Demonstrate Systemic Failures under State Guardianships

We've posted often on the Elder Law Prof Blog about problems with guardianships for older adults, highlighting reports from Nevada, Florida and Arizona, for example.

The New Yorker Magazine offers  "Reporter at Large" Rachel Aviv's feature in its October 9, 2017 issue, where she digs deeply into concerns raised by multiple cases in Clark County, Nevada where a court-favored, appointed guardian, April Parks, was often involved:

Parks drove a Pontiac G-6 convertible with a license plate that read “crtgrdn,” for “court guardian.” In the past twelve years, she had been a guardian for some four hundred wards of the court. Owing to age or disability, they had been deemed incompetent, a legal term that describes those who are unable to make reasoned choices about their lives or their property. As their guardian, Parks had the authority to manage their assets, and to choose where they lived, whom they associated with, and what medical treatment they received. They lost nearly all their civil rights. 

Parks and other individuals, including her husband, were eventually indicted on criminal charges including perjury and theft, "narrowly focused on their double billing and their sloppy accounting," but as The New Yorker piece suggests, the court system itself shares blame for years of failing to impose effective and appropriate oversight over the guardians.  

In the wake of Parks’s indictment, no judges have lost their jobs. Norheim was transferred from guardianship court to dependency court, where he now oversees cases involving abused and neglected children. Shafer is still listed in the Clark County court system as a trustee and as an administrator in several open cases. He did not respond to multiple e-mails and messages left with his bookkeeper, who answered his office phone but would not say whether he was still in practice. He did appear at one of the public meetings for the commission appointed to analyze flaws in the guardianship system. “What started all of this was me,” he said. Then he criticized local media coverage of the issue and said that a television reporter, whom he’d talked to briefly, didn’t know the facts. “The system works,” Shafer went on. “It’s not the guardians you have to be aware of, it’s more family members.” He wore a blue polo shirt, untucked, and his head was shaved. He looked aged, his arms dotted with sun spots, but he spoke confidently and casually. “The only person you folks should be thinking about when you change things is the ward. It’s their money, it’s their life, it’s their time. The family members don’t count.”

There are fundamental issues at the heart of this kind of history.  Necessary and well-managed guardianships, under the best of circumstances, change the lives of individuals in ways that no person would want for him or herself.  But when a guardianship system itself breaks down -- especially where judges or other administrators are unwilling or unable to be self-critical -- the confidence of the public in "the rule of law" is destroyed.     

My thanks to Karen Miller (Florida), Jack Cumming (California), Richard Black (Nevada -- who is also quoted in The New Yorker piece), and Dick Kaplan (University of Illinois Law) for bringing The New Yorker piece to our attention quickly. 

October 4, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Yet Again on D.C.'s Physician-Aided Dying Law

So, here we are again. Efforts underway at the federal level to repeal the D.C. aid-in dying law. The Washington Post reported that the House of Representatives voted to repeal the law. House votes to repeal D.C.’s Death With Dignity law; Senate has yet to act explains that "[t]he U.S. House on [September 14, 2017]  passed a spending bill that would block five laws affecting the District of Columbia, including the city’s new assisted-suicide law." This is not the first attempt at the Congressional level to repeal the law but it is "the first time either congressional chamber has voted to repeal the District’s Death With Dignity Act...  [and] District officials are watching for action from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who tried unsuccessfully to block the assisted-suicide bill earlier this year and is now chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee with jurisdiction over the District."

Stay tuned...

September 28, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

"CHRONIC" - Senate Bill 870 Passes Senate With Bi-Partisan Support - Is It Significant?

On Tuesday, September 26, 2017, at the same time that there was much sound and fury, but no vote, on the Graham-Cassidy Senate effort to repeal Obamacare, the U.S. Senate quietly approved on a voice vote Senate Bill 870, titled "Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic Care Act of 2017"or "CHRONIC Care" for short.  

The vote sends the bill on to the House for any next step of action. In press releases after the vote, sponsors welcomed Senate passage as a sign of bipartisan support for "strengthening and improving health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries living with chronic conditions," noting:  

“This bill marks an important step towards updating and strengthening Medicare’s guarantee of comprehensive health benefits for seniors,” said [Oregon's Senator Ron Wyden,] the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. “Medicare policy cannot stand idly by while the needs of people in the program shift to managing multiple costly chronic diseases,” Wyden said. “This bill provides new options and tools for seniors and their doctors to coordinate care and makes it less burdensome to stay healthy.”

The bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday was co-sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), as well as Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Initial review of the modestly ambitious bill shows that if passed in full by the House, the legislation would extend by 2 years the "Independence at Home Demonstration program," now in its 5th year, with funding otherwise set to run out at the end of September.  Additional provisions address "telehealth" services and direct studies or accounting reports on Medicare Advantage plans.  

The Independence at Home Demonstration program seems worthy of additional operation and tracking, as at least on paper it trends towards what most people seem to want, i.e., better health care access while still at home, rather than waiting for facility-based services.  For more on preliminary outcomes from the Demonstration program, see "Corrected Performance Results" from Year 2, released in January 2017.  

On the other hand, it is difficult to resist the irony that a great deal of work seemed to go into crafting the acronym, "CHRONIC," which also happens to be the street name for "very high-quality marijuana."    

 My special thanks to my newest Dickinson Law colleague, Professor Matthew Lawrence, who comes to us with fabulous experience in health care law, for helping identify this active piece of legislation.  

September 28, 2017 in Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Substance Abuse and Elders-It's Not Just Pills

Recently Experience, the magazine for the American Bar Association's Senior Lawyers Division, ran a cover story on opiod use and elders.  The Hidden Epidemic: Opioid Addiction Among Older Adults  (subscription required) opens with sobering statistics

Currently the leading cause of injury-related deaths among adults, the opioid crisis has engulfed rural America, spread across our cities, and inundated suburban communities. Despite national alarm, the tidal wave of drug-related deaths continues.

Recent estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that roughly 52,000 drug-related overdoses occurred in 2015, and more than 60 percent of these were related to prescription opioids or illicit opioid drugs. More telling perhaps is the impact of this carnage on life expectancy, with the United States experiencing its first decline in life expectancy since 1993—the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Let's get more specific, looking at the data regarding elders:

Opioid-related patient visits among adults 65 and older more than doubled between 2006 and 2014, from 28.6 to 70.1 per 100,000, according to data from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, which contain nearly one-fifth of all emergency department visits in the country. There’s been a 145 percent increase over the past 12 years.

In 2014, nearly 8 percent of all emergency department visits related to opioid dependence were made by adults aged 65 years and older, representing 36,776 patient visits nationwide, with nearly 70 percent of these visits resulting in hospital admission.

The article discusses risk factors and demographic breakdowns as well as challenges to identifying addiction.  Even ageist attitudes may be at play here.   The article also explains how the opioid crisis case me to be amongst elders. The explanations are interesting and illustrate how challenging it is to tackle this problem.

But opioids are not the only issue. Consider this article from the New York Times from September 14, 2017.  Alcohol Abuse Is Rising Among Older Adults  explains the scope of the situation:

Epidemiologists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism last month reported a jarring trend: Problem drinking is rising fast among older Americans....

Their study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, compared data from a national survey taken in 2001 and 2002 and again in 2012 and 2013, each time with about 40,000 adults. Drinking had increased in every age group, the researchers found.

Those over 65 remained far less likely to drink than younger people — about 55 percent of older participants told interviewers they’d imbibed in the past year. Still, that was a 22 percent increase over the two periods, the greatest rise in any age group.

It's not just the numbers that matter, the article explains. The type of drinking also matters.   "[T]he proportion of older adults engaged in “high-risk drinking” jumped 65 percent, to 3.8 percent. The researchers’ definition: for a man, downing five or more standard drinks in a day (each containing 14 grams of alcohol) at least weekly during the past year; for a woman, four such drinks in a day."  Why is this happening? Some suggested today's elders are healthier so they keep up their drinking ways and they are more comfortable both with drinking and recreational drug use. One thing those folks may not realize--as we age we metabolize alcohol: "With each drink, an older person’s blood alcohol levels will rise higher than a younger drinker’s ... [and] older people have less muscle mass, and the liver metabolizes alcohol more slowly. Aging brains grow more sensitive to its sedative properties, too."  And don't forget medication and alcohol interactions.   The article stresses the importance of diagnosis and treatment.

We are looking at a public health crisis on these issues. How do we best respond?

September 28, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Other | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

It's All About Identity Theft These Days

This is not an elder law specific topic so if that doesn't interest you, stop reading now (we have plenty of elder law specific posts in the archives). It seems like every week (if not more often) we read about a data breach. The one gathering all the headlines right now is the Equifax breach, which I'm sure you all have heard about (unless you are one of the ones without power Post-Irma).  Having been a victim of ID theft and the Equifax breach, I'm a little wound up about these issues so forgive me if I get a little too "enthused" discussing this. Within 11 minutes today I got two agency emails warning me about ID theft. Social Security sent out a note about Protecting Your Social Security. Here are some suggestions from SSA:

  • Open your personal my Social Security account....
  • If you already have a my Social Security account, but haven’t signed in lately, take a moment to login to easily take advantage of our second method to identify you each time you log in. This is in addition to our first layer of security, a username and password....
  • If you know your Social Security information has been compromised, and if you don’t want to do business with Social Security online, you can use our Block Electronic Access You can block any automated telephone and electronic access to your Social Security record...

The second email I got was a consumer alert from NAIC.  Identity Theft: Protect Yourself in wake of breaches, hacks and cyber stalkers explains

Big data is big business. But it can also lead to bigger headaches when large-scale breaches expose personal information. Large companies including insurers and credit bureaus have been the victims of cyber thieves who accessed private customer information. Most recently, the Equifax breach of could affect 143 million Americans.

Identity theft occurs when a person uses your personal information to commit fraud or unlawful activity. Using your social security number or date of birth, someone may open new credit card or bank account in your name, and even take out a loan using your personal information. Affected consumers can help protect themselves with identity theft insurance—or by using safeguards provided by the impacted company. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers these consumer protection tips.

The tips include what not to carry in your wallet, what to do if your identity has been stolen,  not to proactively protect yourself against identity theft and the pros and cons of purchasing identity theft insurance.

I'm just saying now... this isn't going to be the last time I write you about this.  Hopefully none of you will be in my boat.  Safe travels through cyber space.

September 27, 2017 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Other, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Nursing Home Abuse: Reporting to Law Enforcement

Check out this updated policy brief, Policy Brief: Requirements for Reporting to Law Enforcement When There is a Suspicion of a Crime Against a Nursing Home Resident.  The Long Term Care Community Coalition  (as an aside, take a look at their cool url) released this updated brief with information about changes and 2017 updates

2017 Updates:
1. The potential fines for violations of the law are subject to adjustment for inflation. The fines indicated below are current as of September 2017.
2. New CMS guidelines for these (and other) requirements are in effect as of November 28,
2017. A summary of the guidelines for reporting can be found at the end of this brief. The
full federal Guidance can be found on the CMS website:

https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Provider-Enrollment-and-
Certification/GuidanceforLawsAndRegulations/Downloads/Advance-Appendix-PP-Including-Phase-2-.pdf.

The overview explains that

The law broadens and strengthens the requirements for crime reporting in all long term care
facilities (including Nursing Facilities, Skilled Nursing Facilities, LTC Hospices, and Intermediate Care Facilities ...) that receive $10,000 or more in federal funds per year. The facility must inform the individuals covered under the law - its employees, owners,
operators, managers, agents, and contractors - of their duty to report any "reasonable
suspicion" of a crime (as defined by local law) committed against a resident of the facility. After forming the suspicion, covered individuals have twenty-four hours to report the crime to both the State Survey Agency and to a local law enforcement agency. If the suspected crime resulted in physical harm to the resident, the report must be made within two hours.

The brief explains the policy requirements and offers recommendations for consumers, state agency folks and long term care facilities. There is also a summary of the regs as well as definitions of commonly used words.

The brief can be downloaded as a pdf here.

September 26, 2017 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rental Housing and Seniors -- the Live-In Care-Giver Problem?

Recently, our law school's Community Law Clinic represented a woman who had been living with her brother for more than a year at his 2-bedroom rental apartment.  The landlord was fully aware of the situation.  Both brother and sister were 70+, and the sister's presence meant that the brother had appropriate assistance, including assistance in paying his bills (and rent!) on time.  However, a few weeks ago the brother was hospitalized on an emergency basis, and then required substantial time in a rehabilitation setting, and may not be able to return to his apartment.  

What's the problem?  When the landlord learned that the brother had been living away from the apartment for several weeks, and was not likely to return, the landlord notified the sister she could not "hold over" and eventually began eviction proceedings against her.  Fortunately, the Clinic was able to use state landlord-tenant law to gain some time for the sister to find alternative housing (and to arrange for her brother's possessions to be moved), but both brother and sister were unhappy with the compelled move.

Lots of lessons here, including the need to read leases carefully to determine what that contract says about second tenants, who aren't on the lease.  In this situation, the landlord's attempted ouster was probably triggered by the sister making a few reasonable "requests" for improvements to the apartment.  The landlord didn't want a "demanding" resident!

The question of "rights" of non-tenant residents happens often in rental housing -- without necessarily being tied to age.  

I was thinking about this when I read a recent New York Times column, which offered an additional legal complication -- New York City's rent control laws, and the needs for "dementia-friendly" housing, that can involve caregivers. See Renting a Second Apartment for a Spouse Under Care. 

 

September 26, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Housing, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Video: Elder Law Attorney Uses Her Experiences to Explain Why Graham-Cassidy Repeal of ACA Isn't Right Answer

In a 3-minute YouTube video, Texas Elder Law Attorney Jennifer Coulter explains how the Affordable Care Act has affected her clients -- and herself -- in a positive way.  She makes a principled, compelling case for why "getting it right" on health care is far more important than political sound bites and rushed repeal measures.  

 

September 25, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)