Friday, January 20, 2017

Is Age 70.5 No Longer an Appropriate Age to Compel IRA Distributions? What Sayeth Donald Trump?

Under long-standing IRS rules, IRAs and similar retirement accounts created with tax deferred income are generally subject to "required minimum distributions" when the account holder reaches age 70 and a half.  As the IRS.gov website reminds us:

  • You can withdraw more than the minimum required amount.
  • Your withdrawals will be included in your taxable income except for any part that was taxed before (your basis) or that can be received tax-free (such as qualified distributions from designated Roth accounts).

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, as baby boomers are now reaching that magic age of 70 1/2+, there will be huge mandatory transfers of savings, creating taxable income, even if they don't actually need the retirement funds yet.

Boomers hold roughly $10 trillion in tax-deferred savings accounts, according to an estimate by Edward Shane, a managing director at Bank of New York Mellon Corp. Over the next two decades, the number of people age 70 or older is expected to nearly double to 60 million—roughly the population of Italy.

The account holders may not actually "need" the money in their early 70s, an age now often seen as "young" for retirement, and they may still be in high tax brackets, thus cancelling the original reasons for the savings and deferral.  The rules were made when average lifespans were shorter. 

On average, men and women who turned 65 in 2015 can expect to live a further 19 and 21.5 years respectively, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration’s most recent life-expectancy estimates; those post-65 expectancies are up from 15.4 and 19 years for those who turned 65 in 1985.

....[D]istributions are expected to grow exponentially over the next two decades because of a 1986 change to federal law designed to prevent the loss of tax revenue. Congress said savers who turn 70½ have to start taking withdrawals from tax-deferred savings plans or face a penalty. Specifically, retirees who turn 70½ have until April of the following calendar year to pull roughly 3.65% from their IRA and 401(k) funds, subject to slight differences in the way the funds are treated by the Internal Revenue Service. Then they must withdraw an increasing portion of their assets every year based on IRS formulas. The rules don’t apply to defined-benefit pensions, where retirees get automatic distributions.

There is a 50% penalty for failure to make required minimum withdrawals.  And not all retirees are aware of the consequences of failing to make with withdrawals, especially when accounts were created originally by a spouse who is no longer alive or is unable to manage the account personally. From the Wall Street Journal article:

Bronwyn Shone, a financial adviser in Pleasanton, Calif., said many of her clients aren’t aware of their legal obligation to take distributions. “I think some people thought they could let the money grow tax-deferred forever,” she said.

Certainly the federal government wants -- and an argument can certainly be made that it "needs" -- more tax revenues, but if the goal of the permitted deferral is to encourage saving for the the "real" needs of retirement, which can include disability, health care, long-term care, and other "late in aging" needs, is it still realistic to set the mandatory threshold for withdrawals at age 70.5?  For example, Donald Trump is just today commencing his "new job" at age 70 and a half, and yet he could be subject to the RMDs for any IRAs. Maybe this is a financial issue that might interest the new Trump Administration? 

For more, read Pulling Retirement Cash, but Not by Choice, by WSJ reporters V. Monga and S. Krouse (paywall protected article from 1/16/17).

January 20, 2017 in Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

NYT: Who Will Care for the Caregivers?

The New York Times has a recent article that resonates with me.  I am spending my sabbatical time in Arizona in order to be of more help to my sister with our parents who are both in their 90s. Neither my sister or I have children and we sometimes question what will happen with us if we reach our parents' age with similar needs. Here's an excerpt from the piece that gets right to the point:

While the demand for caregivers is growing because of longer life expectancies and more complex medical care, the supply is shrinking, a result of declining marriage rates, smaller family sizes and greater geographic separation. In 2015, there were seven potential family caregivers for every person over 80. By 2030, this ratio is expected to be four-to-one, and by 2050, there will be fewer than three potential caregivers for every older American.

For more, read the thoughtful essay Who Will Care for the Caregivers? by Dr. Dhruv Khullar, a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. 

January 19, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Retirement, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

UCLA Prof. Allison Hoffman on "Reimagining the Risk of Long-Term Care"

With the new Presidential administration ahead, many of us are asking what government policies or programs will be "re-imagined."  With changes on the horizon, an especially interesting perspective on long-term care is offered by UCLA Law Professor Allison Hoffman with her recent article, "Reimagining the Risk of Long-Term Care,"  published in the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law & Ethics. From the abstract:

While attempting to mitigate care-recipient risk, in fact, the law has steadily expanded next-friend risk, by reinforcing a structure of long-term care that relies heavily on informal caregiving. Millions of informal caregivers face financial and nonmonetary harms that deeply threaten their own long-term security. These harms are disproportionately experienced by people who are already vulnerable--women, minorities, and the poor. Scholars and policymakers have catalogued and critiqued these costs but treat them as an unfortunate byproduct of an inevitable system of informal care.
 
 
This Article argues that if we, instead, understand becoming responsible for the care of another as a social risk--just as we see the chance that a person will need long-term care as a risk--it could fundamentally shift the way we approach long-term care policy.
 
Professor Hoffman examines various ways in which society expects third parties, including but not limited to family members as "next friends," to provide unpaid assistance and/or out-of-pocket dollars to disabled adults or seniors needing help.  She writes, for example, about filial support laws used sporadically to compel certain family members to finance care.  She observes that often, without direct personal experience, society members are unaware of the real costs of long-term care, both financially and emotionally, writing: 
 
As one informal caregiver and scholar described: “I feel abandoned by a health care system that commits resources and rewards to rescuing the injured and the ill but then consigns such patients and their families to the black hole of chronic ‘custodial’ care.” What next friends do for others is herculean, both in terms of the time spent and the ways that they offer assistance.
 
Recommended reading for the new year.  

January 17, 2017 in Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Social Security, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Should All States Permit Use of Medicaid for Assisted Living?

The plight of 108-year-old Ohio resident Carrie Rausch, facing the prospect of losing her spot in an assisted living community because she's run out of money, is generating a lot of attention in the media, including People magazine.  Some states, such as New Jersey, have expanded the options for public assistance in senior living -- beyond nursing homes -- to permit eligible individuals to use Medicaid for residential care.  Assisted living is usually much less expensive than a nursing home; but the pool of individuals who would might opt for assisted living rather than the "dreaded" nursing home is also larger.   Ohio, along with many states, hasn't gone the AL route:  

If Rausch can’t raise the money needed, she’ll have to leave what has been her home for the past three years and move into a nursing home that accepts Medicaid.

[Daughter] Hatfield worries about the toll the move would take on her mom, who is more lively and active than most people 10 or even 20 years her junior. . . . “We need a miracle,” she says.

Ms Rausch's adult daughter -- herself in her late 60s -- has turned to GoFundMe to attempt to raise the $40k needed for a year of continued residence, and as of the date of this Blog post, more than 700 donors have responded.  

At a deeper level, however, this story reveals important questions about public funding for long-term care on a state-by-state basis. This funding issue is repeating itself throughout the country for seniors much younger than the frugal and relatively healthy Carrie Rausch.  On a national basis, GoFundMe "miracles" seem an impractical solution.

January 13, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Should Home Care Providers Be Permitted to Seek Broad Waivers of Liability from Elderly Clients? (And if so, are there clear standards for a knowing waiver?}

Recently an attorney wrote to me about an elderly client who had been victimized by a home care worker hired through an agency; the allegations included physical abuse, intimidation, identity theft, failure to provide care, theft of personal possessions and false imprisonment.  Not too surprisingly, the specific worker was long gone once the harm was discovered by non-resident family members.  Significantly, the family also learned that the mother had signed the agency's standard contract withtwo pages of single-spaced type that covered everything from hours to wages, and which included a numbered paragraph purporting to grant a broad waiver of the agency's liability for actions of the individuals sent to the home of the elderly client. Key language provided:

"CLIENT and/or CLIENT's agent/responsible party agrees on behalf of CLIENT, CLIENT's agent/responsible party, beneficiaries, heirs, and/or family/household members to release [agency], owner, officers, directors, agents and employees, office, office directors, office employees, and Caregiver from any and all liability, potential or real, for any injury, claim, damage, or loss, including attorney's fees, incurred in connection with the performance of this agreement and all services, incurred in connection with the performance of this agreement and all services performed by Caregiver for the CLIENT, including but no limited to assisting CLIENT with his/her medications and providing transportation to Client or any member of CLIENT's family/household, except for gross negligence...."  

The attorney asked about any state regulatory language that would limit liability waivers or require, at a minimum, bold faced type or large type for such attempted waivers when used with elderly or disabled clients. Those receiving home care may be uniquely vulnerable to unwitnessed abuse, and also less likely to report abuse because of the fear of the "worse" alternative, a nursing home.   In the state in question, regulations  require certain disclosures to be made in a form "easily read and understood," but the regulations don't specifically address (nor prohibit) waivers of the company's liability. See e.g. PA Code Section 611.57.    

What about in your state? Is there relevant regulation? Alternatively, is there a "best" (or at least better) practice in the home care industry when seeking contractual waivers of liability?  The issue reminds me of an article written in the mid-1990s by Charlie Sabbatino discussing the one-sided nature of nursing home contracts in the absence of careful regulation protecting patient rights.  He wrote:

Broadly worded waivers of liability for personal injury are likely to be unenforceable and void as a matter of public policy in most states. Residents are most commonly asked to consent to absolute waivers for injury caused by other patients or by independent contractors in the facility, or for injury occurring outside of the facility, such as on a field trip. Federal and state nursing home laws have not squarely addressed personal injury waivers. even though the whole thrust of the regulatory framework is expressly intended to set standards for the protection of residents' health, safety, and welfare.

And the subtitle of the article on Nursing Home Contracts is "Undermining Rights the Older Fashioned Way." 

January 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, January 11, 2017

"The Aging Brain" as a Focus for Collaborative Analysis and Research

I'm much overdue in writing about a terrific, recent workshop at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law on "The Aging Brain." For me it was an ideal gathering of disciplines, including experts in neurology, psychology, health care (including palliative care and self-directed aid-in-dying), the judiciary, and both practitioners and academics in law (not limited to elder law).  Even more exciting, that full day workshop (11/18/15) will lead into a public conference, planned for fall 2017.  

Key workshop moments included:

  • Preview of a potentially ground-breaking study of early-onset Alzheimer's Disease (AD) centered on a family cluster in the country of Columbia with a genetic marker for the disease and a high incidence of onset.  By "early onset," we're talking family members in their 40s.  The hope is that by studying the bio-markers in this family, that not only early onset but later-in-life onset will be better understood. Eric Reiman, with professional affiliations with Banner Health, Arizona State University and University of Arizona, spoke at the workshop, and, as it turned out, he was also featured on a CBS 60 Minutes program aired a short time later about the family-based study.  Here's a link to the CBS transcript and video for the 60 Minutes program on "The Alzheimer's Laboratory."  
  • Thoughtful discussion of the ethical, legal and social implications of dementia, including the fact that self-directed aid-in-dying is not lawful for individuals with cognitive impairment. Hank Greely from Stanford University Law and Medical Schools, and Professor Betsy Grey for ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law led discussions on key issues.  As biomarkers linked to AD are identified, would "you" want to know the outcome of personal testing?  Would knowing you have a genetic link to AD change your life before onset? 
  • Overview of recent developments in "healthy" brain aging and so-called "anti-aging" treatments or medications, with important questions raised about whether there is respected science behind the latest announcement of "breakthroughs." Cynthia Stonnington from the Mayo Clinic and Gary Marchant from ASU talked about the science (or lack thereof), and Gary raised provocative points about the role of the FDA in drug approvals, tracking histories for so-called off label uses for drugs such as metformin and rapamycin.  

I very much appreciate the opportunity to participate in this program, with special thanks to Betsy Grey and federal Judge Roslyn Silver for making this possible.  I've also enjoyed serving as occasional guest in Judge Silver's two-semester Law and Science workshop with ASU law students. Thank you! For more on the Aging Brain programming at ASU, see here.    

January 11, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Programs/CLEs, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Oregon Supreme Court Rejects Medicaid Estate Recovery for Asset Transfers between Spouses

In late December 2016, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that state efforts to use Medicaid Estate Recovery regulations to reach assets transferred between spouses prior to application were improper. In Nay v. Department of Human Services, __ P.3d ___, 360 Or. 668, 2016 WL 7321752, (Dec. 15, 2016), the Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the ruling of the state's intermediate appellate court (discussed here in our Blog in 2014).  The high court concluded:

Because “estate” is defined to include any property interest that a Medicaid recipient held at the time of death, the department asserted that the Medicaid recipient had a property interest that would reach those transfers. In doing so, it relied on four sources: the presumption of common ownership in a marital dissolution, the right of a spouse to claim an elective share under probate law, the ability to avoid a transfer made without adequate consideration, and the ability to avoid a transfer made with intent to hinder or prevent estate recovery. In all instances, the rule amendments departed from the legal standards expressed or implied in those sources of law. Accordingly, the rule amendments exceeded the department's statutory authority under ORS 183.400(4)(b). The Court of Appeals correctly held the rule amendments to be invalid.

Our thanks to Elder Law Attorney Tim Nay for keeping us up to date on this case.  His firm's Blog further reports on the effects of the final ruling in Oregon:

"Estate recovery claims that were held pending the outcome of the Nay case can now be finalized, denying the claim to the extent it seeks recovery against assets that the Medicaid recipient did not have a legal ownership interest in at the time of death. Estate recovery claims that were settled during the pendency of Nay contained a provision that the settlement agreement was binding on all parties to the agreement no matter the outcome in Nay and thus cannot be revisited."

January 10, 2017 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Diving Deeper into Approval of Short-Term Annuities in Medicaid Planning

3L Villanova Law Student Jennifer A. Ward has an interesting analysis of the Third Circuit's decision in Zahner v. Sec'y Pa Dept. of Human Servs., 802 F.3d 497 (3d Cir. 2015), published in a recent issue of the Villanova Law Review.  She begins with a summary of the Zahner decision and an outline of her analysis:

[T]he Third Circuit examined whether short-term annuities, a specific instrument used in Medicaid planning, qualified for the DRA's safe harbor provision. If so, assets used to purchase short-term annuities would be sheltered from factoring into individuals' eligibility for Medicaid. Holding that short-term annuities can qualify for protection, the Third Circuit's decision signifies that the DRA did not completely foreclose the “use of short-term annuities in Medicaid planning.”
 
This Casebrief argues that the Third Circuit's Zahner decision is a win for elder law attorneys and their clients, as it solidifies the viability of the use of short-term annuities in Medicaid planning. Part II examines how individuals take part in Medicaid planning, including a discussion of the DRA and the use of annuities in planning. Part III presents the facts of Zahner and reviews the Third Circuit's analysis. Part IV analyzes the Third Circuit's decision to approve the use of short-term annuities. Part V advises elder law practitioners on the use of short-term annuities going forward. Part VI concludes by discussing the long-term viability of short-term annuities.
 
The author recognizes the potential for Congress to change the outcome of the Zahner ruling: 
 
After Zahner, elder law practitioners are free to use short-term annuities while guiding their clients through the Medicaid planning process. The Third Circuit will not bar the use of qualified short-term annuities in Medicaid planning, instead leaving any change in policy to Congress. Therefore, until Congress acts, short-term annuities are a viable planning tool in the Third Circuit for the foreseeable future.For people who wish to leave assets to loved ones, Zahner presents good news. Rather than causing people to exhaust their savings on long-term care, Zahner provides individuals greater ability to protect resources through Medicaid planning.
 
The title of the article is Doctor's Orders: The Third Circuit Approves Short Term Annuities As a Viable Planning Tool, and is available through subscription on Westlaw and Lexis and appears to be forthcoming on a digital commons platform via the Villanova Law Review. 

January 9, 2017 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

What Will President Trump Administration Mean for Seniors?

As I've spent several recent weeks of my sabbatical in Arizona to be closer to my 90+ year old parents, I watched the run up to the election from this Southwestern vantage point, instead of my usual Pennsylvania location.  Not only was I surprised by the result of the Pennsylvania vote, it was a surprise to see Arizona voters -- usually a Republican stronghold with a strong "senior" vote-- struggle with the election choices available to them.  

On November 8, Arizona rejected legalization of recreational marijuana (predictable) and approved a significant increase of minimum wage (a closer call, as the business community in Arizona largely opposed that increase).  Further, Trump had angered some by throwing shade on 80-year-old Senator John McCain's "hero" reputation. In contrast, Trump's seeming alliance with controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio, despite the later's pending criminal contempt prosecution, gave other Arizonans pause. Ultimately, 84-year-old Arpaio was voted "out" in Arizona (but, it remains to be seen whether he will be "out" of government at the federal level too).   In other words, Arizonans were not voting in support of a "pure" Republican platform.  

My mom, a Democrat but a somewhat reluctant Hillary supporter, was glued to CNN for much of the summer and fall, and she accurately predicted the Trump victory despite the pollsters' and commentators' refusal to acknowledge the frustrations driving the Trump tidal.  She insisted on voting on election day, rather than taking advantage of Arizona's early vote options. 

We know little about how Donald Trump will prioritize and govern once he takes the reins of his very first elected position.  That uncertainty makes many nervous even as it makes others hopeful.  

What will a Trump Administration mean for aging Americans?  Some topics to consider:

  • Public Retirement Benefits:  Candidate Trump -- rarely one to get into the details of policy issues -- seemed o make a distinction between age-based benefits, including Social Security retirement and Medicare health insurance coverage, and disability-based benefits.  Congress may seize on the latter.  Trump argued "more jobs, less waste" was a cure for the solvency questions.   On the one hand, he says he would support privatizing "some portion" of Social Security savings or investments to allow individuals to self-invest, while on the other hand rejecting "government" in the role of the retirement"investor." He seems willing to consider means testing for payment of retirement benefits. Here's a link to several utterances of Donald Trump on the topic of Social Security.  
  • Health Care for Seniors:  Unlike ObamaCare in general, it will probably be harder for Donald Trump and Congress to displace the fundamentals of Medicare for seniors.  But real cost questions attend health care for seniors.  At what point will Trump be hit with the reality that all of his campaign plans about immigration, walls, foreign trade and infrastructure pale in comparison to the true challenges facing an aging American on health care?  
  • Medicaid for Long-Term Care:  Candidate Trump has probably not focused on Medicaid as a source of long-term care financing.  With Republicans controlling the House and Senate, however, will the old "anti-Medicaid planning" forces feel newly energized?
  • Consumer Protections for Older Americans:  Candidate Trump will feel the pressure from Republican-controlled Congress to roll back administrative safeguards implemented by President Obama during the last two years. Perhaps here is where seniors may feel the quickest impact from the change in power, including potential rollbacks on consumer protection measures that attempted to bar pre-dispute binding arbitration "agreements" for nursing home residents, implemented fiduciary duty standards for investment advisors, and imposed closer scrutiny on consumer credit companies. Indeed, the most direct threat of the Trump Administration, combined with the Republican Congress, is likely to be to "Elizabeth Warren's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau."  

How this all plays out will be "interesting," won't it?  The points above are about today's generation of seniors.  Perhaps the most important Trump impact will be for "future" seniors, especially if Trump's predicted roll back on environmental protections and his advisors' seeming rejection of climate science hold sway.  

November 13, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 31, 2016

Self Awareness, Courage and Cognitive Impairment

The Washington Post recently had a good article titled Facing Financial Reality When Early Dementia is Diagnosed.  It begins with Chuck McClatchey's realization that something was wrong: 

He moved to Fort Worth at age 61 with his partner Bobbie Duncan, and they spent $25,000 in savings on a fixer-upper house. His plan was to work until he was 70. But then things got strange. “I was having trouble understanding new technologies and things that I should have known off the top of my head” and having trouble using Word and Excel and PowerPoint, “things I had known for years."

 

He left that job but had problems in another, simpler job at Lowe’s.

 

Then one day, amid growing confusion, came clarity.

 

“I brought home a little desk for me to put together,” he said. “I love to put things together, the more complicated the better.” It should have taken about half an hour. Instead, two hours later, “the pieces just weren’t going together like I thought they should.”

 

Duncan finally said what they both knew. He needed to see a doctor about what was going on in his brain. The diagnosis was Alzheimer’s. . . . 

McClatchey's early diagnosis allowed him to get help while he was still well able to participate in planning.  He applied for Social Security disability at age 61 and also became an "early stage advisor" for the the Alzheimer's Association.  

Reading this article reminded me of a good friend who also received a diagnosis of Alzheimer's at an early stage.  Betty has often inspired me by how she has approached this fact. She quietly told friends of her diagnosis, but she did not retreat from life. Betty stays engaged and has a full social life. She has made critical accommodations -- she keeps a daily journal to help with tasks and memory --  and her children have rallied to support and help her, while still giving her as much autonomy as possible. Indeed, her family was instrumental in these changes as they insisted on that first evaluation, rather than brushing away early warning signs as merely due to stress.  Thus, "self awareness" of both Betty and her family has been essential in creating a short and long range plan for the future.

The Post article also suggests that not every financial professional is skilled at recognizing how to help individuals with cognitive impairments, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed.  I think this is true for attorneys and other professionals as well. Good intentions alone are not enough.  From the article: 

Being good with money isn’t the only skill required to help dementia sufferers. Corey Purkat, an Oakdale, Minn., financial planner, found himself unable to help a couple in their 80s who hired him to help sort things out in the early stages of the wife’s dementia. She had been a financial professional whose memory issues rapidly worsened. As they did, “she got defensive that someone would have to help her with something she had done for a living.” That put more stress on her husband, who decided “he wasn’t up to making the hard decisions.”

 

“I did what I could, and I did the best I could,” he said of their amicable parting. But if a similar case comes up in the future, he said, “my goal is to refer them to someone with more experience” with dementia.

It takes courage to get a diagnosis when early, subtle warning signs appear.  It takes courage to help a family member get that diagnosis. Our thanks to George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn for sharing the link to this and other timely Washington Post articles. 

October 31, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 21, 2016

LeadingAge's Annual Meeting Begins October 30 in Indianapolis

LeadingAge, the trade association that represents nonprofit providers of senior services, begins its annual meeting at the end of October.  This year's theme is "Be the Difference," a call for changing the conversation about aging.  I won't be able to attend this year and I'm sorry that is true, as I am always impressed with the line-up of topics and the window the conference provides for academics into industry perspectives on common concerns.  For example, this year's line up of workshops and topics includes:

October 21, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, International, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Retirement, Science, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Veterans | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Should Judges Have Mandatory Retirement Ages? What's the "Right" Number?

Generally speaking, I'm not a fan of mandatory retirement based on age alone, whether for judges or other professions.  In a perfect world, merit-based criteria should be the issue, not age.  At the same time, as a full-time practicing lawyer before becoming a full-time academic, I was all too familiar with judges who stayed on the court too long. Indeed, I had the challenging (okay, make that very challenging) experience of trying to help my own father, who as a federal judge had a lifetime appointment, make the decision to retire.  The whole family was involved, but it needed to happen.

During the primary elections in Pennsylvania during the spring, there was an initiative that appeared on the ballot in my voting precinct about mandatory retirement for judges.  The spring initiative read:

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices of the Supreme Court, judges and justices of the peace (known as magisterial district judges) be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years, instead of the current requirement that they be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 70?

The language, I thought, was clear, as it was a proposal to increase the mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75 for members of the Pennsylvania judiciary.  I voted yes, knowing that many of the most capable judges were still in their prime at 70+  

However, a behind-the-scenes compromise, involving partisan politics in the state legislature, was in the works on the language, and as it turned out our primary votes simply were not counted on the above initiative.  Instead, in  the upcoming general election the following initiative will appear:

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require the justices on the Supreme Court, judges, and magisterial district judges be retired on the last day of the calendar in which they attain the age of 75 years?  

Does this replacement language fairly explain the choices to the average voter? I'm not the only one who thought the new language was less than candid. I was impressed by the stand taken by former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille, who was in favor of the higher age and reportedly had not wanted to retire at 70, but who didn't like  the hide-the-ball tactics.  He joined others and challenged the language.   His word for the tactic?  "Deceitful."

Who had the final say on which language would be used?  Ironically, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  In its September ruling, the Court was split 3 to 3 on the issue, which allowed the "new" language to stand.  

October 20, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Professor Kaplan on Religion and Advance Medical Directives

University of Illinois Law Professor Richard Kaplan has a new article available, entitled Religion and Advance Medical Directives: Formulation and Enforcement Implications.

From the abstract: 

This Article examines the role of religion in the creation and enforcement of advance medical directives. It begins by setting out the principal similarities and differences between the two types of such directives—namely, living wills and health care proxies (or powers of attorney). It then considers the formulation of religiously oriented advance directives and their incorporation of religious doctrine and imperatives. The Article then addresses the impact that the religious views of an individual patient’s treating physician might have on such directives. Finally, the Article analyzes religiously based challenges to the enforcement of advance medical directives, paying particular attention to the Terri Schiavo case and its continuing significance.

This is an opportunity for us to remind readers to make sure you alert us to your forthcoming articles that touch on elder law topics.  Thank you, Dick.

October 19, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Religion, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Will Increases to Minimum Wage Impact Seniors?


Arizona has two interesting initiatives on the 2016 ballot for the November 8th election.  One is Proposition 205, which would legalize recreational marijuana if passed; the other is Proposition 206 which would increase the state's minimum wage from $8.05 per hour to $10 per hour in 2017 (and incrementally thereafter to $12 by 2020), plus require employers to provide paid sick leave (40 hours annually for large employers and 24 hours annually for small employers). Guess which Prop is getting the lion's share of attention on media airwaves? Nonetheless, both measures are high profile and certainly the wage initiative should be carefully considered.  

Mark Young, who is president of the Arizona In-Home Care Association, and operates a home care company in Arizona, offers an interesting perspective on the potential impact of higher minimum wages in a column published recently on the Opinion page for the Prescott Daily Courier. He opens: 

He cites Seattle's increase of minimum wage to $15/hour as evidence of an corresponding increase for the average cost of in-home care to nearly $35 per hour, making such services "out of reach for many seniors."  He continues: 

Even more concerning is the potential unintended consequences of Prop 206: The emergence of an underground market which would place liability and risk on our most vulnerable community members. This could result in increased financial, physical, or even mental abuse by predators targeting seniors and disabled adults and children – a segment of our society already at risk.

 

As our senior population grows the demand for skilled caregivers has been increasing dramatically. If the cost to employ skilled caregivers goes up while the pool of available workers shrinks, many in-home care agencies will be forced to meet demand by hiring workers who are less expensive but also less experienced which could negatively impact overall quality of care.

The affordability argument for home care I understand, but I'm pretty darn skeptical of an argument that keeping the official minimum wage under $10 per hour protects against predatory behavior by home care workers. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how Arizonans vote on these two propositions, especially given the state's often libertarian take on conservative politics. At least one poll shows Arizonans favor the incremental increases under Prop 206 to $12 per hour.

October 17, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Update on 2015 Iowa Case, Raising Issue of "Consent" to Sexual Relations in Nursing Homes

In April 2015, we followed the Iowa state criminal trial of a former state legislator for allegedly having sexual relations with his wife in her nursing home after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.  See here, here and here, for example.  The charge of "sexual assault" was based on an Iowa statute that criminalized a sexual act "between persons who are not at the time cohabiting as husband and wife" if "the other person is suffering from a mental defect or incapacity which precludes giving consent." See Iowa Criminal Code Sections 709.1, 709.1A, and 709.4(2)(a).   After a several day high-profile trial -- where emotions were running high on all sides with family members, witnesses and attorneys --  the jury acquitted Henry Rayhons, then age 79.  The prosecutor took the position that any theory the wife "consented" to sexual relations was completely irrelevant as a matter of law, because of her debilitating mental condition.

The legal proceedings did not stop with the criminal case.  A year later, Henry Rayhons filed a civil suit for damages, alleging various state law claims such as (1) defamation, (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (3) malicious prosecution, (4) negligent infliction of emotional distress, (5) negligence, and (6) loss of consortium against various individual defendants. Defendants named on certain of the state law counts included two adult daughters of his deceased wife and his wife's  treating physician at the nursing home.  Separate counts named the nursing home itself on state law claims of vicarious liability.  Count IX of the petition alleged a claim under the federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, against the state prosecutor in the criminal case.  In July 2016, the prosecutor, Susan Krisko, removed the case to federal court and filed a motion for summary judgment.  

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October 10, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (2)

Will New Federal Ban on Pre-Dispute "Binding" Arbitration Clauses in LTC Agreements Survive Likely Challenges?

My colleague Becky Morgan provided prompt links and important initial commentary for CMS's recently issued final regulations that are intended to "improve the quality of life, care, and services" in Long-Term Care (LTC) facilities.  As we start to digest the 700+ pages of changes and commentary, it seems clear the battle over a key section that bans pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements is already shaping up.  This rule, at 40 CFR Section 483.70(n), has an implementation date of November 28, 2016.

The regulatory ban on pre-dispute binding arbitration in covered facilities raises the question of "conflict" with the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. Section 1 et seq.   The 2012 per curium ruling by the Supreme Court in Marmet Health Care Center, Inc. v. Brown, shapes the issue, if not the result. 

CMS distinguishes Marmet and presents the rule change as based on authority granted under the Social Security Act to the Secretary of Health and Human Service to issue "such rules as may be necessary to the efficient administration of the functions of the Department," which necessarily includes supervision of all providers, including LTC providers, who "participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs."  CMS points to the long history of regulatory authority over LTC including long-celebrated "patient's rights" legislation adopted in the late 1980s.  CMS further explains (at page 399 of the 700 page commentary to the new rules):

Based on the comments received in response to this rulemaking, we are convinced that requiring residents to sign pre-dispute arbitration agreements is fundamentally unfair because, among other things, it is almost impossible for residents or their decision-makers to give fully informed and voluntary consent to arbitration before a dispute has arisen. We believe that LTC residents should have a right to access the court system if a dispute with a facility arises, and that any agreement to arbitrate a claim should be knowing and voluntary. . . . 

 

We recognize that an argument could be made that Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries can assert in Court the FAA's saving clause if they believe that a pre-dispute arbitration agreement should not be enforced. However, the comments we have received have confirmed our conclusion that predispute arbitration clauses are, by their very nature, unconscionable. As one commenter noted, it is virtually impossible for a resident or their surrogate decision-maker to give fully informed or voluntary consent to such arbitration provisions. That same commenter 402 also noted that refusing to agree to the arbitration clause, in most cases, means that care will be denied.

 

Furthermore, Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries are aged or disabled and ill. Many beneficiaries lack the resources to litigate a malpractice claim, much less an initial claim seeking to invalidate an arbitration clause. Rather than requiring Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to incur the additional fees, expense, and delay that would be the direct cost of opposing a motion to enforce arbitration, we have concluded that this is precisely the type of situation envisioned by the Congressional grant of authority contained in sections 1819(d)(4)(B) and 1919(d)(4)(B) of the Act authorizing the Secretary to establish "such other requirements relating to the health, safety, and well-being of residents or relating to the physical facilities thereof as the Secretary may find necessary.”

By coincidence, just hours before the final LTC rules issued by CMS, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court enforced pre-dispute arbitration agreements for nursing home residents in Taylor v. Extendicare Health Facilities (decided September 28, 2016).  

The LTC industry seems ready to fight, as reported by industry insiders at McKnight's News on September 29, 2016: 

Both the American Health Care Association and LeadingAge expressed disappointment in the arbitration ban in statements provided to McKnight's.

 

“That provision clearly exceeds CMS's statutory authority and is wholly unnecessary to protect residents' health and safety,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA.

 

LeadingAge has supported arbitration agreements that are “properly structured and allow parties to have a speedy and cost-effective alternative to traditional litigation,” but believes CMS has overstepped its boundaries with the ban, the group said.

 

“Arbitration agreements should be enforced if they were executed separately from the admission agreement, were not a condition of admissions, and allowed the resident to rescind the agreement within a reasonable time frame,” LeadingAge added in its statement.

Stay tuned -- but don't hold your breath as the next round is likely to take some time. My special thanks to Megan Armstrong, Class of 2018 at Dickinson Law, for sharing key links with me for our research on this important development. 

    

October 10, 2016 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 3, 2016

New York Case Provides Window Into Roles of Attorneys as Counsel and Guardian in End-of-Life Case

In the Matter of Jane Doe, a case pending in New York state courts for several years, involves tragic facts.  A 37-year old woman experienced cardiac arrest in 2003 following complications during delivery of her third child.  With a cascading series of events, "Jane Doe" suffered anoxic brain damage and spastic quadriparesis, and became dependent on a respirator and full time care in a nursing home's ventilator unit.  Her husband, John D., was initially appointed as her personal needs guardian, while a separate person, an attorney, was appointed property management guardian.  In 2012, John D initiated measures to remove his wife's life support; litigation ensued when other family members opposed the proposed withdrawal.  After more than a year of proceedings, John D. stepped down as special needs guardian and in 2012, the court appointed one attorney as legal counsel for Jane Doe, and a separate attorney as the new special needs guardian with authority under New York law to determine the patient's health care, including any decision to withdraw life supports.

In 2016, a New York Court held extensive hearings on the surrogate decision of the special needs guardian to withdraw life support for Jane Doe.  The court heard testimony from medical professionals, friends and relatives of Jane Doe, including those who recounted conversations with Jane, offered to show that she would not want life sustaining measures to be withdrawn. The testimony, summarized in the opinion, is wrenching.  Ultimately, on August 19, 2016, the court issued a detailed ruling, finding that the decision of the special guardian to withdraw life support was supported by the evidence. The court denied the petition of family members opposing termination of life support but also stayed its final order for 60 days to permit further appeals.

On one level, this is case is another window into the use of courts for end-of-life decision-making.  But the case also highlights the important roles potentially played by lawyers for the incapacitated person, including as appointed legal counsel for the incapacitated person and separately, as the surrogate decision maker.  The surrogate's experience as an elder law attorney was viewed by the court as important to her credentials.

Here are the court's reasons for accepting the surrogate's decision:

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October 3, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Filial Friday: PA Trial Court Rules that New Jersey's Law Controls Outcome of "Reverse" Filial Support Claim

I've been following for some time an interesting "reverse filial support law" case in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.  A key issue in Melmark v. Shutt is whether New Jersey parents of a New Jersey, disabled, indigent adult son are liable for his costs of his care at a private, nonprofit residential facility specializing in autism services, Melmark Inc., in Pennsylvania. Since most of the modern filial support claims I see involve facilities (usually "nursing homes") suing children over the costs of their elderly parents' care, I describe cases where the facility is suing parents of an adult child as a "reverse filial support" law claim.

In a September 2016 opinion that followed a June nonjury trial, the Pennsylvania trial court used a "choice of law" analysis to determine which state's substantive "filial support"  law controlled the parents' liability. The court ultimately ruled that New Jersey's statutes applied.  N.J. filial support obligations are more limited than those affecting families under Pennsylvania law.  Under N.J. Stat. Ann. Section 44:1-140(c), the state exempts parents over the age of 55 from support obligations for their adult children (and vice versa). By contrast, Pennsylvania does not place age limits on filial support, either for adult children or elderly parents.  See Pa.C.S.A. Section 4603. In the Melmark case, the father was 70 and the mother was 68 years old during the year in question.  The disabled son was 29.

The court decided that New Jersey had the "most significant contacts or relationships" to the dispute. That's classic conflict-of-laws analytical language.  At issue was more than $205,000, for costs of residential services between April 1 2012 and May 14, 2013.

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September 30, 2016 in Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Attorney's Representation of 82-Year Old Woman on Slip & Fall Case Leads to Disciplinary Sanctions

I often talk with law students and practicing attorneys about the $64,000 question in representation of older clients. The question is "who is your client?"  It is all too easy with a disabled or elderly client for the lawyer to start taking directions from younger family members -- or even confusing the younger family member's legal issues with the reasons for representation of the older client.  The "family" is generally not the answer to "who is your client?," even if you represent more than one family member.  From the Pennsylvania Board of Discipline of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court we see another hard lesson involving professional responsibilities to communicate with and represent individual clients honestly:

By order dated July 14, 2016, attorney Terry Elizabeth Silva of Delaware County was suspended by the Supreme Court based on her handling of the proceeds of a lawsuit. Silva refused to disburse the funds received, asserting a charging lien on the recovery to which the Disciplinary Board determined she was not entitled.



Silva represented an 82-year-old woman in a slip and fall case. The woman’s son accompanied her to all meetings and conducted many of the communications with Silva on his mother’s behalf. The fee agreement provided for Silva to receive a contingent fee of 33 1/3%. 



The case was settled, and Silva’s staff deposited the check into her operating account.  A month later her office delivered a check for one third of the proceeds to the client’s daughter. Silva withheld a third of the check for her advanced expenses and a Medicare lien of less than $1,000.



While still holding the remaining third of the proceeds, Silva wrote several checks which reduced the balance in the account to $1,852. She made no further distribution over the following two and a half years, until the client filed a complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and a claim with the Lawyers Fund for Client Security. Silva defended those complaints with a claim she was entitled to a charging lien on the proceeds, based on her representation of the son and his wife in an unrelated matter. She also claimed that the mother authorized the use of the proceeds to pay debts of the son.

The Disciplinary Board rejected the attorney's arguments about why she could assert a "charging lien" against the mother's settlement for legal fees allegedly owed to her by the son. "All in the same family" was not a valid theory.  Different accounts for different clients.  While the original sanction proposed was a one-year suspension for the attorney, after hearing additional concerns about the lawyer, including the "lack of remorse and continued denials of wrongdoing," the Disciplinary Board recommended a three-year suspension from practice -- and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved that longer sanction.  The $64,000 question just got a whole lot more expensive for that lawyer. 

My thanks to Dickinson Law ethics guru Laurel Terry for spotlighting this disciplinary matter for us.

 

 

September 28, 2016 in Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kindred Health Care Inc. Hit With Sanctions for Failure to Comply with Federal Settlement Terms on Hospice Care

Kindred Healthcare Inc., the nation's largest post-acute care provider (after acquiring Gentiva Healthcare in 2015) recently paid more than $3 million to the federal government as sanctions for inaccurate billing practices under Medicare for hospice services.  That may not sound like a lot of money in this day and age of Medicare and Medicaid fraud cases, right?  After all, North American Health Care Inc. reportedly settled a false claims case with the Department of Justice earlier this month in a rehabilitation services investigation by agreeing to pay $28 million

But, the Kindred Health Care sanction is actually a penalty for failing to comply with the terms of a previous multimillion dollar settlement by the feds with Gentiva.  As part of that settlement, the company and its successors agreed to comply with a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA).  From the Office of Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services press release:

It is the largest penalty for violations of a CIA to date, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) said.

 

The record penalty resulted from Kindred's failure to correct improper billing practices in the fourth year of the five-year agreement. OIG made several unannounced site visits to Kindred facilities and found ongoing violations. "This penalty should send a signal to providers that failure to implement these requirements will have serious consequences," Mr. Levinson said. "We will continue to closely monitor Kindred's compliance with the CIA."

 

OIG negotiates CIAs with Medicare providers who have settled allegations of violating the False Claims Act. Providers agree to a number of corrective actions, including outside scrutiny of billing practices. In exchange, OIG agrees not to seek to exclude providers from participating in Medicare, Medicaid, or other Federal health care programs. CIAs typically last five years.

The post-acute care world -- which includes hospice, nursing homes, rehabilitation and home care -- is a tough marketplace.  According to a McKnight News report, Kindred is also closing some 18 sites as "underperforming."  For more on Kindred's operations, including its explanation of the penalty as tied to pre-acquisition practices of Gentiva, see this article in Modern Healthcare, "Kindred Pays Feds Largest Penalty Ever Recorded for Integrity Agreement Violations."

September 27, 2016 in Crimes, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)